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How to get started with an SEO site audit

Author: Olga Zarr

an image of author Olga Zarr, accompanied by various search-related iconography, including bar charts, a pie chart, and mock-up clicks and impressions metrics

Running a site audit is all about knowing what to look for and where to look for it. Since some sites can have tens of thousands of pages (or even more), this task can be quite a challenge for SEOs and site owners.

Nevertheless, with the right guidance from an SEO that has run hundreds of audits (me), you can still conduct a successful, informative site audit—even if you’re a relative novice.

This guide will help you learn how to get started with a site audit, including:

Why are SEO site audits important?

Site audits are like regular health checks with your doctor: In order to stay healthy and perform at your best, you need to undergo regular health exams. It’s no different with websites, except that now, you are the doctor.

Moving beyond that analogy, here are some more compelling reasons to regularly audit your site:

  • Site audits help you diagnose critical technical issues before they become a huge problem (e.g., a noindex tag “accidentally” added to pages that should be indexed or improperly implemented redirects that would result in 404 errors).

  • Site audits help you get a comprehensive overview of your site’s (or your client’s site’s) SEO, enabling you to come up with a prioritized list of recommendations.

  • Site audits can help you identify low-hanging fruit—these are low-effort, high-impact optimization opportunities that may result in quick SEO wins. This can be especially valuable as PPC typically brings quick results, while SEO generally takes some time.

  • An in-depth SEO audit can be a solid foundation for a successful long-term SEO strategy.

  • Site audits help you familiarize yourself with and understand the website. If you are auditing a new client’s site, this knowledge will be invaluable.

Now that I’ve gone over some of the opportunities that site audits can help you take advantage of, I want to share with you the gist of my many years of experience as an SEO and a site auditor.

Best practices for comprehensive SEO site audits

Fundamentally, site audits are a communication tool: They convey potentially business-critical information to you, your teammates, as well as other important decision makers (i.e., your client or your head of marketing). You don’t want to create a useless report that no one will understand and want to read.

What you want to do is provide a map to remove roadblocks that are preventing the site you’re auditing from bringing in more visitors and/or revenue.

Here are my three best practices to help you perform SEO audits that actually move the needle.

01. Start with a manual review

This step is crucial and will help you get to know the site from the perspective of the target audience—at the end of the day, it’s all about users and their experience, isn’t it?

All you need to do is simply open the website and browse it as if you were a typical user. Don’t forget to use your phone to see what it looks like on a mobile device as well.

Navigate through the main menu to visit its main pages and get a general feel for the site. Ask yourself:

01. Do you immediately see something amiss? (e.g., the site is loaded with “Read more” and “Learn more” links or it barely works on mobile)

02. Is the site taking too long to load (especially compared to competitors’ sites)?

03. Do all the elements load correctly? (e.g., does the Mobile-Friendly Test screenshot show all the elements or are there blanks in place of text or images)

04. Is it easy to navigate the site?

05. Are there any frustrating aspects of the site? (e.g., intrusive pop-ups or unexpected layout shifts)

I often spot a ton of opportunities for optimization during this very first step. With time and experience, this will become second nature for you.

Once you’ve conducted your manual review and answered the questions above (and wrote notes about what you discovered to include in your full audit), it’s time to look at the site as if you were Googlebot.

02. Analyze Google Search Console data

Your next step (before diving deep into the main auditing part), should be to check Google Search Console.

A screenshot of a report within Google Search Console showing indexed and non-indexed pages.

Google Search Console (GSC), a free technical SEO tool provided by Google, lets you literally see the site through Google’s eyes.

Listen to what Google has to say about the site first and do your own SEO analysis next.

Some of the GSC reports you should pay special attention to include:

  • The Indexing reports, which let you see how many pages are indexed and if there are indexing issues

  • The Experience reports (especially the Core Web Vitals report), which let you check whether real-world users struggle with the site’s performance

  • The Enhancements reports, which let you validate your structured data

  • The Security & Manual Actions reports, which let you check if the site has been hacked or penalized by Google

  • The Crawl Stats report, lets you see how Google has been crawling the site and if there have been any recent issues

When you spot potentially serious issues in your GSC reports, make sure to prioritize and investigate them in your site audit!

03. Use multiple site crawlers

The crawling part of an SEO audit is extremely important. During this step, you gather all the crucial information you’ll need for further analysis.

Each crawler works a bit differently and will draw your attention to slightly different issues or SEO elements. That’s why I strongly recommend using multiple crawlers to get the entire picture.

My favorite setup consists of:

  • Screaming Frog SEO Spider (desktop-based)

  • Sitebulb (desktop-based)

  • JetOctopus (cloud-based)

  • Ahrefs or Semrush site audit (cloud-based)

I crawl the site with at least two of these tools (one cloud-based and one desktop-based crawler) and analyze what each tool has to say about the site. Each tool works a bit differently and has a slightly different scope of SEO issues it analyzes, so it is worth using both tools to get a more complete picture of the website.

Next, I make a decision about which issues are actually important and what I want to highlight in my SEO audit.

Caveat: The size of the site matters

Depending on the size of the site, it may not always be a good idea to crawl it with multiple crawlers.

For example, if you are auditing a huge eCommerce site that has millions of pages, you can probably stick with one fast crawler, like JetOctopus.

In that case, you will most likely be looking for patterns across groups of pages instead of providing detailed recommendations for specific pages. Conversely, if you are auditing a small or medium-sized site, you can go very deep and use multiple crawlers.

This is an awesome learning exercise for you as an SEO, too. Not only will you get to know the site very well, but you will also get familiar with those crawlers and how they work.

