You know you want to improve your site’s SEO, but how? Check out this post to learn how to do an SEO audit on your own ecommerce site, and why it’s important for your store’s long-term success.
An SEO audit is one of the single most empowering exercises your online business can perform. It can also be overwhelming, making it difficult just knowing where to start.
Not to worry! The Volusion SEO team has come up with some basic guidelines and easy-to-follow steps to help jumpstart your auditing efforts – all using free tools.
Get ready to have a significantly better understanding of how search engines perceive your website.
What is an SEO audit?
An SEO site audit is an in-depth review of your website from a search engine perspective. When done correctly, it will provide you with an outline of areas you can strategically improve to build organic traffic and revenue. Done incorrectly, it is a waste of time, and worse – could lead your company into questionable marketing practices and investments.
A properly executed SEO audit will take human capital, including time, intellectual power, and (believe it or not) creativity. It is not an easy endeavor, but it’s well worth the investment! The benefits to your site and business are immeasurable.
What you’ll need to start your SEO audit
- A month or more of Google Analytics and ecommerce tracking data
- A verified Google Webmaster Tools account
- A respectable SEO browser plug in such as SEO Quake or SEOMoz’s Moz Bar
- An export of your link profile using a respectable link profile tool like Open Site Explorer. The export should include a sampling of the links pointing to your website, including where the link originates, what page the link points to and the anchor text used in the link. You can also run this report for several major competitors to reference as a point of comparison during the audit.
Good to know: There are a large number of automated tools out there masquerading as easy, all-in-one SEO audits. Be advised that tools can help you along the way, but running your site through a single piece of software will not give you meaningful information. An effective SEO audit requires human logic. Be wary of SEO shops that send you over-simplified and unsolicited SEO audits; this is a widespread sales tactic and is almost always the product of a generic SEO audit tool.
Understanding search engine motivations & methodology
Before you start your audit, it’s important to understand the fundamental principles behind search engines and their algorithms. You don’t have to be an expert – but you do need to understand their underlying motivations.
Simply put, a search engine’s ultimate goal is providing the best search results to end user. By providing superior search results, the search engine attracts a strong visitor base they can leverage for profit. To this end, search engines use proprietary algorithms to create search results. These mathematical computations use a variety of weighted variables to determine which web pages are the “best” results for a specific query.
Good to know: Search algorithms evolve over time. Don’t place too much importance on any single SEO variable. A diversified strategy will protect your site from future algorithm shifts.
Let’s get started!
Search engines currently “judge” a website and each webpage using three fundamental principles:
- Authority / Trustworthiness
These three factors will determine your site’s online visibility and will overlap at times.
Gauging your site’s authority & trustworthiness
Authority can be linked to popularity, site longevity, perceived quality and “trustworthiness.”
- How long has my domain been registered in comparison to my competition?
- Not sure? Use Who Is? to check your site’s domain age and the ages of your primary competitors.
- If competition has a significant edge when it comes to longevity, you’ll need to compensate through some other Authority metrics.
- What is my site’s Google PageRank or MozRank in comparison to my competitors?
- PageRank is a number between 0 and 10, with 10 being the absolute best. Google keeps their true PageRank secret, but provides the public a relative value which you can view using a tool like SEO Quake. Likewise, SEOMoz provides a similar, highly respected ranking system known as MozRank. You can view this value using the SEOMoz plug in.
Good to know: While not 100% accurate, these rating systems can be used to loosely gauge the quality of any site on the web. For this reason, we recommend keeping at least one of these plug-ins for future use.
- Does my site demonstrate consistency / commitment?
- Is the site actively maintained? Or is it stale, full of broken links, 404 Errors and outdated information? You can view your 404 Errors in your Webmaster Tools account and find broken links with a tool like Broken Link Checker.
- Does my site appear to be high quality?
- Is the site easy to crawl or does it illicit a large percentage of crawl errors in Webmaster Tools?
- Is the site content unique? Or does it feature “duplicate content” (i.e. content “borrowed” from other web sources). Duplicate content commonly appears on ecommerce sites in the form of brand profiles or manufacturer descriptions. This text will also appear on thousands of other webpages, making it very low quality. You can check for duplicate content using a number of resources including CopyScape.
- Do search engines perceive my site as deceptive?
- Does the site feature hidden text or links? These should be avoided at all cost.
- How many inbound links has the site earned? Has Google flagged any of these links in your Webmaster Tools account as bad links? Are the majority of these links low quality? Are there significant numbers of links from low PageRank/MozRank sites? Are these links from sites whose sole purpose is to post random links (link farms) or totally irrelevant websites altogether? All of these types of “bad” links are considered to be red flags that signal deception.
- A high bounce rate (the percentage of people who leave after viewing a single page) may suggest that the information on the page doesn’t truly match the search query or signal something is wrong with the page altogether – two things search engines want to protect their searchers from.
- Are the majority of these links from a single source? Is there an over-abundance of the exact same anchor text in the majority of the links? Or is there natural variance in both link anchor text and origin?
- Do the links point exclusively to the home page? Or do a natural number of links point deeper into the site, to more relevant pages?
Good to know: Search engines like diversity as it signals authenticity. Obvious repetition in anchor text and undiversified link sources looks unnatural, and is a common result of paid link campaigns, or the employment of a misinformed link builder.
- It my site technically optimized?
