It’s hard to believe that only 7-8 years ago, the majority of the global population was living a life of high decadence. Buying their papayas from Waitrose, sucking Cristal through straws made of gold, iPads being used as serving trays; it was sheer indulgence. But then, something called ‘recession’ happened – bankers started evicting orphans, politicians actually ate money for breakfast and people all over the world were forced, almost at gunpoint, to start living within their means.
The oligarchs and Murdochian mad men who own the newspapers created a new word to try and describe this. ‘Austerity’ they called it, and the British public lapped it up, selling their supercars just so they could afford the rent on their Spanish holiday homes. Now we’re in 2013, people are waking up to empty bank accounts and cupboards full of tinned papaya – not the fresh stuff they once enjoyed so plentifully.
The point of the long, illogical, nonsensical and, just generally, stupid, introduction is that people these days have no money. That means things that are free are suddenly very appealing. That’s why, in this blog post, I’m going to tell you how I would conduct an SEO audit for free…I probably should have just said that in the first paragraph, but good things come to those who wait, as Will Young once famously proclaimed.
SEO auditing tools
The first stage in my free SEO audit process is to download and install a programme called ‘Screaming Frog’. I’ll have to disappoint a lot of my readers and say that, no, this isn’t something you can use to torture amphibians, but it’s actually something that will crawl through the site you are auditing and pull lots of extremely useful information.
To give you a brief overview, these include the URL, status code, the page title, Meta description, Meta keywords, header tags, robot directives, canonical specifications, page size, word count, internal links in, links out, and the level of the page within the hierarchy of the site. In short, this free tool will give you useful information that is easy to filter and manage, regarding almost every aspect of your on-page SEO. Click the image below to see it full size:
I suppose I should tell the truth – it’s free on websites of up to 500 pages, but after that it requires you pay an annual membership fee. Fortunately, for those of you doing an SEO audit on a larger scale, there’s quite a simple way around this. You simply enter a specific subdomain into the tool, and then it will crawl all the pages associated with that subdomain. So, if I wanted to only crawl pages on the blog section of SEO Inbound, all I’d do is enter “http://seoinbound.co.uk/the-blog/”, and let the tool work its magic. This means you can use Screaming Frog for free on large website, but it will just mean the data is fragmented. Importing everything into a single excel spread sheet will counteract this though.
What to do with SEO audit data?
The first items I will look at in the data I’ve harvested from Screaming Frog are the page Titles and Meta descriptions. A handy feature of Screaming Frog is that it gives you the option to export duplicate titles, or titles that are over 70 characters long. This will allow you to quickly identify Page Titles that are likely to need editing, or some form of modification. Conversely, if you’re worried about your page titles being too short, you can order the list by ‘Title Length’, and quickly identify any elements that will need to be optimised for search engine performance.
You can organise the Meta Descriptions in a similar way, by exporting those that are duplicates or consist of over 170 characters, allowing you to quickly find any that are erroneous so they can be flagged up in the audit.
The next thing I look for are any status codes that show pages aren’t working as they should. Using Screaming Frog I’ll filter the list by ‘Client Error (4xx)’, and export that into a .csv file. I can use this to find out what pages aren’t working properly and put the correct measures in place, which tends to be a 301 redirect to the correct page. I will also just check through the existing 301 redirects and make sure that none of them are broken and they are all pointing to relevant pages.
I’ll check through the canonical tags, making sure they are all formatted correctly. This is particularly important as incorrect canonical tags, especially on a large-scale site, can be an SEO’s worst nightmare, creating hundreds of pages of duplicate content. Are the header tags relevant to the content on the page, and are they using generic words, or targeted keywords? Again, this is easily checked using Screaming Frog.
Finding Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is a real issue for SEO’s, particularly on large websites. Just to clarify, duplicate content is only an issue when it occurs on the same domain, and it’s incredibly important that you avoid this. Google don’t want to present users with multiple results of exactly the same content, and it’s the job of webmasters to make sure this doesn’t happen. While the expensive SEO tools often offer some form of duplicate content finder, there is a free alternative – Google.
Using the site search operator on Google, I’ll enter the URL of the website I’m auditing. If I was doing an audit on SEO Inbound, I’d enter the following:
And this will show me all the pages in Google’s index from SEO Inbound. I’ll then scroll through to the last page of results, and if I see something like this:
I will know that there is a problem with duplicate content. By looking through the results that Google has filtered out of the search results, I can learn about what is causing duplicate results, and what measures need to be put in place to correct this.
Free off-page SEO Audit
There really isn’t a free tool you can use to complete a full free SEO audit, unfortunately. Of course, you could always hassle your friends with an SEOmoz Pro, Ahrefs or MajesticSEO paid account, but I don’t have any friends – so, for me this isn’t an option.
With this being the case, both Ahrefs and MajesticSEO offer some functionality without needing to pay. I personally prefer MajesticSEO as I think it offers a bit more information for free as you’ll be able to learn about the top ten most powerful links associated with the URI you are auditing. You’ll probably have to do a fair bit of digging about on top of this, but if you get paid based on your free SEO audit, then you’ll be able to invest in a full account.
The best free SEO audit tool
The best free SEO audit tool isn’t something you can download, or install, or beat with a stick…it’s a real life human being! When I run an SEO audit on a website, I try to find five casual internet users (non-SEOs), and ask them a couple of simple questions about the site.
- Do they like the design of the website?
- Do they trust the website?
- From looking at the homepage – what have they learned about the products or services on offer?
- Based on the keywords the site is offering – to they think the site could answer queries associated with those keywords?
You get the idea, general questions and based on the answers, you can learn some valuable information about how users accessing the site interpret it. You can even make suggestions based on the answers the people who looked at the site have given.
I’ll also find five of the most important pages on the website – meaning the five pages that are most likely to bring in the most revenue, and I’ll ask a similar set of questions for those pages. I’ll also ask my website guinea pigs to navigate to the five pages from the homepage, and learn about the route they take and how easy those pages are to find.
I find the best information about the ease of navigation on a website comes from learning how regular users actually use the site. Based on your findings, you can suggest improvements that need to be made to improve the ease of navigation on the site your auditing.
So there you have it, based on that information you can run a pretty basic SEO audit for free and quickly identify any issues that is stopping the audited website from ranking at its optimal leve.