If you already have an existing site with traffic, the quickest way to an often times BIG performance boost is by auditing your site and capitalizing on existing improvements.
If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to check out our guide on how to launch an SEO campaign first, and come back to this at a later point in time.
Sometimes we get too caught up in our other digital marketing efforts, such as creating new content or working on getting new backlinks that we forget to identify and executive already existing opportunities.
This is a compact version of what we identify, implement and capitalize on for our clients, and with this exact checklist, we’ve been able to double organic traffic for some of our clients:
Achieving quick wins and traffic gains have never been easier than for an existing webpage that’s never audited what’s going on behind the scenes.
Below are the tools we use and will introduce throughout the process. These are what we recommend and use, and surely, there are many other variants out there:
Feel free to use what you’re comfortable with.
Let’s jump into the website audit checklist, and go in-depth on 20 tips that can help drive big gains for your domain.
You’d probably be surprised to learn that Google prefers when your website has fewer pages indexed.
What exactly do we mean by that?
Let’s start by running a simple search query in Google to answer that question:
This query is going to return all of the pages of your website that are indexed in Google.
What you’re going to want to pay attention to is listed underneath of the categories shown below:
You might surprised to find out after running this query how many pages of your website are indexed in Google, and probably without you even previously knowing.
Many websites have a lot MORE pages indexed in Google that than they know, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
This phenomenon is what’s called index bloat, better know as when a website has a large number of low-value pages indexed in search. Often times, these pages are auto-generated by platforms such as WordPress and they contain little or no unique content.
A lot of these pages are often times going to be low-value pages that offer no value to Google or searches, and therefore we’re going to want to de-index these or remove them from being found by Google and listed in the search results.
So you know what to look for, these pages can be categorized into the following areas:
This is the first item in our checklist for good reason:
When we are starting to look at potential client’s websites, this is the first query we run normally to find a lot of room for improvement, and to understand that different pages that exist in Google.
Below is a client example of de-indexing over 10k+ low-value pages from search, resulting in a 17%+ increase in website traffic in just a few weeks:
If your website has a lot of pages indexed in search, you won’t want to neglect this step, as this is a great opportunity to see some big traffic gains.
The loading time of your website is both an important ranking factor and can have a big (negative) impact on your conversion rates.
And it makes sense.
Would you stay on a website that takes 10 seconds for each page to load?
You’re probably nodding your head right now.
It’s important to provide an excellent experience to your users, and site speed is just one of the ways you can do that.
There’s two key ways you can improve your site’s load times:
To get started, head on over to Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool.
This tool is going to tell you exactly what you need to clean-up on-site in order to improve your page load times.
After you run the test, you’ll receive a rating between 1-100 for both the mobile and desktop version of your website.
Scroll down until you find a section labeled Opportunities which will list out the different line items for improving your site’s loading times.
Capitalizing on these opportunities is going to be dependent on which CMS your website is running, whether that’s WordPress, Magento or even custom-coded.
Pro Tip 💡
If you’re running on WordPress, using a caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache can help to increase loading times by deferring JS/CSS from loading and storing your pages for future visits.
To compress image sizes and serve them in next-gen format, Smush is a great option.
The best way to find out how you can implement changes for these is by running a quick Google search for these items, plus whatever your website is built on.
For example, “Reduce server response times WordPress”.
There’s a ton of expert guides out there on how to implement fixes for each of these items:
You should aim to get your speed scores up on mobile and desktop as high as possible.
But don’t kill yourself trying to do it.
Next-up you’ll also want to check your actual page speed and load times.
GTMetrix is our go-to tool for checking how quickly different pages on your website load.
It’s only only important to understand how long your homepage is taking to load, but you’re also going to want to test other important pages on your website such as your key landing pages, high-performing blog posts, and so forth.
According to Google, over 50% of people will leave a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
It’s best to aim to get your loading times under 3 seconds.
If you’ve fully optimized your site and you’re still not seeing those big speed gains, it might be time to switch hosts.
There’s plenty of excellent hosts out there, so if you’re running on something sub-par (shared hosting that costs a few dollars a month) you might want to consider the switch – your users, and Google, will thank you for it.
There’s no doubt about it that mobile is important.
Over 60% of users are now searching via mobile devices.