- Does the site have a sitemap? If you own a Volusion store, yes! All Volusion stores automatically have a sitemap that regenerates daily. Is it submitted to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools? Check both to ensure it’s properly submitted to the major search engines.
- Is the Robots.txt file properly utilized? Does it declare the sitemap and disallow pages that are not of critical importance to the search results, such as the Account Settings or Shopping Cart pages?
Good to know: Be sure to check if you have accidentally disallowed your entire site or blocked an important bot, like Bing or Google.
- Am I properly using the SEO features built into the Volusion platform? Volusion’s software is inherently SEO friendly, but it can’t magically determine how the fields should be populated without some human logic and guidance.
- Is my website visible in many respected areas of the online ecosystem?
- This includes everything from news aggregators and social media platforms, to Google Places, Shopping and relevant industry directories.
- Do other respectable sites reference or link to the website?
- How does the site’s visibility compare to competitors? Based on sheer numbers, who has the most quality links?
Gauging your site’s relevancy
There are two types of relevancy you should consider: on-page and off-page. On-page refers to the information on your site, while off-page is information pertaining to your site found elsewhere on the Internet.
- Can search engines clearly discern what the site, and each page within it, is truly relevant to?
- Search engines want to clearly understand what the site and each page is about. This can be achieved through unique, optimized Title tags and on-page HTML text.
- Does each page of my site target a unique set of highly relevant keywords? Is this clearly expressed in the on-page HTML text, header tags and title tags?
- Does visitor behavior reflect and reinforce this? Or do visitors for these keywords bounce (i.e. leave upon viewing the page of entry)? This can be viewed in your Google Analytics.
Good to know: Conversely, there is such a thing as over-optimization and you’ve probably witnessed it! It’s hard to miss. This is when tags, on-page content, category titles, etc. are stuffed with an unnatural number of keywords, to the point that it compromises user experience and readability.
- Does every page contain a completely unique Title tag and Meta description? You can check with Webmaster Tools.
- Are page URL’s optimized with keywords?
- Does the site incorporate natural anchor text links between pages when appropriate?
- Is critical information contained within elements the search engines cannot crawl, such as Flash or images? If a page contains images, do the images have descriptive Alt attributes?
Good to know: Images can greatly enhance a site’s aesthetics and the over-all user experience, but search engines aren’t yet sophisticated enough to determine the meaning behind the image without explicit HTML information such as an Alt attribute.
Good to know: We don’t recommend utilizing Flash as it’s virtually invisible to search engines, slows page load speed and doesn’t render on mobile devices.
Have another look at the link report you ran for the site through Open Explorer or a similar application.
- What does my link anchor text communicate about the site’s focus?
- What do the link sources say about the website? Are they relevant to my industry? What can search engines discern from the link relationship between the two sites?
- Are high-quality, relevant sites referencing me naturally? What are they saying? Do they mention other valuable keywords when referring to my site? (Links aren’t required in these types of relationships. References, citations or co-citations are all valuable to SEO.)
- What does my social media activity tell the search engines about my site’s relevancy? What sort of information is shared there?
Gauging your site’s engagement
Measuring engagement is a relatively new development in search algorithm evolution. It assumes if both visitors and the website display engagement, the website is worthy of ranking. There are two ways to measure engagement: on-page and off-page engagement. On-page behavior is how the visitors interact with the site, while off-page engagement refers to the site-related activity on channels external to the website.
Measure your site’s organic traffic, using Google Analytics, to examine the following:
- Which keywords are attracting traffic? Which terms are converting to sales?
- How is traffic behaving once it arrives?
- Are they visiting multiple pages?
- Do certain pages have higher-than-normal bounce rates? Not necessarily a bad thing for product pages, but always worth note.
- How long do visitors spend on the site?
- Are they posting reviews of your products/services?
- Is your organic web traffic consistently growing?
Good to know: You want your analytics metrics to signal that your site is a quality one that visitors naturally interact with.
- Does the site provide legitimate, keyword-rich content that’s genuinely useful to visitors?
- Is the company legitimately engaged in social media?
- Is the site regularly sharing content through its blog and social media profiles? Better yet, is it content that visitors are naturally compelled to share, including articles, images and videos? Or are you simply pushing out blatant self-promotion?
- Are you consistently building your social circles, engaging the community and reacting to community feedback?
- Is the store present in appropriate aggregators like Google Shopping, social bookmarking sites, and directories like DMOZ and industry-relevant directories? Is the company regularly featured in online news stories and press releases?
Good to know: An easy way to monitor some aspects of off-page engagement is setting up a Google Alert for your company name or URL.
Your basic SEO audit is complete!
After you complete your SEO audit, you should have a solid idea of how trustworthy, authoritative, relevant and engaged your site is perceived to be. You have hopefully identified places where you are getting things right, and also some areas in need of improvement. This information will empower you to craft meaningful marketing strategies that bolster your SEO traction and improve areas of vulnerability.
Good to know: SEO is never “done,” and neither is your SEO audit. You should always be working towards improving your site’s authority, trustworthiness, relevancy and engagement. Then, every few months, audit the site again in order to gauge the progress you have made and determine which tactics are working.
We want to know what you learned! What is the best thing your SEO Audit taught you?
Need a pro to help you out? Learn more about Volusion’s comprehensive SEO Audit.
-Alison Garrison, Volusion