How to DIY audit your website for improved performance and SEO

How to DIY audit your website for improved performance and SEO -- Mervi Emilia Eskelinen

Your website is never ready and done. It requires constant improvements and updates. For your website to be found through search engines, such as Google and Bing, it must evolve. Content needs to be updated and added, links checked and fixed, design freshened up, the code and security kept up to date.

A website audit helps you to fix any problems, search engine optimise your site, and improve performance and conversions.

I recommend auditing your site now and then. You can either do it yourself, or hire a professional like me. Of course, it is always best to get someone else to audit your site now and then. It's a good idea to audit your site yourself too, in between the professional audits.

Do make the audit while logged out from your site admin. This way you will see how the site performs to everyone else.

When you wish to DIY your website audit, here are some basic questions to answer to get started.

1. What is the purpose of your website?

Having a clear idea of the purpose of your website is the first step of your website audit. Why does your website exist in the first place? Why would anyone visit it? What is the goal of the site? For whom the site is?

Start with thinking what you wish your site to accomplish. Define what its purpose is for you. You may want to educate, market and sell something, show off your skills or knowledge, spread information, gain attention, build authority... It's okay for a site to have multiple purposes, just try and be clear with them.

Additionally you are aiming your site for someone. Who do you want to visit your site?

As you understand your wishes for your site, you can figure out what its purpose is for those who visit it. You can ask people, but mostly nobody really knows what they want. A better idea is to check your site's statistics and analytics. Which content do people mostly visit? Which search queries they use, and how they navigate through your site? Where they land, where they exit? This gives you an idea of what others want from your site.

If your statistics and analytics include information on your audience's demographics and interests, you can get an idea of who actually visits your site. Do note that this information isn't comprehensive and you can never fully know the people visiting your site. No matter how much research you do on this.

5. Is the content relevant and rich of relevant keywords?

Obviously the most important part of your website is the content. It doesn't matter how great your site looks or even how well it performs, if the content doesn't work.

For the people visiting your site, the content is most likely what they came for. The content depends on the purpose of your site, as well as who you are targeting. Think about the language and the message your site is conveying. This includes the text content, as well as photo, video and audio media.

Does the content align with the purpose of the site? Is the language you are using fitting to the purpose? What sort of message does the content carry?

One way to emphasise the overall purpose of your site in its content, is to create a mission statement, value statement and even a business or brand manifesto. Whatever you do, just make your website's purpose clear for the people visiting it.

Using relevant keywords and key phrases is the key in search visibility. Include those keywords and phrases you want your site to be found with in the text content. Please note, that images with text on them don't help.

Speaking of images, include the relevant keywords in image file names, as well as the alt text (alternative text) of each embedded image.

The keywords and key phrases need to be relevant to the overall content, and they must be included in a form of real sentences. If you just list keywords, and use keywords that aren't exactly relevant to the rest of the content, it will seem like keyword stuffing which search engines don't take well.

Is your content good quality? The common assumption is that content should be rather exhaustive to rank well in searches. The so called thin content is something to avoid.

Is your content unique and not copied from elsewhere? Make sure you don't use duplicate content around your site, or copy content from other sites.

Check also that your content is up to date. Update any old information and remove or unpublish the irrelevant stuff.

3. Is your website performing as well as it can?

Your website's speed is a key factor in search engine optimisation (SEO), but most importantly it is critical in keeping people visiting your site happy. You can test your website's speed with different tools, such as Pingdom Website Speed Test.

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Keep on mind that these tools tell only part of the story. They can only make estimations of how your site performs.

These days websites come with complicated stylesheets and scripts, and with lots of photo, video and audio media. These things all affect the performance of your site.

I highly recommend to optimise the image files and compress, cache and minify your site.

Try and ensure your site doesn't include unnecessary scripts and styles, and be very mindful about the embedded media. Is this video really needed? Do I really have to have all these images here?

Clean your home page of any extra stuff. Simplify your blog post pages. Clear out the clutter from your sales pages, about page and other such static pages.

4. How are your pages structured?

Often websites are made without thinking about their structure that much.

There are two main things to assess about your site's structure. The first is the structure of each separate page. The second is the structure of the whole site. I will return to this second part in the next section.

Each page should be structured so that the most important information is close to the top of the page and the least important information is towards the bottom. This makes it easier for people to find the information they are looking. The main purpose of a page should come first, and additional information after that.

For example, if you have a contact page which also includes FAQ, add the contact information and form before the frequently asked questions. I understand it feels like a good idea to put the FAQ on top, so that people don't send you the same questions over and over again. However, that's not the main purpose of the page. The main purpose still is the contact.

Similarly check that your subscribe forms and other similar content doesn't overwhelm the actual page content. I see this happening a lot on mobile devices, when a subscribe form is added on top of a blog post. When someone navigates that page, it may seem like there's no blog post at all and it's just a subscribe page.

Structure your page content in clear sections and paragraphs.

Use heading elements meticulously. The best practice is to use one h1 element (main heading) on each page. Use h2 elements for subheadings. Create titles and subheadings that describe the content as well as possible.

Paragraphs should be clearly divided with space before and after. Sometimes it's a good idea to use really short paragraphs, and sometimes you need longer ones. Keep it in balance, and don't make the text too sparse and jumpy.

