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How to Perform a Website Audit – Björn Darko // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: Website audits are complicated but worthwhile endeavors for any brand or company. Although most companies are capable of executing an audit, a guiding hand from an expert can significantly increase the benefits audits provide. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ Director of Digital Strategies Group Björn Darko who provides technical tips and an expert, detailed look behind website audits.

Summary

  • It’s best to approach a website audit with your business model in mind to identify key revenue drivers and which pages are performing successfully can provide those insights.
  • One of the most common issues Björn encounters when auditing a client’s website is duplicate websites and meta titles. 
  • On the SEO side, experts should provide clients a ranked priority list of must-completes to low priority at the conclusion of an audit to provide actionable directions clients can track.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                  Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. Today we’ll be looking under the hood to provide you with technical tips, you need to make the most out of your SEO strategies.

Ben:                  Joining us today is Björn Darko, who is the director of the digital strategies group at Searchmetrics, which offers SEO consulting, content marketing services, and strategy to software companies around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He is also the creator and host of the popular IGTV show SEO and today Björn and I are going to talk about how to perform a website audit.

Ben:                  Okay. On with the show.

Ben:                  Here’s my conversation with Björn Darko, director of the digital strategies group at Searchmetrics.

Ben:                  Björn, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Björn:              Hi, thank you. Happy to be here.

Ben:                  Excited to have you on the show. We’re really at the start of a long journey here.

Ben:                  We sat down together with some of the Searchmetrics team, a sponsor of this podcast. And I said, “Hey, look, we need more technical content. I am a Digital Marketer. I am very well versed in the content marketing strategies and some of the more artistic principles of SEO, but honestly, the technical stuff. I joke about the SEO geeks in the corner. Totally not my bag. I need you to help me and help our audience understand some of the more technical logistics of making SEO really hum.”

Ben:                  So, we’re going to start off today by talking about performing a website audit, really focusing on a technical perspective and we’re going to be producing a lot more technical content as a regular series with you, for starters, introduce yourself to the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                  Tell us a little about what you do at Searchmetrics, and a bit about your technical background?

Björn:              As you already mentioned, I’m leading the European consulting hub, here at Searchmetrics. So we offer consulting services, strategic services, as well as SEO or technical SEO services. And so performing a website audit is like, our bread and butter actually, at a converging. So there are a lot of clients who ask us…

Björn:              They’ve been there for 15-20 years on the market and they didn’t really do a lot of changes on the websites. Everything on top of all the old legacy and suddenly they realized maybe we should redo some things and we should get a check how healthy our website really is. And if we are still on a good status quo, so to speak, and that’s where we come and place on a website or the contemplates to really do a health check on the website. And tell the client, look, this is what it’s important for Google, but this is where you’re actually lacking being good for Google’s eyes.

Ben:                 Okay. So the first thing that you’re doing when you are meeting a new enterprise client, as you’re doing an evaluation of their website and talking about how it performs.

Ben:                 Before, we get into how to conduct the audit. I want to talk a bit about when people come to you and ask for the audit and when they should be, I’m assuming by the time somebody comes to you and asks for an audit, they already have a problem. When should you start thinking about going through your site from a technical perspective and evaluate how it’s performing?

Björn:             Yeah, that’s the funny thing. I think that’s a classical thing in SEO. And SEO is working very reactive. Meaning when it’s too late, then people come and want to have an audit when it’s too late SEOs have to fix stuff and the thing with an audit is actually, if you’re working as an in house SEO, you should at least do every half a year and audit, it’s not only good for you as an SEO because, you keep on having an overview about the technical depth of a website and you keep having an overview about the potential, of the page and from an audit you can generate so many strategic insights for your roadmap throughout the year.

Ben:                 Okay. I think that’s a great tip. Hey, every six months you should stop and take a look at how your website is actually performing. Google is changing. I’m sure some of the codes and patches and what’s being built into the enterprise level websites are changing as well.

