Whether you are a small or large business, it’s likely that your website is growing as quickly as you are. What started out as a simple 10-15 page website has suddenly grown to tens, if not hundreds of pages and during that time, all you have done is added content to the site without ever taking stock of the pages you are adding and the overall impact this is having on your SEO.
Blog posts, product pages, contact pages, promo landing pages – the list of new content that you have created goes on and before you know it, you have a site with hundreds of pages and potentially hundreds of new SEO issues.
Without a clear audit process in place, these SEO issues can quickly get away from you. Keeping up with broken links, duplicate content and messy site structure can quickly go unnoticed as you battle to push out information about new products and create engaging stories for your customers.
Whilst traffic may be growing and you are seeing great engagement metrics from the content you are creating, sooner or later, you are going to have to address the technical SEO issues that could cause long term damage.
In an ideal world, you would carry out monthly audits of your site and fix things up as you go, however, the reality is that this happens in very few cases. What is more typical is that you reach a point where you need to carry out a more in-depth audit and you need to call in the experts for a clean-up. Whilst this is not ideal, it’s certainly better than doing nothing at all.
7 steps to execute an SEO clean-up strategy
Performing regular audits of your site is the easiest way to keep on top of your technical SEO and we are big fans of companies that invest the time and resources into a structured auditing programme.
Our SEO clients benefit from our experience in this area. We run ‘mini audits on a monthly basis which help to highlight those little issues that can quickly get away from you. We document these and provide recommendations about the issues that need to be fixed up, prioritising those we feel will have the biggest impact. We appreciate that development time can be expensive and time-consuming so we work closely with our clients to make sure they are getting the best ROI from the changes we recommend.
As well as the monthly ‘mini audits’, we also conduct more comprehensive quarterly audits that go into more detail and also include some of the rollover items from the monthly audits that cannot be fixed up for one reason or another. This is supported by a full site audit once a year which is a comprehensive review of the current state of the website, as well as a closer look at any Google algorithm updates in the year and any pending updates, such as the Core Web Vitals update in 2021.
This structured approach to auditing means that our clients’ websites are under constant maintenance and improvements throughout the year, helping to keep Google happy and providing a competitive advantage which ultimately helps with rankings.
Tools we use for technical auditing
As an SEO agency, we have paid subscriptions to a number of tools that provide technical auditing as part of their suite. This doesn’t mean that small businesses without paid access to these tools can’t also carry out audits. Many of these tools offer free versions that will allow you to audit a specific number of pages on your site which can really help to keep on top of technical issues on the key pages on your own website as well as providing guidance about potential issues on pages not included in the report.
We primarily use three tools for technical auditing: DeepCrawl, Screaming Frog and SEMrush. In addition, we will also utilise specific tools, especially from the Google Suite, for carrying out more specific auditing including Google Search Console, Google PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse.
The three primary tools we use are great for identifying issues that can then be further investigated using specific tools. Issues around page speed are identified, however, by using PageSpeed insights, we can find out more about the specific problems that cause page speed issues and apply relevant fixes.
From our monthly audits, there are some common issues that we see across all clients’ websites, and we have listed these below as seven of the key steps you need to take to clean up your SEO.
1. Clean up your site structure
As sites grow, the structure of that site can quickly become messy. New pages are added that weren’t part of the original site structure and these will often be added at the top level, diluting the overall strength of key pages that belong at the top level of your site.
There’s also the menu to consider. New pages are added and your menu and navigation can quickly become overwhelming to first time and returning visitors who can struggle to find the information they need.
Finally, there’s the content itself. Whilst adding new content can provide real benefits from an SEO perspective, bad content or content that isn’t relevant to your audience can quickly have the opposite effect.
A monthly audit of your site using a tool like Screaming Frog will allow you to pull down all of the URLs on the website. From there, you can categorise these pages and analyse their relevance, importance and performance.
Use Google Analytics to support your auditing efforts. From GA, you can find out more about how individual pages are performing as well as discovering more about how people navigate their way through your site, which pages are drawing visitors and which are adding little value.
Using the data, you can refine your content and ensure your site structure is easy for visitors to navigate, ensuring they can easily navigate to the most important pages on the website.
2. Optimise your images
One of the most common issues we find when auditing clients’ websites is images that are too large. These images can have a dramatic impact on the overall page load speed, especially when there are multiple images on a page.
The best fix to fix this issue is prevention. Training is a great way to ensure content managers are uploading images that are sized and compressed correctly and will ultimately save you work in the long run.
We know, however, that this is not always possible so a clean up of images is often necessary to help improve the overall user experience and ensure the site is delivering a fast experience for all visitors on all devices.
There are a number of free tools that can be used for compressing and resizing images and it’s important for content managers to understand the dimensions that images should be added. One of the most common issues we see is images being added at 7000x3000px when they only display at 700x300px.
As part of your image audit, you can also ensure that optimised alt tags are being added when new images are uploaded and go in and add updates to any missing alt tags.
