How an SEO Audit Can Reveal What Website Elements are Hurting Your Rankings

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How an SEO Audit Can Reveal What Website Elements are Hurting Your Rankings

Most of the time, a lot of businesses aren’t ranking as well as they should—despite their obvious SEO efforts. Why? Because of website issues that are, in fact, detrimental to their SERP ranking. What’s worse is that these issues are the kind that go unnoticed unless you know what you’re looking for.

And since you can’t realistically know what you’re looking for, these issues can only be found and addressed through a thorough SEO audit.

What is an SEO Audit?

An SEO audit is a highly-specialized procedure that uses SEO software to scan, assess, and report on your website’s SEO health (for both on-page and off-page elements). How extensive or comprehensive the run will be is dependent on the software itself, but most SEO audits are based on industry standards and set guidelines. This means that the check itself is based on universally-accepted SEO strategies and best practices.

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What Does an SEO Audit Reveal?

An SEO audit essentially gives you a comprehensive overview of your website as a whole. It lays the entire structure out in front of you so that any current problems, potential issues, or pressing concerns are instantly visible. These come in the forms of errors, warnings, and notices.

For instance, you might find that some pages of your site have accidentally been set to “noindex,”—a setting that blocks search engines from crawling that page. Pages that aren’t indexed basically do not exist for search engines, which means they can’t be returned for related search terms or certain keywords. This means that you’re losing opportunities to rank for the keywords on that page.

Therefore, a page that’s been set to “noindex” would be considered an error and will need to be fixed ASAP.

Errors: High-Priority Concerns

Errors are basically high-priority problems in your website that need to be addressed and corrected immediately. For example; 404 or 502 errors, broken links, and redirect loops. The longer it takes you to fix these elements, the more “broken” your website appears to search engine algorithms.

Warnings: Medium-Priority Issues

Issues like duplicate content or low word count for text content can also affect your SEO, but they’re considered medium-priority fixes and will therefore be categorized as warnings. They should be corrected eventually, but they’re not immediate threats (especially when compared to errors).

Notices: Things to Note

Notices can be considered watered down “warnings” from your chosen auditing software or program. These are basically elements of your website that the platform thinks are a bit off and are therefore worth noting. They’re not damaging, they’re not high-priority, and they won’t negatively affect your SERP ranking that much if left alone. In fact, some of them might even be intentional.

Samples of notices would be “orphaned” pages (aka, pages with no internal links), permanent redirects, and URLs that are too long.

Common Elements that Could Hurt Your SERP Ranking

Now that we know what an SEO audit can show us, what are some common elements—specifically errors—that could hurt your SEO strategies and SERP rank?

1. Missing or Duplicate Meta Titles & Descriptions

How an SEO Audit Can Reveal What Website Elements are Hurting Your Rankings1There are generally four different meta tags that search engines—specifically Google—use; the meta keywords, title tag, meta description, and meta robots. Of those four, you want to play close attention to the title tags and meta description tags.

Search engine algorithms look at the unique title tags and meta descriptions of each page to determine that page’s general content, hierarchy, etc. This information will dictate things like user experience, SERP rank, search term relevance, and so on. Readers use the title tags as a general, succinct description of what the page is about, and the meta description provides a more in-depth—but still brief—summary of what to expect.

The title and meta tags basically earn you clicks.

If two pages have the same title tags, Google initially sees them as the same page. This means that the algorithm believes you’re hosting two copies of the same page that are generally competing for the same terms.

It’s confusing, which is why the algorithm will count this against your page.

2. “Broken” JavaScript and/or CSS Code

JavaScript and CSS refer to your website’s code. Think of them as essentially the framework or foundation of your site. Themes, content, images, design—there are all just decorations. In order for your page to function properly in terms of loading, accessibility, navigation, and the like, the code needs to be in tip-top shape.

If this isn’t the case, your website is likely to malfunction and crash on visitors. Definitely not the best user experience! If you get this error, work with a website developer or technical expert to get it fixed as soon as possible.

3. 4xx and 5xx Errors

4xx and 5xx errors basically mean that people are having trouble accessing your website. The most common 4xx errors are the “403 Forbidden” error and the “404 Not Found” error, which basically mean that your visitors can’t see the content they initially clicked on. Aside from turning visitors away completely, these messages can also incite some sort of disgruntlement or frustration in users which, in turn, may negatively affect their perception of you.

The most common 5xx errors would be the “502 Bad Gateway” error and the “504 Gateway Timeout.” These are more connection or timeliness issues that can be attributed to a bad connection. Unfortunately, more often than not, the fault lies with the website.

Either way, these 4xx and 5xx errors are bad news—and bad for business—and need to be dealt with immediately.

4. The sitemap.xml File Contains Incorrect or Outdated Information

Google gathers information from all over the internet by sending out crawlers—also called Spiders or web crawlers—to trawl, scan, and collect data from different sites. These spiders are programmed to turn to a website’s sitemap.xml file first, which is basically the website’s sitemap.

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A sitemap is like a blueprint that clearly lists the basic structure of your website. It includes all the different pages and where to find them, the hierarchy or order of each page, and pertinent information regarding said pages. This is the file that search engine spiders will refer to when they assess and categorize your website, so it needs to be accurate. Any issues with the xml file can greatly affect your SERP rank.

5. Broken Links & Broken Images

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Broken links refer to both internal and external links that no longer work—whether due to URL, DNS, or coding errors. Broken images refer to pictures that are no longer available because they’re now unsupported by the original host or server. While broken images are bad, broken links are worse. These will often lead to pages with 4xx or 5xx errors—which, as we mentioned in our first point—greatly impact your ranking.

Once you see this error, work with an SEO agency or website development company to get these links updated ASAP.

As long as you have your own website, it is crucial that you run a regular SEO audit every year or so. This extensive diagnosis will help you identify harmful elements and optimization opportunities which will prove highly beneficial in the long run. There are tons of recommended, top-performing SEO software and SEO agencies out there that you can help you.