SEO specialists often need to conduct an SEO audit to identify the weaknesses of a corporate website and give tips on how to improve its search engine ranking. This takes a lot of skills and can be confusing. Nevertheless, the results of such analysis become a valuable asset for any marketing, advertising, promotional or other efforts.
FAQ by SEO specialists
- Should I conduct SEO audits before the start of website promotion?
- Why should I assess link mass prior to the first negotiations with the customer?
- How do I evaluate the obtained results and create a road map?
- What are the main factors that influence website promotion and improve Google ranking?
- What are the right approaches to search engine advertising in Google in 2021?
- How does high-quality content influences website ranking?
- How to attract maximum users to a website and keep them?
Very often people don’t know where to start SEO optimization from or want to complete a clear checklist of actions but are intimidated by a bunch of terms and indicators. Therefore, we want to provide a step-by-step guide on a technical website audit based on the apple.com example.
What is SEO Audit?
The second and key goal of an SEO audit is recommendations. Such analysis helps develop a set of tips on improving search optimization rates (or preserving your leading position).
This leads to a logical question: What are these rates about? By saying technical rates, we mean the number of pages and nesting levels and several other indicators. You need to understand that such rates were not invented to complicate the life of SEO experts. These parameters are the indicators checked by search engines. The better they are, the more chances a website has to be at least included in a friendly Google family or, in the perfect case, get to the top.
Search algorithms aim to determine for sure whether a website is really valuable. It’s not enough to state that a web resource includes useful information – the information must be full, easy to find, and convenient to use.
What are the benefits of regular SEO audits?
How has SEO evolved? In 1991, the first website was created. Then, 1994 witnessed the first search engine – Yahoo, whereas Google appeared in 1997. At that time, SEO was in its infancy. The success depended on the number of keywords on a page and its tags: the more pages with the necessary keyword a website has, the higher is the ranking.
Since 2003, website content has been gradually improved and structured with the appearance of the first quality search algorithms. SEO basics have started to include more components. The quantity could still be synonymous with quality, but the links were prioritized over keywords. The source and quality of traffic played no role and were useless for marketing and advertising purposes.
2010 was the turning point when quantitative factors were completely overridden by behavioral. As a result, the domain age lost its previous importance. Even a young but well-optimized website could easily overtake a 10-year web veteran solely using its content.
The modern SEO period started in 2013 with the appearance of search personalization. As a result, SEO advertising based on low-frequency keywords became dominant. As a result, people created several one-page websites and used them to attract specific ad traffic.
So now we have arrived at the present day when all the possible rates are adjusted to meet the single requirement – user convenience. No matter on what device or screen a user browses a website. The design must be eye-catching but, at the same time, not tiring to the eyes or brain. The content must be structured but, most importantly, short.
If you try to figure out how to meet all these requirements, the conclusion will be simple – it’s impossible. They often seem mutually exclusive. Everything is complicated with the ever-changing rules of the game. Predicting search engine tendencies sometimes looks more difficult than unraveling the mystery of the universe. Moreover, tons of competitors are snapping at your heels. This turns into a heavy burden on the shoulders of SEO, advertising, and marketing specialists. They become the first to be responsible for any decrease in sales.
An SEO report is an effective way to keep your finger on the pulse and, at least, have arguments to justify the decreased website performance during website promotion.
How to conduct an SEO audit that won’t make you feel ashamed?
To avoid getting lost in the SEO definition and SEO indicators, you need to understand one thing: if you promote a site, you must regularly conduct a brief analysis of the completed search optimization. You cannot just forget about audits and let your website exist without any control and SEO analysis reports. At least once per month, corporate SEO specialists must use Google Search Console to collect data on:
- Hosting and index status
- Content, keywords, and metadata
- External and internal links
Let’s take a look at a real SEO website audit to understand what must be taken into account and in which sequence. Use this checklist to get some tips and ideas for analyzing your web resource.
- The main website mirror and URL format
- Robots.txt and sitemap.xml files
- HTTP headers of server responses
- Design of the 404 error page
- Broken 4xx links
- Clean URLs
- Meta descriptions and meta headers
- Redirects on the website
- Page speed
- Extra code of website pages
- Duplicate website elements
- Number of a tags linking to a product page
- Display of snippets in the search
- Quality of image optimization
- Quality of outbound links
- Whether the technical pages are closed from indexing
- Link Mass Analysis
1. Main website mirror and URL format
When you conduct an SEO audit, it’s necessary to define the main site mirror (with or without the www prefix) and make a 301 redirect the secondary mirror to the main one.
If a user goes to the page without the www prefix but with HTTP, the 301 redirects are activated.
If we remove / at the end of the link, the 301 redirects are activated on the category pages but not on the main page.
2. Robots.txt and sitemap.xml files
The robots.txt file is used to prevent different search bots from indexing some or all pages of a website. That’s why it is so critical for SEO.
In this case, the robots.txt file is correctly configured and available at https://www.apple.com/robots.txt.