Ben:                 So let’s get into what an SEO audit from a technical perspective is. How do you think about the various functions of an audit?

Björn:             So in the audit, from how we perform audits at Searchmetrics, so an audit should contain actually three main parts. The first part is equally important as the middle or the end part, right? And the first part of an audit is always to evaluate what business you are doing the audit for.

Björn:             So how do they generate money? How do they, generate revenue? What areas of the page is very important? Which areas of the page make the most conversion, stuff like that. Because, everything you recommend in the second part, which is set a side. So the first part is called the business analyst, the second part is the site analyst. So within the business part, you also check visibility. You also check traffic channels. What channel is generating the most traffic? What channel is generating the most conversions and in the second part, if you do your recommendations, you always keep in mind how the company is generating money.

Björn:             So everything you recommend should actually fit to the way the business is generating money.

Björn:             That’s very important.

Ben:                 Okay. So the first part, when you sit down with an enterprise client and you’re looking at how to optimize their website, tactically, you’re still actually taking a business point of view. And I think for the people who are thinking about how do I audit my own website from a technical perspective, you might be sitting at home saying, well, I already know how my business performs, but I think that you can go a level deeper here and actually focus on what are the primary revenue drivers for your website. I know for myself personally, a lot of the times we have a bunch of different content initiatives on our site. And some of the times they’re, these side projects that bubble up and we spent a lot of time and effort and they don’t end up being revenue generating.

Ben:                 So while you understand what your business model is actually taking a look at a page type at specific pages, right? Your search results pages, your popular landing pages. Are the pages at the bottom of your file actually converting? And really start to think about the business performance of your website as a whole.

Ben:                 Björn, before we move onto what the second step is. When you are going through doing your business analysis, are you looking at page types, specific top performing pages? You know, what are the metrics that you look at…

Björn:             Yeah.

Ben:                 Or the categorizations that you look at?

Björn:             So the categorization of the first part, it’s really as I said, the analyzers of the business, it’s just how they generate money. So the brilliant part is to look at the buyer flow as well. Where does the buyers and the users come from? Which traffic channel, which are the important pages that this is very important for lead generation.

Ben:                Traffic channel, landing pages, go on.

Björn:            Exactly. So which pages are driving the most conversions? Where are the users buying, or what pages are they buying?

Ben:                So I think there’s an important distinction here. You got to look at where people are coming in and then where are the places that they’re going, which actually lead to the conversion. You’re looking at this whole buyer journey.

Björn:             Exactly, a whole buyer journey. Coming from Google, coming from Instagram, coming from Facebook landing on the page, maybe clicking two or three pages on the page and then making a purchase and then leaving the page. That’s the whole flow we are looking at actually. And the other thing is that you actually do a traffic and ranking analysis within this business analysis as well. You’re looking at different traffic channels. And especially when you look at SEO, you’re looking at the top ranking pages in the top ranking keywords as well, because you want to secure them, right? These are very important rankings. If you do an audit and you change stuff on a website, you have to make sure that those rankings don’t get lost.

Ben:                 Okay. So the first thing that you’re doing is you’re looking at the buyer journey, understanding key landing pages, understanding what the flows are, to get someone into the conversion path and then understanding which of the pages at the bottom of your file are actually converting.

Björn:             Exactly.

Ben:                 And then the second step of the business analysis, is to look at your SEO performance.

Ben:                 And you mentioned that you’re looking at what are your rankings? What are your landing pages in SEO? What’s driving traffic?

Björn:             Yeah, exactly. And then there’s one more important thing is if you look at rankings, you can ask people, “Hey, how much … do you generate from search engines?” And they say, it’s 50 percent of the overall traffic is organic, but here’s the thing within organic, you need to distinguish between brand and non-brand traffic, right? So if you have a big brand IBM or you have Adidas or stuff, of course you have maybe, 70 percent brand traffic, but just 30 percent of mob brand traffic. As an SEO, it’s your task actually, to increase this non-brand traffic part more than the brand traffic part. Because, this is something you can’t really influence.

