Search Engine Optimization (SEO) health checks are pretty important for a website’s ability to attract the right kind of organic search traffic from search results (SERPs) & they usually start with a site audit, which is pretty much just taking stock of what’s on the website, how good it is, and where some opportunities for improvement may be. You might have guessed already, but this will be focusing primarily on technical SEO factors & you will be greatly aided through the use of some specialized tools to perform your audit.
I can’t stress this enough – regular SEO health checks are important to your optimization’s growth for search engine rankings. Things change all the time, whether it’s search engines updating their algorithms, trending topics for the time of year or based on current events, etc. A healthy website will need to be able to react to pretty much anything thrown at it, which means checking on things regularly. So let’s get into this, shall we?
Typically, when performing an SEO health check, you should focus on these elements of your page content:
01. Check your title tags and meta descriptions
Start with the right tools – we use Screaming Frog when we begin our audits & they have a free version of the tool available which will be fine for most new websites.
The first place to start is with your page titles, which should be an H1 element. It’s true that Google’s search advocate, John Mueller, has said that this isn’t a strict rule, at least with Google, but it does help to keep everything organized & tidy, which will become more important as your website grows & matures. Performing a check of the title tags and meta description will give you an indication of whether your SEO efforts are on track from the beginning.
It is important that your page title fits within the character limits set out by search engines, as well as accurately describes the content on your webpage, keeping it between 50-70 characters will help do just that.
The meta description is what actually displays in search results, so it’s critical to optimize this primarily for your ideal audience, which should be made up of people, not machines. Here’s a nifty article on things to avoid in your meta descriptions: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/meta-description-mistakes/250897/ – yep, we link to SEJ a lot.
For those of you on a WordPress website, there are several plugins that can help you edit your meta descriptions, such as Yoast SEO, which is free in its core version. Shopify & platforms allow this as part of their service already, if you scroll down to the “SEO” section in Shopify, that’s where you would edit your meta description.
02. Check for keyword cannibalization
A common misconception among website owners who aren’t as aware of the rules of SEO is that they need to spray keywords indiscriminately all over their website, which won’t do anything good & can lead to keyword cannibalization.
Keyword cannibalization can cause low rankings in search performance & occurs a website has multiple pages targeting exactly the same keywords. Search engines typically find these situations undesirable because it confuses them and makes it difficult to work out which page should be given priority in search if they all rank highly for the same keywords. In order to get around this, Google advises that you make use of site structure or a sitemap – this is information that can be submitted to help search engines more easily find and crawl all the pages on your website.
Most platforms will generate a sitemap for your website automatically, on WordPress, Yoast will generate the sitemap for you & you can find that by navigating on your website dashboard to Yoast > General > Features & scrolling down to the question mark next to XML Sitemaps or simply add /sitemap_index.xml/ to your URL in a browser & you’ll see your sitemaps. If your website is a traditional, static, website or your platform won’t generate a sitemap for your site, there are free online tools that you can use such as https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/.
03. Ensure that Google & the gang don't view the page content of your site as duplicate content
If you’re struggling to rank for keywords, it could be because Google thinks you’re plagiarizing content from other websites, known (oddly enough) as duplicate content. Identical or near-identical content to a website that already ranks highly for a given term will see your efforts come to naught as Google won’t want two websites with the same content competing against each other.
If your website uses multiple authors or you just want to be certain that your content won’t be viewed as snaked from someone else’s site, use of a tool such as Copyscape can provide some peace of mind for your content.
04. Make sure all relevant text is readable and crawlable by search engines
It’s not only the text that’s visible to search engine spiders that need to be readable. Your meta descriptions must also be written in a way that’s understandable by these crawlers, as it directly affects their decision whether or not to follow a link and visit a site. Try reading your meta description out loud – if you stumble over some words or it sounds weird, chances are good this is exactly what Google will do when trying to understand your content.
Another thing to consider is that if a website owner is incredibly security-conscious, they’re probably going to try to secure their website as much as possible, which is reasonable. Some measures can block good bots from crawling a website, though, so if you’ve been tightening your security recently, be sure that you’ve not caused your website to become invisible to search bots.
