Staying ahead in the SEO game of content marketing means keeping on top of best practices, trends, and more.
But – and this is a big “but” – how do you know if you’re doing enough? How do you catch mistakes, and, more importantly, opportunities for improvement?
To find out, we talked with Stephan Spencer, an internationally-recognized SEO expert, best-selling author, podcaster, and general optimization guru.
You may know his name from the book he co-wrote, The Art of SEO, which is used as a text in college classes. He has also contributed to Search Engine Land, The Huffington Post, Marketing Profs, and Practical Ecommerce, to name a few.
In particular, we talked with Stephen about the art of the SEO audit and what it can do to help you stay ahead of your competitors.
What Is an SEO Audit?
Stephen says an SEO audit is a “deep dive forensic analysis” of your website. This means you’re digging in and looking at every facet of your SEO to determine if you’re hitting every mark. It’s a two-pronged process where you focus on these topics:
On-page factors are the SEO techniques that are working behind the scenes. This is stuff you can directly control, like HTML code and keywords in your content.
Off-page factors are the things you can’t control that affect your ranking. These are happening off-site, like links pointing to your page from other sources.
These factors are further divided into three topics. Basically, you need to do three types of audits to cover your bases:
Technical audit – The technical side of SEO, including HTML tags. Is your code set up to give you the best advantage?
Content audit – The information you’re putting out onto the web is the content side. Keywords, headers, and more affect your SEO here.
Link audit – Stephan calls this your “link neighborhood.” Who is linking to you, and how are they doing it? What kind of anchor text are they using, and in what context?
Once you understand the basics of an SEO audit, you can dive in and get started.
How to Do an SEO Audit
An SEO audit can help you improve your optimization in weak areas so you’re strong across the board. This will give you the best chance to improve your ranking and authority.
However, you may not know where to begin.
1. Where Do You Begin?
Stephan says a good, comprehensive audit of your SEO can take months. If you’re not sure where to start tackling this project, begin with your weakest area.
Where do you know you need improvement? What do you know for sure is lacking? Start from there, and start with easy fixes to ease into the process.
For instance, you could start by checking links and making sure they point to the right places. If you have multiple versions of what is essentially the same content, you can ensure your code tells Google which page you want to show in search results, which is called canonicalization.
2. Next Steps: Accessibility and Indexability
To continue with the SEO audit, Stephan recommends starting at the top of the funnel and working your way down.
The very top part is your accessibility. This is how friendly your site is to web crawlers and visitors alike. Will they know what it’s about with a glance? Can they easily browse it?
When bots can crawl your site, they can index it. When your site is indexed, users can find it when they do a search.
Versus manually checking which of your pages are accessible and indexed in Google, there are tools you can use. Stephan recommends:
3. Check Your XML Site Map
Next, you can make sure Google is crawling your site’s most important pages and indexing your chosen hierarchy.
Do it with an XML site map, according to Stephan. This is a list of all your definitive site URLS – the main pages of your web presence. These are compiled within your site’s robots.txt file and can be listed according to importance.
Naturally, you don’t have to write this up yourself – there are tools for that depending on your platform. For instance, for WordPress, Stephan recommends the Yoast SEO plugin. Another tool for checking how Google is indexing your pages is Google.com/webmasters.
4. Optimize Your Site Architecture
You can utilize your site rank by linking to your most important products/features on your home page. You can also improve a page’s ranking by making it easily accessible from a ranking page. Choose carefully what you link to, however, because Google will penalize you for an unwieldy amount of links and link disorganization.
5. Clean Up Your HTML
Stephan goes over a number of ways to make sure your HTML is set up for SEO, but these are the most important:
Make sure your keywords are prominent in the HTML (i.e., in header tags and title tags) – and forget about keyword density.
Make sure your title tags and meta descriptions are keyword rich and easy to read.
Other Considerations for an SEO Audit
An SEO audit is a comprehensive overview of your site. There are a ton of pieces to examine and information to go over. Here are other elements to give your attention:
Site speed – You need quick loading times for optimal SEO-friendliness
Organic vs. paid traffic – Check that you’re not purchasing keywords you could rank for organically.
Duplicate content – Eliminate duplicate content and tell Google which pages are important.
Your audit should be a methodical process where you do rigorous testing and digging. This can be an unwieldy endeavor, so Stephan recommends checking out his book, The Art of SEO, as well as resources on his website. You can also take his online course.
Though an audit can seem like a huge task, it’s totally necessary to figure out where you’re at, where you can improve, and how you can surge ahead with SEO.
About Stephan Spencer
Stephan is an internationally recognized SEO expert and bestselling author. He is the co-author of The Art of SEO, author of Google Power Search and co-author of Social eCommerce, all published by O’Reilly. The Art of SEO, now in its third edition and weighing in at nearly 1000 pages, is considered THE bible on search engine optimization, boasts testimonials from such industry giants as Seth Godin and Tony Hsieh, and is even used as a textbook at universities.
Stephan founded Netconcepts in 1995 and grew it into a multi-national SEO agency before selling it in 2010 to paid and organic search software/services agency Covario, which was in turn acquired in 2014 by ad agency conglomerate Dentsu Aegis. Stephan invented a pay-for-performance SEO technology called GravityStream that was also acquired and is now part of Rio SEO. After completing his earn-out in 2010, Stephan continued in the online marketing, ecommerce, and SEO space as a highly sought-after SEO and digital strategy consultant. His clients post-acquisition have included Zappos, Sony Store, Quiksilver, Best Buy Canada, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Chanel, to name a few.
Stephan has spoken at countless hundreds of Internet marketing events, including all the major search & e-commerce conferences (SES, SMX, PubCon, Internet Retailer, Shop.org, eTail, etc.). He’s been a contributor to the Huffington Post, Multichannel Merchant, Practical Ecommerce, Search Engine Land, DM News and MarketingProfs, among others.
Stephan is also the creator of Traffic Control, a three-day seminar on SEO, co-creator of the three-day professional development seminar Passions into Profits along with co-founder Kris Jones, and the host of two podcast shows, The Optimized Geek and Marketing Speak.
Stephan is on the board of Impact Network, a 501c3 nonprofit which builds and operates schools in Zambia.
He holds an M.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.