It separately indicates the search bots that are disallowed to scan the page, including Baiduspider (a search bot targeted at the Chinese market), HaoSouSpider (a search bot of the Chinese search engine HaoSou.com), and Sogou web spider (a browser virus which is now actively spread in the web. The recent studies have shown that it primarily targets the computers are located in China).
Another interesting fact is that in China, the indexing of the pages with red Apple products is disallowed.
If a user selects the Chinese language and goes to this category, the double redirect to the main page is activated.
By the way, China bans many products, so its market is highly regulated.
3. HTTP headers of server responses
When a URL is accessed, a server returns an HTTP header with various data, including a server response code, last change date, coding of the document, and expiration date (the period during which the URL’s content is relevant).
The main page correctly returns a 200 server response code.
4. Design of the 404 error page
If there is no page at the specified URL, a server must return a 404 mistake. So take care of the design of your 404 pages to make sure a user landing on it continues working with the website. That’s why specialists assess this factor during SEO audits and include it in SEO reports.
The code shows that this page is closed from indexation, but we have several remarks and tips. Canonical must link to the main search page, namely https://www.apple.com/us/search.
5. Broken 4xx links
A broken link is a hyperlink that leads to non-existent pages, documents, files, or images.
The SEO audit of apple.com has found some broken links. For example, there are 403 and 404 errors.
For example, the page https://www.apple.com/retail/business/ includes the links
leading to the 404 page
403 errors are server errors which mean that some users are disallowed to access certain pages. These pages are active and throw the error only for the selected countries and regions. For example, https://www.apple.com/pl/tv/ and https://www.apple.com/tv/ return a 200 code, whereas the https://www.apple.com/in/tv/ page is no longer available since it has another URL https://www.apple.com/in/apple-tv-4k/.
6. Clean URLs
Clean URLs are user-friendly URLs that SEO specialists recommend using for all website pages during its promotion. Visitors may perceive long URLs as unclear and difficult or similar to encryption (e.g., site.com/?pag=1&24%). Choosing a friendly structure of URLs makes them more appealing (e.g., site.com/catalog).
You probably know that the URL of a page in Google Search results is displayed under the page title and above the snippet (brief information about the page displayed in search results). Similar to the title and snippet, the URL segments that match the query will be semi-boldened.
7. Meta description and meta headers
A title tag indicates the title of a page that tells users and search engines its name. The title tag is placed within the head tag of an HTML document. To make website promotion really effective, ideally, every page must have a unique name.
Example of the title tag from the main website of Samsung.
Meta description tag provides search engines with a short description of a page. Whereas a title tag should include only one sentence, a description may contain several sentences (small paragraph). As well as the title tag, the description must be entered within the head tag in the HTML code of a page.
For quality website promotion, all website pages must have unique descriptions. This is because it’s beneficial for both search engines and users. However, if a website has many pages, you often won’t enter descriptions manually. In this case, you can automatically create the description of every page based on its content.
Example of the meta description tag from the official website of Samsung.
We haven’t noticed such a problem. For example, a title tag is present on all pages, whereas a meta description tag is missing.
The website needs to optimize its titles and descriptions based on the semantic kernel.
To highlight the important text, it’s necessary to use header tags (don’t confuse them with an HTML head tag and HTTP headers). This is also crucial for website promotion since they help create a page structure that would be clear to users. There are 6 sizes of headers – from the largest H1 to the smallest H6.
The text inserted in header tags is larger than the rest of the text on a page. This highlights it and shows its importance in helping visitors understand the content below the heading. In addition, the different sizes of all levels of headers create a hierarchical structure of the content which simplifies the navigation.
- Use header tags when p (paragraph), span or strong (semi-bold font) tags are more appropriate
- Randomly switch from one size of headers to another. Make sure to save the right hierarchy.
For example, the https://www.apple.com/homepod/specs/ page doesn’t have an H1 header
9. Redirects on the website
Conducting an SEO audit, make sure a website doesn’t have many pages linking to old URLs used for redirect. This complicates user interaction with the resource making visitors load extra data and generally increases the load time, which, in its turn, reduces the effectiveness of website promotion.
There are 301 redirects on the website
as well as 307 and 303 redirects
A 303 redirect (See Other) is a special redirect that means a document has been found but needs to be accessed using the GET method.
Here the main page links to the Investors page using a double redirect.
10. Page speed
Research shows that approximately 75% of users leave pages when loading takes more than 4 seconds. Moreover, around 50% of users expect that pages must load in less than 2 seconds. Thus, you definitely must evaluate this factor in your SEO analysis report.
In apple.com, the first loading of the main page took 759 ms, which is great.
Category https://www.apple.com/ipad/ – 608 ms
Website check with Google Page Speed:
- Mobile version
- Desktop version
Website check in GTMetrix
Product page check-in GTMetrix
Micro-markup (or semantic markup) is necessary to make the Internet and web pages more structured and easy to understand. It helps search engines and special programs extract and process the information to display it in search results in a user-friendly format. The correct markup speeds up website SEO advertising and helps attract more visitors.
