After you’ve analyzed your website’s address, now it’s time to look over the entire package, from home page to contact page and every single page in-between. We’ve discussed in part what it takes to design a site that Google will love and adore and display prominently, but in this section we will delve much deeper into the website’s structure and layout so that you can make your site more aesthetically pleasing and valuable than all the rest.
Google isn’t going to invest in a website that goes down frequently or even once or twice a month. If the domain you’re auditing experiences any downtime at all, that could harm your search rankings.
Of course, sometimes maintenance is necessary. Even the most secure banking sites have maintenance periods, but customers should be notified far in advance. If the site will knowingly go down in the future, at least present a static page to customers indicating that maintenance is being completed. You may still cause ire in your audience, but you can minimize any frustration the shutdown causes by holding the session in the middle of the night.
Of course, no downtime is ideal. Barring a system check or upgrade, the site should be up 100% of the time, with no exceptions.
You can check for site downtime by contacting the website’s host provider. A record will show when the site has gone down, and most providers will even give you a reason, whether it be a server error or mistake on your end.
To check for downtime in the future, use a tool like Uptime Robot, which emails you every time the site goes down. Knowing when your site went down is ideal, as early detection is key so that you can work on repairing the error quickly.
There are different hosting services you can use. We use and highly recommend Amazon’s hosting servers, as they provide the most uptime and are easy to manage and scale.
The speed at which your web pages load can have a significant impact on your site’s rankings. Have you ever visited a site that took forever to load? Chances are, you didn’t stick around for very long.
Google’s John Mueller says that your site should take two or three seconds to load, tops.
And according to Aberdeen Group, a mere one-second delay in page load speed can result in a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, 11% fewer page views, and a 10% loss in conversions.
Below are three ways to determine your website’s load speed. You’ll also be able to determine why it might be loading at a snail’s pace.
After entering your URL and the server closest to your location and browser, WebPageTest will complete a test in several parts, providing you with your page speed, and insight into what may be wrong, if anything.
You can determine which pages might need to work in the fast-loading department by visiting your Google Analytics dashboard. The following is a direct way to identify problem pages, but I’ll show you a far more efficient method afterward. I’m including both so that you become accustomed to using Google Analytics in various ways, as it’s highly-valuable for SEO and conversion optimization.
Go to Behavior>Site Speed
By clicking down on the Site Speed dropdown, you get an overview, as well as speed suggestions.
By clicking on Speed Insights within Google Analytics, you are actually taken to Google’s page speed tool, aptly named Page Speed Insights.
This platform is excellent for getting your page to load even milliseconds faster. Below you’ll see insights into a popular website, which apparently needs a little bit of work getting its pages to load faster. Google can give you mobile and desktop insights, score your website, and let you know what’s wrong down to the smallest of details.
Insights has been updated recently to show advanced data, such as when the primary content of a page is visible as opposed to initial images or text, when the page is fully interactive, and more.
You will even receive tips for improving page speed, if issues are in fact discovered.
There are other tools you can use, including Pingdom.com and GTMetrix (highly recommended), that can give you even more “under the hood” information and instruction on how to make your site blazing fast for every single user.
Is it necessary to use all of these tools? Absolutely not. However, the more tools you use, the greater idea you can gather about the speed and responsiveness of the website being audited.
While the tools above will give you suggestions for improving the speed of your website, go through the checklist below just to make sure your time-to-load isn’t being diminished in any way.
Check to see if there are any larger-than-average files on the website, If so, you might want to consider using a Content Delivery Network or CDN. These services allow users to download your content from a server near them while simultaneously condensing your content and thereby reducing the number of server requests. Using a CDN can save your site up to 60% of bandwidth, making it much faster-to-load.
If your site is down, even once, and you experience data bottlenecking of any kind, consider changing your host provider. There are many on the market today that are secure and intent on appeasing their clients. I recommend hosting your website with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to keep your site free of errors and always loading quickly.
If the site utilizes a content management system like WordPress, using a caching plugin is an excellent idea. Plugins like WP Total Cache can free up valuable data and bandwidth, but there are others within the WordPress library. Any of them will likely do, as long as it comes highly-recommended within the platform’s rating system.
Note: Some host providers provide data caching as a bonus service. Check with your host provider to see if that’s the case. Otherwise, a caching plugin can condense your site’s content and eliminate bulky data, making your site much more pleasant to visit.
For WordPress sites, check to determine if the theme might be causing some slow-downs. Some themes are heavier than others and require more bandwidth to show up online, thus choosing the wrong one can weigh down the site’s speed. Select a simple and media-light design that is sure to load quickly.
Broken links can slow your site down. You can identify broken links by checking for crawl errors within Google Search Console. After logging in, view the reports you are presented with right in your dashboard. There, you’ll see if there are any crawl errors. Google will also provide you with tips for helping to make your site both crawl-friendly and speedy.
Site speed is only one factor in determining a site’s quality. Here are other important factors to consider.
Shoddy images just won’t do. Make sure your images stand out and, most importantly, are relevant to users’ search queries.
