TLDR; Conduct an SEO website audit manually, with a skilled analyst, or use one of a number of great toolsets/software. If after all that, you’re still struggling to identify issues and improve your website performance, speak with Clever Marketing.
Website owners, does this sound familiar?
You’ve just had your new website designed, developed, built, and launched. You’ve told the world on social media that your shiny new site is live and then an unsolicited email drops into your inbox –
Subject: SEO website audit
We conducted a website audit, and you have all the following issues with your website:
[Attached: PDF of a whole host of technical issues that you know nothing about, but the speculative emailer is saying they can fix]
Apart from starting with “Hey”, which might be trendy but is a bit Americanised, the lack of personalisation and quite often poor English and sometimes even an unprofessional and generic Gmail address, the rest of the email is a speculative attempt to 1) devalue your new website and 2) get the prospector’s “foot in the door”.
Also, the attached PDF usually looks very pretty and has a whole raft of issues that need fixing on your website, but it took very little effort to produce.
The truth is that EVERY website has something wrong with it, no matter how good it is. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the world of SEO website audits.
Manual vs. Automated Website Audits
The difference between a manual audit and an automated audit is simple: one of them you do yourself and the other you use a tool.
Manual Website Audits
The manual audit requires website audit skills, experience, and takes time, both to conduct and to report.
The automated audit can be conducted, and a report can be generated with zero skills.
So which option do you go for?
Well, as with everything in SEO, it depends…
Even with 20 years’ experience of designing, developing, building, populating and optimising websites, a manual audit takes up a lot of manpower and time. A manual audit is a real labour of love, and, despite an individual’s passion, it can be a tedious job, especially if you’re speculatively analysing a website for potential business.
That said, a clever agency will be able to selectively apply the skills required to look at specific areas of a website and “home in on” aspects that the auditor will instinctively find during their analysis. So, you could get a laser-focused insight into what your website needs in just a few minutes with a short list of items to improve.
The Automatic SEO Website Audit
As we mentioned earlier, no skills are required to conduct an automated audit – there are a lot of tools out there that do the job for you. You just enter a website address, press a button, let the tool crawl your website, and you have data that can highlight any issues within your web presence.
The tools vary from the rudimentary to the highly polished. Some are simple and collect lots of raw data that you must interpret yourself, using your experience and technical SEO skills. At the other end are audit tools with incredible levels of functionality and output, with slick interfaces that present your data, the reasons for fixing, and even prioritise the areas to focus on first.
The Pros and Cons of Manual vs Automatic SEO Website Audits
- Usually conducted by skilled, and experienced SEO experts.
- Can usually find glaringly obvious issues quickly.
- Focused on high-level problems, thus identifying “quick wins”.
- Optimal use of low-level tools.
- Can be time-consuming and labour-intensive.
- Output is manual and not always pretty.
- Quick. Sometimes really quick.
- No skills needed.
- Very comprehensive, nearly all tools are often included in the best audit suites.
- Pretty reporting and output.
- No skills needed. Yes, it’s both an advantage and a disadvantage.
- Sometimes incorrect – proprietary systems vary in their output.
- “False flags” are common – non-issues are flagged up as problems.
- They can cause unnecessary concern with inexperienced website owners.
The Verdict: Manual or Automatic Audits?
The answer is – a bit of both. It really depends on a lot of factors such as:
- How new your website is.
- What platform it’s built on.
- How big your website is.
- The level of technical expertise of the original web designer and web developer.
- What expertise do you have to act upon and fix issues?
- How serious you are about turning an average website into something excellent.
You can run an automated audit, but it takes an SEO expert to look at your list of issues and prioritise which ones will require attention first. Even the best tools need expert insights to be best leveraged.
Also, the best tools can only do what they’ve been programmed to do, so if they have limitations, they will never be able to identify certain aspects that require attention. This is where your “SEO guru” comes in – no tool will tell you that you’re running a WordPress theme that is bloated with code. They may indicate things such as “low HTML to content ratio”, but it takes a technical SEO or a web developer to look at your website and issue the full verdict.
So What Should I be Looking for in an SEO Audit?
There are so many things that affect your performance in the search engines. There were once over 200 factors, and each of these had something like 50 aspects, so that was a lot of things to look at.
However, we’ll start the list nice and easy, then get a little more detailed…
- Is your webserver fast? Not your website itself but the server? Does it have high Time to First Byte (TTFB) metrics better than other hosting options?
- Is your hosting reliable? Downtime can affect what the search engines think of your website before humans even get anywhere near it.
- Do you have a Content Delivery Network (CDN) for large files and for serving global customers?
- Is your dev writing or producing lean code? Remember that in WordPress, for instance, there are some very heavy themes with lots of “code bloat” that can slow down your website.
- Even WordPress might be overkill sometimes, we’ve had clients ask us to redesign and rebuild website in pure HTML for performance gains.
- With WordPress websites, some web developers go overboard on adding plugins for every function. Try to limit the number of plugins on WordPress websites.
- Make sure your website works perfectly on mobile and desktop.
- Be very clear with your information architecture – your website’s content should be organised into logical, and accurate sections that mirror your business and products/services, with menu systems that make navigation easy.
- With this sound basis for your website, focus on optimising your pages:
- Use unique page titles.
- Ensure you’re using unique and appealing descriptions.
- Structure your pages so that they have a known hierarchy of H1, H2, H3 etc.
- Break up copy into readable chunks for your users, especially on mobile.
- Block quotes where appropriate.
- Ensure that you have strong internal links to your key content – link related articles.
- XML sitemaps: Ensure you’re only publishing relevant and useful sitemaps. Remove the ones you don’t need and ensure they’ve been submitted to Webmaster Tools/Search Console.
- Robots.txt: A simple file that contains directives for bots and crawlers – make sure it contains the correct information to help bots understand your website, what should be crawled and not.
- The biggest and best tool is experience.
- Google Analytics – Free analytics tool, helps you analyse traffic, user behaviour. Beware that GA4 is the new version and not as friendly out-of-the-box as the old Universal Analytics.
- Google Search Console – The best tool to investigate keyword performance, the status of pages indexed in Google, submit XML sitemaps etc.
- Bing Webmaster Tools – Microsoft’s equivalent of GSC, useful to see insights in how your site performs in Bing.
- SEMrush – An extensive suite of SEO tools to help you audit your website. Plugin your Analytics and Search Console for accurate analysis, track keyword ranking, monitor site health and identify specific issues to tackle.
- Ahrefs – Very similar to SEMrush.
- Majestic SEO – Another suite of SEO audit tools, along the lines of SEMrush and Ahrefs.
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider – SFSS is a desktop tool that crawls your site and generates tons of useful data for you to analyse and act upon. Useful for the more geeky website users.
- Xenu LinkSleuth – an old but still working Java tool to check for broken links in your site. Superseded by the newer, bigger tools, but free and useful for a single task.
An SEO website audit can be simple or as complex as you want.
Whichever approach you take, be it manual or automated analysis, you will need a seasoned SEO expert to make all the changes to your website. SEO professionals with technical SEO skills are particularly useful to make those really deep changes that go beyond the page and are more in the web developer realm. So speak to an experienced SEO agency to help you audit your site.
Clever Marketing is the very digital agency you need to conduct SEO website audits, analyse and interpret the data, and make the changes that will help you rank better, get more traffic and generate more leads.