Are You Using Blacklisted Backlinks? Check Now
I’m going to let you in on a secret:
2018 was my worst year for search traffic.
The numbers went down…
…until my blog had lost 33% of its monthly visitors.
(if your traffic is declining click here for help)
This left me with 2x choices:
- Keep losing organic traffic
- Do something about it
So, I did something about it.
I performed an SEO audit on my site to see what the problems were.
Then, I fixed them. The result?
Here’s how I did it…
What Will I Learn?
Organic Traffic Was In Free Fall
To diagnose my traffic problem I went straight to Ahrefs.
What I saw was startling.
After all that careful keyword research and SEO efforts, the number of target keywords I was ranking for had reduced dramatically:
In July 2018 I was ranking in the top 3x positions for 1,016x keywords.
By December that was down to just 578x keywords:
That’s 43% fewer.
So, there was one question I needed to answer…
It was time to do an SEO audit to find out.
After doing thorough website SEO research both manually and with site audit tools, and applying the right changes, the number of keyword rankings search volume increased to an all-time high:
In the rest of this blog post I’m going to show you:
- Exactly how I performed my website SEO audit
- What I learned (and changed) that increased my traffic and keyword rankings
- How you can do all of this for yourself
The 5 Step Common Sense SEO Audit That Anyone Can Do!
Unless you have extensive technical website SEO knowledge, it’s very hard to do a true technical SEO audit.
So I created the 5x step common sense audit process and applied it to this blog to show you how it works.
It’s pretty simple for anyone to follow-
- Listen to your visitors
- Manually observe problems
- Perform technical spot checks
- Scan your site with an SEO audit tool
- Create a plan of attack
If you can do each of these, you will be able to build a solid SEO foundation that will likely have a positive impact on your traffic levels.
Sure it lacks the depth of a full audit.
Stepping through this process will help anyone that is suffering from declining or a plateau in traffic.
Step #1: Listen To Your Visitors
The first stage in any proper SEO audit is to ask for user feedback. Search engines put a high focus on user experience in their search results.
This should be done before you use an SEO audit tool to evaluate your website.
So I first wanted to know 3x things about my audience:
1. What content did they want to learn about?
2. How did they want to consume that content?
3. What did they like (or dislike) about my current site?
To find this out, I conducted a simple reader survey where I asked my readers each of these questions. You can use social media for this too.
The majority told said they wanted to learn about these 4x topics:
…and they wanted to learn about them in this way:
These two questions gave me the foundation for a new content strategy.
To double down on creating high quality:
- Written content
- Video content
My readers also told me what they liked – and didn’t – about the blog.
Here are some of the stand-out comments about the site:
What readers liked:
- Easy to understand
- Lots of free information
- Content is helpful first, sales generator second
- Detailed step by step process
- Video tutorials
- Covers both sides of the coin
- Real life examples/case studies
- Downloading the videos/posts as PDFs
- Transparency & brutal honesty
- Intent on educating readers
- Original ideas
What readers didn’t like:
- Design looks dated
- Cluttered with graphics
- Thumbnail designs are dated
- Too many colours, looks cheap
- Hard to find and refer back to tutorials
- Search results are terrible
- Too many popups & popoverst that interrupt learning
- Some content is out of date
- Needs more real life examples
- How to know which post/tutorial to integrate and when
- Low frequency of blog posts
All of which are very fair and accurate points which were noted. The power of social media should be the friend of any small business owner.
With reader feedback complete, we can move onto our own manual observations…
Step #2: Manual Observations
My next step was to manually check each of the observations above.
The most common complaint was things like-
“Your blog is hard to navigate and I struggle to find the content I need. It’s like you have all the pieces of the puzzle, but none of them are joined together!”
I went through the site thoroughly and found this to be true.
There was no clearly-defined path between content for either users OR search engines.
It was a mess:
And I was clicking through the blog, I felt like it had become sluggish. Worse still:
It was really slow on mobile with some awful formatting issues.