This article is a few years old, so you can imagine that trend has only continued to increase with the reach of smartphones throughout the world.
Luckily, there’s another handy Google tool to check if your site is optimized for mobile, or not.
Google’s Mobile Friendly Testing Tool only requires you to enter your domain name, and it will give you a result in less than 30 seconds.
If your website is not mobile-friendly, you’re going to want to do some research into what you can do to make that happen.
Most CMS come with plenty of themes that are responsive and fit the bill.
If you’re running an outdated theme for example on WordPress, you might want to consider the switch over to something that is mobile-friendly.
Broken links might not directly play into the ranking factors of Google’s search engine algorithm, but they do provide a sub-par user experience.
And that can hurt you when it comes to both bounce rate and your rankings.
You’ll want to avoid both broken internal links as well as broken external links at all costs.
There’s a few different ways to check for broken links.
The first is using Google Search Console.
If you’re not already using Google Search Console (which I’ll reference from here on out as GSC), you’re going to want to get this setup.
It can save you a ton of headaches in being proactive with alerting you of different site issues that may appear.
Once you’re in GSC, on the left-hand menu click on Coverage.
Now you’re going to have a report of all potential fixes on your website, including broken links:
Scroll down to the bottom, and you’ll find a list of all errors, which you can click and that will expand to tell you the exact issue URLs you want to resolve:
Maybe you deleted a page on purpose. If yes, you don’t need to do anything.
Google will eventually detect this and stop reporting any errors.
If there’s a page Google can’t access but you want it to be found in search, you’re going to want to address that issue.
GSC can be a life-savior, so it’s best to keep an eye on this tab and check-in periodically for any issues that are being reported.
While we’re on the topic of Google Search Console, finding and fixing any issues with indexing is another important item to check.
It’s important that Google is able to crawl and index pages on your website so they can be found in search, and have the chance to rank accordingly.
First things first, you want to ensure you’ve submitted a sitemap to Google using GSC.
From the left-hand menu, click on Sitemaps and you’ll see a similar screen if you’ve already set up an XML sitemap for your domain:
In this example, you’ll see the sitemap was discovered and the Success status is displayed.
If you haven’t submitted a sitemap, you’ll see the following screen:
You’re going to want to enter the sitemap URL from your domain.
Normally this is located at yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml, but you’ll need to first check.
Once you submit the sitemap, Google will shortly return a response once it has been reviewed.
Next, we want to take a look at any potential crawling issues that are going on with our website.
Navigate to the Coverage tab you’ll find here any issues that are occurring with indexing.
We’re going to want to dive a bit deeper into both Submitted URL has a crawl issue and Indexed, though blocked by robots.txt.
If these errors appear, you’re going to want to click on them to get the actual URLs and additional information.
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Perhaps a little known fact, it’s possible to have more than one version of your website indexed in Google.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this issue happen way too many times.
If this is the case for your domain, you’re going to want to clean this up ASAP.
Here’s an example of 4 different versions of a website:
To the human eye, these all might seem the same.
But, that’s not the case with Google.
You can test this by typing all four versions of your website into your browser.
Assuming you have an SSL certificate installed, these four domains should all re-direct to the exact same version:
If that’s not the case, you’re going to want to set up a 301 redirect to the canonical version of the URL in order to ensure all four versions of that URL go to the same exact URL.
Pro Tip 💡
It’s preferable to use https:// as using a secure site provides is a ranking factor.
This also has the added benefit of securing your site and signifying trust.
You can install a free SSL certificate with Let’s Encrypt.
It’s important to understand how your traffic is trending, and if you’re going in that upwards growth direction that we all want to see.
If you’re on a downward decline, now is the time to understand why that is as to improve the situation.
That’s where Google Analytics comes in handy.
Load up Google Analytics, and head over to the Audience and then Overview tab:
On the top-right hand side, click on the date range and we’re going to want to show data from the past 6 months, and compare to the previous year by clicking on the Compare to checkbox and selecting previous year.
This will help us to account for any type of search seasonality, and give us some data to work with.
From here, we’re going to want to apply a filter so we only see organic traffic.