Björn:             You can do TV advertising out of home advertising or you have a big pass on social media. That’s somehow impacting direct traffic. But if you think about content doing an audit to rank informational pages higher than you’re speaking about non-brand traffic here.

Ben:                 Yeah. Important to separate out the branded from the non-branded traffic. Because, really where you have an opportunity to optimize, is the non-branded traffic.

Ben:                 Let’s get beyond just doing your business analysis. We’re going to go through, we’re going to look at how the business actually performs.

Ben:                 We’re going to look at how you’re performing from an SEO perspective. Then what do you do? What’s the second stage in your audit.

Björn:             So the second stage in the audits. First of all, you do an initial crawl. So you’re using a crawler. You pretend to be a Google bot or smartphone bot and then you crawl the entire page. Every URL you can find with the crawler, but it has to be crawled. So that you get a full picture about everything, which is linked. You start from the homepage and every link the crawler finds, gets into the report so that you have a full picture.

Björn:             This is very essential because within this crawl, you might find all those broken links. You might find all those error pages would result in a 404 page or 500 pages instead of going to the server, right.

Björn:             There is also you’re crawling the Robert’s texts. You’re crawling the sitemaps, you’re crawling every URL, you know how many words are on the URL? How’s the URL structure?

Ben:                 I’m going to show you what a brilliant technical SEO I am here. Why would you conduct your own crawl instead of just look at the data that you’re getting from Google, don’t you get the crawl information from Google? Aren’t you actually seeing whether you get errors in your search console, right? Are they showing you what pages are being crawled? Why would you conduct your own crawl?

Björn:              Because everything you get from Google, it’s not the full picture. To be honest, right. If you look at the search console, there might be a URL shown, which is not showing any impressions anymore. So what you see in Google search console is just URLs and keywords, which have an impression in the Google search. So if you crawl the page, you’ll find pages really often. You find pages, which will be crawled by Google, but shouldn’t be crawled by Google.

Ben:                  I think that’s an important distinction that when you’re looking at search console, it’s not listing everything, that’s been crawled. It’s listing everything that’s got an impression. Okay. So thanks. Go on.

Björn:              So what you also see is, when you do your initial crawl. You see how a crawler like Google is accessing the page fully accessing the page, right? What URLs have been crawled, what URLs are indexed, what URLs were not indexed. What, URLs are blocked, which URLs should have been blocked, have been blocked. Are there any XML site maps? Are they correctly set up? How’s the click best analyzed?

Björn:              If you crawl those pages, every crawler gives you the information, how many clicks a user or the search engine needs to actually, come to the most important pages, which could be your product detail page, if you’re ecommerce company. Right?

Ben:                  So walk me through that. You said that you get the click depth analysis. What does that mean?

Björn:              That means that you can actually analyze how many clicks the user need from a homepage or from a landing page to land on your most important page, which is mostly driving a conversion.

Ben:                 Okay. So basically, you can get through and get data. It is seven steps to get from the homepage to the thank you page after you’ve completed a transaction…

Björn:             Which is really bad.

Ben:                 Right, seven pages is a lot. If you’re going from a homepage through multiple different stages, right? That’s seven clicks at a bare minimum to buy a product. You probably want to focus on that. So you understand essentially the depth of your website by understanding of the click path.

Björn:             Exactly. And the idea, if you’re an SEO, make it as easy as possible for Google to access your most important pages. So they have to have a really narrow click path here.

Ben:                 Okay. So by doing this crawl, you’re getting all of the information about what pages are broken on your website. What is accessible, how deep and how wide your website goes. Are there any other reasons why you would do a crawl?

Björn:              Yeah, because, you have to do the crawl in order to get a full picture. It’s not only as I said, click path and Roberts texts.

