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How To Conduct an Effective Website Audit

Before you embark on any online marketing, it is vital to ensure your site website meets certain requirements. Otherwise it’s likely that much of the marketing benefit is wasted and you won’t get the results you need. In order to avoid wasting your marketing budget, you need to make sure your website is in a fit enough shape to begin this exercise.

So without further ado, here is a checklist you need to consider when carrying out an SEO website audit:

Meta Descriptions

These are the meta tags within the head of your websites code which guide search engines to understand the topics the page discusses. Typically, most search engines will supply this text along with a link to your website in the search results. For many potential visitors, this text may be their first glimpse of your website, which is why it’s key to get these right!

Page Content

Ideally the text within your pages should use phrases you would like to rank for – but not all will be equal. Headings will have more influence than the rest of the text. By ensuring the ideal keyword density (around 3-5% for important phrases) you can expect to get better rankings in search engines.

There is no need to highlight that content should be unique and shouldn’t be repeated neither on other websites nor on the pages of the same website.

Duplicate URLs

Each page on your website should have a single URL. If there are several URLs for one and the same page, for example /article/ and /blog/article, than the crawler can treat it as having duplicate content and lower the position of both pages.

There are several approaches to the problem. The first one would be to avoid indexing one of those pages. This can be done with the help of robots.txt or using a nofollow tag in the header.

Another way to solve the problem is to use rel=”canonical” with a link to the page you need. In such a way search engines will know which page is the primary resource and will index it.

Site Speed and Page Load Speed

The speed of your website is a very important factor. Google and other search engines care about user convenience and thus, lower the position of slow websites. Moreover, users won’t wait for too long.
It has been estimated that if it takes more than 5 seconds for a page to load, most users will close it before its content will show up.

There are several aspects as to the website speed, including the amount of graphic elements and their optimisation, hosting overload, and the speed of site code. In addition, cache and compression setting also affect site speed. There is a great Google service with the help of which you can check the site speed, notably Page Speed Insights.

Website Usability / UI Audit

How easy your site is for search engine crawlers to index is one thing, but ensuring your visitors have the best experience possible, will assist them in finding what they have come for, which in turn will help your website have the best conversion rate it can. When a user comes to your website, they should be able to intuitively understand where they need to go. Users must understand where the necessary information is placed. If speaking about landing page, which aims to sell a service or a product, the button “buy” or “order” should be found in the most convenient area.

There are many services that provide A/B split testing that will help you determine where it is more effective to place certain elements on the page. This method is focused on taking some users to an alternate version of the page. After a while, when you have enough data, you can analyse which version works better (lower bounce rate and higher percentage of sales). Thus, you can check how effective a new design is before making it the basic design of the website.

This is not a complete checklist. But if you go through all the above mentioned steps, it will definitely minimise the difficulties of promoting a website.

Your Pre-Launch Website Checks

Launching a new website is both exciting and stressful! The project is complete, you have a great new site, but there can so many things for everyone to check that it can be hard to know where to start. How can you be sure nothing gets missed and everything went as planned?

With this in mind, we have produced a basic website launch checklist. Depending on your requirements, we think it may be worth building your own website launch plan comprising a list of steps and a schedule for checking each based on what you need. Without further ado, here are our top points to check when launching a new website:

Post Development Checks

Once the core functionality of site site has been tested, it’s time to take that step back and review everything in it’s entirety. Only here do the really small things start start becoming visible.

  • Check for Broken Links: Even smallest websites will often have many Urls. Checking each can be a challenge in itself, even a few broken links can hold your website back in the search rankings and also have a negative impact on your visitor’s experience. Luckily, there are some great tools such as Link Assist’s Website Auditor that will spider the site and log any crawl errors such as broken links (4xx) or pages that give errors (5xx).  There is also a good free tool called Xenu.
  • Custom Not Found and Error Pages: Even when things don’t go according to plan once the site is launched (such as visitors following dead links, or mistyping a web addresses), you still want to give visitors the best experience possible. Having custom not found / error pages not only tidy up the look and feel of your site, they also reinforce your brand and help create a very professional experience.
  • Check Urls are search engine friendly and fully indexable: do you link to all places on the website? Are all pages either linked or included in the sitemap? Are there any pages with query strings that may be less easy for search engines to index and could those links be rewritten to look like a full Url? It’s worth checking that all your content is accessible.
  • Check your site displays properly: It’s fine having a site that is indexing and handles error pages and broken links, however if you have forgotten to check all the pages across all the main browsers and mobile devices, you may be in trouble. Open all the pages, navigate through the site and ensure everything displays as it should. You should be particularly careful when testing on mobiles and tablets, the times we have seen content completely disappear upon mobiles is untrue – check, check and check again.

SEO Checklist (Site Content & Structure)

Content and structure are hard to separate; they are like two sides to the same penny. You want to ensure your sites Url structure is optimal for SEO. In turn, this will also depend on what content you have upon those pages.