From the top menu, click on Add Segment:
Uncheck All Users and select Organic Users and click the save button:
Now we have an overview of all organic traffic from the past six months, compared to the previous year:
What we want to see here is steady growth of the blue graph over-time, exactly as shown in this example.
Here we see steady growth over-time thanks to having an SEO campaign in place.
If you see either stagnant growth or a decline in growth, its time to start asking some questions:
In the example above, we can see steady growth over 30% in some cases versus the previous year, and then an immediate drop.
In this example, this business unfortunately saw a large dip in organic traffic due to the global impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s important to identify what has caused the traffic drop so you an properly address the issue at hand.
If your traffic has remained stagnant over time, no worries.
We will address how to overcome this in later steps.
Focusing on improving existing pages can bring big returns.
If you have a large site, surely it can take a lot of time to work through improving each and every page.
To start, it’s best to choose 5-10 of the most important pages on your website which you can focus on improving for big traffic gains.
These pages would include:
If you’re not sure with which pages to start with, there’s two ways you can identify which pages to target.
Head back on over to Google Search Console, and select Performance from the left-hand menu.
Next, we want to set the date range on the filter menu to Last 6 months:
Now, click on the Average CTR box so that we include the click-through rate metric in our data:
Finally, scroll down to the bottom of this page and click on Pages and then click on Impressions:
This is going to give us a list of pages ranking descending by the total number of impressions each page is receiving from search:
We want to focus starting with pages that are getting a high amount of impressions, but have a low amount of clicks.
These are generally pages that have a CTR under 2%.
How can we improve these pages?
You’re going to want to start with the meta tags that are visible in search that influence a user to click your page versus other pages:
In order to improve existing pages which high impressions and a low CTR, first take a better look at the query and understand if this is a valid query you want to rank for.
If it is, start digging into the page title and header and consider the following changes:
Taking a look at the search results (SERPs) for keywords you want to rank for is going to get the creative juices flowing – see what is working for others, and test out your variation of that to find a winning formula.
Further improving the actual content of existing pages through a quick content audit can help existing assets to rank higher.
To find the best starting pages to focus on, consider the below two points:
You should already have a good idea the answer to the first point.
To find out how your pages are performing in search, head over to Ahrefs and click on Organic keywords from the left-hand menu:
Set a filter on Position to include keywords ranking in position’s 5-20:
Now you’re going to have a list of all keywords your website is ranking for in positions #5-20 in Google:
In most cases, some of the keywords you’re ranking for might be relevant.
That’s fine – skip over those, and focus on the primary keywords which you want to rank for.
Once you have a list of those pages, we now want to focus on how we can improve the on-page SEO to help boost these pages in the rankings.
Pro Tip 💡
Remember it’s important to understand Google’s actual intent for pages it wants to show in the search results.
This becomes a lot more clear when you actually run a search in Google for your primary keyword you’d like to target.
If 9 out of 10 of the search results are category pages for a product and you’re trying to rank a blog post, you’re most likely going to have a tough time.
In this case, you’ll want to target this keyword accordingly using a category page.
Review each of these pages individually, and ensure you’re hitting on each of the following points:
The other efforts from this checklist including improving page speed also fall under the on-page SEO category, so we’re making great improvements already.
If you’re looking to dive deeper into On-Page SEO optimization, you’ll want to check out our On-Page SEO Checklist to make sure you’re getting the most out of your efforts.
Pro Tip 💡
Make sure to avoid having a ton of duplicate content on your website.
You can run your site through Siteliner to quickly check for duplicate pages that might exist site-wide.
The idea of content gaps is easy.
You want to find keywords that competing websites are ranking for, which you currently are not, and create better content on those topics.
Finding content opportunities that you’ve missed out on can give you a ton of new writing topics to drive new organic traffic to your business.
If you’ve never done this exercise before, you’ll probably be very surprised at what you’re about to find.
Fire up Ahrefs and click on Content gap on the left-hand menu:
From the next screen, you can type in up to ten competing websites.
Start by typing in 3-5 websites that directly compete with your business and click Show keywords.
If your domain doesn’t have a ton of authority just yet, we’re going to want to add a filter to quickly find keywords we can rank for:
Start by setting the Volume between 250 – 1,000 and KD from 0-25.
