An SEO audit is an essential starting point for any new activity around a website, where the aim of that activity is to improve organic search performance. Some people say that SEO is to marketing what accountancy is to finance, in terms of the level of “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” required. Nowhere is this more true than it is at the audit stage, where it is imperative to ensure that no stone is left unturned. Missing even relatively minor technical or on-page issues with a website could result in the client being left at a competitive disadvantage. I have created the following SEO audit checklist to help you avoid this scenario.
I have assumed that some readers might have limited SEO knowledge, so I have written this for beginners but also with more advanced SEOs in mind too.
Contents of this post
With this post my aim is to provide a definitive list of audit check points for 17 key stages of analysis. Similar to my post on technical SEO audit tools, this guide is a work in progress. There may be check points that I have forgotten or missed in my brainstorm. If I have missed an obvious check point, feel free to send me a message and I will add it to the list. You can use the jump links below to navigate to each stage of the audit process.
- Google check points
- Market research check points
- Crawling, indexing and ranking check points
- Crawler error check points
- Page rendering check points
- Essential technical SEO check points
- Website performance check points
- Website security check points
- Site architecture check points
- Structured data check points
- Consistency and compliance check points
- On-page SEO check points
- Website accessibility & W3C Standards check points
- User Experience and CRO check points
- International SEO check points
- Local SEO check points
- Off-page SEO check points
1. Google check points
Ensuring that the client is set-up correctly with Google is always my first priority when working with a new client. If the client has failed to verify Google Search Console, for example, then that has to be a priority fix before starting the work. Check points at this stage include the following.
- Is Google Analytics installed correctly?
- Are goals set-up and are the funnels correct?
- Has eCommerce tracking been set-up?
- Is conversion data showing and is it correct?
- Is Google Tag Manager installed correctly?
- Is the GA script firing via GTM?
- Is event tracking in place?
- Is event data pulling through to GA correctly?
- Has Google Search Console been verified?
- Are there any Manual Actions showing in GSC?
- Have sitemaps been submitted in GSC?
- Are there any coverage errors or warnings?
- Has the URL Parameters tool been configured?
- Is International Targeting set correctly?
- Have there been any sudden drops in traffic, rankings and or CTR?
- Is Google My Business set-up correctly for all locations?
- Are GMB listings fully complete with descriptions, images and video?
- Are the listings correctly categorised?
- Does each listing have generally favourable reviews?
- Are the listings kept up to date with frequent posts?
- Is Google Optimize installed via GTM?
- Are any GO experiments currently running?
BuiltWith is useful for quickly seeing what is installed on a site. Otherwise, the checks at this stage need to be done manually.
- Analytics for Developers
- Tag Manager for Developers
- Ecommerce Tracking for Developers
- Google Search Console for Developers
- Google My Business for Developers
- Google Optimize for Developers
2. Market research check points
Understanding what the client is up against is arguably the next most important phase of the audit process. Your analysis here might not appear at the start of the main audit itself, but it will help to define your recommendations to the client. You might want to consider creating a separate Excel sheet containing key competitor analysis information, and details of how the client fares in comparison to those competitors.
- Who are the top 5 competitors and what do they rank for?
- What is the DA / DR score for the top-ranking sites?
- Do the top-ranking sites have industry and media backlinks?
- Have competitors invested in good web design and UX?
- Do competitor sites demonstrate high levels of E-A-T?
- How do competitor sites fare in terms of value proposition, sales messaging, branding and pricing?
- Are landing pages on competitor sites above average in quality?
- Are competitors investing in a mix of online and offline marketing channels?
- Do any competitors appear to be over reliant on organic SEO?
SimilarWeb offer powerful tools for analysing the competition, especially when it comes to figuring out the channels they are investing in. However, their software may be prohibitively expensive for some. Cheaper alternatives include ahrefs.com, SEMRush, Majestic and Moz.
- Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines (to better understand E-A-T)
- Moz – How to Do a Competitor Analysis for SEO
3. Crawling, indexing and ranking check points
The audit of the client’s website itself begins with various checks to determine how easy it is to crawl and if there are any indexing or ranking issues. At this stage you will need to consider the following check points.
- Are there any noticeable issues when carrying out a Site:Search?
- Are any important landing pages not showing in Google’s index?
- Does the site rank for brand search terms?