3. Identify and remove bad external links
Yep. It’s 2021 and we are still talking about bad links and link auditing. Whilst Google’s algorithms have become much more attuned to good links and bad links, with most bad links not causing any harm to your site, this is not to say you shouldn’t keep on top of backlinks pointing towards your site.
It’s important to understand what is considered a bad link and Google’s Quality Guidelines are a good source for that:
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
Basically, a bad link is one that violates these guidelines.
Link building is still an essential part of any SEO strategy and you shouldn’t be put off from the practice. You just need to ensure that the works you are doing falls within the guidelines and won’t be seen as trying to manipulate rankings.
Make sure that you are targeting high-quality domains and that a link back to your website from that site will add value to the visitor – that’s the sign of a truly good link.
4. Fix up internal links
Another common issue we find in our monthly auditing is an issue with internal links. These issues can vary in severity. Typically, the main issues we see are internal links pointing to broken pages. This happens when you make updates to content across a site – a product is removed from the site or maybe a blog post is redirected to something more relevant, however you link to these pages from other pages across your site.
Even if redirects are in place, we always recommend cleaning these up. Ensuring all of your internal links point to 200 pages will help to speed up the user experience as well as improving the overall page load speed. You are in complete control of your internal links so there are no excuses for these to point to anything other than a 200 page.
This can also apply to links that point externally. Make sure that the resources and pages that you are linking to are also returning a 200 code. Links that point to external 404 or 301 pages also provide a negative user experience and can reflect on your own website so make sure you keep your internal link profile as clean as possible.
5. Review and clean up duplicate content
Duplicate content can happen when your site starts to grow and you don’t keep proper track of the pages on your website. Blogs can be quite a common area for this to happen. You start off writing a piece of content on a particular topic and then a few months down the line, you decide to cover that topic again, either forgetting about the original post or including lots of similar content on the new post.
A content calendar can help with this to ensure you are not duplicating your efforts and creating content that competes against each other for the same keywords. Google can see this as trying to manipulate the search results which can result in neither of the content pieces ranking.
Another common area for duplicates is page titles and meta descriptions, especially if your content management system (CMS) applies a default page title and meta description on newly created pages that don’t have a page title and meta description specified.
We often find that the default is a replica of the homepage which is even worse as you end up with lots of pages that all duplicate the homepage page title and meta description.
Screaming Frog is a great tool for quickly analysing your page titles and meta descriptions and easily identifying any duplicates. From there, you can maintain a spreadsheet and ensure you have unique and optimised page titles and descriptions across every page on your site.
6. Review old content and republish if relevant
As your site grows, one of the biggest contributors to new pages on a website will typically be a blog or content area. When you first set out writing new blog content, you create content that is optimised at that time, however, over a period of weeks and months, that content can get outdated quite quickly.
It’s important to stay on top of this. Especially if those blog posts continue to drive relevant traffic to your website. You want to keep on top of your content calendar and ensure you are providing the most up-to-date content for visitors to your site.
A classic example is creating content that is time-sensitive. A very popular tactic (and one we recommend) is creating a list-type posts that are specific to the year you are in. Good examples include:
“Top 10 digital marketing tips for 2021”
“Getting the most out of LinkedIn for businesses in 2021”
When people see these posts in the search results, they expect to see the most up to date tips as the year is specified. If you saw a similar post in the search results that said “Top 10 digital marketing tips in 2018”, you would be much less likely to click on it.
What this does mean, however, is that you need to update these posts on an annual basis so they are providing the most up-to-date tips. We recommend not including the year in the URL of the page so that when you make your updates each year, the URL is not affected.
It can also pay to review content that was written 12 months ago, even if the topic is evergreen. Whilst the topic of the post may be evergreen, things may have changed in the last12 months which mean the content has dated so carry out constant reviews of your content to keep delivering an outstanding experience for visitors.
7. Check everything works
It may seem like an obvious one, but once you have made changes to a site based on some of the audit items above, go back and run the crawls again and check that everything works.
In addition to crawling the site, you should also perform manual checks on the site on a monthly basis. It’s easy to assume that everything just works but when was the last time you went through the checkout process on your own website? Was it as easy as the purchase you made online yourself from a different business? Are there things you could improve about the process?
The same goes for navigation. Is it easy to find the main pages you want people to visit? Does the homepage make it easy for your main products and services to stand out?
Use Google Search Console to identify the keywords that people are using to get to your site and then go through the journey a new visitor would go through to find out information based on their keyword search.
By doing this, you will really keep on top of the overall performance of the website whilst keeping the user front and centre. It’s all well and good that the site performs well technically, but if people can’t find what they are looking for, then it can be irrelevant.
We recommend technical audits should be carried out on a monthly basis and more in-depth audits should be done quarterly. If this is outside of your budget, then you should, at the very minimum, carry out an annual health check of your site to ensure there are no major issues and make sure you are optimising for any Google algorithm updates.
If you think it’s time for a cleanup and you need some help, be sure to get in touch with the Digital Hothouse team today and we can start the process of cleaning up your site.