Björn:              There’s so many more things like broken links. You know, when Google is accessing a page or crawling your page, the majority of the U.S crawling leading to a 404 page, leading to a page which is not there anymore, that’s actually bad for the Google crawler, but also bad for the user. If the user is landing on a 404 page, rather than a page he or she was really looking for.

Björn:              You also get all the status quotes, your website is giving back to a client, a user or Google. You also get a good indication about your site speed. So how long did it actually, take for a crawler to get the URL from the server and then crawl it or render it?

Ben:                  Let me tell you, I am absolutely shocked that at our first technical SEO podcast together, it took us 19 minutes and 26 seconds of recording to get to the words, site speed. I feel like we need to optimize our content a little bit. Cause that’s always been the biggest technical component that I know of to start helping your rankings. We can say Bingo. We said, site speed let me ask you. We’ve talked about all of different reasons, why you do a crawl once you’re done with the crawl, what’s the next step in your audit?

Björn:             So the next step is actually to jump into all this crawl data. Depending on the crawler, you have, you already have some charts you’re already can filter through, “Hey, show me all the broken links.” “Hey, show me everything which is index.” “Hey, show me everything which has thin content,” meaning a very few amount of words on the page, or give me all the pages which are loading under three seconds or which are loading more, under 10 seconds. So, you really have to dig into the crawl data here.

Ben:                 So now we’re in an evaluation phase, right? We’ve collected all the data that we have from a crawl. And that’s really the second step. And as we go to the last part of your audit, now you’re actually getting into the analysis to try to isolate the problems. You mentioned that one of the things that you’re looking at is site speed. Bingo, got it again. Right, you’re looking at the pages that are slower than what we want them to be.

Ben:                Talk to me about some of the other things that you’re looking at when you do a crawl?

Björn:            What is really important as well, is internal linking. Especially, if you have a huge site, like take a ecommerce site or publishing site, right? So they have mostly a million of URLs and hundreds of categories and product reject pages. So you have to make sure that they are internally linked, very properly. So meaning that the most important pages are connected that, all the product detail pages and category pages are connected, brand pages are connected to product detail pages.

Björn:            So it’s very important that all the relevant pages are really connected to each other. And this is what you get, if you do a technical SEO crawl as well. So you can look at this as well.

Björn:           Also, what you find and here we come into the content piece as well. So it’s very important that you find all those pages, which have thin content, meaning that there’s not many words on the page, right? So, and if you then connect this URL data with search console and check do the URLs have any impressions in the last six months? Or you look at your analytics and see all those URLs, are like 70 percent of the US and crawling actually, doesn’t generate any traffic. And you already have a good insight that you might consolidate, delete or redirect some of the pages because they are actually useless.

Ben:               So you’re understanding what pages are performing from a site speed perspective. You understand what pages are useless, right? Where the breaks and your website are, what else are you looking at when you’re doing your analysis of a website?

Björn:           So as I already said, you look at backlinks as well because, backlinks is a huge factor. So what you do here is you’re taking your most important pages from the crawl and then you can parallel run a backlink analyzer and look where backlinks are generated and how the link juice is flowing through the site. This is something you can actually, see in a crawl as well. If you’re connected with other data sources, very important here as well.

Ben:               So let’s recap here when you’re conducting an SEO audit, right? It’s something that you should probably do every six months. If you’re an in house SEO, you can do this. If you’re not doing it yourself, you can hire a consultant like the orange team at Searchmetrics. But the things that you need to think about are first and foremost, analyzing your business problems, right? Understanding not only what your revenue model is, but understand your user journey and understand what pages are the most important from an SEO perspective, where you’re getting visibility, where you’re getting impressions and what the click through rates are.

Björn:           Correct.

Ben:               So you’re basically, starting at the top level, thinking about how’s my business performing. The next thing you are going to do is, you’re going to get a picture of the website performance by running a crawl, right? You’re going to get all of the information about the breadth and depth of your website.

