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Performing a Website Audit
It wasn’t long ago when I realized the importance of optimizing every element on every webpage I put up on the internet. Since setting up shop I’ve been asked a few times about website audits and what can be done to improve search rank. While it’s true there is more then one factor determining where your website will rank it’s important to understand that your on site setup is a core fundamental to success.
So how do you go about doing this?
There are a handful of website auditor tools scattered across the web. These tools typically “crawl” your site one page at a time collecting data that will be used to deliver some form of report. Not every tool is the same though.
Some audit tools spend more focus on page load speeds or user experience optimization while others are more interested with how your website linking structure performs within your website.
When performing a website audit I want to see results for search engine optimization (SEO). In short, I tend to look for information in regards to on site problems. Most web designers aren’t SEO experts. I can tell you that first hand having spent most of my web design career not knowing a thing about SEO. That said many miss out on some of the more important things that are needed on your site. Through an audit I can find on-site issues with page titles, meta content, load speed and ay other things I (or others) may have goofed up that is preventing search engines from finding those web pages.
Through different programs results tend to vary widely in level of detail and information. Expert tools provide loads of information filtering down to the smallest level of detail whereas non-expert tools provide less detail but better guidance.
Here are some of the tools I recommend for any website owners looking to grade their website.
Web Based Audit Tools
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Sixo Media Site Auditor
- Moz Pro
- Screaming Frog
I’m sure there are countless others (and I’d love to hear them in the comments section) but all of the above help to accomplish my goal of finding out what’s helping or hurting my website SEO.
Anyone will do but you have to ask yourself how much time you’re willing to put in. Desktop programs often provide more detail and data but more importantly aren’t limited like some web based tools. On the other hand a web based tool is often preferred because it’s maintenance free. No updates, no install, and can be accessed from anywhere in the world assuming you have internet access.
Let’s start with web based tools.
Google Webmaster Tools
- Advantages: In almost any circumstance I will recommend using this tool. It helps not only index your website faster but it builds trust between Google and your website.
- Disadvantages: It can be a little confusing to understand and you rely on Google to update your data which may not happen instantly like some other options.
- Cost: Free
- Verdict: Whether you use this for on site optimization or not, connecting your website to Webmaster Tools is a must. It works and provides a lot of data you can use to help market and improve your website.
It might not provide clear concise instructions but Webmaster Tools can provide some important data. One of it’s best features is browsing through things like HTML improvements as well as using it to incorporate Schema markup in your website. Through WMT you can see your backlinks, meta problems, crawl errors, page load time and more. For a free tool it’s a pretty substantial amount o information at your disposal.
Sixo Media Site Auditor
- Advantages: Provides a comprehensive list of on page factors as well as social media presence and a list of tasks you can complete to improve on site performance.
- Disadvantages: Limited to one page per search, so if you have a large 600 page site you’re better off using a desktop program.
- Cost: Free
- Verdict: I use this tool in every audit I do. For a full audit from a website with 25 pages or more you’re better off looking at a desktop program. In the world of SEO you tend to rank one page for a specific keyword or service which what this works great for.
Self Promotion. I’ll be honest that this audit has been a go to choice for researching and monitoring for the past year. Anyone with knowledge of web design or SEO should enjoy the layout of the report. It also will help layout a list of tasks you can do to make improvements to your on site setup.
The downside is it only crawls one page (to save me bandwidth) so if you’re looking to rank multiple pages for various keywords you’ll have to run the report for every page.
To learn more check out the video I created on how it’s used.
Moz Pro Site Auditor
- Advantages: If you can afford it the pro package of MOZ comes with an abundance of other tools and resources.
- Disadvantages: Limited to running weekly
- Cost: $99 per month
- Verdict: I’ve used this in the past but for the amount of audits I was doing the $100 monthly price tag was just unnecessary when other tools out there did just as good of job for less or even free.
The experts at MOZ have been a go to resource for tools, research, and education for many SEO experts. The company offers numerous tools so one really shouldn’t expect not to see a web crawler in it’s arsenal.
When a report is complete it’s separated into tabs issuing an overview, high priority, medium priority, low priority, and site info.
Te only drawback to this is while it identifies the problems you have there is no real advice given on how to fix them. Moz relies on you to ask about it in their member forums were it’s either been answered already or someone will do so.
- Advantages: Easy to understand interface and more crawl settings then you need.
- Disadvantages: Having a decent understandings of SEO is a must.
- Cost: $99 (euro) a year
- Verdict: Probably your best solution for performing a thorough audit of your website. If you have a good grasp on SEO in general then this is your best bet. Recommend for experts
Combined with my own auditor program I’ve been using Screaming Frog for quite awhile and it continues to be one of my favorites. As a desktop program you have a little more flexibility and can run any website crawl as you want.
It’s quickly, efficient, and well organized through a tab navigation. Clicking on each will bring up that pages detail in depth.
- Advantages: Simple interface and easy to use
- Disadvantages: Doesn’t provide as much detail as other options
- Cost: Free
- Verdict: A free desktop application that again only experts should use. Xenu is great for branching out and finding expired domains as well.
I don’t use Xenu for much more then searching for expired domains but it still can help you get some sort of audit. It’s not a pretty program by any means and doesn’t provide nearly as much data as most of the other programs on this list but it is free.
The real benefit that most users are seeing out of it is it’s ability to check broken links. With the power of private networks being widely known in the SEO world it’s a great resource to track down expired websites through those broken links.
To Sum It Up
If you’ve got a website and you’re wondering what steps can be taken to improve your ranking your best bet is to try something free first before diving into a paid solution. For most, a paid solution really is only needed if you’re going to examine multiple sites for multiple clients.
Sixo Media’s web based site auditor provides a free and comprehensive report for any newcomer or those unfamiliar with SEO. As mentioned Google Webmaster Tools is a viable solution as well. If you have the know how of search engine optimization a program like Screaming Frog will be a time saver once you understand how the program works. In my work I tend to use all three.