When was the last time you had a general check-up at the dentist?
Chances are, that’s within the past year.
(If you take good care of your teeth, that’s the perfect answer.)
Now, let’s apply that same concept to another thing you should be taking good care of: your website’s SEO.
When was the last time you did a full SEO check on your business’s website or blog?
You wouldn’t be alone if your answer to that second question was either “never” or “years ago.”
After all, SEO is complex and always changing; it can be hard to keep up to date with new algorithm changes and Google’s demands.
It’s near impossible to keep up with it, right?
Just like regular teeth check-ups keep your mouth healthy, regular SEO checks keep your website healthy.
That’s critical if you want to avoid landing yourself in Google’s bad books—and suffering the consequences.
Why Do I Need to Do an SEO Check on My Website?
If you’ve clicked on this article to learn what an SEO check is (and the steps you’ll need to complete one), you’re already halfway there.
Simply put: An SEO check is a brief snapshot of your search engine activity.
Also known as an SEO audit, it measures where you’re up to, identifies areas for improvement, and gives an accurate picture of whether your current strategy is working.
But why is it so important to check your SEO performance?
(Spoiler alert: It’s not just to double-check you’re not investing time and cash in a failing strategy. Although that’s partly the reason.)
SEO checks are beneficial because they also:
- Prevent Google penalties if you’re on course to be hit with one.
- Help you to know whether you’re on track to hit your goals.
- Unearth new opportunities to improve your strategy, and meet your SEO goals sooner.
Isn’t that #goals for any marketing strategy—especially in the complex world of SEO? I think so.
The Ultimate SEO Check: 10 Steps for a Healthy Website
Now we understand the benefits of conducting an SEO check for your website, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty.
(And the point of this entire article. That’s why you’re here, right?)
To conduct your own, in-depth SEO check and know where you’re up to with your site’s ranking power, you’ll need to do these 10 things.
1. Check Your Backlink Profile
You already know that backlinks are the basis of SEO, right?
They’re recognized as one of the strongest offsite ranking factors considered in search engine algorithms.
And, when the team at Backlinko studied over one million Google search results, they discovered that backlinks impacted rankings more than any other factor:
But why are they so crucial for SEO, and necessary for an SEO check?
Well, because backlinks are used as Google’s reputation tool.
Just like you wouldn’t want to associate with a group of criminals in real life, you don’t want to associate your website with a spammy one. That’s like being tarnished with the same (bad) brush.
If you’re virtually hangin’ around with the bad boys of the internet with a bad reputation, Google will view your website in a similar way.
In return, you’ll be punished with lower rankings, and minimal search visibility.
How to Cleanse Your Backlink Profile
Because backlinks are so crucial in SEO, I’ve listed a purge of your backlink profile as the first step.
Your backlink profile is a complete list of every website which links back to your own.
To find it, head to the Monitor Backlinks dashboard and click the “Your Links” tab:
(If you don’t have a Monitor Backlinks account, you can try it completely free of charge here. Thank me later!)
As part of your SEO check, you’ll want to sieve through these entries and find any low-quality links that could be damaging your rankings—and giving your website a bad reputation.
To do this, you could look at:
- Domain Authority: Aim for backlinks from sites with a DA score of 40+.
- Page Authority: Aim for backlinks from a URL with a PA score of 40+.
- The site itself: Is it relevant to yours? Or is it completely unrelated to your topics? If the page you’re linked on doesn’t mention your topics or even your site, then get rid of it!
This tells Google not to associate your site with theirs, boosting your overall SEO power and banishing the bad link entirely.
To do this, simply tick the checkbox on each low-quality link in your backlink profile, click on the gear icon and hit “Disavow:”
Those links will get automatically added to a disavow file which you can export from the “Disavow Tool” tab, and upload straight to Google.
Your job here is done, my friend!
2. Check Your Site’s Loading Speed
Another factor considered by search engines when deciding where a URL should rank is site speed.
Think about it: Google’s main priority is to show the highest quality, most relevant results. A site that takes 2+ minutes to load doesn’t fit the bill, does it?
In a blog post published on Google’s official blog, their team said:
Speeding up websites is important—not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.