Ben:               So you could see what Google is looking at when they get to your website and the last part of your audit, you’re going to go through an analysis phase where you’re going to look at site speed, site speed, site speed, going to be your most important factor, but you’re also looking at where there’s bloat, where there are dead links. And lastly, when people are writing about your website, when you’re getting link juice passed to you, how is that being passed to the rest of the website.

Ben:               Björn, as you think about running the SEO audit for your clients for the enterprise level SEO’s, what are some of the most common problems that you see, what are the things that SEO’s can most easily avoid?

Björn:            I think what we always see is a lot of duplication on websites, you can easily figure this out when you look at meta titles. For example, you’ll see that there’s a lot of new ads, which are using the same meta titles. It might be that, the maintenance of meta information is not really well done on the website, but it might also be that there’s a problem. Let’s take an ecommerce website for example, where you’re indexing all your filter parameters and what happens here is you have one URL.

Björn:            Let’s take a Nike Air Max for example, this is the economical version of the URL and then you’re adding some parameters, be at its size. In the U.S it would be 13 is one size, 12, 11, stuff like that. Whenever a user is actually using a filter for size, there are some parameter edit to the URL, index and Google with the same meta title and this is actually, what you can figure out here.

Björn:           Most of the time it’s a very usual or classic mistake online shops do. This is something you just see if you do the crawl.

Ben:               So Björn, you run into some problems that are common when you’re doing your audits. One of the things that I always struggle with when I’m thinking about my website performance, and honestly, a lot of SEO challenges in general, it feels very overwhelming, right? It feels hard to understand what to prioritize and what to do first.

Ben:               How do you break up all of the data that you’re getting from your SEO audit when you’re giving it to your client to make sure that it’s digestible?

Björn:           Yeah. As I said in the beginning, that’s one of the most important parts of an audit as well. Right? So think about it. You do the audit most of the time, it takes 10 days. So there’s an SEO sitting there evaluating a website, running an audit, crawling all the website, is evaluating and jumping into the analyzers part, looking at everything from A to Z. Which is support for the page, and then figuring out some errors and recommendations how they can actually, improve the website.

Björn:           How do you make it digestible? And it’s actually, very important that you have some kind of a metrics at the end of the audit, which says “Look, this is recommendation one, this is recommendation two, recommendation three. This is the priority and this is actually, the impact it has.” So that the client on the other side knows, “Okay, this is what I need to tackle first, second, and third, and this has the highest priority and this has the lowest.”

Björn:           This is very important, but it’s actually, your task or it’s your responsibility as an SEO, as a consultant. Actually, to make it digestible for the client and to make him aware and make sure that he understands, what you’re really talking about. Because, it’s 10 days and most of our audits are a hundred pages. A hundred page booklet, which we flow at the desk of a client and he doesn’t have the time to read a hundred pages, so you have to summarize it for him.

Ben:               I think that’s always important advice, is that when you’re thinking about all of the information that you’re gaining through an audit, this can be very tactical, can be very overwhelming.

Ben:              You need to distill everything down into some specific discrete projects. Otherwise, the information that you’re getting never ends up being useful with that said.

Ben:              Björn, I feel like we’re off to a good start with our technical conversations.

Ben:              Will you come back on the show? Could we do this on a regular basis and talk tech?

Björn:           Yeah, let’s do.

Ben:               Awesome. All right. Well, we’re going to wrap this episode up, but we’re going to have Björn, back on a regular basis to talk about how to solve your technical SEO challenges.

Ben:               So, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:               Thanks for listening to my conversation with Björn Darko, director of the digital strategies group at Searchmetrics.

Ben:              We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Björn, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile, in our show notes, you can contact him on Twitter, his handle is Björn_Darko, that’s B-J-O-R-N_D-A-R-K-O, or you can visit his company’s website, which is searchmetrics.com.

Ben:              Just one more link in our show notes. I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topics, suggestions, and SEO questions.

Ben:             You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter. And my personal handle is Ben J Shap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-R-P.

Ben:            And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week.

Ben:           So hit the Subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed soon.

Ben:           All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.