- Do sitelinks show when searching for the brand?
- Does the site rank well for long-tail phrases?
- Are any non-secure HTTP pages still showing in the index?
- Is the staging site indexed?
- Have URL Parameters been indexed?
- Have any subdomains been indexed and do they present an issue if so?
- Is there an excessive amount of ‘thin content’ in the index?
- Has an excessive amount of non-HTML based content been indexed?
- Have any pages containing ‘Lorum Ipsum’ placeholder text been indexed?
- Have multiple versions of the homepage been indexed?
- Has the ‘print’ version of the site been indexed?
- Have any test URLs or empty template pages been indexed?
- Does the site contain crawler traps?
- Is crucial content loaded in an iFrame, Flash or other obstructive formats?
- Is there a robots.txt file?
- Are there any errors or issues within the robots.txt file?
- Is there an xml sitemap or sitemaps?
- Are there any errors or issues with the xml sitemap(s)?
- Does the robots.txt file reference the location of the sitemap(s)?
- Are robots meta directives in place on individual pages and do they present an issue?
- Have unnecessary blog archives & taxonomies been removed from Google’s index?
- Is old, low performing content using up crawl budget?
- Does a review of log files highlight any crawl issues?
You will need to understand advanced search operators to perform several of the checks above (see the BuiltVisible link below). At this stage you will also want to initiate a site crawl using a good quality crawler tool such as Screaming Frog, SiteBulb or DeepCrawl. For log file analysis you will need to ask the client to provide the data via their web host, then you can use Screaming Frog’s Log File Analyser to check crawl issues.
- BuiltVisible – How to use Google advanced search operators
- Screaming Frog Log File Analyser – User Guide
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider – User Guide
- SiteBulb – User Guide
- DeepCrawl – User Guide
4. Crawler error check points
An excessive volume of internal redirects, 404s or server errors wastes crawl budget and provides a bad experience for the end user. Fixing these issues will provide a better user experience and ultimately should lead to improved website performance, particularly for large websites with many errors.
- Are there any internal 301 redirects that need to be fixed?
- Are there any 302 redirects that need to be replaced by a 301?
- Are there any 404 errors that need to be fixed?
- Are there any 500 server errors?
- Are there any orphan pages that can only be crawled via xml?
- Does log file analysis highlight crawl budget waste?
- Does log file analysis highlight any issues with the crawl frequency of key category pages?
5. Page rendering check points
- Are there any differences between un-rendered and rendered content?
- Are there any issues in how content is rendered across different devices and browsers?
- What is the outcome of page rendering tests?
6. Essential technical SEO check points
Technical SEO is a big topic and it’s not possible to list every single aspect of it in one checklist post. Some clients may have technical issues which are wholly unique to their web property and will require more in-depth auditing of the issues. However, in terms of technical SEO basics you will want to consider the following check points.
- Are there any canonicalisation issues?
- Are canonical tags correctly used across the site?
- Are there any duplicate pages without a canonical tag?
- Is the correct markup in place for paginated series pages?
- Does the non-trailing slash 301 redirect to trailing slash?
- Are there any unnecessary 301 redirects in place?
- Is there any issue with redirect chains?
- Are expired pages incorrectly redirecting to the homepage or a category page?
- Are error pages returning a 200 status (soft 404)?
- Is .htaccess configured correctly?
- Does an HTTP headers check return any issues?
- Does the site adhere to mobile-first best practice?
Some manual checking of the site’s source code and the .htaccess file will be necessary at this stage, together with insights pulled from Google Search Console and your preferred web crawler.
- Guide to .htaccess
- Yoast – rel=canonical: the ultimate guide
- Google – Guide to consolidating duplicate URLs
- Ahrefs.com – 301 Redirects for SEO: Everything You Need to Know
- View HTTP Response Header
- SEJ – Mobile-first best practices
7. Website performance check points
Having a consistently served and fast loading website has been a ranking factor for a number of years but has become increasingly important in the mobile-first era. At this stage you will want to check that the site performs well for both desktop and mobile users.
- Are images on the site optimised for the web and under 100kb?
- Are images served in next-gen format?
- Have CSS & JS files been minified?
- Is there an issue with render blocking CSS?
- Are CSS & JS served in as fewer files as possible?
