Wordtracker’s new Site Audit tool (available at no extra cost within the Keywords tool) crawls your site like a search engine and relays back information about the different elements of the site which could be changed to make it more search engine-friendly.
This article breaks down what those elements are and the obstacles which the tool may highlight for you. Understanding these obstacles is key to being able to act on the results and provide better SEO for your site. For information on how to set up your site audit check out our step-by-step guide
How we find the problems
In the same way that a search engine assesses a page and looks at different elements within it, the Site Audit tool will identify elements within your site and show you which ones need to be improved.
The site audit lists obstacles - problems which may stop the search engines finding or promoting your content. It shows you which page and within which element they appear. This way you can quickly find and fix those obstacles. Find out more about it in How to perform a successful SEO site audit
Remember, just running the Site Audit tool won’t improve your SEO. Understanding and acting on the results will.
All the obstacles that the tool can report are listed below, alongside the information needed for you to fix them. This image shows the tabs where you can access the obstacles that the Site Audit tool has uncovered:
Page Title and Page Description
Page Title refers to the contents of the title element within the page’s meta tags. The Page Description refers to the description tag, also found within the meta data. The obstacles that can be encountered are:
- Title/Description too long
- Title/Description too short
- Title/Description missing
- Title/Description is duplicate
The correct way to write Titles and Descriptions is covered within the Title and Description Wizard article. The above obstacles are as obvious as they sound. Both elements should be present, unique and of a certain length. The article goes through the exact parameters for each and how to create well optimized Titles and Descriptions.
Headings refer to the
- Headings Missing
- Multiple h1 headings
- H1 heading not optimized
Each page should have a <h1> heading. The <h1> refers to the html code which is used to create the heading tag:
This is an important part of your on page optimization. While altering the use of this element is not likely to have a dramatic impact on rankings, in combination with other factors it can have an effect. This is also an import part of accessibility, as users of screen readers use them as navigational elements within the page. This is why the Headings Missing obstacle is given if we do not detect them on page.
Headings should also be used in order, with the <h1> referring to the more important content or key headline on the page. If other headings are needed these should be used in descending order. So the <h1> tag should be used once, then the <h2>, <h3> etc. This is why if we detect that the <h1> has been used more than once we flag it up with the Multiple h1 headings obstacle.
When we do not find a match between the words used in your heading and the words within the page title then the H1 heading not optimized obstacle will be used. The heading should be optimized to reflect the main purpose or theme of your page, as should your page title. In short, one or more of your keywords should be present in both.
Images are an important part of making a page more appealing and can often be the focal point or central piece of content on a page. As such it’s important to ensure that your images are optimized effectively:
- Image Alt Tag Missing
Although search engines such as Google have come a long way in their understanding of the content of images, they are still a long way off being able to understand if the contents of an image relates to the contents of the page it is placed on.
The Alt Tag Missing obstacle relates to the information which can be placed in the page code about an image. As the search engine cannot literally ‘see’ the image, the alt tag allows you to add a short written description of it. In doing so you can show the search engine that the image is relevant to the content. Using your primary or secondary keywords within the alt tags of images can be a good way to increase the relevance of a page to your keywords. The idea is not to stuff all your keywords in the alt tag though, keep them varied and most importantly relevant to the image.
Every website needs to ‘live’ somewhere. This could be on a home computer, but the site would be live and accessible only when you turned your computer on. For people to be able to visit your site at any time you need a computer which is on all the time. This is essentially what a server is; a computer that is always on and connected to the internet which has a copy of your website on it. As most people don’t want a server sat in their living room they use a hosting company which rents out space on their servers.
When you type a website’s address into the address bar or follow a link to access a page the browser requests that information from the server, asking for the content found at the address (URL). This is a request to the server. Sometimes, when the server cannot display the content from that location, a server error is received instead. Server errors are listed as obstacles within the Server Error tab. The most common types you are likely to see are:
404 Error: This is when the server simply cannot find any content at that location. So the page may not exist or might have been moved to a new location and no redirect has been put in place. Check that you have actually typed in the correct URL and that there is meant to be content there.
403 Error: The content you are trying to access is forbidden. In this case the content sits within a forbidden location that cannot be accessed and this needs to be fixed from the server side. Try checking within your hosting control panel to see if there are any directories or folders that you have set to be restricted. If you have a development or IT support team this may be one for them.
500 Error: This is the most common error and simply means that the server was unable to fulfil the request for any reason. It is a ‘catch all’ error message and is best double checked in a few hours or the next day. When the server is under heavy load this may be the source of the error. Otherwise it is one for your hosting provider to take a look at.
The full list of server errors can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HTTP_status_codes
Checking the Server Error tab is a great way of finding broken links, as we list the URL which the link was on which directed the spider to the broken page. We’re planning to extend this feature in future so that all pages which a broken link is found on are listed, rather than just the one we found it through. This will help you to quickly identify where you need to update your content and change links.
Link building is a hot topic, and rightly so. However it’s not just the links which point to your page which are important. The links which point from your page to other locations are important as well. These are what we check in the Page Links tab:
- No Internal Links
- Too Many External Links
When a user or search engine finds a page, they need to have somewhere to go next. Having only external links on a page means the user is most likely to leave your site. All pages should have a link to the home page as a minimum. Where this is not the case then the No Internal Links obstacle will be shown.
When a search engine looks at a page they want to see lots of relevant content. Having links that point to relevant sites and content is good. However, having too many of these can be counterproductive. Large numbers of outbound links can dilute your pagerank and make the page look low quality.
The types of sites which have large numbers of outbound links on the page are not typically high quality. Sites like directories are a great example of this, multiple pages with lots of links on each one, pointing to lots of different sites. The Too Many External Links obstacle is used where a page has more than 20 external links which don’t use the no-follow tag.
The no-follow attribute is a html tag which can be individually applied to links or used within the meta data to apply at a page level. When you have too many links on a page the process should be to assess if you need those links, are they helping you to increase conversions or helping visitors.
It's easy to make your links no-follow, with a tiny piece of html code. Here's what a followed link looks like in html:
<a href="italian-cars.htm">italian cars</a>
and here's the same link, but no-followed:
<a href="italian-cars.htm" rel="nofollow">italian cars</a>
Your visitor doesn't see any difference, but the search engines understand not to follow this link - so you're not passing on any potential value to another page.
Where you have links you want to keep, consider applying the no-follow tag to those which you think have less value. An excellent example of this is if you check the comments on this page. These have the no-follow attribute as each page can amass many comments. This helps us to reduce comment spam as well. Find out more about this over at the Google Webmaster thread
There is no ‘magic bullet’ for SEO and this will take a little time to get right. It can also be pretty daunting to run your site and see hundreds of errors listed. The key here is, don’t panic, and have a methodical approach. Look at the pages with obstacles and list them by importance, tackling what you see as the most urgent pages with the most obstacles. Lots of value can get caught up in ‘lost’ pages. Following the site audit process can help to unlock this value and get your site ranking where it should be.
The Wordtracker support team is always available, so if you get stuck please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org You can also let us know which features you would like to see in future and any other improvements or suggestions.
About Owen Powis
Owen Powis is the lead SEO Consultant at Wordtracker and has a half decade of experience working as an SEO Consultant. That time has been spent working at some of the UK's largest agencies dealing with clients ranging from SMEs to large blue chip organizations. He can be found @owenfantastic on Twitter.