  • Keyword research and competitor research: This first vital step helps you identify your website’s target keywords and priorities. Whether you use the Google Keyword Planner Tool or any other, gathering together the different keywords by group and purpose, testing the levels of search and competition for each in turn provides the foundation for all other SEO activities.
  • Structure: Being guided by the results of the previous step, you can now take a look at your website structure and see if the pages allow a visitor flow that mirrors the purpose of keywords. It is probably best to think of these as grouped keywords, each grouping being bound to a particular section of the website.
  • Content optimised: In addition to structure, it’s important to check whether the content itself is well written and optimised. Does it read properly and convey your message back to your target audience in the way you need it to? Does it contain all the important information they will be interested in? Is it logically structured? Some people may visit your site with a very specific requirement, for this reason it’s always a good idea to break up the pages based on visitors need.
  • Check for duplicate content: Duplicate content can hurt your SEO efforts and annoyingly, detecting it can be tricky. There are some great duplicate content detection services such as Copyscape which allow you to paste in some copy, and it will help identify if this same copy is found elsewhere on the web.  Another way this can be tested is by copying a whole paragraph into the Google search bar and hit enter. Hopefully, your web page will be the only one that ranks (if it has been indexed) for this full paragraph search, if not then either you or someone else has copied the content.
  • Check your internal link strategy: Once you have your overall content and structure, you can now also review your internal links which really details the relationship between your content and structure. This should be aimed at not only giving you more links between pages in your site, but should also allow you to include more keywords within these links to help quietly promote various sections of the site for particular topics.  It should also be aimed at taking visitors directly to the information they came for. If you feel that one type of visitor may also be interested in another product or page, include a link in the content!
  • Check robots.txt and sitemap.xml: Make sure these are present and correct and that they allow search engines to fully index all the pages you need. If you have a content management system (CMS) don’t feel the need to include each individual admin link in the robots.txt file as this can also volunteer sensitive information to attackers by informing them of your admin Url structure and files.

Website Optimisation Checklist

  • Page load speed: This is a growing area of importance since Google announced they would take page load speed into account as a ranking signal for websites. Since then, there has been a bit of a mad scramble to see how many different ways websites can be made faster. Luckily, there are also some great tools to help test the speed of your pages. Pingdom have a page load speed test, and Google (via Webmaster Dashboard) also include their own testing tool, both of which can be used to work out where your site is failing.
  • Are Javascript and CSS minified and bundled? Most modern websites have a lot of Javascript and CSS resources. Loading all of these, particularly if they are spread across multiple domains can take a long time. Minifying and bundling these together can significantly reduce the time a user has to wait for the page to be fully functional when loaded.
  • Image optimisation: This often overlooked aspect of website optimisation can offer seriously big savings in terms of page load times.  There are a few things we suggest you check here:
    • Is the format of my image appropriate? For instance, JPEGs are best for ‘real images’ that include a wide variety of similar colours i.e. photographs. PNGs have more generic compression but support transparency and are typically smaller in size.
    • Is the (file) size of the image appropriate? Most image formats including JPEG have built in compression that can be finely tuned and can reduce most images by about 60 to 70% without a noticeable loss in quality when used.
    • Are the dimensions of the image suitable? This is a common one we see many websites get wrong with 60% of websites we encounter rendering ridiculously large image sizes. Ideally images should be as large as needed, but no larger than they will actually be used. If you upload an image several times bigger than the slideshow it will be used in, the users will never see the full detail the image includes and your server will still need to serve the entire (large) file.  In practice, this can often be many images, leading to some serious savings in page load times if images are optimised site-wide.

Site Monitoring

Just like launching a rocket, once launched, the biggest immediate risks appear over, and now it’s a case of staying the course and ensuring nothing unexpected happens further down the line.

Site Visitor Monitoring: It is important to have some kind of visitor tracking once your new site is launched. We recommend Google Analytics, but there are some other good free tools out there as alternatives. This kind of tracking is essential for monitoring your SEO and marketing efforts, but will also give you early warnings about some kinds of problems and usability issues visitors may encounter.

Site up-time monitoring: We would suggest that all websites have some kind of uptime and availability monitoring.  Pingdom and Uptime Robot are two good services that will send alerts if your website appears to stop responding. When a site goes offline, Google and search engines will begin gradually demoting the website from the rankings until it comes back online. This is also tricky to spot, so having early warning alert systems are great ways to keep informed of serious issues.

Split testing / conversion tracking: To help monitor your SEO and marketing efforts, it’s important to have some kind of performance reporting and monitoring in place. Along with Web Analytics such as Google Analytics (mentioned earlier), it’s possible to set up ‘goal tracking’ as part of conversion optimisation. By analysing which visitors completed an action (such as completing a purchase), you can obtain vital feedback about which areas of your SEO are working particularly well, which can then be useful when reviewing your SEO strategy.

Performance reporting: In order to measure the much longer term marketing strategies for your website, it’s important to include some kind of performance reporting. This can help guide some of your decisions on where to focus your online marketing efforts and tweaks next.