In comparison to other sites, it felt like my blog had become this guy:
I needed to overhaul the site.
However, there were a few more checks I needed to do first.
Step #3: Quick Technical Spot Checks
These quick technical spot checks will help you find some of the most common problems that stop your site from ranking in the search results.
There are 4x quick spot checks I like to carry out-
- Mobile Indexing
- Mobile vs. Desktop Pagespeed
- Performance Metrics
- Structured Data Review
Each of these tests is performed using 5x URLs from your site.
- Your home page/landing page
- Your category page
- Your “heaviest page” with the most images or content
And the other 2x are up to you.
I’ll be using these URLs:
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD MY SPREADSHEET TO TRACK YOUR RESULTS EASILY
The goal of these checks is to spot check and highlight potential problems quickly.
Make sure you don’t fix them just yet – just run each of these tests and update the spreadsheet with your results.
Spot Check 01: Mobile Indexing
Google is now a mobile-first search engine.
- Your site is judged on its mobile version first
- Google boosts sites that are mobile friendly
from:@google.com “Mobile-First indexing enabled”
And you should see an email like this one:
If you don’t have this email it WILL be coming soon. (So be prepared.)
Go to Google Search Console Mobile-Friendly testing tool and enter your homepage URL:
Click “Run Test”.
This will analyse the page and give you a pass/fail result:
Despite all its issues, my website IS mobile-friendly.
But there are obvious SEO issues I need to fix during my manual reviews so you shouldn’t always trust what an SEO audit tool is telling you.
Spot Check 02: Mobile Page vs Desktop Pagespeed
I’ve written before about how critical site speed is. And, Google loves fast websites. Why?
Because they know the longer someone sees this symbol:
The more likely they are to leave a website. Make sure this isn’t happening to your visitors.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights can give you a top-down look at performance across-
And gives you actionable tips to improve your site and SEO progress.
Head over there and enter your homepage URL:
The first page of results is for mobile:
The second is for desktop:
These results show me:
- My site is SLOW
- Especially on mobile devices
Update: Since publishing I have now migrated to NitroPack which helps achieve perfect Google Pagespeed scores. Take a look at my full NitroPack review and case study for more details.
But chin up, onto the next one…
Spot Check 03: Performance Metrics
The last spot check looked at general speed.
This spot check looks at how quickly individual pages load.
A good rule of thumb is that a site should load in under 3x seconds.
To run this test we’ll be using GTmetrix.
Head there and enter your homepage URL:
The test can take a few minutes depending on the size of your site.
Once the test is complete, you will receive a score:
My website is okay but I could shave some time off.
Spot Check 04: Structured Data Review
Structured data organizes your site’s information.
You can structure data like:
- Opening hours
- Telephone numbers
That will then display as part of your search results. This helps provide more context to users and search engines.
Google analytics says structured data isn’t a ranking factor.
But, it does make pages easier to:
- Site crawl
- Assign to keywords
To see if your site has structured data, head to Google Search Console Structured Data testing tool.
Enter your homepage URL:
This will check to see if you have any structured data present and if it has any errors.
You have passed if your page has structured data and shows zero errors, like this:
You have failed if your page has no structured data or has any errors, like this:
My website got a mixed bag of results.
There was definitely a lot I could be working on:
If you are following along, make a note of each of these issues and keep them handy – it’s easier if you just make a copy of my spreadsheet.
There’s just 1x more SEO analysis to go…
Step #4: Scan Your Site With An SEO Audit Tool
Now we’re going to use an automated SEO audit tool to site crawl and look for hidden or remaining issues like duplicate content, security protocols, html tags, meta tags etc…
You can do this for free (or as good as) using one of these 3x SEO tools:
- Ahrefs SEO
audit tool: has a $7 trial
- SEMRush site audit tool: has a 14-day free trial
- Website Auditor: comes with 500 free URLs in SEO Powersuite
The SEO audit tool you choose doesn’t matter so much. Just pick one and get started.