- Are the number of resources making HTTP requests kept to a minimum?
- Are there any issues with server location or quality?
- Has a CDN been set-up?
- Is HTTP/2 in use?
- Google – Documentation to Support Lighthouse
- Google – Introduction to HTTP/2
- GlobalDots – Content Delivery Network Explained
8. Website security check points
A hacked website can have potentially catastrophic consequences in terms of organic search performance. Google, as well as other search engines and websites, want to be sure that they are not referring their users onto a site that is riddled with malware or that is serving critical content in an insecure format. An example would be an eCommerce site taking card payment details over HTTP rather than HTTPS. Ensuring that the client’s site is as secure as possible is an important component of an SEO audit.
- Is there any evidence to suggest the site has been hacked?
- If the site has been hacked, what attempts have been made to clean it?
- Is HTTPS configured correctly across the site?
- Are any resources accessible via HTTP?
- What is the quality score for the SSL certificate?
- Is there a HSTS policy?
- Is two-factor authentication in place for entry to the CMS?
- Is adequate security software installed within the CMS?
GeekFlare offer an HSTS checking tool. For correct HTTPS configuration you will need to refer back to the crawl results from your favourite crawler tool. There are many website security plugins; Wordfence among the most highly rated for WP sites. You can check the SSL certificate for a site using SSL Labs.
- Wordfence – Has my site been hacked? How to Check
- Google – Enabling HTTPS on Your Servers
- GlobalSign – What Is HSTS and How Do I Implement It?
9. Site architecture check points
A site might have exceptional quality backlinks from top tier websites but if the structure of the site and its internal linking is not optimised well, it will likely not reap the full benefit of those links. At this stage of the audit you will need to consider the following.
- Is there a logical hierarchy to URL structures?
- Are static rather than dynamic URLs predominently in use?
- Are URLs short and without capitalisation, underscores or non-ASCII characters?
- Is the main menu system coded well?
- Does the main menu system only contain followable links to important landing pages?
- Is the order of the links in the main menu system logical for users and search engines?
- Have Login, Basket and other similar pages had ‘nofollow’ applied?
- Does the internal link structure reinforce the importance of key category pages?
- Is there good vertical linking between category and sub-category pages?
- Is there relevant use of horizontal internal linking within the body copy of web pages?
- Is breadcrumb functionality in place?
A manual review of the site’s code is necessary at this stage. A review of the web crawl results from step 3 will also help.
10. Structured data check points
Structured data helps search engines to better understand what a web page is about, it helps to improve the appearance of search results and it can be used to reinforce entity targeting. At this stage of your audit you will want to consider the following.
- Are there any errors or warnings relating to structured data across the site?
- Is important business data marked up with LocalBusiness schema on relevant pages?
- Is Organization schema firing on a suitable page?
- Are FAQ pages marked up with FAQPage schema?
- Are important people in the business marked up using Person schema?
- Does the client have reviews that can be marked up using aggregrateRating schema?
- If the client sells products, are the products marked up using Product schema?
- Are breadcrumbs marked up using Breadcrumb schema?
- Is the sameAs schema property used for social media links and other identifiers?
- Are there any other types of structured data that could be applied, relevant to the client?
Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool will be your main requirement at this stage.
- Distilled – How to Audit a Site for Structured Data Opportunities
- Screaming Frog – How To Test & Validate Structured Data
11. Consistency and compliance check points
Inconsistent details within a website or across the web can contribute to diminishing the trust Google might place in a web property. Trust signals around a site can be heightened by ensuring that business details are the same across all pages, in citations elsewhere across the web and through high-quality, compliance and company information pages.
- Is the company address, telephone, email, and other contact details, consistent across the site?
- Are important business details such as the Company Registration No, copyright and compliance information up to date and consistent?
- Does the site have a unique, GDPR-compliant Terms & Conditions page and Cookies page?
- Can the end user opt out of unnecessary cookies?
You’ll need to flex your advanced search operator skills again here (see part three above). Cookiebot offer a useful GDPR testing tool, with optional on-going compliance services.
12. On-page SEO check points
Similar to technical SEO, a website may have exceptional quality backlinks but if the on-page optimisation is not configured well, it may be unlikely to rank well. A common on-page error is the use ‘Home – [Brand Name]’ in the homepage title tag. Key considerations at this stage are as follows.