But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs.
Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed—that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.
We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.
This task needs to be on your SEO check to-do list because as time passes, your site is likely to take longer to load.
That’s because you’re continuously uploading more files to your server (including images!) as time goes on, which slow your site’s page speed over time.
How to Check and Improve Page Speed
How’d you fancy using a Google-approved tool to measure your site’s loading speed, and check it’s not going to slow down the gas pedal on your SEO strategy?
(+10 points to you if you laughed at that pun. I did.)
Luckily for you, I’ve got just the thing: Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
Completely free to use, just pop the URL of your website into the tool and it’ll tell you how long it takes your website to load:
Not only will this nifty tool give your website a score out of 100, but it’ll explain how you can improve.
That could range from:
- Deleting unnecessary files
- Asking your web developer to delete unnecessary code
Talk about getting recommendations straight from the horse’s mouth!
3. Check Meta Tags Aren’t Duplicated
Meta tags, also known as meta titles and descriptions, are two fields that search engines use when understanding what a page is—and where it should rank.
That’s because meta titles are one of the first things search engine spiders read when indexing a new URL. Often containing your main keyword and brand name, you’ll need to optimize this field if you want to stand a chance in the SERPs.
Granted, meta descriptions don’t have a direct impact on rankings, but they do affect other elements (such as click-through rate), which are known to be highly regarded by Google.
By using persuasive language, including your keywords and shouting about your USPs, you can entice more searchers to click.
As a result, Google will rank your site higher, because people are viewing your result as the most relevant for their query.
However, you’ll need to be cautious when pre-filling your meta titles and descriptions. Google hates duplicate content because they’re unsure of which page is most relevant to the query.
When Google is confused, pages aren’t ranked highly and the SEO juice is split.
(Instead of one page with 100% ranking power, you’ll have two pages with 50% each, if they’ve got duplicate content.)
User experience is also diminished when your site is littered with duplicate meta tags.
If a searcher sees two different URLs with the same meta title and descriptions, which should they pick? (This confusion often leads to abandonment, and they’ll click on a competitor’s listing, instead.)
But with so many SEO plugins offering default meta tag content, it’s easy to publish several websites without realizing these tags are duplicated.
How to Find and Change Duplicate Meta Tags
The simplest way to spot duplicate meta tags is to do a search for each URL on your website in Google.
This can be done by Googling “site:URL.com:”
Then, create a simple spreadsheet for yourself which details the:
- Meta title
- Meta description
…of each page on your website.
Can you spot any duplicated tags? If so, head back to your Yoast settings (if you’re using WordPress), or ask your web developer to change them.
Although this can be a lengthy process, it’s worth the investment. Especially when a few simple tweaks could skyrocket your site in the SERPs.
4. Check for Website Content Duplication Too
After that lengthy point in our SEO checklist, I’m confident you don’t want to hear me natter on about duplicate content again.
But, bear with me for a few minutes—there’s another duplicate content-related check you’ll need to make if you want to see any improvements to your website’s SEO.
(Don’t worry; this step is much simpler than the one above.)
Along with meta tags, you’ll need to check that your actual onsite content isn’t duplicated, too—both on your site, and on external sites.
There are many reasons why you might end up with duplicate onsite content, with the most common being:
- A competitor has performed negative SEO on your site, and copied your text word-for-word on another website.
- You’ve accidentally duplicated an entire page (an easy mistake to make in many CMSs!).
Whichever route you’ve taken to the duplicate content path, there’s one thing they both have in common: You’ll need to change it before you get a penalty.
How to Identify and Fix Duplicate Content
Remember how I said this type of SEO check is much easier than step #3?
To find duplicated content on your website, simply pop your URL into Copyscape:
This handy tool scans the entire internet, and reports back on any URLs with the same content—whether that’s on your site, or someone else’s.
If the tool shows you’ve got duplicate content, you’ll need to change it.
Re-word sentences, re-organize your content structure and consider editing the links you’ve used. This will make it unique, and help Google to recognize your site isn’t a plagiarized copy of others—and should be ranked highly!
(Pssst! If another website has copied your content, you can report them to Google, too.)
