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How to Perform an SEO Audit – Small Business SEO Guide

Your online presence, your website especially, has to be optimised for search engines; it is crucial for attracting potential customers and staying ahead of the competition. Once you’ve decided that SEO is the direction you want to take, you need to know where you currently stand… that’s what an SEO Audit does…

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This guide, “How to Perform an SEO Audit” is tailored specifically for small business owners like you. It’s the process we use for our clients, and you can do it too. To explain each section we are using a real-world client, a recent SEO Audit we carried out for a business here in Roscommon. The full report is included. The business provides a range of services, including; beauty and make-up, reflexology, life-coaching and other related services. These terms appear regularly throughout this guide and the demo report, just swap these for your own.

What is an SEO Audit?

An SEO Audit is essentially a health check for your website’s SEO strategy. It’s a thorough examination of the various elements that contribute to your site’s performance in search results, predominantly Google. There’s much more to it, as we’ll learn, but the four key areas are On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO (including backlinks), Technical SEO, and Content Quality. By conducting an SEO audit the right way, you get all the valuable insight you need; how well does your website align with the search engine algorithms, does it meet user expectations, and will it drive customers to your business.

During an audit, you’ll assess factors such as keyword optimization, site structure, backlink profile, and overall website health. This process allows you to identify areas for improvement and develop a targeted strategy for website visibility and driving more organic traffic to your business.

How to Perform an SEO Audit - The Complete Small Business SEO Guide

Why do I need an SEO Audit?

Enhanced Visibility

An SEO audit is the first step, if you want to improve your website’s visibility in search engine results. By understanding how search engines view and rank your site, you can make informed adjustments. This is the number one way to climb higher in rankings and attract more potential customers.

Competitive Edge

Today’s digital landscape is competitive like never before, you have to stay ahead of the competition, or your business may not be around for long. An SEO audit helps you identify what your competitors are doing well and where you can outperform them, giving your business a strategic advantage.

User-Experience Improvements

Search engines love websites that deliver a positive user experience. An SEO audit allows you to identify and rectify issues; slow page loading times, mobile responsiveness and website usability. This alone can have a dramatic effect, not only on ranking, but on conversion rates too.

An SEO audit is an indispensable tool for small business owners looking to maximise their online presence. It provides actionable insights that can significantly impact your website’s performance, helping you reach and engage your target audience effectively. Let’s go through the FutureProof Digital SEO Audit step-by-step…

SEO Audit Tools & Software

To carry out an SEO Audit the right way you’re going to need some tools and software. Some are free, some you will have to pay for, but most providers offer a free trial that will do 90% of what a small business will need for a basic audit. We use SEMrush here at FutureProof Digital, but we’ve included some alternatives, both free and premium, to get you up-and-running.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a service provided by Google that allows website owners to monitor and manage their presence in Google’s search results. It offers a comprehensive set of tools and reports to help users understand how Googlebot crawls and indexes their site, identify and fix issues affecting search performance, and optimise the site’s visibility in Google’s search engine results. Users can analyse search traffic data, view and improve mobile usability, and learn about the keywords and queries that are performing well, along with the pages that rank for them.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a must for all small business owners. You can track and analyse various aspects of their online presence; website traffic, user behaviour, and the effectiveness of your marketing strategies. Measure and understand the source of your website visitors, their demographics, and the pages they interact with the most, all in one place. With Google Analytics you make informed decisions, ultimately enhancing the overall performance and user experience on your site.

SEMrush - The Complete SEO Toolkit

SEMrush is a comprehensive and versatile digital marketing toolkit that provides all of the tools and features an advanced website owner needs for online visibility and competitive analysis. Used by the best digital marketers and SEO professionals SEMrush offers keyword research, backlink analysis, domain analytics, and position tracking. With its industry leading features like site audit and on-page SEO recommendations, SEMrush is the number one resource for optimising your website, and your online presence; improving search rankings, and developing effective digital marketing strategies.

Moz Pro

Moz Pro, like SEMrush, is an SEO software suite designed to assist businesses and digital marketers in optimising their online presence. It focuses on improving search engine rankings and overall website performance, providing keyword research, site audits, backlink analysis, and rank tracking. Moz’s proprietary metric, Domain Authority, is the industry standard metric for measuring a website’s ability to rank based on their backlink profile.

