November 1, 2018
Written by Helen Nazarie
The odds are your website doesn’t do great for organic traffic, and you already know that the answer is SEO.
As an ecommerce store owner, you may have good sales thanks to paid campaigns, but you must feel like there are big long-term opportunities in organic traffic.
Let me guess, you have a rough idea of things to do but are not really sure about where to start, what’s more important and what’s not. As tempting as it may be to jump straight into trying to improve things, to have a clear roadmap and strategy for SEO you just have to first and foremost do an audit.
Want to start your journey to free organic traffic and get more conversions? You need to do an SEO audit to identify every single SEO issue your website may have! Download our FREE ecommerce SEO audit checklist with its guide and start to fix your store’s SEO issues!!!
As you probably know, there are many great resources out there with advice about what to do for SEO, all kinds of tricks and hacks. But having read all that advice do you now sit in front of a clear SEO strategy plan for your online store?
And if you’re still not sure about how much room you have for SEO improvement head over to seositecheckup and enter your store address. Do you score any less than 90 %?
Our guide is tried and tested to reveal all issues that separate your ecommerce website from a score of 98%+ (and you’re going to need every extra percent when competing for those revered first Google positions!)
Just hearing the word ‘audit’ makes you think that it’s going to be a lot of “effort” and you have to be an “expert”. Especially in the case of an SEO Audit you must be wondering just how many of those fancy $$$ tools are you going to need.
The SEO audit guide we have compiled will require access to Ahrefs only (among paid tools). For our purposes their “$7 for 7 day trial” should definitely suffice! So completing this essential audit should really cost you only $7 and some spare time (we will discuss “audit costs” in more detail towards the end of this article).
Finally, you will need free access to the Screaming Frog, as well as to your Search Console and Google Analytics accounts. That’s it, once you have them you’re ready to start!
So What Exactly is an SEO Audit?
An SEO audit is a thorough evaluation of your ecommerce website’s current SEO position. More precisely, its the practice of carefully examining all important aspects that affect how search engines perceive your website.
The aim of an SEO audit is to reveal existing SEO issues, which should then become the basis of the SEO strategy you derive to improve on those weaknesses. More generally this is what an SEO strategy roadmap might look like:
SEO Audit → Perform Keyword Research → Analyse Competitors (Extract Keywords/Content Ideas and Link Opportunities) → Develop an SEO Content Strategy → Execute On Site SEO (Content Optimisation + Technical SEO) → Execute Off Site SEO
In short, an SEO audit is an essential foundation for any successful SEO strategy.
The complete audit can be separated into two broad parts: On page and Off page. On page SEO can be further separated into Technical and Content components. In the remainder of this article we summarise the general objectives and intuition, as well as common issues found in each part. More specifically, we have already addressed:
- How to check the SEO performance of a website
- Tool & access requirements
- What is an SEO audit
- Why do an SEO audit
- Parts of an SEO audit
And the rest of this post dives deeper into
So, let’s jump right in! (But, before that download our ecommerce SEO audit checklist with its guide )
1. On-Page SEO Audit
“On-page SEO is the practice of optimising individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized, as opposed to off-page SEO which refers to links and other external signals.”
So in essence when doing an On Page SEO audit the main question we will be aiming to address is:
What can we do to improve how ‘satisfying’ visitors to our website (both robots, and actual users) find browsing our pages?
The answer to this question, giving the ‘satisfaction’ to the ‘visitors’, can then be divided into two areas:
- Content: producing and presenting in an intuitive manner content that the ‘visitors’ to your website actually care about and search for.
- Technical: making sure that the content you have produced is as easily and conveniently accessible to the ‘visitors’ as possible
Indeed content is one of the core parts of any SEO strategy. And just to clarify, content doesn’t just refer to having a blog. Your product descriptions, category names, ‘about us’ page contents … all and any words visible to your website visitors fall under the content umbrella.
There are countless amazing guides as to how to derive your buyer avatar, research their needs and finally produce tailored content to satisfy those needs. Yet, content creation is a topic so vast that it would require a whole post to itself. Thus here we assume that you already have a clear buyer avatar and content tailored to the needs of this avatar.
So what’s left to audit about content you may wonder ?
It’s all the technical aspects of keyword analysis and targeting!
You can find the detailed step by step content audit procedure in our guide.
Here we’ll discuss a few common keyword targeting pitfalls to watch out for and what can be done to overcome them.