Then run your site through the site audit tool following one of the steps below…
Now we’re going to use all the data to create a plan of attack…
Step #5: Create A Plan Of Attack
No 2x SEO audits are ever the same. But one thing is always true:
On-Page SEO audits (even with an SEO analysis audit tool) are hard manual labour. It’s impossible to create an accurate template or checklist for them. So, you’re going to need to get your hands dirty.
Because they are such hard work, we need to make sure you have a focused plan of attack that will deliver BIG wins.
To do that:
Create a list of all the issues the SEO checker tools found for your site.
Rank them in order of issues that – when fixed – will provide the best user experience. Or simply put… make your users the most happy.
- Display issues (on mobile and desktop)
- Site speed issues
- Content quality and freshness
- Common points from user feedback
A better user experience automatically means a better experience for search engines. So, tackle them in that order.
Once you have created your list it’s time to start taking action.
Want to improve your website performance this year? Check out my full SEO checklist for 2022.
How To Use Your SEO Audit To Transform Search Engine Rankings & Traffic
These are the steps I took after conducting an SEO audit (both manually and with SEO tools as above) and creating an action plan.
It’s important to note that your steps will be different to my steps depending on what you discovered during the 5x step audit process.
- Content Audit And Optimisation
- Speed Optimisation
- Brand New Homepage Design
- Adding 3x Portal Pages
- Revamp And Simplify Site Navigation
- Overall Site Structure
- Fix All Outstanding Technical SEO Problems
In this section:
I’m going to take you through exactly how I used each of these steps to fix my traffic and hopefully, you will see that basic on-page SEO audits don’t need to be complicated.
Change #1: Content Audit & Optimisation
Content is the face of my business. So, I started here.
I took two steps:
- Content audit: examining what I already had
- Content optimization: making it the best version possible
The Content Audit
To perform the content audit I created a spreadsheet listing:
- Google Search Traffic
- Ahrefs backlink count
If you don’t have access to those SEO tools it won’t take long to put together manually-
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE QUICK CONTENT AUDIT SPREADSHEET
I also added two columns:
- Review: the status of the post
- Notes: specific updates and changes to be made
I then went through and manually – yes, manually! – reviewed each link profile one by one in my desktop and mobile browser.
My goal was to assign one of these categories in the “Review” section:
- Pass: has a healthy backlink profile, gets traffic and has backlinks, no broken links, good word count and no changes needed
- Content update: has traffic and links, but the content is stale
- Content update (quick): has traffic and links but needs a quick fix (< 20 minutes)
- Merge / Merge target: – similar content that could be merged into one piece
- Delete and redirect: – poor backlink profile, no traffic, broken links, duplicate content or no longer relevant
Once the first manual review was complete I took care of all the quick updates.
For example, I updated:
- Third-party videos
- Meta descriptions/meta tags
Then I moved onto the big bulk of content optimisation…
The Content Optimisation Process
The next step was to optimise every URL on the site. (Even the ones that “passed”.)
The process was split into 4x steps that I managed on Trello:
Optimisation #1: New Page Layouts
The 1st step was to update all pages to a new page layout.
In 2016 I removed all of the sidebars from my posts because my A/B tests showed they performed better:
But I felt they were too hard to read because of the width. My readers said similar.
So I decided to make the page slightly narrower:
I also added a blue background to each of my headers to make them easier to see when scrolling.
Optimisation #2: Featured Snippet Opportunities
The 2nd step was to highlight any featured snippet opportunities in the posts.
This would give me an optimal chance to rank in position zero if (and when) I hit first page rankings in the search results.
I found these opportunities by searching for featured snippet “trigger” words, like:
For example, in my What Is SEO guide I found these opportunities:
- What is SEO?
- Why Do You Need SEO?
- How Much Does SEO Cost?
- How Long Does It Take To See SEO Results?
- Is SEO Dead?
And for each of the featured snippets that existed, I took note of the:
- Number of words used
I then replicated – and improved upon – the existing snippet in my post and every other post on the blog.
