How to run an SEO Audit on your website

If you're looking to improve your website's search rankings, then your first step should be to carry out an SEO audit.


12 min read

1. Overview

Carrying out an SEO audit will not only show you how your site is ranking, it will also highlight any issues that could prevent good rankings which will help you develop your SEO strategy. This guide outlines the key steps.

2. Equip yourself with some tools

To run a proper SEO audit, you will need to use a few online tools and platforms.

Professional SEO tool

Professional SEO tools enable you to analyse how your site is performing in search results and identify any issues impacting your ranking. They offer a range of features, including keyword research, link explorers and site crawls (which crawl through your site in a similar way to search engine ‘spiders’). There are a number of professional SEO tools available and many of them offer free trials, these include:

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free tool from Google that allows site owners to analyse how Google is indexing your site, be notified of any crawl issues, and see data on the search queries driving traffic to your site. To use it you will first need to ‘verify’ your website, for example by adding some script or a tag to your site or linking your Google Analytics account. Google Search Console offers a lot of insight into your site which compliments your professional SEO tool (which will give more in depth information).

Tip: You can link your Google Analytics account with your Search Console to enable you to see your search query reports in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the free website analytics tool from Google. If you have it, you will need to look at your Google Analytics data to see how much traffic is entering your site via search engines and to identify your top SEO landing pages.

3. Carry out keyword research and set your SEO goals

Once you have your tools in place, the next step is to do some planning - namely, to set your SEO goals and plan which keywords you need to rank for. Remember that although search rankings are ‘free’ (i.e. you don’t pay each time someone clicks on an organic Google listing), you still need to put in the work to create and optimise the content on your site to achieve that ranking, so you need to be strategic in your choice.

When setting your keyword goals, you first need to understand:

  • which terms your customers are searching for to find your product or service
  • what level of competition exists in the rankings for those terms (i.e. how hard will it be to achieve rankings)

And this is where keyword research comes in. The professional SEO platform you selected will have a keyword research tool, so have a quick brainstorm of the terms that you think your users would search for, then put these into the tool. This will let you see the monthly search volume (i.e. how many people search for that term each month) and the level of competition for each term. It should also give you some new keyword ideas.

Top tips when selecting keywords

Selecting the appropriate keywords deserves time and planning, particularly if SEO is going to be a key element of your digital marketing.

  • Only select appropriate keywords. You will need to commit to them by optimising the content on your site for them, so they must be relevant to both your business and your customers.
  • Select the keywords that you feel have a good balance between search volume and competition. (Remember the more competition, the more difficult it will be to achieve top rankings, but you still want your target terms to have enough search volume to sustain your business).
  • Look to the ‘long tail’ keywords - multi-word keywords that are low search volume but highly relevant. Often these can be easier to rank for and potentially have higher conversion rates than more generic terms. Plus, combined, they can add up to a lot of traffic, and could inform your site’s wider content strategy.
  • Think of your sales funnel - the keywords people use when they are ready to buy, vs comparing products, vs starting their search. Aiming for terms across this can build traffic for different stages of the funnel.

4. Plot your existing rankings

Now that you have an idea of what your business needs to rank for, you need to work out where you are just now. Do you actually hold strong search rankings which may just need to be refined a little? Or are you only ranking for your business name and need to run a larger scale SEO campaign to try to achieve better rankings?

You will need to use a combination of all of your tools (your SEO professional platform, Google Search Console and Google Analytics) to answer the following questions.

  • Which keywords do you rank for just now, and in which positions?

Your SEO tool should give you details of which keywords your website is currently ranking for, and in what position, which will help you start to scope out how much work needs to be done on SEO. It may even throw up some keywords you hadn’t thought of.

  • Where do you rank against your target keywords?

The tool will also help you to look at how your site ranks for your target keywords. This will again let you see how much SEO effort is needed for each one and maybe help you refine your list a little.

  • How much traffic do the keywords you rank for drive through to your website, and which page do they land on?

Then you will need to look at Google Search Console data to see how many ‘clicks’ (how many times a listing was clicked on) and ‘impressions’ (how many times a listing appeared in the search results).

Tip: This can help you assess how ‘clickable’ your listing is, and see whether you need to rewrite your meta data to make your listings more compelling.