If you have been reading around the subject, you will have noticed that everyone talks about title tags (which are really important). Yet one aspect of content commonly disregarded is meta descriptions. And if you’re not sure about what this is, it’s the (up to 300 character) descriptions that appear underneath your listings in search results.
Indeed, nowadays meta descriptions no longer play a role in helping your website rank. However, meta descriptions should still “intelligently (read: in a natural, active, non-spammy way) employ the keywords that page is targeting. It should be directly relevant to the page it describes, and unique from the descriptions for other pages.” Why you may wonder ? Because it’s a great free way to advertise the contents of any page that ranks! Think of it from the perspective of a searcher. They type in keywords for which you rank for on the first page and are deciding between your website and the other nine organic search results on that page.
Now, if your meta description is as described above, the keywords searched will appear bold in the meta description. That’s the first sign that your page is relevant for them. Then they will probably actually read around the bold keywords, and if it’s inciting, you can bet they will be clicking on your listing.
And if having an advantage over other search results on the same page is not enough of a reason to bother with good meta descriptions, social media sharing should be.
Yes, social media platforms will almost always show the meta description of the URL that is shared, and again you get to advertise your contents for free literally almost everywhere on say Facebook your page URLs may be appearing.
Finally, did we say meta descriptions don’t affect your rankings?
Yes, they don’t directly, but guess what is the signal to Google when many people click your links on social media and search results because they are compelled by the description? You guessed right! Google sees your listings as more relevant and moves you up the ranking.
So although, good meta descriptions don’t directly impact your rankings, they most certainly affect your click through rate (CTR), which is a direct signal for the ranking algorithm. (There is more about higher CTR as a signal for Google rankings later on in this post as well)
Off the subject of the Audit, for an ecommerce website owner the CTR is also going to play its big role on your conversion rate!
Another common oversight with content, especially with bigger websites, tends to be having duplicate content and keyword cannibalization. This problem can be explained well with an example. Suppose your website had a product X page some time ago which you decided to redo, created a new page, but unfortunately forgot to delete the old one.
What happens then ? Well, you’ve ended up with duplicate content. The old and new product X pages will now be competing for the same keywords.
Ok, so they will just be sharing the total traffic that your keywords would have gotten if you had only one page, but the total stays the same? It’s in fact the contrary.
“The reason is simple: when you have multiple pages ranking for the same keyword, you’re actually competing with yourself. Consequently, each page has a lower CTR, diminished authority, and lower conversion rates than one consolidated page will have.”
This would also be true if you had copied content from another more authoritative website with the hope of getting some of their SEO juice.
So how do you address keyword cannibalisation issues?
Ahrefs, yes the only paid tool necessary for performing our audit, has a great article on how to identify and resolve keyword cannibalization issues. And if you’re not sure whether you may have duplicate content from another website siteliner.com is a great free tool for running a quick check.
Now we move onto the technical area of an On-Page SEO audit.
Remember the part about “What can we do to improve how ‘satisfying’ visitors to our website (both Google Robots, and actual users) find browsing our pages?”
And the Technical area of the audit was making sure that the content you have produced is as easily and conveniently accessible to the ‘visitors’ as possible
Let’s start with ‘satisfying’ the robots first. What are some common SEO oversights that affect how Google robots see your site?
Have you heard of a “sitemap” or “robot.txt” files?
“In simple terms, a Sitemap is an XML file that contains the full list of your web page URLs. It’s like an archive of every webpage in your website.” By placing a formatted xml file with sitemap on your webserver, you enable search engine crawlers (like Google) to find out what pages are present and which have recently changed. The “robot.txt” file ,on the other hand, is a document with instructions for crawlers as to what directories of your website to crawl.
The Sitemap file allows search engines to find data faster thus crawling your website more easily, hereas the robot.txt file allows search engines to crawl your website more efficiently, disregarding pages that are unimportant and focusing on the important ones.
The combination of these files makes your website a hell of a lot easier and faster (“satisfying”) for the robots to crawl. So surprise surprise, the robots then give you higher rankings!
If you have a WordPress website and are using the Yoast SEO Plugin, it will automatically generate a sitemap for you. Similarly for a WordPress website you can use plugins such as Virtual Robots.txt. Alternatively you can use xml-sitemaps.com and a robots.txt file generator such as tools.seobook.com to quickly generate sitemap.xml and robots.txt files respectively. You will then need to upload these files to your Public_Html directory.
