Fantastic guest post by Michael Hayes. He is the founder of Darby Hayes Consulting, a NYC based SEO agency. He has been helping businesses succeed online since 2008. He can be reached at mike (at) darbyhayesconsulting.com
SEO is a complex field that has evolved over many years, but it’s fundamentals have remained relatively consistent since its inception. While some things may have changed, like exactly how to structure your keyword targeting, or how careful you should be about your backlinks or content quality, ultimately SEO has always been about 3 things: content, site structure, and backlinks.
With that in mind it’s possible to do a very quick analysis of a site, sometimes in under 5 minutes. I think this is akin to a financial advisor taking a quick look at the financial sheet of a company and making a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold. It will obviously not be as thorough as a deeper dive, but a high-level look can often be effective at identifying problem areas and “low-hanging” fruit which can be fixed.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the 5-minute SEO audit.
Step 1 – Indexation, Crawlability and Internal Linking
Step 1.1: Fire up Screaming Frog
In order to get anything done in such a short time you will need some help from automated tools. Screaming Frog is my personal favorite SEO tool, and we used it pretty much every day at Darby Hayes, It works quickly to give a thorough view of a website from a search engines perspective.
Set screaming frog to “Spider Mode”, enter your homepage URL, and let it rip.
Step 1.2: Indexation Levels
While screaming frog is running head on over to Google.com and run the site command for your domain, i.e.: site:www.example.com.
You should see a number of results, that’s the estimated number of pages that your site has in the index.
Also, if you have Google Search Console verified, and you submit sitemaps, you can look at those numbers as well.
Step 1.3: Compare Crawl Numbers to Indexation Level
The number in the bottom left will show you how many HTML pages you have available to crawl from your homepage.
How does this compare to the “site:” command in Google.com, or your sitemap numbers in Google search console?
If there is a big discrepancy, look into it. The goal here is to make sure ALL your pages can be discovered from a simple crawl starting at the homepage (otherwise your internal linking is lacking and needs adjustment) as well as making sure all the pages you care about are also include in sitemaps (for fast crawling, as well as monitoring indexation).
Step 1.4: Page errors/301s
Stick in screaming frog, filtered by “HTML” and sort by the 3rd column, “Status Code”. You should see all 200s. If you see 404s, 301 or 302s, it means that your internal links are pointing to non-200 pages. Fix those!
Step 2: On-page Content, Meta Data and Alt Text
Step 2.1: Word Count
Stick with screaming frog here for one more step. While still filtered by “HTML”, scroll over to the column that says “Word Count”. Sort by this column to get an idea for your word count on all your pages. Pick any that seem way too low (or even way too high), and set those aside for review.
Step 2.2: Title Tags
Title tags are obviously important, and for a full review and optimization you will need to do more than a 5-minute evaluation. However, you can easily spot if title tags were completely left out (i.e. “Home”, “Homepage”, “Just Another WordPress Site”, etc), or are botched in some obvious way.
Scroll down the title tag column (5th column) to check for any obvious errors. If you spot any, set those aside for rework.
Step 2.3: Meta Data
Here’s a bulleted list of stuff to check for quickly:
- Robots Meta tag – when in doubt, should always be index,follow.
- Meta Description – Should exist! If it doesn’t, set it aside to write a nice, thoughtful and relevant meta description to help entice users to click from the SERPs.
- Canonical tags – If they don’t exist, not a showstopper. If they exist, make sure they are correct (set this task aside, as it requires some finagling of the data with excel).
Step 2.4: Image Alt Text
Screaming frog has an infinitely useful export function for images that are missing alt text. In the menu to go “Bulk Export” -> “Images” -> “Images missing Alt Text Inlinks”
Export that spreadsheet, but don’t even look at it, just set it aside for later. We’re running out of time!
Step 3: Backlink Check
Step 3.1: Ahrefs Anchor Cloud
For larger sites with hundreds or thousands of pages, this analysis will obviously be longer than 5 minutes, but you can take a quick look to see for any obvious problems, signs of negative SEO, poor work from previous SEO companies, etc.
Throw your URL in Ahrefs, and scroll down to the Anchor Cloud.
What you should see is a predominance of your brand name or your URL. This is, generally, what a natural anchor profile looks like.
If you see too much commercial anchor text, any type of spammy anchors (porn, pills or poker), or just something that doesn’t feel right based on your knowledge of the site and its history, set that as a task to look into further.
Step 3.2 (optional): Ahrefs Anchor List
If you have any time remaining on your 5 minute evaluation, head over to the “Anchors” section of Ahrefs. This gives you a more granular look then the anchor cloud, and can unearth some issues that might not make it into the cloud.
Scroll through quickly and use the same criteria as above for identifying potentially weird or unnatural links.
Everything good takes time, and this guide is by no means a replacement for good, thorough, forensic SEO audits. It does, however, provide a very nice guide for doing quick run downs for prospective clients, friends, or when evaluating a domain for purchase or link outreach.