Also count your website's recurring elements as part of each page. This includes header, logo, navigation, footer, sidebars and other such elements. How do they work with the content of each page?

5. What's going on with titles, meta descriptions and urls?

Titles, meta descriptions and urls are somewhat important for SEO. They don't necessarily improve your search ranking, but they can show in search results and help people to decide if clicking through is a good idea.

You may need a separate SEO/metatag plugin or module to create custom titles and meta descriptions for your pages.

There are different schools around urls. Some say the shorter the better, while others believe you should should make them more descriptive. I think it's something between these. Use the most important keywords and let it describe the content, but keep it considerably short if possible. Don't get too obsessed with urls, though.

Title tag should be relevant to the content, preferably close or the same as the main heading (h1) of the page. Keep in mind that long titles are cut in search results. Apparently Google shows 50 to 60 characters of a title tag. I cannot give an exact count, because it varies. Different search engines may use different character counts.

Title tag also shows on the top of the web browser and is used when someone bookmarks your page. Social media sites also often use title tags in preview blocks, when you or someone else shares a link to your site. Such sites as Facebook and Twitter use their own tags too, so you can create separate title tags for them.

Meta descriptions are short snippets of the page content. They aren't generally any longer than 160 characters. They don't affect your search engine rankings, or your search visibility. However, the people making searches may choose to click through to your site if the description seems interesting enough for them.

Include the keywords in your meta descriptions, but don't be spammy. Make the description alluring.

Do note, that the search engines may choose to show a different title or description than the one you provided. Yeah, they do what they want.

6. How do the internal links work?

Your website navigation and other internal linking direct people to visit other pages of the site. While technically speaking the pages are separate entities, the internal linking makes them work as a whole.

How does your site's internal linking work and does it help people to find the content they are looking for?

Keep your main navigation clear, and don't add too many links to it. You don't have to add all the pages to your main navigation, so choose the most important ones. These could include the link to your blog page (not separate blog posts), about page, services page, possible web shop and contact page.

You can also add sub navigations, for example to your website footer.

Your website's internal linking is not limited to navigation links. You need to add links within the content. These links may include call to action links as well as basic linking.

Call to action links are often emphasised links that are meant to direct the person visiting your site to take a specific action. If your blog page features short, trimmed versions of the posts, you probably have a read more link added to direct people to read the full post. That's a call to action. Same goes with work with me links and other similar emphasised links.

It's also a good idea to add basic links from your content to other. You can link from your blog post to another. In this article you can find a couple of links to other posts on my site. I chose to link to these posts, because they expand the subjects I've mentioned here.

This sort of linking helps people to find more of your content without having to search for it. Internal linking also helps search engine bots to find your content and to understand the structure of your site.

Speaking of search, adding a search form to your site may be effective. It can help people to find information or other content they are looking for. Search form doesn't really help with SEO, but it gives the people visiting your site another way to navigate around your site. Test your site's search frequently!

7. Is your site mobile friendly?

Having a mobile friendly website is extremely important these days. More and more people are accessing your site with mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

You can make your site mobile friendly in a few ways, such as creating a separate mobile site or making it responsive. I recommend a responsive website. You don't have to create separate site for mobile, and it's a very elegant solution that works, at least, in most devices. A responsive website is the kind of a site where its content adjusts to different screen and window sizes.

Test your website in different devices and with different screen and window sizes. Does everything work as intended? Does the content fit the screen? Is the content readable?

Check also your popups and banners. Way too often I see layered subscribe boxes, cookie warnings and social media sharing buttons that block the content and cannot be closed, when browsing with my iPhone. As a matter of a fact, don't use popups at all with your mobile designs. They are just frustrating and difficult to close on smaller screens.

That reminds me, not everyone has small fingers. So make your buttons, links and other clickable elements big enough for bigger fingers, and give them enough space so that people don't constantly accidentally click things they didn't want to click.

Page speed and performance is especially crucial with mobile devices, because they are often used with slower or spotty connections.

8. Is your site secure?

Update your admin password and make it strong. Check that there are no extra user accounts that have access to your website admin. If your site has multiple users, tell the others to update their passwords. You may even be able to force them to update their passwords.

Update or upgrade your content management system or blogging platform, and all the added the themes and plugins or modules.

Get a SSL certificate and turn on https. If your website hosting doesn't offer SSL certificates, get a better hosting. For a basic website, you can use a free Let’s Encrypt certificate, if your hosting offers it.

You may want to use a security plugin or module, to check and fix any security issues there may be. Often you can check your site for malware and viruses with these modules. Or you can use an external service, such as Sucuri's free website security check & malware scanner.

What next?

Don't panic, if you noticed problems with your site during the audit. No website is perfect, and every one of them can be improved.

List the issues you encountered and improvements you need to make. Prioritise the greatest problems, and take time to tackle them. You don't have to fix everything today. Get some help, if you don't have the time, resources or skills needed.

These are only some things you can audit on your site. I have left out the most complicated technical stuff. I recommend to really pay attention to the content of the site, how well it fits the website's purpose and how it serves the people visiting your site.

As I pointed out before, you may want to get a professional website audit at least now and then. Another set of eyes can help to spot issues you didn't notice. If your technical skills aren't that great, you may need that help anyway.

Audit your site, and especially its content, regularly. Keep it fresh and keep it secure.

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