Next, head over to Google Analytics and have a look at your ‘search query’ data to see how much traffic came to your site via these keywords. Did most search traffic come via searches for your business name? Or is a particular non-brand keyword driving a good amount of traffic which could be maximised?

Tip: Also look at the ‘landing pages’ report to see which pages these queries landed on, and assess whether these landing pages are working hard enough to convert and convince new traffic.

5. Identify any critical site issues

Now that you understand your site’s existing search engine rankings, you need to understand why your site ranks where it does.

In your professional SEO tool, run an SEO Audit (sometimes called a site crawl). The tool will crawl your site in the same way that search engine spiders do, and flag issues and areas for improvement. Most will grade any issues spotted.

Most importantly, you need to know whether there are any critical issues within your site that impact how the search engine spiders crawl (and rank) your site. These are the issues that could be stopping your site from ranking at all, or seriously holding back your ranking potential.

Some of the key issues to look out for include:

  • Crawler blocks: Sometimes a website or specific page can be prohibited from appearing in search engine results pages through the addition of ‘noindex robots’ files and tags. (This includes adding ‘no index’ to your robots.txt file, ‘robots meta tag’, and the ‘X-Robots-Tag HTTP header’). This is usually done deliberately to stop a given page or site section from appearing in search results. However sometimes these can be in place by mistake (e.g. when carried over from a development site or copied onto the wrong page). When this happens the pages with these ‘robots’ tags will not appear in the search results at all. A site audit will flag these up and you can remove any that are there in error.
  • Http status error codes: Http status codes are sent by your website’s server to a user’s browser whenever a user visits your site - they indicate to the browser the current status of your site. When something is wrong, your site will return an error code.

    ○ ‘4xx’ errors. This means that a page cannot be found or isn’t valid, such as a ‘404, page not found error’ - the user has attempted to reach a page that has been removed, or via an incorrect URL link (so the URL isn’t valid). The user and crawler cannot access the page, as it doesn’t exist (or at least not on that URL).

    ○ ‘5xx’ errors. These errors mean that there is an issue with the internal server of your site, such as a ‘503 - service unavailable’ code, which means that the site is not accessible at that time to either users or crawlers.

If you have a large number of 404 error pages, it may be that an error has occurred in your URL syntax, so you will need to fix this and then fix any links pointing to it. Or it may be that you have moved a lot of content to a new URL structure (or indeed changed your website’s URL) and you will need to ‘redirect’ the old URLs to the new

Tip: use 301 redirects if you want to pass any SEO ranking power to the new URLs

  • Broken internal links: Not only do you want to find any pages on your site that return a 404 error, you also want to find any pages on your site that link to them, so that you can fix these ‘broken links’, by linking to the correct version of the content or removing the broken link altogether. You will see which pages link to 404 error pages from within your SEO tool. Broken links impact your page experience and can negatively impact your site’s rankings overall.
  • Duplicate content: When the content or code on a webpage is very similar to another page, Google will flag this as ‘duplicate content’. This can happen when multiple versions of a page - or even a site - are all live (e.g. with international site versions, when both http and https versions are live, when pages exist in more than one URL location e.g. and, etc.).

When a site has many instances of duplicate content, this can start to cause issues with ranking: it can affect user journeys and navigation, search engines can be confused over which version to rank, any search benefit from inbound links can be diluted, and Google could even suspect you of trying to spam their search engine and penalise your site.

SEO audit tools will identify any duplicate content issues and enable you to judge the scale of the problem. You can rectify this by removing any accidental duplicate content, redirecting duplicate URLs, or using the rel=canonical tag.

Your chosen tool should highlight these issues and some even make suggestions on how to fix these.

Tip: You can also find some crawler issues within Google Search Console, by heading to your ‘coverage’ report and clicking on the tabs above the graph.

6. Identify other on-site issues

Once you have identified any critical issues on your site severely inhibiting your rankings, an SEO audit will also help you identify other issues with your site that, whilst they may not be critical (i.e. are not prohibiting search engine spiders from accessing your content), could be negatively impacting your ranking potential.