SEO Review Tools

SEO Review Tools is a free set of software solutions based on those provided above, in a basic, user friendly format. The tools might not do everything, but they will give you a good start, and you can always upgrade later.

https://www.seoreviewtools.com/seo-tools/

SEMrush Logo

Keyword Analysis & Strategy

In the first section of the SEO report we take an overview of content. Following this review, we can write a detailed content plan for 6, 12 or 24 months, and this is referenced again in the Recommendations section. The buzzwords in SEO and content marketing right now, more than any other rankings factors or tactics, are topical authority and keyword clustering. These concepts will form the basis of this review, and the plan. Let’s take a moment to understand what these concepts mean in practice…

Topical Authority

Topical authority, in the context of SEO, relates to the perceived expertise and credibility of a website within a specific subject area. It is now thought of as the key component of a website’s ranking. This concept, especially for small and medium sized businesses, can supersede even backlinks as a ranking factor, emphasising content quality and relevance above all else. Websites demonstrating topical authority provide accurate, comprehensive and relevant content within that topic. Each topic is different, but in theory, ranking one or two posts for keywords within a particular topic is very difficult, while post number 50 will shoot to the top of the rankings shortly after publication.

Keyword Clustering

Keyword clustering describes a strategic approach to content organisation that seeks to enhance the semantic relevance and coherence of each post. Through clustering, content is aligned with user intent and so single posts rank for more terms. People search for things in different ways, but in many cases they are looking for similar or closely related information. In the past, content creators would write individual posts to rank for terms that mean broadly the same time. Keyword clustering groups these terms together and provides readers with everything they’re looking for, not just a small piece.

Example Topics

Every content marketing plan starts with a list of seed keywords. Many businesses start this process with brainstorming and customer analysis, but for many small businesses we have a readymade list of seed keywords; the products and services that the business provides. The number of posts required for topical authority varies greatly by topic, but if we presume that much of the competition, especially local competition, aren’t taking content marketing seriously, then the number of topics might be quite low for you, in some cases.

The seed keyword list for this business example are as follows;

Seed Keyword List - SEO Audit

The next step in the process is to enter each of these terms into a keyword analysis tool, we use SEMrush. Using the term “reflexology” as an example from the demo report, this service page will become the “pillar content” and all of the posts under this topic will be linked to, and from, this page. 

Pillar pages broadly cover a particular topic, and the deeper content should target a specific keyword related to that topic, in more depth. 

The Keyword Overview tool, seen below, not only analyses these seed terms but gives us information on the keywords we should be using to grow topical authority.

Reflexology Keyword Overview 1

The second section of this report tells us that the term “reflexology” has 3,306 keyword variants, 280 related questions and 23 related keywords. Within these are our target search terms for the topic, now we need to identify them. Also in this report is a display of the SERP, and we can start to understand who the competition are for this topic area.

Reflexology Keyword Overview 2

Next we open up this keyword in the Keyword Magic Tool and we click “All Keywords” which combines variants, questions, and related terms. Next we apply some filters; first, because we’re interested in developing topical authority, and our service/pillar page is transactional we’ll select informational as the intent (see below for more info). This reduces the list to just 18. Next, because this example business is new to the game, we’ll ignore keyword volume for now, but we will set a custom keyword difficulty percentage of 0-49. This reduces the list to 13, and we add these to a Keyword Manager List.

Reflexology Keyword List

Transactional vs. Informational Content

Informational content is primarily focused on educating the reader. It answers questions, or presents factual information to your potential customers. This type of content is typically static and does not involve direct user interaction. On the other hand, transactional content is designed to drive specific actions; making a purchase, filling out a form, or signing up for a service. It is dynamic, and encourages customer conversions. There is a crossover however, email sign-up forms on blog posts for example, or detailed product descriptions.

SEMrush has a keyword clustering tool but in this case there are too few keywords for it to make much sense, so the list below is mostly collated manually. These are the keyword targets identified;

Keyword List 1 - SEO Audit

What we’re looking for in this example are at least 20 target search terms for each topic, and we have seven, so we try a different technique. We can see in the list that there are different types of reflexology, so let’s add “What are the different types of Reflexology?” to the list, and enter this term into Google. The top result, www.reflexologycanada.org, which we can assume has some topical authority by virtue of its ranking for the term, lists 11 types of reflexology. Some we already have, the additions are below, bringing our total list to 14 target search terms;

Keyword List 2 - SEO Audit

This may be enough in your case, but let’s try one last technique. One of the terms from the original list is “Benefits of Reflexology” . Let’s Google that and extract the heading tags from a ranking result using a tool; Web-Tool Box heading Extractor. Below is the extracted list;

Keyword List 3 - SEO Audit

We would need to be careful with some of these terms because of the way Google indexes medical information; the “medic” update, YMYL ranking factors and EEAT signals, but we would format them as questions and add them to the list also, anyway.