Backup and Recovery

Now the site is live, with all the tracking and monitoring it could need. What could possibly go wrong? Regardless, we recommend having some kind of backup strategy in place.

Plan your backups: How often will the website be backed up? If your website includes a content management system (CMS) it will likely need both files and SQL data backing up. How do I get access to these files. Do I have an offsite copy of my website?

We hope this guide can provide a basic wbesite launch plan template which will offered a few helpful insights into common tasks that need carrying out when launching a website. Hopefully if you follow the points in this guide, you won’t go far wrong.

 

Panda and Google – panda proof quality content

Quality content has long been a major focus of Google and good SEO practices. Google’s Panda algorithm (named after Google engineer Naveet Panda)  is a search filter originally introduced in 2011 designed specifically to combat spam in the form of poor quality content. Google claims the impact would impact 11.8% of is search results in the U.S. which at that time, had a far higher impact on results than most of it’s other algorithm changes to date.

However, exactly what poor quality content is being targeted here? In a press release around this time, Google explained:

we’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content. We’ll continue to explore ways to reduce spam, including new ways for users to give more explicit feedback about spammy and low-quality sites.

As “pure webspam” has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to “content farms,” which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.

The key terms here being “sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content.” and “content farms which are sites with shallow or low-quality content”. This all set the SEO community in a bit of a spin: the scale and scope of this update seemed huge. On one end of the spectrum, Google are understandably targeting spammy content farms. But all websites lie along this continuum somewhere. Whether you realise this or not, most websites will have some kind of duplicate content, whether this is news websites quoting politicians and officials, or a descriptive block of text within a technical specification document that is common between different models of that product. Often duplicated content can be quite difficult to avoid, while keeping your information accurate.

In our guide today, we will attempt to detail the top things you need to check and how you can ensure your content is Panda proof for the future.

Identify and fix ‘thin’ content pages

What we mean here really, is: ‘pages that don’t have enough information to stand in their own right, while also including something that will negatively impact SEO’. There are many ways users create pages like these (often by accident) so let’s first look at the characteristics of pages like these, these could be:

  • Pages with little or not text, but lots of links i.e. if you use WordPress and use categories and tags, each one you create also creates a new pages which will usually by mywebsite.com/tag/tagname and mywebsite.com/category/category-name
  • Pages with no unique text (i.e. all the text on the page can be found either elsewhere on this same website, or elsewhere on the web). This can happen on listing pages (if the same titles and descriptions may be used elsewhere, such as blog or news lists).
  • A detail page that doesn’t have enough information to justify a whole page i.e. if you run an ecommerce web shop and have a single sentence description for a product, used when listing that product. When a user clicks on the product itself, they would hope for a more detailed description, including the same sentence again on this page

By the same token, it’s possible to create (for example) a blog post of only 100 words which would be considered too thin in most cases.

Check for duplicated content

Ideally, all your pages should have entirely unique content and in most cases there are really no excuses for plagiarising others copy (even if it is one of your suppliers offering a description of one of their products or services).  There are some good tools out there to ensure the copy on your website is unique such as Copyscape.

However, there may be some scenarios where you have to use content that can also be found elsewhere on the web. In these cases, be sure to include enough of your own content to make it work.  If you are quoting someone (and would like to use a specific paragraph verbatim), be sure to add your own analysis and breakdown of what it all means around it – plenty of ‘unique’ content surrounding it.  If the descriptions of products are very similar, can you add anything further – your own personal recommendations or experiences (in which scenario one variant of the product is better than another for instance?)

Ensure spelling and grammar are optimal

Google uses grammar, spelling and punctuation as some of the more important indicators of the quality of content. Ensuring that copy is well-written, makes sense and flows with the appropriate punctuation will help Google see it as high quality.

Be sure to avoid long lists of all kinds where possible. Google will penalise keyword lists, or long comma (or bullet point) separated lists and will always favour copy that flows well while still including those keywords you wanted to get yourself listed for!

Check content keyword density and optimisation

Following on from the above point, you should also be checking that you have mentioned all the important keywords you want to be visible for. It is worth spending some time reviewing copy with a view to tweaking it and allowing the inclusion of more keywords, where doing this doesn’t significantly negatively impact the readability and grammar (above).

Check for user spam and poor quality content

This can be trickier still to manage! If you have a blog, forum or any kind of system that includes some open comments, be sure to check they don’t get abused! Spambots will often look for comment sections where they might include some of their own spam, with links back to whichever paymaster sent them! Generally, if you aren’t interested in discussing openly with people, we recommend turning comments off just due to the level of problems this can create with user generated spam and the amount of time or effort that is needed to properly manage this. There are some great services such as Akismet that specialise in providing spam guards specifically to block this.

As with all things SEO, moderation is the key! If in doubt, simply ask yourself if this type of page is “helpful to at least one type of person”. If so, then it’s likely to be fine. If however, you find a page in your site with a long list of keywords but no information, this is the time to take action!

In reality, most pages will likely lie somewhere within this spectrum and in all cases, the quality of the content can be improved.

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