- Does the site have good title tags and meta descriptions, based on kw research?
- Do meta description tags contain good call to action messaging?
- Does the call to action messaging in meta data match up with the landing pages?
- Do the tags contain keyword modifiers?
- Are the tags under the recommended character count?
- Does the meta keyword tag need to be removed?
- Has semantic markup been applied well across the site’s web pages?
- Does each page feature just one, unique H1 tag?
- Are H2 and H3 tags used for sub-headings?
- Are appropriate file names and alt tags in use for images?
- Do pages across the site feature useful, relevant outbound links to authoritative sites?
- Is there an excessive number of internal and/or outbound links on important landing pages?
- Are ordered and unordered lists marked up correctly?
- Is any content hidden or contained behind tabs?
- Is the homepage well-structured with clear in-content links to important category pages?
- Does the homepage feature enough text?
- Are high quality, original images & graphics used rather than stock?
- Is the web copy across the site written well and devoid of spelling or grammar issues?
- Do important landing pages feature multimedia, PDF downloads and other useful resources?
- Do important landing pages have low TF-IDF for key terms?
- Does the optimisation of page content match with user intent?
- Do FAQs appear high up and marked up on key landing pages?
- Have keyword stuffing techniques been used on any web pages?
- Are there any doorway pages or near identical geographic pages?
- Is the content on the site user-focused and easy to read/access?
- Does the client have a content hub featuring expert information on their topic?
- Are there any content gaps and do content hubs need building out?
- Has entity targeting been considered in the content creation process?
- Is the content across the site unique to the client’s domain?
- Do individual pages on the site feature a lot of “boilerplate” duplicate content?
- Do important eCommerce category pages feature a unique, well-written description?
- Is the text on product pages copied from the manufacturer’s website?
- Is the blog updated frequently with good quality content?
- Are the blog tag and category archives optimised?
- Does long form content on the site feature jump links?
- Does the sidebar or footer of the site feature any keyword-heavy anchor text links?
- Are there an excessive volume of links in the footer or sidebar area?
- Does the footer contain links to Privacy & Cookie policies?
- Is the copyright statement and current year showing in the footer?
- Do any advertising links have ‘nofollow’ applied to them?
- Is ‘nofollow’ used correctly on other internal links?
- Is sharing across social networks encouraged?
- Have tags for Facebook Open Graph and Twitter Cards been applied?
- Is rel=author or rel=publisher attribution in place?
- Are high quality information pages in place such as About Us and Meet the Team?
There are hundreds of tools you could use to help assess the quality of a site’s on-page SEO. There are too many to list here, so take a look at my guide to audit tools for inspiration. That said, many of the checks above either need to be carried out manually or with assistance from your preferred web crawler.
- Backlinko – On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page
- Ahrefs.com – A Simple (But Effective) 31-Point SEO Checklist
13. Website accessibility & W3C Standards check points
Whilst W3C compliance is not a ranking factor, it’s important to fix any issues that may be causing page rendering issues. In addition, ensuring that a site is accessible to all users, regardless of any impairment they may have, is both good practice and should contribute to improved engagement metrics.
- Do pages on the site pass W3C markup validation checks?
- Is there high contrast between the colour of text and the colour of the background?
- Does the alt tag for images adequately describe the image?
- Are written transcripts of video and audio content available?
- Can text be enlarged without impairing the function of the page?
- Are hyperlinks clearly visible and distinct?
- Can all parts of the website be accessed without a mouse?
- Is it easy to find the contact page?
14. User Experience and CRO check points
A technically sound website with strong on-page optimisation is no longer sufficient for maintaining high visibility on Google and other search engines. Sites must demonstrate expertise in their field, provide exceptional quality content and intuitive user experience. Considerations at this stage of the audit include the following.
- Are content and navigation elements clear for users?
- Is the quality of the content generally outstanding?
- Is the page both useful and unique for the end user?
- Is the quality of the web design of a very high standard?
- Does the layout of pages facilitate ease of scanning?
- Are there any mobile usability issues or errors?
- Is clear call to action messaging showing, above the fold?
- Is it clear what the primary action a user should take is?
- Does the site have a clearly defined user journey?
- Is the quality of experience comparable on desktop, tablet and mobile?