Optimisation #3: Adding Visual “Pop”
The 3rd step was to add some “visual pop” to the content.
This would make the content more enjoyable to read and help to keep people on the page for longer.
To do this I used the WP Shortcodes Pro Plugin which has lots of effects to work with.
I felt it would be good if at least one “statement” per post had a Click2Tweet box. So sentences like this:
Even if nobody ever tweets it, it looks much better on the page.
I also felt the text could use a little “pop” too. Especially in places like my lists:
So I used these effects:
- List icons
I looked for important sentences in my posts, like the ones with facts and figures:
And used the highlight shortcode and bold to make them stand out:
Much better, right?
These changes are so easy to make but drastically improve the flow and readability of your content and therefore your SEO progress.
Optimisation #4: Adding A Table Of Contents
One of the staples of my blog was the “What You Will Learn” section and you’ve seen many other popular blogs in this niche start to use it.
It was a cool feature, but it was outdated.
So I decided to replace it with an interactive table of contents but under the “What You Will Learn” banner-
The table of contents has 2x great benefits:
Users can click and be taken to specific locations on the page:
Google can show these links alongside my Google search results:
All you need to do is install the free table of contents plus plugin and then use the [ toc ] shortcode before the first H2 tag in your post:
It will automatically pull and create internal anchor links for all of the header tags in the post.
Combining the steps of featured snippet optimisation with a table of contents has allowed me to get a featured snippet AND site links on the same results page:
So now the pages look good and are optimised, it’s time to make them fast…
Change #2: Speed Optimisation
One of the biggest problems that “crept” in was site speed.
Not only was the blog loading slower than ever before, but it was also:
- Performing poorly on Google PageSpeed
- Delivering a below average mobile experience
To improve these numbers…
I started by removing or consolidating any non-essential:
- Tracking pixels
That provided little value and a lot of “weight” to my site.
I then used ShortPixel to compress all of the site’s images:
I installed WPRocket to optimise the loading of each page:
After tweaking some of the settings the speed improvement was significant! (check out my full WP Rocket review for more SEO progress information)
Here are the numbers now:
And the major improvements across the site:
- Average page size reduced by 62% (2,262KB vs. 843KB)
- Average number of requests reduced by 59% (166 vs 68)
- Average load time reduced by 41% (6.4 seconds vs 3.8)
- Average mobile Google page speed score increased by 78% (28 vs 50)
- Average desktop Google speed score increased by 29% (72 vs 93)
If you have a Shopify store, I suggest you either:
- Look at my Shopify speed optimization tips to increase your website speed.
- Download a few Shopify SEO tools to help you with your optimizations.
Change #3: Brand New Homepage Design
The biggest change to the site has been the new homepage design.
The old homepage was focused on ME as a blogger and not YOU as a reader.
The homepage was just a list of my latest posts…
The site needed a new homepage that focused on YOU.
It needed to help you to solve YOUR problems, quickly and easily.
So I updated it to look like this:
Not only does it help connect peoples problems to solutions quicker, it also helps control the flow of link juice from the homepage across the site.
And so far the results (and reactions) have been mostly positive.
Change #4: Adding 3x Portal Pages
User feedback showed me that it was IMPOSSIBLE for users to find the content they needed.
So, I used my KISS! mantra – (keep it simple, stupid!) – to improve navigation.
I wanted users to be able to match problems to solutions as quickly as possible.
Based on the results of my survey, I created 3x portal pages:
Each portal helps a different sub-section of users to rapidly find the content they need:
These portal pages also provide a huge SEO boost. Why?
- Provide an easy-to-crawl structure on their site
- Share link-juice across multiple internal links
Change #5: Revamp & Simplify Site Navigation
I felt like the site’s header had become dated and confusing.
This is how it used to look:
So I asked the MyThemeShop team to redesign both:
- My header design
- The primary navigation
And this is how it looks now:
It’s much simpler and easier to use with a cleaner look AND a call to action!
Change #6: Overall Site Structure
All of these changes had a massive impact on the structure of my website.
