How to perform an SEO audit Part 2: General SEO

In this second part of our three-part series on how to do an SEO audit on your website – or someone else’s – we’re looking at general SEO issues. The previous article, part 1 of the How to perform an SEO audit series, covered the first steps, looking at content SEO and user experience. This post dives deeper into the general SEO part of the audit, while part 3 looks at site speed and engagement. Happy auditing!

General SEO

There are several things that you can check quite easily in your SEO audit, without any effort – if you use the right tools. Just remember that tools are there to guide you, but not replace your common sense and your product/brand knowledge. One of my go-to tools is Screaming Frog SEO spider. Yes, there are a lot of alternatives, like Ryte, but for a quick check-up, Screaming Frog SEO spider does the job. It’s a handy tool that can do a lot of relevant checks, even if you’re using the free version.

Page titles

Page titles should focus on a specific topic, with the branding – usually the website name – at the end and we need to check that every page uses this format. In Screaming Frog:

SEO audit - Screaming frog - page titles

Check for duplicates, missing page titles, and if these are indeed constructed as ‘page title – branding’. Walmart does a good job of this, as you can see. Find out more about page titles here.

Meta description

The meta description is intended to entice people to visit your website, but what’s its SEO value? Well, a good meta description will attract more people to your website from search results in Google and other search engines. Note that your meta description is a suggestion for the search engine, and not necessarily something it will use every time your site is shown in the search result pages. It should be focused, clear and align with the search query to stand the best chance of search engines using it. There’s more on meta descriptions here.

SEO Audit: meta description

In Screaming Frog, it’s easy to see if meta descriptions are duplicated, like in this screenshot, or missing altogether. As you can see, Walmart had only a few duplicate meta descriptions in my quick check of their site, and most of their pages have unique descriptions.

Canonical URLs

The canonical URL tells you/Google what the original source of a page is. For example, if you were to copy this post to your own website but set the canonical URL of your page to this one, Google will understand it should rank my page – the original version, while still being useful to your site’s visitors.

Again, Screaming Frog comes in handy. Check for missing canonical URLs and make sure (assuming your site has a ‘processable’ number of pages) that the canonical URLs align with the regular URL for a page.

Screaming Frog can do so much more, but let’s leave it there for now.

Quick Panda & Penguin check

Panda and Penguin are algorithm updates by Google, focused on serving more quality websites in their search result pages. Panda focuses on thin content and banners, among other things, where Penguin checks whether the links to your website are natural links that make sense.

In your SEO audit, a quick check for Panda would be to step back from your computer screen and look at your website. Are there too many banners? Is your sales pitch filling up all the space all the time, before any interesting content can be seen? Make sure there is a good balance. I’d say four banners above the fold is too many.

For Penguin, use Majestic’s SEO tool (others are available) to do a quick check of backlinks and see if you find any shady websites linking to your website. If there are, you can disavow these links in your Google Search Console.

There’s more on Panda and Penguin here. Note that Google says these updates are being refined on an ongoing basis these days.

Template code

A lot of SEOs will tell you to fix the foundation of your website, and by that they mean the design – the template. But we take the view that content is the foundation of a website and your design is only there to serve that content. Only last week I saw someone say in an online discussion that these template code related changes are all you need for SEO – and that’s simply not true. As we’re always saying, we take an holistic approach, which takes much more into consideration. But also don’t expect search engines to like your site if your template is crap. Far from it.

Structured data is essential these days, and by that we mean a summary of the data of your page presented in re-usable chunks of content that Google loves. See our article on data via JSON-LD, for more. If you want to test your data for a certain page, use a schema validator – Google that, as there are several to choose from. If you want to add structured data, use JSON-LD as Google prefers that. Google will also inform you about structured data in Google Search Console.

Want to know more about structured data? We have a course on structured data as well – go check it out.

I could have mentioned breadcrumbs when discussing site structure as well, but they should already be part of your template. Add breadcrumbs to make sure people know where they are in your site structure, and remember these are also valuable internal links for Google. In your SEO audit, check that you have breadcrumbs, and see if these are also returned when checking for structured data, so you know they are served to Google in the best way possible.

The mobile version of your website

Mobile-first. It’s coming. And I still feel that a responsive website, in addition to all the AMP and so on, is essential because you only have one site to maintain. If you don’t know whether your site is responsive or not, simply reduce your browser screen’s width and see what happens. Then, open a browser on your phone and visit your website. Click to your main product page, click to your contact form. How does your homepage look? Does everything work like it should? Does it load fast? Make sure your site delivers the mobile experience you want it to.