The analyzed website has the markup for breadcrumbs, but there is a mistake.
Here is an example. Id with a link must be added to the item category.
The website has the Schema.org micro-markup.
But the micro-markup for the product is missing.
The example of schema.org markup is used for a product page.
The micro-markup of product pages is extremely important in an online store. They provide the search bot with plenty of additional information, creating an appealing and noticeable snippet in search results. Such a snippet attracts more attention and, as a result, generates more visitors.
Open Graph micro markup for social media
The analyzed website has an Open Graph micro markup, but the meta description exceeds the limit recommended for effective website promotion.
12. Extra code on website pages
Extra code may include extensive comments, style descriptions in code tags, style tags, scripts in code tags, and more. This affects the ratio of textual content to code and limits the caching of duplicated code sections.
The page https://www.apple.com/shop/accessories/all-accessories/whats-new. The scripts must be moved to a separate JS file.
13. Duplicate website elements
Duplicate text can harm a website. Therefore, pay attention to this issue during a website audit. Such a problem often occurs on the pages of pagination, filters, short product descriptions, etc.
There are duplicate meta descriptions, H1 and H2 headers.
For example, on the page https://www.apple.com/ipod-touch/, H1 and H2 headers are the same. This is duplicated content.
14. Number of tags lining to a product page
Since search engines prioritize the first link to a page in the code over other links, it’s important to set the right anchor.
There is only one link to the product with the correct anchor for the whole block.
15. Display of snippets in the search
A snippet is a small segment of text displayed in search results along with a link.
The snippets of other websites look more attractive and complete than the official website snippets.
16. Quality of image optimization
Images are often mistakenly perceived as the simplest element. Yet if you optimize them, you will be thrilled with the result. Make sure to check images during your website analysis.
An Image Title tag is the text displayed when users hover over the image with a cursor. It’s slightly less important for website promotion than an Alt attribute.
The Alt attribute is missing.
17. Quality of outbound links
Don’t link from your website, especially online store, to third-party resources when it isn’t justified (links to your groups in social media, your landings on other domains, etc.). This can hurt the trust of search systems in the resource and your marketing efforts. Moreover, you may lose potential customers that will leave your page.
This website has links to 703 resources.
16 of them are broken
For example, on the https://www.apple.com/ios/home/accessories/ page
There is an outbound link that forwards users to the 404 pages.
18. Whether the technical pages are closed from indexing
In addition to using no-index commands for technical pages (admin panel, cart page, order page, etc.) in a robots.txt file, it’s recommended to specify this for search bots. To do that, add the corresponding meta tags to the HEAD of the necessary page. To make your website promotion more effective, mark the links to these pages as rel = “nofollow.” This way, search bots won’t try to access the technical pages and index the content these links lead to.
19. Link Mass Analysis
Starting a new project and conducting an audit, an earnest SEO specialist, first of all, analyzes the link mass of a website. The analysis includes both inbound and outbound links. It’s like counting money before you take it. Link mass analysis shows the current condition and helps detect spam links, resulting in a Google penalty.
When will we get the desired result? – is a common question SEO marketing specialists usually hear from their customers. Unfortunately, if you talk about the timeline before your check this simple parameter, you may end up in an unpleasant situation when you need to explain to the customer that everything appeared to be worse than you thought.
Sample link mass analysis of apple.com
This resource has a developed link mass.
The website is referred by 705,076 domains. The largest number of links belongs to audioboom.com (the music website) with 18,137,453 links.
Except for apple.com, the domains with dofollow links (680950), except for apple.com, are mainly various blogs, stores, and forums.
In total, there are 78,560 domains with nofollow links. These are usually different official information portals and online media.
The analyzed resource has 34,007,534 backlinks.
Out of these links, 29,641,413 links are Dofollow that, based on the domains, mainly come from different music and game websites.
5,887,519 of all backlinks are Nofollow that, based on the domains, mainly come from various official information portals and online media.
Example of the link on one of such websites
The links to apple.com have 1,731,004 anchors.
And 32,300 of them are non-anchor.
Among the keywords of the analyzed resource, the names of Apple’s most popular software, including iTunes, iCloud, and Apple store, have the highest traffic.
Here are the top organic keywords in the USA:
Organic keywords in the UK:
As a result, the following pages get the highest total user traffic:
Generally, in social media, the content from Customer Letter – Apple, Watch the Apple Special Event, iTunes, iPhone, Mac is the most popular.
Here are the pages popular on Facebook:
And on Twitter:
Let’s summarize the key definitions covered in this article. Each definition will help to explain a separate notion.
SEO audit is a tool that allows evaluating whether a website meets the current market demands. Link mass analysis is one of its components that should be used as a starting point of the audit. The assessment of inbound and outboard links is the most important when you start working on a project.