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.
This left me with 2x choices:
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?
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:
Whether you are an SEO old hat or a small business owner this audit is simple to follow. Here goes…
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-
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.
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:
…that talks about SEO, traffic and making money – it’s what you said you want so it is what I decided to give you.
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…
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.
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-
Each of these tests is performed using 5x URLs from your site.
And the other 2x are up to you.
I’ll be using these URLs:
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.
Google is now a mobile-first search engine.
To see if your site is hitting the search results on a mobile-first basis go to your inbox and search:
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.
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:
There are lots of areas I need to make sure I improve my SEO progress on.
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…
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.
Structured data organizes your site’s information.
You can structure data like:
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:
Giving you an indirect rankings boost.
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…
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:
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Content is the face of my business. So, I started here.
I took two steps:
To perform the content audit I created a spreadsheet listing:
If you don’t have access to those SEO tools it won’t take long to put together manually-
I also added two columns:
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:
Once the first manual review was complete I took care of all the quick updates.
For example, I updated:
Anything that got me a quick-win and required less than 20 minutes of time. You could also run content through my SEO copywriting checklist for some additional quick wins.
Then I moved onto the big bulk of content optimisation…
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:
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.
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:
You can do this by going to each post and hitting “Ctrl + F”:
For example, in my What Is SEO guide I found these opportunities:
I then went to Google search results to see if a featured snippet existed for each of them:
And for each of the featured snippets that existed, I took note of the:
I then replicated – and improved upon – the existing snippet in my post and every other post on the blog.
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:
To give these often overlooked sections a much better feel:
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.
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…
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:
This is how it was performing before:
To improve these numbers…
I started by removing or consolidating any non-essential:
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:
This SEO progress was so great that I’m embarrassed that I allowed it to get out of control.
If you have a Shopify store, I suggest you either:
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.
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?
The portals will now form the basic framework for all my future content.
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:
And this is how it looks now:
It’s much simpler and easier to use with a cleaner look AND a call to action!
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-
I was able to bring order to the chaos:
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!
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…
Want to see another successful SEO audit? Check out my 4 step seo audit results!
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:
You can see the growth recorded here in Ahrefs SEO checker:
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-
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.