5. Check for Broken Links
Broken links happen on your website when a page gets deleted, redirected or never existed.
These are damaging to your website’s SEO strategy.
Why? Well, because they impact on a not-so-tiny thing that’s highly valued by Google: user experience. Users will get frustrated if they click around your website and keep hitting error pages.
How to Find and Repair Broken Links
To find broken links on your site, you can use the HTTP Header Status Checker.
Simply pop your website’s URL into the search bar, and immediately find any broken pages that are plaguing your website:
You’ll see a list of internal links, along with their HTTP status code (a fancy code which explains the status of each page).
The most common are:
- 200: Good. The page is loading the way that it should.
- 301: The original URL has been redirected to another page on your site.
- 302: Also means the original URL has been redirected, but meaning the old URL “forwarded” instead of “moved.”
- 404: Not found. The page on your site isn’t accessible, at all.
404 errors are the ones you need to fix.
Remember, you don’t want to annoy Google—or your site visitors—by sending them to a page that doesn’t exist!
To fix the broken link, all you have to do is redirect the broken URL internally to another.
It’s really as simple as that!
6. Check Your URL Structure
Did you know that the structure of your website’s URLs has an impact on its rankings?
That’s because Google likes short URLs that are easy to crawl and understand.
(Even though they’re one of the smartest algorithms on the planet, they’ll do anything for an easy life, right?)
In fact, the typical page ranking in first place on Google has just 17 characters in its URL, on average. That steeply increases to 26 characters in position two, and continues to rise as the ranking positions do:
The explanation for this step is simple: The shorter (and easier to understand) your URLs are, the better chance you have of ranking that page highly in a search engine.
How to Find Bad URL Structures and Optimize Them
Have a browse through your sitemap and find any URLs that look a bit messy.
(You could also do this by checking back in your backlink profile. Are any external sites giving a backlink to an excessively long URL on yours?)
Messy or unorganized URLs could look something like this: WEBSITE.com/hotel-2584-gd.html.
That doesn’t look the neatest, right?
I’d change that URL to look much simpler, like this: WEBSITE.com/hotel.
Here are some other tips to create optimized URLs:
- Keep it short
- Avoid using numbers, if possible
- Use your focus keyword
Whenever you’re changing URLs, there’s one thing to remember: Always redirect the old URL to the new one. If not, you’ll end up with broken internal links (like you found in the step above), and miss out on their SEO juice.
7. Check Your Keyword Targeting Strategy
I’ll bet that when you read this headline, one of your first thoughts was, “Elise—I’ve already done keyword research. Why would I need to do it again?”
Keyword research isn’t a one-off task.
New words might’ve become popular since your initial batch of research, meaning you could be seriously missing out on conversion-worthy traffic from other search queries.
Does that answer your question?
On your website, you should be targeting two types of keyword: short words and longtail phrases.
As explained in this graphic, longtail keywords account for 70% of all searches—and along with mid-length keywords, they have higher commercial intent:
How to Check Your Keywords Are on Track
So you’re ready to kick off the keyword research process again.
Luckily for you, you don’t have to start from scratch (if you’ve done it before).
You can simply pop your existing keywords into Google Trends. This tool will show you whether the phrase(s) are becoming more or less popular:
If your keywords are becoming increasingly popular, keep targeting them. You’re in there earlier than many other competitors, and you should stand a good chance at ranking for it.
If your keywords are declining in popularity, switch it out and pick a new one.
8. Check That Your Robots File Is Accessible
Nope, a robots file isn’t a group of mini robots that have a party inside your PC.
Although that would be kinda cool.
A robots.txt file has a more boring purpose: It tells Google spiders how to crawl your website.
But why do you need to check that this file is accessible?
Well, the answer is pretty obvious: By blocking spiders’ access to it, they’ll have to work harder to index your website. In turn, that leads to lower rankings and a dampened reputation—since your site isn’t easily accessible.
I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t Google smart enough to find this robots.txt file, anyway?”
Not necessarily. You could’ve accidentally disallowed spiders from accessing important URLs, often without even realizing.
