If you want to get a better sense of how your website is performing in SEO, you need to run regular audits to ensure your site is functioning properly and to identify opportunities to expand your content strategy.
In this article, I’ll walk you through how to run an SEO- and copywriting-focused website audit. I’ll show you what to look for when using this as an auditing tool for your site AND for a bit of friendly spying on your competition.
A sitemap is a useful and practical tool for improving your site’s organization and structure. It speeds up the work that search engine crawlers need to do to scan and assess your site so it can be properly indexed in search. And it helps others more easily navigate your website, creating a better overall user experience.
Most of what you need for your SEO site audit you can get from your sitemap.
There are really two types of sitemaps out there:
XML sitemaps are by far more common, but both are useful for improving your SEO.
Here’s an example of human-friendly HTML map:
And a more robot-centric XML map:
For the purpose of a site audit, we’ll focus on XML sitemaps; that said, consider whether your site can benefit from an HTML map, as well.
There are several methods and dozens of tools to use to pull a sitemap.
I’ve outlined a few in this video:
A sitemap offers a complete picture of the structure and health of your website in one bird’s-eye view. It’s easy to get lost in the details when you’re looking for site issues: you can fall down keyword rabbit holes, spend hours looking through your competitors’ sites trying to figure out why they are ahead of you in organic search and get frustrated brainstorming new content for your blog.
A sitemap is a simple approach that can help you get started and keep you on track to tackle the biggest—and most impactful—issues first.
Look for 404s. These are deadlinks that can weigh down your site over time and negatively affect your SEO. Also, note 302 redirects. These are meant to be temporary redirects, so it’s a good time to either pull those or make them a longer-term 301.
Do you have blog posts hanging off the root domain while others are nested under a /blog/ prefix? Are your URLs looking long and confusing? Do you have non-intuitive category pages? Think of your site map as a table of contents for your website. Is yours clear and easy to follow?
Make sure your active pages have title tags and meta descriptions, proper header formatting (Does every page start with a Header 1? Are you using H2s and H3s properly?)
To complete your SEO audit, there are a few other items to check off your list that you can’t find directly on your sitemap:
Part of user experience is ensuring a seamless customer experience across different browsers and devices. This may mean limiting your copy, widgets, or images on mobile, for example, increasing font size, and switching to a hamburger menu. It’s a good idea to read your site directly to make sure it’s both legible and navigable. Cut anything that’s hard to see or read, or that interferes with your offer.
Reviewing your site for conversion may feel more nebulous than the more straightforward data pull of your SEO audit, but it’s still important AND manageable using this checklist.
Here’s what I recommend:
If you aren’t already tracking site users and engagement, now’s the time to start! You’ll want to know a few things:
I recommend using Google Anaytics along with Search Console (which you can now integrate right into GA) to track user behavior and acquisitions…a direct line to tracking conversion. You can also add a UTM code to your most important marketing URLs and promotional pages, as well as to your email to see how effective they are.
I’d also recommend tracking your heatmaps, scroll data, and user recordings using a tool like Hotjar. That will help you spot errors and watch your customer journey in live time, which is key to making modifications and improving your site experience.
Every website is different, and yours needs to serve your goals and your business. That means having clear expectations for your site, tracking those goals, and reviewing them to make sure they still work for you. Look for holes, gaps, and opportunities to tighten your messaging, improve the user experience, and increase conversions.
Headlines are tough, often the most challenging part of your website to write. So it’s a good idea to review them with fresh eyes to make sure they’re conveying the right message about your brand, offers, and value.
Only show the most important and offer-driven pages across your site. Interlink the others logically. Unless you have a large business with multiple offer types and audiences, stick to just 3-6 top-level menu items, and embed the others.
Swap out “Learn more” for more exciting, clickable button copy. Try to stick to just one or two CTAs across your site and ditch the vague next steps. Make your CTA clear and memorable so readers can’t resist clicking on it.
Are your offers clear and logical? Do you have an easy-to-find free offer? Is your contact information up-to-date? Your prospect goes through many, many steps before purchasing from you, and it’s your job to usher them through each step on your website.
Review and pay close attention to your top, mid, and bottom of funnel content (AKA ToFu, MoFu, and BoFu content) to help your prospects find their way.
You worked hard to earn those testimonials, stats, case studies, and brand logos but are they outdated? Make a point to update your social proof to reflect your most recent work and keep your site fresh and relevant.
Going back to our sitemap data for a minute, this is one of my favorite ways to use a tool like Screaming Frog because it gives you a ‘look under the hood’ of your competitors’ content and website strategy. Especially when you combing this with a tool like SEMRush, you can get incredibly granular and insightful ideas to drive your content strategy.
Pull the sitemap for a competitor using the same process you used for your own website, and zero in their site structure and content.
Are they auditing their site? Do they use on-page SEO best practices, clear URL structures, and intuitive organization? If not, you most certainly have a big opportunity to creep ahead of them in organic search by completing this work.
Drill into their blog or resources section and spend some time tagging and organizing their content. What are they missing that you know you can add to your site? What do you have that they don’t? What do they have that you don’t?
If you really want to be strategic, compare the content for multiple competitors and look at length, recency, and topical coverage to see where you can make improvements.
By comparing their content to your own, you can generate new ideas for your own website, and see where you—and your competitor—are falling behind.
Try pulling the sitemap for a competitor in your vertical that is always in the top spots in organic search. Then pull a mid-tier competitor. Look through their top-performing content and cross-reference these pages with a keyword tool (I use Keysearch. SEMRush is also excellent and now they have a limited free account option).
Grab the keywords from several competitors and pull them into one sheet (Using VLookup).
Why? Because, by understanding what keywords they’re ranking on, you can create new content and optimize your existing content for these phrases.
What phrases are they all chasing? You should be chasing those, too.
What phrases AREN’T they looking at that you’re already ranking for? That’s content you can review and add to that differentiates your site in search.
These are the tools I use to audit my site and my clients’ websites. Most are free (or “freemium”) to use.
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