05. Ensure that the website is optimized for mobile devices
This might sound like an obvious point to discuss but there are a lot of people who are just now learning what needs to be done for a website. I’ll wager that the vast majority of websites registered on Google Search Console have seen the notification “Your website has switched to mobile-first indexing” on their account. What Search Console is telling that website owner is that they’re looking at the website first as though they were on a smart phone. Website owners need to ensure that they’re not bogging down a mobile internet connection & that all of the content is easy to navigate & understand on a smart phone.
Tools that can help with this include things like PageSpeed Insights, GT Metrix, & Pingdom but these will be focused mostly on the website speed – there’s simply no substitute for picking up a couple phones & checking the website yourself to ensure that it’s styled properly & look right on mobile.
Pro tip: Use incognito mode on your mobile browser so your phone’s browser doesn’t cache your website files when you’re checking your design modifications or you’re likely to get frustrated when you see the old, cached version of your website on your phone. You’ll feel pretty silly when you realize this later if you forget to either clear the mobile browser history or use incognito.
06. Consider reducing the number of outbound external links
Back in 2010, Google’s John Mueller – when asked how many outgoing links is too many – answered, “There is no specific limit here; it’s really more about the quality of the sites you link to.” But he probably forgot to mention that most people would never come across a web page with high-quality content that is linked through hundreds or thousands of commercial pages pointing at them. So keeping the list of outbound links clean was a great piece of advice to come by in the past five years.
Nobody likes it when they click on a webpage to read up on a topic & they’re confronted with a wall of links, it just looks spammy, especially if the links don’t add any additional, relevant information to the text.
07. Get rid of thin content
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, right? If you don’t have enough high-quality content for your site, consider adding more or possibly splitting its pages into several separate ones with internal links connecting the pages with related content – assuming that this makes sense from a UX perspective. Using tools such as the Thin Content Checker can help, here – Google also provides some tips on how to detect thin/poor content and the consequences of thin content.
One thing worth remembering is that if your site has a low page count (fewer than ten), Google may take it as an indicator of poor quality content, rather than suspiciously good localization efforts.
08. Consider getting rid of doorway content
Doorway pages are essentially the web pages that you create to rank highly for specific search queries. They’re often constructed using optimized keywords, and usually offer an extremely poor user experience, rather than actually offering something of value to your audience. Pay attention to how many pages you have with doorway content, as these types of pages will get your site penalized eventually (if not right away), so make sure to get rid of them ASAP.
The biggest thing to keep in mind on this one is that website content needs to prove that it’s useful to website visitors. Search engines do monitor how people respond to websites’ content & adjust rankings accordingly.
09. Fix technical issues on your site
If you want to avoid additional search penalties, don’t ignore technical issues with your site – no matter how small they may be! From broken links and images to site speed issues, if there’s anything broken or if something doesn’t look quite right there, it might cause problems in the long run – so be sure to fix it as soon as possible. Just remember that Google will never support your site if it has a poor user experience, so you should always be looking for ways to improve your site performance.
On site speed, there are several caching options that a website owner might get excited about, such as NitroPack.
10. Use a website SEO checker
The algorithm used by Google & other search engines changes fairly often, which means you need to stay on top of things to avoid getting penalized. That’s why it’s always a good idea to use an SEO checker, even a free SEO checker – that way you can make sure your website’s SEO score is still in great shape and that nothing drastic needs to be changed!
Moz has a pretty good free version of their SEO checker: https://moz.com/free-seo-tools
At Some Point, Go Pro
It’s my sincerest hope for your website that it becomes too much for you to manage on your own one day because it’s succeeding in an incredible way. SEO is one of the most important factors for these kinds of websites, especially if it’s in a high-competition niche. When you find that you’re at the point where you just can’t devote the attention to your website’s ongoing SEO, you know it’s time to start looking for help. We’d be happy to help, just get in touch so we can discuss your website’s SEO needs.