Websites are more than just a digital brochure or product catalog. They’re globe-spanning representations of your business’ capabilities, products, services, and overall trustworthiness. People won’t explore or shop on an outdated, broken, slow, or downright weird website, and that exact same sentiment carries over to search engines.
Your site may be the perfect visual representation of your brand, but if regular users don’t like your website and aren’t engaging with it, then why should Google care about you?
This is where deep domain investigations, like a sitewide SEO audit, become key to understanding your domain’s health and increasing its value.
The Basic Structure of a Lead-Gen or Ecommerce SEO Audit
Before we get too far into the explanation of CQL’s lead-gen and ecommerce SEO Audit process, it’s important to state that there’s no “correct” way to handle a search engine audit. If you were to ask five SEO professionals how they create and run their SEO audits, you’d end up with six different answers and at least one fistfight.
Some search optimizers will focus heavily on keyword usage and rankings, while others might go off the deep end while trying to figure out a site’s technical structure and issues.
In my opinion, it’s necessary to include both of those areas, plus a few dozen more interconnected elements that can help business owners and site managers truly understand their domain’s overall health and quality.
For CQL’s lead-gen and ecommerce SEO Audits, we examine four key areas:
- The domain’s current structure and its established organic value
- The domain’s technical elements
- The domain’s on-page design and content layout
- The domain’s competitors
These four sections cover the site’s current and past structures, and give us the chance to highlight wide-reaching technical issues, allows us to point out on-page optimization opportunities, and provides clients with an improved understanding of their competitors.
Site Health Evaluation and Organic Overview
When evaluating a domain, never forget that there is no such thing as a perfect website. Sure, there are wonderfully fun and useful websites that seem to have been built from pure rainbows and Disney-level magic, but I’ll guarantee you can still find issues that will allow competitors to outrank them where it matters most.
CQL’s SEO Audit begins with a wide look at your domain’s current organic value. This evaluation focuses on the expected areas, like sessions, pageviews, and current rankings in Google, but that’s what everyone expects to hear. We must go deeper.
We take a careful look through search health monitoring tools, like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, to find current issues and longstanding technical problems. This helps us understand search issues and target areas that nobody’s considered.
Other tools, like SEM Rush and Google Analytics, allow us to review the site’s history and look for notable trends, gaps, or ongoing issues hidden just beneath the surface. This information can help us better understand a site’s issues and implement the best possible fixes.
Once we know how the site’s doing, we can begin to understand its strengths, its weaknesses, and its opportunities. Without this initial step, the rest of the SEO Audit won’t have the up-to-date information a site owner needs to fully understand their site’s situation, which makes it much more difficult to prioritize future fixes.
Technical SEO Audit and Review
After the Site Health Evaluation, we move to the true heart of the SEO Audit: the Technical Review. This is where we’ll begin delving into the site’s actual structure and looking for issues that many site owners don’t consider.
One of the best ways to explain the Technical Review is to imagine that you’re taking Google on a date. Once you meet up and begin getting to know each other, you’d find out very quickly that it’s tough to impress Google because it has such high standards (and because so many other companies want to take Google on that same date).
Google is just like every date you’ll ever meet: it immediately judges you on first appearances. This is why it’s so important to make sure your site is clean, polished, and ready to shine the second Google shows up for that date.
The world’s largest search engine is very picky and wants sites to stick to a functional structure, maintain acceptable performance levels, and provide a quality user experience. If these aren’t in place, then Google will ruin the date and you’ll have to try even harder to impress it the next time around.
The idea behind the Technical Review is to get you ready for that date. Below is a high-level list of everything we inspect when investigating a domain.
- We review a domain’s URLs and focus on any structures that fall outside of best practices, such as improper formatting, bad character usage, excessive length, or a busted hierarchy structure
- After crawling and documenting the website, we create a distinct list of pages and internal links with improper status codes, like 301s (permanent redirects), 302s (temporary redirects), and 404s (broken page).
- Canonical tags help search engines understand the “true” version of a URL. They’re vital for proper indexation, so we ensure every canonical tag matches the page URL. If any are mismatched, then they’re prioritized for an immediate fix.
- We fully evaluate the site’s title tags, meta descriptions, H1, and H2 tags for best practices, branding, call-to-action statements, and character length. Improper or low-value meta data is shared and discussed with the client
- Images are an important part of a site’s overall value development, so we crawl image files and review file names, alt text, descriptions, file size, and more important elements
- We evaluate our client’s appearance in search results, including how the site’s current meta data, site structure, imagery, and URL structure impact the overall search appearance.
- The Robots.txt file tells search engines what can and can’t be indexed, so it’s important to review its contents, test the disallow entries, and be sure crawlers can access everything valuable across the site.
- Search engines use XML sitemaps to understand a domain’s contents and navigate through URLs. We review XML sitemaps to be sure they include the correct URLs and that they’re fully accessible to crawlers.
- The domain is run through multiple performance measurement tools, like Google Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights. This helps CQL identify issues with mobile and desktop speed, image loading patterns and file sizes, and more.
- Backlinks are key to search value development, so we dig up a domain’s overall backlink profile, review the domains linking back to our client, and decide if they should be kept. Any bad or low-value links are disavowed through Google’s Disavowal Tool.
Google looks very, very closely at each of these areas (plus a few hundred other spots) when it’s evaluating a domain’s overall organic value, so ensuring your site’s build on a solid foundation with the right additions is paramount to any sort of success.
Manual Page Analysis
While the Technical Audit is intended to help site owners understand their domain’s backend issues, the Manual Page Analysis helps brand managers see their pages from a completely different perspective.
Multiple on-page elements, like meta data and internal links, are reviewed as part of the Technical Audit, but that’s just the start.
We carefully review how page content is placed, how internal links are used, what sort of keywords are in place, and even how users interact with pages.
The Manual Page Analysis strives to find the balance between quality SEO and an exceptional user experience. Google is very much focused on overall user experience, so improving your page content, internal linking, and structure can have a direct impact on how people interact with your domain.
Now that we’ve completed our review of the actual domain’s structure, contents, and on-page optimization opportunities, we can finally dig into the information most business owners really want to hear: how they can beat their competitors.
Search engine results are an incredibly competitive environment. Results are always shifting thanks to Google’s highly active index, and with so many companies constantly competing over real estate, it’s very easy for a competitor with a faster, cleaner, and overall better website to outrank you.
We start by asking our clients to identify their three biggest competitors. Then, we run a scaled-down version of the SEO audit on these competitor sites to better understand what’s working, what’s broken, and whether they’re doing anything our client should consider replicating.
Prioritization and Next Steps
After completing the extensive Site Health Evaluation, Technical Review, Manual Page Analysis, and Competitor Overview, we boil everything down to a final list of prioritized tasks, fixes, and campaigns.
Once the prioritized list is reviewed and understood, CQL’s SEO professionals begin working closely with developers, designers, and clients to fine-tune the site and ensure all elements are primed for maximum search engine value.
Strengthen Your Site with CQL’s SEO Audit Services
A thorough SEO Audit can help website and brand managers fully understand their domain’s health, capabilities, and opportunities. If you want to truly expand your brand, then regularly auditing and optimizing your site is key to success.
Visit CQL today to learn more about our Growth & Innovation services and what we can do to help your business succeed on every first date.