Title & Meta Tags

Title and meta tags are a hugely important aspect of any SEO Audit. They are not only important for ranking, but also for click-through-rate; they need to entice a click from your audience. There are a number of options for writing these, but AI has recently become an excellent option in this area. By way of example, “benefits of reflexology” is featured in the report with the remainder of the tags featured in the recommendations section.

Title Tag Suggestions

Title Tags - SEO Audit

Title Tag Suggestions

Meta Descriptions - SEO Audit

The mock-up below, we include one in every report, shows the title tag and meta description as they would appear in the search results.

snippet preview 1

Product Descriptions

Currently, the only real “content” on this example website is the health and beauty products available for sale, and specifically, their product descriptions. Since the release of Chat GPT, it’s been clear to the SEO and content marketing industry that this type of routine, methodical work (writing product description for example) is a perfect application of AI and large language models. We recommend to our clients that title tags and meta descriptions are auto-generated by the RankMath plugin, installed on all FutureProof Digital websites. Below is an example of a new product description, title tags and meta descriptions for this business, generated by AI.

Example Product description - SEO Audit

URL Structure

Below are three extracts from the website’s sitemap. The first is what’s called the index, it contains the subfolder structure, as well as the system of product categorisation. 

“An XML sitemap is a file that lists a website’s essential pages, making sure Google can find and crawl them all. It also helps search engines understand your website structure…”

Example Website Sitemap

Next, the page sitemap. Many websites would have a much larger list here, but the subfolder system of this website, described in content review above, limits this list to what you would find in the primary navigation. Your sitemap may look very different from this.

Example Website Sitemap 2

The final sitemap lists each product available for purchase on this example website. Their products are categorised in three ways; type of product, skincare for example, the brand and the range (sub-brand).

Bliss Sitemap 3

Technical SEO Audit

Technical SEO is hugely important for all business websites. It covers crawlability and indexation, as well as mobile usability and site speed. In this section Google Search Console, Google Lighthouse & SEMRush will be used for analysis.

SEMrush Site Audit Overview

Above is the overview section from the SEMrush site audit for this example beauty & health. The audit has identified 106 Errors, all of these are product schema mark-up, 210 warnings and 175 notices. Below, each error, warning, and a selection of the most important notices are analysed along with an example, then in the recommendations section, solutions are outlined.

106 structured data items are invalid (error)

Schema mark-up, also known as structured data markup, is a type of microdata, added to HTML, that provides Google with more information about the content. Schema mark-up uses tags to define and describe different types of information; events, reviews, organisations, and in this case, products. This issue is triggered if structured data items contain fields that do not meet Google’s guidelines; price, availability etc.

33 pages don’t have meta descriptions (warning)

A page’s text to HTML ratio measures the amount of text on a page compared to the amount of HTML code needed to display it. Although this is listed as a warning here, there is some debate as to whether this is a ranking factor or not. It can be seen more as an indication of “thin” content, that won’t rank in the search results because of poor quality or lack of SEO best practices.

WordPress E-Commerce websites, run on WooCommerce which this is, often generate a high number of archive pages. Products are categorised in a variety of ways, and each category, product type or brand for example, has its own listing page, known as an archive. Optimisation of these archives is often overlooked, and in this case has led to the missing meta descriptions.

35 pages don’t have an h1 heading (warning)

The H1 tag, although less of a ranking factor than the title tag, tells users and the search engines what your page is about. If the <h1> tag is missing, Google may rank your page lower than they otherwise would. The H1 is the starting point for your page’s heading hierarchy, which definitely is a ranking factor. The cause of this issue is the same as the missing meta descriptions described above.

81 resources are formatted as page link (notice)

Images with embedded links can often cause user experience issues, but in the case of an E-Commerce website, the link often opens a “lightbox,” a full screen version of the image. This is the case here, and not an issue.

69 pages have more than one H1 tag (notice)

No webpage should have more than a single H1 tag, can be confusing to your users, and also the search engines. The majority of these are on the single product pages, so it’s a single error in the coding of the template.

14 pages are blocked from crawling (notice)

In the majority of circumstances, pages should be available for crawl by the search engines, but there are exceptions. In this case pagination, page 2, 3 etc. of a product listing achieve has been tagged “<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>” and this is best practice in most cases.