Common SEO site auditing mistakes to avoid

For obvious reasons, it’s important to be aware of best practices. But, it can be just as useful (and potentially timesaving) to know what mistakes to avoid as well.

Steer clear of these three mistakes and you will be on your way to creating informative, actionable site audits.

01. Don’t mindlessly follow SEO tool recommendations

Each SEO crawler has its own checklist of elements it analyzes and a list of its own recommendations. One of the biggest SEO audit mistakes you can make is to thoughtlessly follow what the tool suggests.

The tool does not know the context of the website. Only you know it. The crawler just knows what it’s programmed to look for. It is you—a human SEO with a brain—that should determine whether the issue a tool has flagged is actually an issue.

A screenshot of a screaming frog output flagging missing alt text for guest commenters’ avatar images.
Many crawlers will alert you of missing alt text. In this example, the missing alt text is for guest commenters’ avatar images—not a significant SEO issue.

For example, the tool may tell you that there are critical indexing problems with the site. You dig deep and see that one page (out of 10,000) has a noindex tag. Moreover, this is a relatively unimportant page.

Should you raise the alarm about indexing issues in your audit? Nope!

What if this noindex tag was present across the entire site? Should you raise an alarm then? It depends! You should if this is a production site, for example. You definitely should not if this is a staging site. It all depends on the context.

That’s why you should create your own list of SEO elements to check with the help of a crawler (or two).

It should never be the crawler that tells you what to check and, even worse, what the priority of that element is.

Crawlers rarely get it right. You need to. If you have not come up with your own site audit checklist yet, you may want to use my SEO audit guide.

02. Carefully assess the scale and severity of each issue

Automated site audits generated by SEO crawlers are always full of red and orange alerts screaming that this issue is critical or high priority. As noted in the section above, they rarely have anything to do with the actual state of things.

You should create your site audit based on your analysis of the data gathered during the crawling process and your knowledge of the context of the website.

That’s why you need to always take into account the following when assessing potential issues:

  • The actual scale of the issue (whether it concerns one page or 95% of pages)

  • The actual severity of the issue (whether it directly affects the site’s organic traffic or revenue)

For example, not having one already-indexed URL in the sitemap is not really an issue. However, having one million non-indexable URLs in an eCommerce site’s XML sitemap definitely is.

For auditing tools, those two will be viewed as similar issues, but you definitely know that they are not. That’s why you—the human SEO or site owner—is so crucial in each step of the site audit.

03. Don’t forget to execute JavaScript when crawling

Depending on how the site is set up, the source code and the rendered HTML may differ significantly.

The output from a crawler that does not have JavaScript crawling enabled (for a site built with JavaScript), showing a blank space in the results.
The output from a crawler that does not have JavaScript crawling enabled (for a site built with JavaScript).

If those differences relate to the main content of the site or SEO elements (like titles or meta descriptions), the site may have a serious problem.

That’s why it is critical to always execute JavaScript when crawling a site that has JS functionalities. Screaming Frog, Sitebulb, and JetOctopus all let you execute JavaScript and compare the rendered content against source code.

However, they may not execute JavaScript by default, which means you need to remember to configure them properly to do that for you. To do so, check the tool provider’s documentation.

Tools to help you conduct successful site audits

Here are some site auditing tools that I recommend, along with how I use them.

Additionally, you can also download Wix's free SEO site audit template to organize your audit.

an image of a site audit template. the text reads "SEO site audit template. Present site audit findings to clients in a format they can grasp, quickly. download now"

Auditing tools from Google

As mentioned in the section above (about using GSC for your audits), Google tools will show you how the search engine actually sees your site. I could argue that these are the most important SEO audit tools:

Note that Google Search Console is actually made of multiple tools and reports that are critically important. If you haven’t already, make it a priority to learn Google Search Console from A to Z. It’s even possible to audit a site using just Google Search Console.

Chrome extensions for site audits

There are lots of super useful Chrome extensions that will help you analyze various SEO elements.

At a bare minimum, you should be using:

Site crawlers

In most cases, you won’t be able to perform a decent SEO audit without crawling the site.

Here are the crawlers I recommend:

  • Screaming Frog SEO Spider (paid or free with limits) is a desktop-based crawler that includes recommendations.

  • Sitebulb (paid) is a desktop-based crawler that contains a ton of explanations and links to relevant articles about specific issues (ideal if you want to learn while auditing).

  • JetOctopus (paid) is cloud-based and the fastest crawler, making it suitable for larger websites that may have trouble crawling with desktop-based crawlers.

  • Ahrefs and/or Semrush (paid) both offer cloud-based crawlers that are good for ongoing site monitoring and learning about potential issues (like 404 pages) before they start affecting your users and traffic.

As mentioned earlier, I recommend using a combination of these crawlers during your audit to uncover as many potential issues as you can.

Site audits provide a roadmap, it’s up to you to follow it

Once you’ve completed your audit, you’ll have a list of issues that likely needs to be prioritized (from most to least impactful) so that you can act on them.

But, fixing issues is not usually flashy work, even though it could lead to more conversions for your business. That’s why it’s important to continuously report on your SEO efforts, so that stakeholders can see the business impact from your site audit, providing you with a stronger case for more SEO resources in the future.


Olga Zarr

Olga is the founder and CEO of SEOSLY, where she shares her knowledge in the form of in-depth articles, tutorials, and videos. As an SEO consultant with 10+ years of experience working at agencies and in-house, she specializes in technical SEO and in-depth audits. Twitter | Linkedin


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