How to Make Sure Google Can Access Your Robots.txt File
To check whether search engines can access your robots.txt file, sign in to your Google Search Console account.
On the left-hand side, you should see a tab called “Crawl.” Click this, then select the “robots.txt Tester” in the drop-down.
As you can see in the screenshot below, any errors or warnings will be displayed towards the bottom of your test screen:
Should you get any errors or warnings, it’s wise to pass them on to your web developer and get them fixed.
9. Check Structured Data Markup
Raise your hand if you’ve seen strange boxes popping up when you’ve searched for information on Google.
You know, something that looks a bit like this:
They’re not what we traditionally see as a search result. But what are they?
Well, these mini-snippets are created from structured data (or schema) markups.
Whether you were searching for details of a movie, checking flight times or looking for a how-to guide, these boxes are created when site owners optimize their website for structured data markup—a tool that tells a search engine what information to pick up (and rank).
There are various types of schema markups that Google offer, depending on the nature of the page. Those include:
When you’re seeing these snippets of information in the SERPs, do you notice how much more prominent they are? That’s bound to boost your organic click-through rate (CTR) and your overall rankings, too.
Plus, because every site isn’t automatically optimized for schema markup, you could get a headstart on your competitors (and rank easily!) by doing so.
How to Add Structured Markup Data
To get your content ranking in pride of place, you’ll need to use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
Simply check the box which best describes the nature of your URL, and click “Start Tagging:”
On the next screen, Google will give you a piece of code. Simply embed this code on your website, and make sure that your URL is optimized, in general.
The only changes you’ll need to make to the page is to add other elements—such as reviews, ratings and events. Depending on the type of schema markup you’re optimizing for, Google might need this data to display in the SERPs—like the 5-star rating in the example above.
(Pssst! Hint: You can check which elements you’ll need to add by browsing Google’s guide.)
10. Check (and Refresh) Old Content
When was the last time you checked back on your old website content? If the answer is “never” or “a long time ago,” this step in your SEO check is critical.
That’s because Google favors fresh content.
The search engine is always looking to display the most relevant pages for a user’s search query—and an article from 2018 is much more likely to be relevant than one that’s remained untouched since 2006.
When this algorithm was updated back in 2011, Amit Singhal, Head of Search Quality at Google, mentioned how the new changes affected 35% of results in the SERPs.
How to Freshen Up Old Content
Typically, old content refers to blog posts. So, check back in your blog’s archive and highlight any articles that haven’t been given any TLC within the past year.
(You could also take a look at your Google Analytics data to do this. Simply dig out the URLs that have been declining in traffic, and make those your priority to update.)
But once you’ve found your old content, how do you “freshen it up?”
There are many ways to do this, including:
- Adding new data
- Re-writing (or re-ordering) different sections
- Expanding on a specific point you’ve commented on
- Changing your heading tags
- Optimizing the entire post for a newer, increasingly-popular keyword
- Inserting new images or infographics
- Adding internal links to newer, recently-published content
How Often Should I Do an SEO Check?
So, you’ve worked through this list and your SEO strategy is squeaky clean.
Your job here is done, right?
You see, SEO checks aren’t one-off tasks. Because algorithms are constantly changing, links are regularly being built and your website is continuously developing, you’ll need to add this task to your to-do list every six months.
(Yes, you read that right. Every six months!)
However, if you’re a larger brand with a more established website, SEO checks should feature on your to-do list more regularly. That’s because your SEO activity will be much larger, and you’ll naturally build more authority as the weeks pass.
Fancy some good news?
You can save time on your SEO checks by keeping on top of it.
Instead of leaving your checks to complete all in one go, keep a watchful eye over each element, and follow the action steps outlined above if you spot anything dodgy.
Tools like Monitor Backlinks send email notifications of new additions to your backlink profile. So, instead of leaving a big task to audit 5,000 links every six months, you can check your inbox daily and highlight any suspicious entries that could cause your SEO power to drop:
Now that you’ve completed your SEO check-up, you’ll be left with a healthy site that’ll help you ace the SERPs.
The only thing left to do is continue your white hat SEO strategy.
You’ll soon hit the coveted spots on Page One in no time!