Search Console Indexing

The report above, from Google Search Console, shows the number of pages indexed and not indexed, as well as a breakdown of why those pages are not indexed. A page not being indexed by Google isn’t always a bad thing, in fact there are pages that shouldn’t be indexed and scenarios where indexation isn’t recommended, pagination for example. The item where we may find issues is “Crawled – currently not indexed” as this may contain pages we’d like to see indexed, but in fact the 60 items are in large part RSS feeds, so not an issue. Most of the “no-index” tagged pages are pagination, and the 404s are deleted products. The indexation of the site is in good order.

Page Speed Insights

Next, we need to look at mobile SEO and loading speed (the figures are very similar for the desktop site). The Page Speed Insights report above scores a website in four areas; Performance, Accessibility, Best Practice and SEO. Below, we’ll concentrate on Performance, because the others have scores above 90.

There are four items contributing a second or more to the load time, listed below. In the recommendations section at the end of this report, solutions solving these issues will be listed and described in detail.

Serve images in next-gen formats – Image formats like WebP and AVIF often provide better compression than PNG or JPEG, which means faster downloads and less data consumption.

Reduce initial server response time – Keep the server response time for the main document short because all other requests depend on it. Themes, plugins, and server specifications all contribute to server response time. Consider finding a more optimised theme, carefully selecting an optimization plugin, and/or upgrading your server.

Eliminate render-blocking resources – Resources are blocking the first paint of your page. Consider delivering critical JS/CSS inline and deferring all non-critical JS/styles.

Reduce unused CSS – Reduce unused rules from stylesheets and defer CSS not used for above-the-fold content to decrease bytes consumed by network activity. Consider reducing, or switching, the number of WordPress plugins loading unused CSS in your page. To identify plugins that are adding extraneous CSS, try running code coverage in Chrome DevTools. You can identify the theme/plugin responsible from the URL of the stylesheet. Look out for plugins that have many stylesheets in the list which have a lot of red in code coverage. A plugin should only enqueue a stylesheet if it is actually used on the page.

On-Page SEO Audit

The site audit report above identifies issues in the crawl, and is mostly concerned with technical issues, metadata for example. The SEMrush On-Page SEO report dives deeper into the content of each page. After analysing the site, “ideas” for improvement are listed, and a to-do list is generated, based on the difference it might make to the quality and ranking of the page, as well as the traffic potential. The ideas for the homepage are detailed in the report and referenced again in the recommendations section.

On page SEO Checker Overview

Strategy Ideas

Information on whether any pages are already ranking higher for specific keywords, so that a decision can be made on the best fit for your target keywords. 

Backlink Ideas

Backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors. These ideas provide information on targeted referral discovery and good and anchor text suggestions. 

Technical SEO Ideas

Similar to the analysis above, but at a page level.

SERP Feature Ideas

Google SERP features give instant answers to people’s queries without scrolling and offer extra space on the SERP. Winning more SERP features also makes it easier to bring people to where you want on your site. These ideas suggest what SERP features might be targeted and how.

Semantic Ideas

To provide users with the most relevant results, additional weight is now being placed on related words used in page content. Information on semantically related keywords taken from the top 10 results of the target search term are featured here, similar to that generated by the Surfer SEO interface.

Keyword ideas

For the best SEO results, the correct use of keywords on a page is still vitally important. The information here focuses on the use of target keywords and where to place them in the content.

Homepage Optimization

The On-Page SEO Checker generated 9 ideas, across the categories, for this website’s homepage. In the recommendations section these are included as part of the to-do list generated by the report as a whole. 

  • Fix keyword cannibalization (strategy)
  • Mark up your aggregate rating (SERP features)
  • Make your text content more readable (content)
  • Provide a more relevant meta description (content)
  • Use target keywords in <body> tag (content)
  • Enrich your page content (semantic)
  • Earn links from more sources (backlinks)
  • Decrease bounce rate (UX)
  • Increase time spent on page (UX)

Off-Page SEO - Backlink Analysis

Moz Link Analysis

One aspect of this website’s SEO most in need of improvement is the backlink profile. Above is the backlink overview, taken from the Moz Pro backlink report. It shows the site has a DA of just 4, with only 67 inbound links from 21 root domains. Below are the top linking domains ordered by their domain authority, from the same report. Even the links that are transferring DA have an extremely high spam score, and show signals of being penalised or banned by Google.