Now turning to making your website more “satisfying” for actual users. Now this is a lot broader and harder!
And again you can find the detailed step by step procedure to identify all possible SEO shortcomings in our checklist , but here are some common and (relatively) easy to fix user friendliness issues many websites have:
You may be surprised that this is a common mistake, but it is! Of course we don’t mean that it’s common for websites to just be a blank on mobile devices. Instead what’s common is for so many easy to miss out aspects of your website to not be displaying appropriately on mobile. And with an average of around 50% (more or less depending on the country) of all traffic being through mobile devices, every small oversight will matter!
One example of one such minor issue that you may have not considered before is font sizes. Another common oversight tends to be buttons and links not scaling correctly and being hard to click.
The list of mobile friendliness aspects to check is actually rather large, but luckily there are some tools you can use! Google Mobile -friendly Test is a great free tool that gives an overview of all possible mobile friendliness problems your website might have. So make sure to at least address the any “major fails” Google finds for your site!
And if you’re wondering what does all this have to do with SEO, the answer is metrics such as the CTR, Bounce Rate, Average Session Duration . Although these are probably not core determinants of your site’s search engine rankings they most certainly play a role. Think of it this way: search engines like Google aim to give users the most relevant results. If many users search a certain keyword that you rank for, but once on your page, say on their mobile phone, they find that the user experience (e.g. UI/UX) is poor they are not going to dwell on your site for too long!
And what do you think is the signal to Google when many users don’t stay for long on your website, and bounce off very quickly without clicking through your pages ?
You guessed it right: Google takes it that the information on your site must have not been relevant to those search queries.
So even if all the most relevant content is there, if users can’t get to it easily… in the eyes of Google it’s as if that content wasn’t even there!
It’s important to understand this, as many other common On-Page SEO oversights, which are relatively easy to fix, are also to do with improving the user experience.
Another such oversight tends to be the speed of loading, and in contrast to the CTR, bounce rate and average session duration, in the case of loading speed “Google has (clearly) indicated” that site speed “is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages”.
Why you may wonder?
It’s the same story! “page speed is important to user experience!
And guess what: “pages with a longer load time tend to have, lower CTR, higher bounce rates and lower average time on page”. In fact according to Google’s latest research, the probability of a user bouncing off your website increases by 32% when the page load time goes from 1s to 3s, by 90% going from 1s to 5s and by a whopping 123% going from 1s to 10s!.
But that’s not all! A slow page speed also means, going back to the part about making your website “satisfying” for robots, for example the GoogleBot can crawl fewer pages using their allocated crawl budget. This, as mentioned before, can harm your indexation.
Ok so that’s all clear, but what’s optimal website speed and how can you get there?
Well the first part is a bit tricky to put a number on. Basically the answer is the faster the better. As a rule of thumb, you really want your pages, especially the home page to fully load in under 3 seconds.
As with previous factors, luckily there is a great free tool you can use that will do a speed analysis and recommend areas that need improvement. Just head over to gtmetrix.com and input your website. Similar to the rule of thumb of 3 seconds load time, you should be aiming to score at least 90% on gtmetrix.com.
Redirects and Errors
A final common On-Site SEO shortcoming we will discuss is redirects and errors, in particular those related to SSL redirects. Again, for the detailed walk through of all the checks for errors and redirects make sure you download our SEO audit Checklist.
As an ecommerce shop owner you must certainly have HTTPS enforced on your website, at least on the payments pages. So some time ago you obtained an SSL certificate, and tried to redirect all pages that were http:// to https://.
And in case you don’t recall doing that, this tutorial gives very easy to follow step by step instructions about how to acquire an SSL certificate and from which provider, as well as how to easily make your wordpress website load over https:// only. If you have a wordpress plugin, like Really Simple SSL, then you probably won’t have any redirect issues.
However if you have done the redirection manually and the redirect is done incorrectly, you may have SEO problems. One such problem could arise if you have not used a 301 redirect, rather a 302 (or 307 on HTTP 1.1) one.
If you are unsure about the difference this post explains what each of the codes in the whole range of possible redirects mean and stand for. Broadly speaking, a 301 redirect is a ‘permanent redirect’ whereas 302 (or 307 on HTTP 1.1) is a ‘temporary’ one.