These include:

  • Slow page load times: Page speed is a key ranking factor for search engines, and even more important since Google’s 2021 Page Experience Update. Pages with a slow load time can impact the overall user experience, and will therefore not be ranked highly (if at all). Your SEO tool should flag any pages with long page load times and you can see more information on a page’s load time using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
  • ‘Thin’ content: Another issue to look out for during a site audit is to identify any pages with thin content - this means pages with only a small amount or no meaningful content on them. These pages can impact how Google perceives the quality of your content. If the pages are live in error, remove them and identify the issue that caused them in the first place. If they are genuine pages, you could consider adding a ‘no index’ robots tag.
  • Page title tag issues: Page title tags are important for SEO as they help search engines identify the content (and primary keywords) of a page, and they also form the title of your listing within the actual search engine results. Issues with your page title tags should be resolved, to help improve your chances of higher rankings.

Tip: Page titles should be unique to each page, 50-60 characters long, and contain the primary keyword of that page where appropriate.

Common issues with title tags include:

  • Missing page titles (pages with no title tag at all)
  • Duplicate page titles (the same title tag is used on more than one page)
  • Title tag too long or too short (too long and your listing title will be shortened, too short and you are likely not optimising it for your keywords and you may not attract clicks)
  • Meta description tag issues: Meta descriptions are tags that are added to the code of your site (you can often do this within the ‘seo’ section of your website builder platform) and they generally appear as the copy within the search engine results listing for that particular page. It is best practice to have a descriptive meta description on each page of your site, that supports your keywords and that is written to convince people to click on your website. An SEO audit tool should flag when there are issues with your meta descriptions, including:
    ○ Missing meta descriptions - pages that do not have a meta description
    ○ Duplicate meta descriptions - descriptions that appear on more than one page
    ○ Descriptions too long or too short - again if your descriptions are too long they are unlikely to be compelling enough to prompt click through, and Google will not show all of them. Similarly too short may be a missed opportunity.
  • Heading tag issues: Search engines often use a page’s heading structure to understand what that page is about. It is therefore best practice for every page to have an ‘H1’ heading tag (the main heading of your page) and then use H2 tags and H3 tags for other headings as appropriate.

Tip: You must only have 1 H1 tag per page, and include your primary keyword for that page where appropriate (but never "stuff" or "spam" keywords - all content must first and foremost read well for human users).

As part of your SEO audit, identify pages that have heading tag issues, including:

  • Missing H1 tags (pages with no H1 heading)
  • More than one H1 tag

7. Assess your inbound links

The volume and quality of the inbound links to your site (that is to say how many other websites link out to your site and are these perceived by search engines to be ‘high quality’ sites), are a key ranking factor that search engines use when assessing the quality - and ‘rankability’ - of your site. It is very difficult to rank for competitive terms if your site does not have quality inbound links.

Although inbound links do not occur on your own site, they should still be considered as part of this SEO audit, as they will greatly impact your site’s SEO rankings. You should then go on to do a full inbound link audit before running your SEO campaign and considering any link earning strategies.

Use your professional SEO Tool

Most SEO tools will have a link audit tool (such as Semrush’s ‘Backlink Audit’ tool and MOZ’s ‘Link Explorer’). These tools will detail which external websites are linking to your site’s pages, and will give you more details on these external sites - including a ‘spam’ or ‘toxic’ score and their perceived ‘domain authority’.

You will want to assess:

  • Link volume: How many links do you have coming to your site from how many domains? Your SEO tool will give you an idea of the volume of inbound links and linking domains.
  • Link quality: Are these linking sites low or high quality? Look at the average domain authority of your inbound links and also their ‘toxic’ or ‘spam’ score. You want to achieve inbound links from high quality sites to help your search rankings. Having a high number of links from spammy or low quality sites will actually harm your search rankings.
  • 404s: Do any of these inbound links land on 404 pages? This is often overlooked however, if lots of your inbound links are landing on 404 pages, this not only impacts the link equity but will also give users a poor experience, wasting the opportunity for good links.

The purpose of your SEO audit is to determine how your site currently ranks in the search engine results pages and help you scope out what needs to be done in order to improve your site’s search performance.

At the end of your audit you should have a good idea of any critical site issues you have - which will need to be fixed immediately - and other inefficiencies and issues that you need to work through as part of your SEO activity.

The next step is to build your SEO strategy to help you achieve the rankings you need against your target keywords. As part of this SEO strategy you will need to fix any issues identified in your audit (focusing on the critical issues first) and you will most likely need to create some new content, optimise your website for your target keywords, and develop a plan to help your site achieve natural, high quality inbound links.

For more information on getting started with SEO and other digital marketing, see our DigitalBoost webinars and guides.

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