Moz Linking Domains

Link Building

In the early stages of a small business marketing strategy link building isn’t the priority, but some quick and easy wins are always welcome, especially local citations. For local businesses a small improvement in the link profile can result in substantial ranking improvement. Link outreach research would ordinarily be based on the content, but without that it is done with target search terms and competitor analysis. In this instance, the target search terms are are the topic clusters listed above, but selecting competition based on keyword targets isn’t practical at this stage, only when the site starts to rank will this become useful, so offline competition would be chosen from services provided.

Backlink Gap Chart

The charts above, from the SEMrush backlink gap report, shows the website compared to the selected competition in terms of authority score (the SEMrush equivalent of Moz’s domain authority) and number of backlinks. Below these charts, the table lists every domain that links to any one of these websites, selecting “best” filters down to websites that link to the competition and not to us; these are link prospects, so these are selected and added to the prospect list.

These link prospects now appear in the Link Building tool in addition to those generated by analysing the SERPs of the target search terms. The prospects can be filtered in a number of ways to make the prospecting process more efficient, and they can be categorised for monitoring purposes.

SEMrush Link Building Tool

As more and more content is published, keyword based prospects will grow, and additional SERP competitors will be identified, also adding to the list. Link building is an ongoing process, and this is not the only way to identify prospects. At each stage of growth the tactics evolve. The “low hanging fruit” approach is the way to go at this stage, for this website, directory links for example.

Google Business Profile

The importance of Google Business Profile for local businesses cannot be overstated. In the post below, we explore the Google Business Profile and why your business needs to grab hold of its potential today. We look at creating an effective profile, optimising its content, managing updates, and using the profile to stand out from your competitors. Many SEO Audits ignore GBP, but we always include it.

Traffic & Organic Visibility

In this section we take a brief overview of a website’s traffic and rankings. This site is connected to both Google Analytics and Search console via the Google Site Kit plugin. SEMrush is used to analyse rankings and the rankings of the competition.

Site Kit 1

Over the past 90 days this website was visited 287 times, these were 84% from Ireland and 82% on mobile. The traffic arrives from organic search 46%, social media 38% and direct traffic 13%. In search, the site showed up 6,940 times, with 152 clicks as a result, but 81 of these clicks would be classed as navigational, as in, the name of the business was contained in the query, and these can’t really be attributed to any SEO efforts.

Search Console Clicks and Imp. 3 months

SEO Recommendations

In the final section the analysis carried out above is put into practice. There are two broad categories; SEO recommendations and content recommendations. In effect, this is what we would do for this business, as a provider of SEO services, over the first 12 months working with them.

SEO Recommendations

  • Rewrite, and keyword optimise, all product descriptions, using Chat GPT.
  • Rewrite and optimise all product titles and meta descriptions, aided by SEMrush Text Generator and ahrefs Meta Description Generator.
  • Addition of correctly formatted product schema using RankMath SEO.
  • Add titles, meta descriptions and H1 tags to all category and taxonomy archives.
  • Remove all duplicate H1 tags.
  • Prioritise and implement SEMrush SEO recommendations.

Content Recommendations

  • Complete content plan, filling 20 posts for each topic area.
  • Write, optimise and publish 2-4 of these posts per month, starting with the pillar page for each topic.

 

Summary & Final Review

This example website is young, and has performed well in a local context up to now. But now it’s time for the business to expand what they do online and attract new customers, in new services, and in new areas. They need content to do this and they need to place themselves as an expert in their fields. There are a number of SEO recommendations, but these will only take the website so far, they need new informational content, published each week, developing topical authority.

Content optimization, in terms of product descriptions and metadata, will increase visibility for their shop, but these days paid advertising is becoming the only way for small retailers to compete, and this may not generate the returns required.

Get Started on your SEO Audit

Mastering the SEO audit is an excellent investment in the success of your small business. By understanding and optimising your website’s visibility and performance, you position yourself ahead of the online competition. Remember, Google is ever-changing, and staying ahead requires adaptability and a proactive approach. Regular SEO audits are your compass, guiding you through the algorithm updates and customer expectation changes.

If it’s not something you want to take on yourself, give us a call or drop us an email. Check out some of the content listed below below. No matter what stage of development your business is at, you should be thinking about SEO, it’s still the number one way to grow your customer base and sales, we can help.

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About Adam Bermingham
This blog is dedicated to helping you stay ahead of the curve, with insights into the latest trends, tools, and best practices. Whether you’re a business owner, marketer, or web designer, we have something for everyone. We bring you expert advice, tutorials, and case studies to help you optimise your online presence.

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