- Are there easy to complete forms on key landing pages?
- Is there good use of CTA buttons and panels?
- Do product pages feature clear ‘add to basket’ messaging?
- Are product page images of a high standard with zoom functionality?
- Has one-step checkout been set-up for eCommerce websites?
- Is there a clear and intuitive basket to checkout process for eCommerce sites?
- Is there a minimal amount of advertising banners above the fold?
- Does the site avoid oversaturation of text ad links?
If the client has Hotjar or a similar type of heat mapping software installed, you will want to request access to that for this stage of the audit. Tools such as mobiReady are good for checking how a website looks and performs on different types of devices. Otherwise, the steps to this stage are mainly manual checks.
15. International SEO check points
If a client has attempted to target users in multiple countries, or is looking to do so in the future, your audit will need to assess the current set-up and how it can be implemented or improved. This will involve assessing the following check points.
- Has the client attempted to implement international SEO activity? If so…
- Are the correct language and country codes used for regional variation pages?
- Are foreign language versions translated well without errors?
- Has hreflang been implemented correctly?
- Is X-default in place on all pages and correct?
- Are SEO-friendly navigation links to regional variations of the site in place?
- Are there any forced redirects in place based on IP / location?
- Is OG:Locale set correctly?
- Are there any backlinks pointing to international versions?
Again, your preferred web crawler tool will assist you with this stage of the audit. You might find the hreflang testing tool by technicalseo.com useful too.
16. Local SEO check points
If a client has multiple shops, factories or offices within a certain territory, local SEO will invariably be an important component of the SEO strategy. If this is the case, you will need to consider the following check points in your audit.
- Is the client using P.O Boxes or virtual office addresses?
- Is the client using 0800 or premium rate phone numbers?
- Is GMB set-up and complete (see Google Check Points)?
- Are NAP details consistent across the web?
- Has the client moved address recently?
- Are unique, well-written pages set-up for each of their locations?
- Are the above pages interlinked to the relevant GMB profile and vice versa?
- Are the tags for their location pages optimised for the relevant town, city or county?
- Does each location page provide genuine value to the end user?
- Does each location page feature important information such as opening hours?
- Is the information on location pages marked up (see Structured Data check points)?
- Are URL structures for location pages over-optimised?
- Does the client have a plan for gaining more reviews?
- Are there any deep links pointing to the location pages?
- Crazy Egg – The Beginner’s Guide to Performing a Local SEO Audit
- HubSpot – A Comprehensive Guide to Local SEO
17. Off-page SEO check points
Whilst many SEOs are predicting the increasing power of entity associations, backlinks are still likely to remain an important ranking factor for years to come. Understanding what good and bad backlinks look like is essential to this step of the audit. You’ll want to consider the following.
- Are the backlinks pointing to the site generally of a high standard?
- Are the backlinks generally earnt or built?
- Is the rate of link acquisition steady?
- Is there a good level of domain diversity in the backlink profile?
- Is there a diverse range of backlink types linking to the site?
- Is the anchor text distribution balanced well?
- Is there any evidence of spam links or link exchanges?
- Are there any broken inbound links?
- Are they active on social media with an engaged audience?
- Is there any evidence of PR, outreach and offline marketing?
Already mentioned earlier in this guide: ahrefs.com, SEMRush or Majestic.
- Ahrefs.com – How to Do a Basic Backlink Audit (in Under 30 Minutes)
- LinkResearchTools – 6 Common Link Audit Mistakes and their Fix
Whether you are new to SEO or a seasoned professional, I hope this checklist helps you with your audit. Remember the purpose of an audit isn’t just to assess if a website passes or fails each of the check points. The purpose is to meaningfully prioritise what the core issues are and then suggest a possible strategy for solving them. The summary and conclusions section of an audit is the most important part, as this is where you get to outline what the client should do based on your insight and experience. If you are struggling with any aspect of this, I am happy to help!
If you have found an SEO audit checklist that seems more complete than this one, let me know. Leave a comment below with your suggestions and I’ll update this post if the recommendation is strong enough.
By James Hubbard. I am a Freelance SEO, CRO & Digital Marketing Consultant based in Brighton & Hove. I have over 15 years’ professional experience managing, assessing and optimising websites – having directly worked on or had a strategic input into around 250 businesses across a diverse range of sectors.