In these uncertain times, there is no doubt that budgets have been squeezed. Where you may have previously been able to engage with a digital marketing agency to help with your SEO activity, you may find that you now need to take on some of that workload internally.
Yes, enlisting the support of an SEO specialist is still a great idea if you want to continue driving highly valuable organic traffic. However, there are some areas you can look to take on internally which can free up who you hire to carry out other important tasks and more technical aspects of SEO work.
One of these actions is the SEO audit. These audits can help to inform you about the work needed on your website, content gaps, keywords you should be targeting, as well as technical issues on the site.
In this post, we want to take a deeper dive into some of the best tools for conducting an SEO audit on a budget. Many of which offer free versions, which for small and medium enterprises, are great options for keeping costs down.
What is an SEO audit?
An SEO audit is simply the process of identifying issues on your website that could be limiting your ability to rank on Google or other search engines. These are both technical and content-driven issues that are damaging your site authority and ability to provide an enjoyable user experience.
Generally, you can expect to uncover issues like:
- Slow web page loading speeds
- Broken or redirected links
- Blocked or incorrectly indexed webpages
- Toxic links from poorly run sites
- Incorrect or missing HTML tags
- Missing Meta information
- Poorly performing content
Why do an SEO audit?
A poor site experience makes it less visible in search engines. The more errors, slow pages, or poor content that you have, the less likely that you’ll pick up keywords and move higher up in search rankings. And the longer you wait to fix any issues, the more difficult it will be to recover and adapt to new ranking signals.
This means that you’re missing out on web traffic, which means you’re missing out on sales. And if your competitors are keeping up with their web health, they’ll quickly pick up those customers.
So in short, conducting an SEO site audit will help keep your website healthy, ensure that you’re providing a notable online experience for your customers, and improves your chances of being seen in search.
Now conducting an SEO audit may sound like an expensive process. But with the right process and tools, it can be done regularly on a tight budget. Here are a few of the tools we use and recommend you explore.
General SEO Tools
The obvious place to start when conducting any SEO audit is Google and its wide range of tools, many of which are free. Understanding where your traffic comes from, learning about the spikes and troughs, and knowing where your site conversions come from can really help to shape your SEO strategy.
Google Analytics is a powerful and completely free website analytics tool. Once installed properly on your website, you’ll be able to report on which marketing tactics drive the most traffic, which marketing tactics drive the most leads and sales conversions, how visitors use your site, which content they prefer, and so much more.
This is an absolute must-have for all businesses large and small, and it’s worth investing some of your training time on learning how to get the most out of Google Analytics and you can really drive improvements across your site.
Metrics: Website visitor data
Google Search Console
Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) is Google’s free SEO tool. Once set up, you’ll get alerts if Google finds errors on your website and you’ll be able to view key stats like keyword rankings, number of clicks per keyword, number of times your website showed up in the search results per keyword, and your click-through rate when your website showed up in the search results.
Plus, you can link Search Console to Analytics to unlock even more reporting tools in your Analytics account. For example, once you’ve linked these two tools, then in Analytics you’ll be able to review keyword rankings, click-through rates, impressions, and the landing pages that are ranking in Google.
Utilizing these two free Google tools together will really help you to unlock key insights when it comes to the performance of your website.
Metrics: Keyword data, technical issues, coverage, sitemaps, mobile usability, schema, core web vitals
SEMrush describes itself as an ‘all-in-one marketing tool’ for digital marketing professionals. This is the one tool that we probably spend the most time in because it does allow us to do most of what we need to do in one place which makes it an appealing option for SMBs.
There is a free version of the tool, however, this is very limiting in terms of what you can do but it does still provide some value, especially for small businesses.
SEMrush gives you access to backlink, traffic, and rankings data for almost any website on the internet, and the ability to set up projects that you can actively monitor for your own brand and your competitors makes SEMrush a very powerful tool.
Cost: Free and paid options available
Metrics: Domain analysis, traffic, keyword, backlinks, technical issues, content marketing tools, social media poster and tracker, competitor auditing, ad tracking, and analysis
Screaming Frog is the ultimate web crawling and spider tool available to consumers. It has such a massive range of uses but for SEO’s the most likely use is to crawl your website to check for errors and to scrape any on-page SEO-related data.
In just a couple of minutes, you will see a detailed audit of all your webpages. From meta tags to error status codes, you can spot problems without taking the time to manually audit every one of your website’s pages.
The free version allows you up to 500 URLs for each crawl you make so for a lot of SMBs, this will tick the boxes. If not, the paid version is extremely good value for the powerful insights you can pull from Screaming Frog.
Cost: Free and paid options available
Metrics: Find broken links, errors, and redirects, analyze page titles and meta descriptions, review meta robots and directives, discover duplicate pages, audit hreflang attributes
This is a really nifty free browser extension for Chrome that packs a punch when it comes to SEO reporting. Perform a thorough SEO analysis of any webpage with nothing but your browser at hand. All it takes is one click and one second. No cumbersome interface involved — adjust SEOquake to only display what you need when you need it.
