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 a sitemap audit and 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.
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.
Once you’ve pulled your sitemap, you’ll want to audit it based on a few different things:
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?)
This is one of my favorite ways to use sitemap data because it gives you a ‘look under the hood’ of your competitors’ content and website strategy.
Once you’ve pulled a competitor’s sitemap, 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. Ahrefs is also excellent). By understanding what keywords they’re ranking on, you can create new content and optimize your existing content for these phrases.
Try to run a quarterly website audit if you can to identify new content, optimize your keywords, and ensure your site if up-to-speed and functioning at its best.
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