I’ll be honest…
My original structure was a hot mess!
The optimal site structure is easy to crawl and has ALL pages within 3x clicks of the homepage. (Personally, I think that building a silo structure is the best option).
…my pages were scattered…
…and the majority of my pages were 7x to 10x clicks away from the homepage:
Meaning they were getting zero internal link juice. (And were SUPER hard to find.)
But just by-
- Using my homepage as an “anchor” for all pages
- Adding the portal pages
- Improving the primary navigation
And put the majority of pages within 1x to 4x clicks from the homepage:
I still have some work to do here especially with migrating to a new URL structure – but there has been huge SEO progress so far!
Change #7: Fix All Outstanding Technical Website SEO Problems
The final step was to fix all of those pesky technical issues.
Earlier I showed you how to check for these problems using 1x of these SEO tools:
I found that I had a number of underlying problems:
I then spent the next few weeks working through each of the problems on the list.
Once I fixed all the problems I re-scanned my site to check I hadn’t created any new issues in the process.
It was a HUGE task. But, as you’re about to find out it paid off big time…
The Results: My Best Rankings EVER
The results of all this hard work?
My website is ranking better than EVER. and I rescued my domain authority and page authority before it was too late.
Here are the headlines:
- 1,284 results in top 3x positions (up from 578x)
- Beat my previous top ranking by 284x results
- Added 5,940x ranking keywords to the site
But there’s still huge room for improvement & a lot more to do!
And Google is still yet to crawl a lot of the changes.
But that’s fine because I still have a lot more changes to make such as-
- Migrating to a new permalink structure (high risk)
- To finish updating older content with what I learnt from the SEO analysis
- Adding Schema markup to each blog post using RankMath (test your schema with a schema tester)
- Further increasing site speed with mobile in mind
- Split tests different website elements (e.g cartoon in site header vs. an image of me)
- Continue deploying on site and off site EAT signals
But It’s Not All Smooth Sailing
I also need to do a complete backlink audit because during the production of this post, the blog came under negative SEO attack (again)–
And traffic started to drop with the new core update but has levelled off-
Thankfully it’s still higher than it was in all the years before BUT that does mean there is much less risk in changing the structure of my URL to a new format based on the portal pages.
For example these URL’s-
This is a high risk move!
Essentially I am relying on 301’s and Google to pass the link juice and rank the pages in the same way combined with changing the entire structure of my site at the same time.
But it is the right move from a user perspective – your feedback told me so.
It will also help to keep things more tightly organised which in turn will only help connect you to solutions quicker.
Plus Google are still yet to cache or re-crawl a lot of my changes and I still have a lot of changes to make- specifically around onsite and offsite EAT signals but that’s a different story for a different day.
Remember: Whatever your website is about, you must have high levels of EAT in your pages or they won’t rank. This is even more important for website owners with YMYL content.
I would love to know…
What is your favourite SEO checker audit tool?
When was the last time you did an On-Page SEO audit?
Because I’m always shocked by what I find – what about you?
Reach out to me on my social media channels or in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are SEO Audits important?
It’s important to do an annual SEO audit so you can uncover and fix any potential problems that have crept it. Websites are constantly changing with new content, plugins, tracking scripts and so on – so it’s important to do an SEO audit every year to make sure something isn’t holding you back.
How do I do a SEO audit?
Unless you have extensive technical SEO knowledge, it’s pretty hard to do a full audit yourself. However I have designed the 5 step common sense SEO audit process which anyone can follow easily. Just follow the steps in the full tutorial above.
What is included in an SEO audit?
An SEO audit will look at all aspects of your sites SEO. This includes but is not limited to on page SEO factors like page speed, structure, content, title tags, meta descriptions along with off page factors like link building and penalty diagnosis.
How much is an SEO audit?
A deep technical audit will take anywhere between 2 and 4 weeks for an experienced professional to complete. You can expect to pay around $2,000 for a technical SEO audit with Search Logistics.