The great thing is that you can audit your own website or competitor sites in real-time. Their cool diagnosis features help you identify and fix various optimization issues that occur with modern search engines.
Metrics: Technical auditing, keyword density, internal and external links, compare URLs and domains
Local SEO Tools
Local SEO has become an important factor for many businesses large and small. With the increase in local searches and the changing search results to incorporate more local map pack listings, local SEO has never been as important to SMBs.
Google My Business
A well-maintained and optimized Google My Business (GMB) listing can help small businesses to compete with larger brands in the local map pack space. Not only does it help your business to rank higher, but it also provides easy contact information, location information integrated with Google Maps, and testimonials from Google as well as other listing sites.
Prospective customers can easily contact you, find directions to your business, click to visit your website, or leave a review, all from one simple and free platform.
In short, it’s a free and indispensable tool for every local business.
Metrics: Website visits, impressions, direction requests, calls
We’ve already touched on the importance of local SEO for SMBs and in addition to Google My Business, another local SEO tool is Moz Local. Whilst there are a number of other local SEO tools on the market including Whitespark and Bright Local, we have found Moz Local to be the best for SMBs thanks to its super-friendly user interface.
Moz Local allows you to input your business and track your local business listings across the web. The tool will then show you improvements that you can make to your local listing which will drive more customers to your business.
Citations are an important element of local SEO so ensuring you are not only listed in all the major (and relevant) directories but also ensuring consistency of NAP (Name, Address, Phone) information across all of these listings is crucial. Moz Local will help with that as well as measuring your performance, visibility, and reputation over time.
Cost: Moz Local is currently only available in the US, Canada, and the UK so if you are based outside of these markets, we recommend using Whitespark or Bright Local. Moz Local Lite starts from US $129/year
Metrics: Location data management, review management, profile management, automated duplicate deletion, listing info, performance, visibility, and reputation metrics
Site Speed Tools
Slow site speed can kill your ability to rank as well as any chance of converting customers. But knowing exactly how to optimize your site to run efficiently can be a challenge without the right insights.
Google Page Speed Insights
Back as early as 2010, Google’s search team announced that page speed would be a ranking factor for desktop searches, and from July 2018, it was announced that page speed would also be a ranking factor for mobile searches as well.
Thankfully, Google also released Google Page Speed Insights – a free tool that not only provides you with an easy to understand score for your pages on both mobile and desktop, but it also lists all the issues (if you have any) that are causing your pages not to load as quickly as they could.
Metrics: Page speed score, technical issues
When we carry out a site speed audit, we like to use a number of tools and not just Google’s Page Speed Insights tool. This gives us a more rounded view of the overall health of a page/site when it comes to how quickly the pages load and the causes of potential issues.
One of the tools we use alongside Page Speed Insights is WebPageTest – a free tool that provides a detailed breakdown of the key metrics that impact page speed including multi-step transactions, video capture, content blocking, and much more. Your results will provide rich diagnostic information including resource loading waterfall charts, page speed optimization checks, and suggestions for improvements.
Metrics: Security score, first-byte time, keep alive, compress transfer, compress images, cache static content, effective use of CDN
How to start your SEO audit
All the tools listed above are great for conducting a comprehensive SEO audit on your own website as well as giving you the opportunity to understand more about your competitors. With the exception of SEMrush and Moz Local, the free versions of all of the tools above will be enough for most small and medium businesses with relatively small websites. As soon as you start exceeding 100 pages on your website, you will most likely need to upgrade to some of the paid versions to keep using some of these tools.
The first thing to do if you are tasked with conducting an SEO audit is to familiarise yourself with the extensive Google suite of tools. Beyond the tools we have listed for auditing, they also have more free tools that can help with keyword research, identifying trends, and more. There is plenty of guidance available for all their tools and even if you are still working with an SEO agency, it makes sense to gain a better understanding of the results being presented from these tools.
Work with a few tools to start
There are a lot of tools listed above and it definitely makes sense to pick two or three that are going to be most important to the work you are carrying out. For example, if you have no capacity within your team to make development changes, such as site speed improvements, there is little point in spending time auditing that area. Focus on the areas you can impact on and use the tools which will help you to make improvements.
The one thing you will find with most SEO agencies is that they invest in all the tools above and more, investing in the paid versions so they can take a much deeper dive than you can with the free versions. With an agency, you also get the benefit of the expertise of many SEO specialists who may all work on your account so you need to weigh this up and establish whether you can drive a better ROI by bringing SEO in-house or using an agency.
Paul Thornton is a Brit working abroad. He is the founder and CEO of one of Auckland’s leading SEO agencies, Digital Hothouse in New Zealand. Paul is an SEO and AdWords specialist with a strong focus on building long-term client relationships. After forming Digital Hothouse in 2010, Paul has grown the company into one of the most successful agencies in the country. Connect with Digital Hothouse on Twitter and keep up to date with all the latest digital marketing news and trends in NZ and across the world.
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