This book is for those who wish to complete a thorough Google SEO audit, but that lack the technical expertise and know-how to do so. Thus, we will stick with those aspects you can easily perform until you’re ready to let professionals improve and scale your results.
A website URL that is overly long can look suspicious, as excessive URLs harken back to the days where black-hatters engaged in keyword stuffing, affiliate marketing trickery, and other invasive techniques in order to grease the skids to higher rankings.
The best URLs are short and memorable. After all, who’s going to type an overly-long URL into their browser to search for answers or information? Few, if any.
As a rule, your website’s internal page URLs should be less than 115 characters. Always go with short-as-can-be URLs is the lesson.
Earlier, in the tools section, it was suggested that you download and install Screaming Frog SEO Spider. It just so happens that Screaming Spider contains a specific tab labeled over 115 characters just for internal URLs.
Simply click the URL tab to view all sorts of data about the domain.
You can also click the URL tab in the lower menu. Screaming Frog is incredibly intuitive and easy to use.
Or, you can view the right-hand pane, where you can view all the metrics about the site in easy-to-read drop-down menus. Here you can see the tab that indicates which URLs need to be shortened to improve SEO.
Clicking on that tab will reveal all the URLs over 115 characters that can then be parsed for simpler effect and an improved SERP boost.
Note: Make sure you redirect any URLs you alter to eliminate dead links and future crawl errors. Website builders will typically redirect your new URLs immediately and WordPress plugins can be used for simple redirects, such as Simple Website Redirect (https://wordpress.org/plugins/simple-website-redirect/).
The method with which the website is constructed matters in SEO. There are essentially three aspects to site architecture an SEO auditor should consider. 1) Design and user-friendliness, 2) Back-end coding, 3) Hierarchy of relevant information.
Your intent should be to provide a seamless and memorable web experience. You can only do this by making relevant and critical information almost instantly accessible.
If your website is complicated and difficult to navigate, Google’s not going to want to serve it up to users. Google only wants to deliver to users a website that offers the most important information above the fold. In other words, users shouldn’t have to scroll or swipe or act too much in order to find the information they need.
When it comes to menus and side menus, keep it simple and don’t use slang or your own terminology in order to appear “hip.” I’ve had a few clients attempt to do this. You’ll only potentially confuse Google and users.
To improve user-friendliness, your menu items should be plainly stated, with Home, About, Services, FAQ, and Contact as your primary pages, for example. You can eliminate or add menu items as necessary, but here’s the general rule on menus and submenus: Visitors to your site should be able to find the information they came for in – at most – three clicks. Think of Amazon and its one-click shopping, how convenient that is. Your visitors should feel the same way about your website.
Consider a person arriving on your site from Google. They used text-to-speech to query, “Find a family lawyer near me.”
Google delivers up your site as the top-billing and the user clicks-through. Your home page indicates that you’re number-one in family law, then offers a tab where users can learn more (thus converting).
Put it all together and you have on your hands an amazing two-click conversion. Of course, if you offered a clickable phone number at the top of your site, you might have a one-click conversion, which is the best-case scenario.
Even if the person wants to learn more about your practice, they can click the About page. If they want to learn about child custody, they can click Services> Child Custody. Everything is at a finger’s touch.
A site like that entices visitors to return, and they’ll be more likely to recommend “the fantastic attorney site they found” to others in need.
Another critical aspect to your site’s architecture that you should consider includes making things easier on Google spiders or crawlers. Google spiders (bots or algorithms) do not see the website as you see it.
Just like the movie Matrix, they only see the back-end code, which looks like this:
You can imagine those bots scouring your website for information. Every piece of code and bit need to be cataloged and deciphered in order to give your site a certain value. That value amount then translates into rankings on the SERPs.
If you can make your data easily-servable to Google’s crawlers, you might experience a bump in rankings, as the idea goes. With all the websites that Google is tasked with scanning and analyzing on a daily basis, you’ll do the search engine a favor by making things easy. It’s just common courtesy and great for SEO.
To put it simply, search optimized web design is both human and bot friendly. Always focus on humans first, however, as the bots will be paying attention and will be sure to rank you accordingly.
Of course, this is why I recommend WordPress and the Yoast SEO Plugin, which makes encoding your site with optimized metadata much easier.
When a visitor lands on your website, the ideal situation is akin to falling down a rabbit hole. You want them to delve deeply into your content, learning what is necessary to entice the conversion.
The current trend is to have a “flat” website architecture. This is best described as a website that offers a single click to arrive at all internal pages from the home page.
So, a visitor landing on your homepage from Google with the query, “Best local power tools on sale” might see a listing of all power tools categorized by brand. By clicking on the brand headings, they can go deeper into that brand’s offerings, even going so far as to click-through into deeper internal pages. These might describe the brand’s About history or offer discounts on that particular brand’s line of power tools.
The wrong way is to not provide any help as to how to get to the deeper pages of your site. If a person has to click here and there and everywhere to find what they want, they’ll bounce. No one has time to figure out a puzzle of a site.
