You can spend hours upon hours identifying all the problems or areas for improvement for a website, but I’m going to go over how to perform a quick 15 minute SEO Audit for small to medium websites.
I’ve performed hundreds of SEO audits for friends, clients, and family. From this experience, I’ve learned that there are three optimal times when you should conduct an SEO Audit.
1. Before working on a new client’s website.
2. Before launching a new website.
3. After launching a website.
Apart from these specific times, it’s also best to perform a quick audit monthly or quarterly, depending on how often the site’s content changes.
After reading this guide, you will:
- Know how to analyze a website using Screaming Frog and understand the results.
- Be able to identify key issues with broken links, page titles, meta data, and much more…
- Learn how to fix these issues on your own, using the industry’s best practices.
SEO Audit Checklist
This guide is not recommended for beginners or new webmasters, since it covers some technical aspects.
The areas are split up into sections and subsections as they appear in the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool.
1. Page Titles
Check for too long or too short Page Titles, or even worse, Missing, Multiple, or Duplicate Page Titles. Page Titles, also called meta titles or SEO titles, are an important ranking factor and the perfect place to include your target keywords.
Note: If you’re using the Yoast SEO Plugin, the Page Title Screaming Frog is referring to will be the SEO Title, NOT the Page Title at the top of the page.
Page Title too long: If your content is ranking, the best thing to do in this situation is to manually check the SERPs by searching in incognito mode using the target keywords and verifying the Page Title in the SERPs is actually too long and is being truncated, or worse, being completely re-written. You will be able to quickly tell if it is being truncated if there is an ellipsis in the title.
There are best practices to follow on character lengths and pixel lengths, but Google’s algorithm does not treat each Page Title the same for every query, so it’s best to manually check the pages and see for yourself before making changes.
Page Title too short: If your page title is short, you’re missing out on a chance to stand out in the SERPs. If you have extra space in the page title, it is a good idea to incorporate adjectives or descriptors like Best, Ultimate, Guide, Step-by-Step, etc., or add your brand name.
To further improve click-through rates, it may even make sense to re-write the title to be more appealing, such as by featuring a numbered list, a how to guide, a question users are asking, or through another use of compelling language. An example would be, for the keyword “SEO Audit”, you wouldn’t leave the Page Title as that, you might change it to:
- How Do I Perform an SEO Audit? – The Symphony Agency
- A 3 Step SEO Audit Process to Improve your Website
- How to Perform the Ultimate SEO Audit for Your Website
2. Meta Descriptions
Check for missing, duplicate, too long, or too short Meta Descriptions. While meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor, they can influence click-through rates, which means a well optimized meta description will result in more traffic.
Missing: Pages missing a meta description lose out on a chance to improve CTR (click-through rate) by having a handcrafted meta description instead of an auto-generated one from Google.
For more information on writing meta descriptions, I’d recommend reading this Hubspot blog: How to Write an Effective Meta Description
Duplicate: Duplicate meta descriptions aren’t always bad and won’t necessarily hurt your SEO, but you are missing out on a chance to personalize your meta descriptions to each page.
You probably don’t want the same exact meta description on your main service page as your contact page, however, if you have a Contact page and multiple Schedule Service pages for your main services, you could save time and focus your marketing efforts elsewhere by using the same or similar meta descriptions for these pages and tweaking them slightly for each service.
Too Long (Over 156 Characters or 940 Pixels): Just like above with ‘Too Long Page Titles’, there are best practices to follow for the length of your meta descriptions. However, Google’s algorithm treats each query uniquely and meta descriptions are both query and page dependent, meaning if you type in different queries the same page may show up in the SERPs with different meta descriptions. It’s important to manually check your meta descriptions for your top keywords before making changes because you may have a meta description that while it is flagged as too long, it isn’t actually being truncated in the SERPs, meaning it’s completely fine to leave the meta description as is and as a bonus, you’ll even have more real estate and stick out in the SERPs with a longer than normal meta description.
Too Short (Below 70 Characters or 400 Pixels): Just like above with ‘Too Short Page Titles’, you’re missing out on the opportunity to improve CTR, and if your meta description is too short, you lose out on potential real estate in the SERPs and it has a much higher chance of being completely re-written by Google.
3. Response Codes
For all Response Code errors, you’ll be able to see which page or pages are linking to the offending URL by selecting the link in the “Address” column and selecting the “Inlinks” tab at the bottom of Screaming Frog. Every URL listed under the “From” column will have a link somewhere on the page to the offending URL.
No Response: On rare occasions, you might find an improperly typed or formatted link that won’t show up as a 404 error, so it can be overlooked by common 404 checker tools and missed when performing an SEO audit.
An example of a “No Response” error would be a link like this: “htps://symphonyagency.com”. Crawlers will not pick this up as a 404 error because it doesn’t recognize the address starting with “htps:”. So if you’re only looking for 404 errors, this incorrect, broken link will not show up in your audit.
Ignore Statuses of ‘Connection Refused’ or ‘Blocked’: Sometimes you will link to a website that refuses or blocks certain crawling requests, such as those from Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider. This generally will not have any effect on your website and is not something to worry about, but you can enter these links into your address bar directly to make sure that they aren’t 404ing or redirecting.
Redirection (301 Error, 302 Error, etc.): Check ALL of your internal links for any redirects. In most cases, you’ll be able to quickly and easily update these links yourself, so there’s no reason any internal link should ever redirect, or worse, be part of a long redirect chain.
I’m a perfectionist, so I’ll even go in and fix every link to match the proper trailing end slashes and also update http to https. While I don’t think this is generally a concern as Google probably does not have too much trouble understanding these are the same pages, I have seen these small discrepancies impact reports in Google Analytics and Google search console.
302 Redirects: Look for any improperly used 302 Redirects. 302 Redirects are meant to be used as a temporary redirect and should not be used in place of 301 if the content has been permanently moved.
For more information, check out Google’s John Mueller’s explanation of how Google treats 301 and 302s.
Lack of or Improper use of Redirections can hurt your SEO efforts by:
- Sending diluted ranking signals
- Slowing down page load time
- Creating crawl issues for Googlebot
- Causing loss of link juice
Client Error (404 Error): Screaming Frog will pick up any 404 links that have accumulated over time. These will include a mix of internal 404 errors and external 404 errors.
If you’re running a WordPress site, you can use a plugin to handle your redirects. My favorite plugin for setting up redirections is: https://wordpress.org/plugins/redirection/
It’s simple and easy to use, and there’s even a feature to bulk import from a CSV, which can save a lot of time if you have more than 10 redirects, or in some cases, hundreds of redirects, to set up at a time.
The most common scenarios I find 404 errors are links to other websites that have moved their content and did not set up proper redirects, or, for whatever reason, deleted the content. These instances will have to be fixed on a case by case basis. In most cases, I try to find the original link but If I can’t find it, I’ll either link to another resource or remove the link.
404 Errors can hurt your SEO efforts by:
- Providing a poor user experience
- Loss of link juice
404 Redirection DOs
- DO redirect 404 errors to relevant content
- DO let content that is no longer on the website 404
404 Redirection DON’Ts
DO NOT redirect all 404 errors to an irrelevant page, such as the homepage. Google will pick these up as soft 404 errors, so you won’t gain anything in the long run from doing this and will likely be providing a poor user experience. Instead, focus on creating or optimizing your 404 page or, if possible, recreating the lost content.