From an SEO standpoint, you should always use 301 redirects, “because it’s true that 301 redirects do take care of all possible problems 99.99% of the time”. Basically a 301 redirect will also pass between 90-99% of link equity (ranking power) to the redirected page, as opposed to say a 307 redirect which Google will not recognise as a permanent change, thus will not transfer nowhere nearly as much equity…
Another possible issue you may run into is having duplicate content, basically having the same page served both as http:// and https://. We have discussed the consequences of duplicate content on SEO and rankings above.
You can check what redirect codes you are using with this free tool. Once you have identified any possible redirect issues, (that the SEO audit tool we mentioned above will also identify) you can simply change them from the control panel of your host. Alternatively, if you have a wordpress website using the Really Simple SSL plugin should perform the task just fine.
Although indeed there is still a lot more that goes under the On-Page SEO audit umbrella, but to avoid turning this article into a dissertation, we have left the remainder in the lengthy audit guide we have compiled. (that is free to download and use!)
2. OFF-Page SEO Audit
Finally we move onto the Off-page audit. And if you’re thinking there is still just as much to come as you have already read, just to calm you: we have tried to keep the Off-Site contents brief and only limited to backlinks!
Here we will mainly discuss backlinks. As you may already know backlinks were, still are and probably will remain one of the most important ranking factors. We assume you already have some backlinks, but if you can give one of these guides a read and maybe consider investing in link building.
The Ahrefs tool you have the trial for will allow you to fully analyse the backlinks your website has. The main things you will be looking for will be whether you have lost any backlinks, whether any of the backlinks are broken and what sources your backlinks come from.
In the case of the first two, the aim is to ensure that your website and domain authority is not deteriorating even if it is not improving. In the case of lost backlinks Ahrefs has a great guide for how to identify and reclaim them. How about broken backlinks? There is another Ahrefs Guide for finding and fixing broken links!
What is there to watch out for with regarding where your backlinks come from? Well, not all backlinks are created equal. In fact a backlink from a spammy website will do a lot more harm than good. If you have unrecognized links from low authority websites these can ultimately damage your SERP (search engine result positions).
This article gives a good summary of what kind of backlinks you should watch out for, and how to find them, whereas this article walks through how to remove them via the Google search console. You can also find identification processes for these backlink problems explained in a step by step manner in our complete SEO audit checklist and guide!
This concludes the aspects of the audit we expand on within this post.
Now you understand the intuition behind all the parts of the audit, and know what kind of problems you are likely to encounter.
So what’s left?.
If you have also downloaded our guide you can see that it’s very detailed, so the next obvious question you are asking yourself is probably:
How much time will this full audit take ? This question of course in your mind may be closely associated with: “how much should I be willing to pay for a good SEO audit?”. More precisely:
3. The Full Cost of Performing a Complete SEO Audit
Let’s start by assuming that you are able to find some spare time and will be conducting this audit yourself. As we have mentioned earlier the only real $ cost to perform this audit is the $7 for the Ahrefs tool trial. So the ‘cost’ question basically boils down to the time necessary to conduct the thorough audit.
Suppose you don’t actually decide to become an audit expert in the process, so you will not be reading around each subpart trying to understand what each terms means. Instead suppose you’re just following our guide step by step in a mechanical manner.
Given the depth of the audit, we estimate that, with the tools available, it should take you around 20-30 hours of concentrated work to properly complete the audit. In other words it should take you 2-3 working days depending on how much you prioritize the audit over other work.
Having said that, an “expert” who is well versed in the area, who has pro versions of all the $$$ tools and is dedicated to performing a high quality audit, will most likely take 8-10 hours to complete it.
Freelancers are usually the cheapest option for hiring someone to do the task for you. Freelancers with a few years of SEO experience usually charge around $30-$50/hour for their work, but the really good ones can charge between $50-$100/hour (possibly even more).
Assuming you’re lucky to find a good freelancer who charges around $30-40/hour, to have them do the audit for you should cost around $250-$350.
If you end up paying someone around $300-$400 make sure you ask them to give you a complete file with all possible issues and all areas checked, as you will need this document for a while to come for your SEO strategy.
That’s it, we hope you found this article useful. Make sure you leave a comment below if you feel like we have missed out anything crucial or if you have any questions left unanswered.
Just before you leave though, for the dedication to read all the way to the end of this lengthy article we have a spectacular reward (valid only if you redirect from this page) that hopefully you’ll find just as amazing.
Remember the part about “expect to pay around $250 to $350 to have a good SEO expert do the Audit for you?”.
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