Therefore, construct your website intuitively. Think of your buyer persona’s motivations when landing on the site, and how they might like to click-through to the internal pages to find what they want. If you can think like one of your typical visitors, designing or redesigning your site’s architecture will become much easier.
Of course, if you have a smaller website with only a few pages, as long as your content is useful and never too deep to be accessed, you’ll do fine.
Categories help Google identify the top pages of a website and should be included for the SEO boost. These can be your services or blog post topics. WordPress makes creating categories easy. Simply assign all pages and posts to categories to help Google figure out how and where to rank the site’s pages.
A site’s internal linking structure matters for SEO. When you come across important terms in your site’s content, internal links act as helpful “jumping points” visitors can utilize to delve just a little deeper.
Internal links should use relevant hypertext, which means that the bolded and underlined text visitors see should coincide with that particular landing page. They should also only be used when necessary. Too many internal links appear spammy and all those links will probably turn your visitors off.
Instead, keep your internal linking structure simple. If a page is too cluttered with them, remove them so that only a few remain.
You will also want to check for broken internal links. Screaming Frog can help here.
After selecting a page from the list of URLs in the primary view window, click the Inlinks tab at the bottom of the page.
Once clicked, the bottom window will reveal the internal code structure of your site. You’ll be able to identify redirects and 404s, otherwise referred to as broken links.
Note: While we’re on the subject of 404s, ensure your website has a customized 404 error page. This helps visitors have a more memorable web experience and it shows Google that your site is more than just a spammy template.
Google figured out long ago that respected websites link to one another. If you link to a government site, corporate online entity, or other websites with clout, which Google refers to as PageRank, your site can potentially earn some of that clout.
This act of transferring clout is sometimes referred to as earning “link juice” from prominent sites.
But the overall concept is the same. You’ll want to ensure that all of your outbound links are linking to relevant, high-value, and respected websites. Remember, Google’s ranking system is democratic, and this is one instance where you can cast your vote and receive benefit from the votes of others.
How many outbound links should you have? Google’s Matt Cutt’s has stated that Google originally set a guideline of 100 outbound links maximum per page. However, he insists that number was never intended to be a mandate.
If there are 102 links on a particular page, for example, Google will judge those instances on a case-by-case basis.
As long as the links are relevant, of sound quality, and belong within the context of the page, Google’s not going to penalize your site or mark it as spam or anything like that for just a few more outbound links.
Screaming Frog can help here, too, when searching for outbound links and outbound link errors. Just as you clicked the bottom tab “Inlinks” to identify potential internal link errors, the tab “Outlinks” can do the same for your site’s outbound link structure.
If your website can’t seem to gain higher rankings or you’ve lost rankings, and there are too many links on any certain page, consider cutting them down.
Quality outbound links go to relevant, legitimate pages. If there are any sites that are linked-to that are questionable in nature, such as gambling or porn sites, affiliate sites of questionable nature, and websites known for phishing or other scams, consider redirecting the links to a new site or page or remove them altogether. Those outbound links are forbidden and can get your site banned permanently or at least drastically penalized.
Instead, focus on quality outbound links, such as those to your Alma Mater, the Better Business Bureau, or the local Chamber of Commerce. Those types of links will prove to Google that your website is legit and worthy of prominence in the SERPs.
Affiliate marketing is a wonderful concept. You let someone else do all the idea and manufacturing work, then collect a commission for every converting customer you send their way.
The problem with affiliate links is that too many scammers have ruined it for legitimate affiliate marketers intent on providing value to their clientele.
Google’s is well-aware of these scams and thus has made it difficult for illegitimate affiliate marketers to gain any kind of foothold via Google SERPs. That’s good news for you, me, and all others who use the search engine, as it keeps the muck to a minimum when searching for what we need.
It is acceptable to employ affiliate links and still gain prominent rankings, as long as the links are relevant, useful, and lead to quality products and services.
To check for affiliate link violations within your website, you’ll want to check your site’s URLs for any kind of common code. That’s because most affiliate publishers provide their advertisers with an affiliate link containing a unique identifier.
Use Screaming Frog to look through all of your website’s URLs at a single glance, as doing so can usually reveal this common code.
If you know the code, you can also search for it in quotes in Google, such as “commoncode4338548.” That way, you’ll be able to identify any pages, sites, and other elements that contain that code, just to be extra thorough.
If you happen to come across a page that is stuffed with affiliate links, which Google is likely to view negatively, it’s best to remove all the links entirely. Leaving even one won’t do you a bit of good and will only harm the SEO of your site in the long run.
When it comes to affiliate link placement, sparsity, relevancy, and value are the concepts to remember. Users should be able to click-through the affiliate link and think to themselves, “I’m glad I did that.” If they’re not likely to say that to themselves, maybe that affiliate link is a bad idea.
We’re not quite done with the on-site SEO analysis. Now it’s time to check the content for SEO-friendliness. An entire chapter has been dedicated to content, and for great reason.
Content is King, and always will be.