We have written a lot about mobile websites, so have a look at these other articles for more information:

Heading structure

This might be the least of your worries these days, to be honest. HTML5 allows you to add an H1 to every block element and Google will probably figure out your main heading in the blink of an eye anyway. Nevertheless, a good heading structure helps you structure your page’s content and allows Google and your visitors to scan your page and grasp the general concepts. Check if your heading structure makes sense, both visually and semantically. More on headings here.

Part 3 is next: Site speed and Engagement

That’s it for part two of the SEO audit series. You’ll have learned how to analyze your site’s general SEO with several tools as well as with your own judgment. If you’ve been checking your site as you read this post, you’ve probably found several issues on your site that you could improve on. That’s exactly what an audit is meant to uncover, so all is well. Make a to-do list and start working on it! In part three, we’ll go over site speed and engagement. Stay tuned!

Read more: How to perform an SEO audit. Part 3: Site speed & engagement »

Coming up next!

16 Responses to How to perform an SEO audit. Part 2: General SEO

  1. nexvan
    nexvan  • 6 years ago

    hi Michiel Heijmans, Thank you for answering
    Thank you for the points you mentioned.
    Yes, in the future of the name are used and more insight is added.
    Yes, Sure

  2. nexvan
    nexvan  • 6 years ago

    Hi, I’m so sad that you delete the comment. I’m not a robot and I read your content

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Hi Nexvan, I’m guessing what happened is that you submitted a series of very short comments, are not using your real name and therefore the comment seems to be placed just to have your link here – like spam. If this was not the case, please accept our apologies. But for future comments, please use your real name, and add some more insight / opinion to your comment, and I am sure this won’t happen again :)

  3. Christopher
    Christopher  • 6 years ago

    thank you it was a great help for me.

  4. Ronaldo Stewart
    Ronaldo Stewart  • 6 years ago

    Page titles and meta descriptions are one of those aspects that play a big role in optimization but are sometimes forgotten. Many users starting in SEO forget that it’s one of the first places to include important keywords. Awesome series Michiel from you and the Yoast team!

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 6 years ago

      Yeah, you are definitely right, Ronaldo. You can always improve your titles and meta descriptions. Thanks for the compliment!

  5. Simone Nijboer
    Simone Nijboer  • 6 years ago

    Joost, Marieke and other members of Yoast, I just want to thank you for all the fantastic articles that you write week after week. It is incredible how much effort you put into educating us. Fantastic.


    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 6 years ago

      You’re welcome, Simone! We love sharing knowledge and it’s great to see people love it :)

  6. nexvan
    nexvan  • 6 years ago

    thank you

  7. Mihai
    Mihai  • 6 years ago

    Just great. This will help a lot of users understand how to apply SEO.
    For the part with the Mobile version? WDo we really have to setup a new website just for mobile? The responsive template will not do the work anymore?
    If Google keeps playing with our mind and time will lose user interest for indexing.
    Thank you.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 6 years ago

      Hi Mihai. Mobile is very important. There are a lot of things you can do to improve your mobile site. But if you are scared that your new responsive template won’t work, please don’t be. Google has said many times that if your site is responsive you are on the right track.

  8. Digember
    Digember  • 6 years ago

    Very helpful article. These are the best suggestion for optimizing your On-page. However, I don’t use breadcrumbs on my site as it was causing duplicate content link problem. I just de-indexed them. Will it cause a problem to my site’s SEO?

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 6 years ago

      Breadcrumbs can help people navigate on your site. However, if they give you trouble you could leave them out. But think long and hard about it.

  9. Richard Kennedy
    Richard Kennedy  • 6 years ago

    Excited to see what your opinion is on site speed affecting rankings, are you going to cover SSL during this also?


    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 6 years ago

      Hi Richard. Google definitely looks at site speed and I’d advise you to do everything in your power to improve it. If not for Google, your visitors will thank you! HTTPS can also give your site a speed bump and is getting increasingly important these days. Read this if you want to find out more about HTTPS:

      • Sandro
        Sandro  • 6 years ago

        When will SEO by Yoast change their meta description character limits? According to Google, meta descriptions can contain up to 320 characters now.