This is going to show keywords you’re not ranking for, that your competition are ranking for and which are not very competitive:
You’ll now have a ton of keywords that your competitors are ranking for that are not difficult to create your own content for and to rank in Google.
Ahrefs also provides direct links to the actual pieces of content, so you can review each of your competitors pages for these keywords and understand what is working well for them.
Play around with the filters a bit – if you have a higher domain authority already, you can target more competitive keywords.
Ranking in Google only becomes more competitive as each day goes on. There’s hundreds of thousands of sites fighting for those few spots on the first page of results.
This can be a good time to reflect on the content you’ve been creating, and to ask if this content is the BEST content out there on this particular subject.
In order to rank, you need to be focused on building the best content on the web that helps to target user’s specific queries.
It’s 100x better to focus on building just a few great pages than to build hundreds of sub-par pages.
Looking at content from a search perspective, it’s also important that we’re creating content that is making users happy.
Google’s Rank Brain algorithm takes a look at how users interact with your site.
Websites shown in the search results that get more clicks, and keep users engage will be rewarded.
If a page is getting less clicks, or if it’s getting clicks and users are not satisfied with the count and are bouncing from the page, will be knocked down in the results.
Therefore, it’s not only important to create the best content out there, but also content that’s going to satisfy users and their search.
A great way to dive deeper into this is simply to understand what pages are already rankings for keywords you’d like to target by checking out those pages in Google.
Understand what type of content is ranking well, and create content that is 100x better.
Create, promote and focusing on building links (with the right anchor text!)
This is how you’ll be heavily rewarded for your efforts.
Consider the content strategy that you have a place already, and re-think how you can improve and add additional value to existing content.
Structured data is essentially marking up your website’s code to make it more easily readable by search engines.
What’s the main benefit?
Using structured data you can enable certain rich snippet items for when your domain ranks in search, such as displaying reviews:
This can have a huge impact on click-through rates.
If you’re not already marking up your content, depending on your CMS, there might be plugins that provide such functionality for you.
In the case of reviews, you can use a tool such as GatherUp to display rich snippets in search results by embedding their review widget on your pages.
There are many types of rich snippets available, including reviews, products, events, and so forth.
To manually mark-up content we can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper:
To test, we can use Google’s Structured Markup Testing Tool.
Using this tool, we can scan pages for errors to ensure structured data is set up properly.
Diving deeper into rich snippets and structured data, I’d recommend checking out Backlino’s guide.
Links play a large role in rankings, so we’re also going to want to have a quick link profile audit.
Open up Ahrefs, and type in your domain name.
Scroll down to the Referring domains section:
We want to see a positive upwards trend over time.
If you’re seeing a sharp decline, it’s important to dive deeper into why this might be occurring.
If it’s stagnant, or you don’t have any links, then it’s time to kick-start a backlink building campaign.
Next, from the top bar, click on the Referring domains metric:
From here, we will want to click on DR from the metric’s tab to filter links in descending orders.
Take some time to go through this list and find any seemingly low-quality links.
Finding a large amount of spammy links from low-quality domains is not so common, but if you do find those, you’re going to want to disavow those links using Google Search Console.
Again, if you’re lacking high-quality links here that show high DR, you’re most likely going to want to start a link building campaign to address this and build authority to rank.
If you’re unsure what exactly to look for here, Ahrefs has a great guide on finding bad links.
And that’s a wrap!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this simple website audit checklist that can help to bring some big gains to your SEO efforts.
If you followed along you should have found a ton of opportunities that will help to improve your existing site’s rankings, elevate your lead generation efforts, and increase your overall online presence through search.
This is a compact version of our full SEO audit checklist that we run through for clients, but at the same time hits on some of the biggest points which can help to drive big traffic gains.
If you want to dive in even further, running an audit tool like Sitebulb or Screaming Frog can help to quickly surface a lot more potential opportunities, and identify site structure issues related to technical SEO.
If you have any questions about opportunities you’ve discovered or got stuck along the way, feel free to leave a comment below. ✌️
Want find out what’s really holding your business back from massive growth? 📋
We’ll run a video audit showing you exactly what you should be doing for growth in organic traffic, leads and revenue.
Justin is the Founder of Rock The Rankings and has over 13 years of experience in the realm of SEO across multiple business ventures and agencies.
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