Website Audit Checklist for 2021 [Template and 15-Step Guide]

In this guide we’re going to share our complete website audit checklist that you can use to boost your Google search rankings and get more traffic on your website.

Website audits can cover lots of areas, including your website’s technical performance, search engine optimization (SEO), user experience (UX), website content, design, and accessibility. The checklist and template presented here covers all of these topics.

A word of warning before we get started: there are lots of tools and software platforms out there that offer a “website audit” or “website check” or “website seo audit”, and some of them are even free! 

A templatized, one-size-fits-all website audit can be helpful as a starting point, but a real website audit needs to also take into account the specific needs, functionality and structure of the website. And every website (and every business) is different. Take the time to consider what’s important to your website (and to your business), and if you decide to work with an SEO consultant or order a professional website audit service, make sure they ask you questions about your business objectives and current pain points before they get started.

Website Audit Checklist Steps

This checklist is organized to help you be efficient, so as much as you can, try and follow the steps in order!

  • Step 1 is focused on some basic tool setup and getting some baseline data about traffic on your website and your current visibility in organic Google search results.
  • Steps 2–9 are focused on technical performance, clean-up, and optimization of the website as a whole.
  • Steps 10–12 are about improving your existing website content and on-page SEO.
  • Step 13 touches on what new content you might want to create on your website.
  • And finally, steps 14–15 will get you set up to monitor your website over time and make sure you are alerted automatically of any significant changes that need your attention.

Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Step 1: Get some baseline data with Google Analytics

Our first step is to understand how your website is performing right now. This will give us some baseline information that you can come back and review again later to check on how things have improved.

If you already have Google Analytics set up, great! If not, here are some resources to help get you started:

Note that in this guide you’ll see screenshots from Google Analytics Universal Analytics tracking properties, as opposed to the new GA4 property that is currently being introduced.

First, let’s check on your organic search traffic. In Google Analytics, navigate to the Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels section, and then click on the link for “Organic Traffic” to filter out just traffic from organic search.

Google Analytics Organic Traffic Report

In this example, you’ll see a very slight upward trend week to week in organic search traffic, which is just fine.

Google Analytics Organic Traffic Trend

It’s important to explore your website’s Google Analytics reports and understand what your current, typical traffic mix looks like. You might want to explore:

  • Are there normal seasonal trends in traffic?
  • Are some traffic channels growing or declining? If so, can we identify changes in our marketing behavior that could have caused those changes?
  • Which pages are the most popular on the website? (Check out the Behavior > Site Content reports for these insights).

Step 2: Make sure Google is only indexing one version of your website

Many website owners don’t realize that it’s possible for search engines to index four different versions of your site. That’s because from a Google crawler’s perspective, these are all different URLs:

  • http://example.com
  • http://www.example.com
  • https://example.com
  • https://www.example.com 

That’s definitely not a good thing: you need to have your website settings and redirect rules set up to ensure that all four of versions resolve to a single version.

You should definitely be forcing all users to load your webpages over the secure https protocol (which requires a valid and properly installed SSL certificate to avoid browser warnings).

Whether or not you choose to prioritize the www or non-www version matters less. What matters, however, is consistency. Pick one version to use, and make sure all your internal links reflect that. And if you decide to use the www prefix, make sure the non-www URLs all redirect to the www URLs (or the other way around).

To test your current configuration, replace “example.com” in the list above with your root domain, and try typing each of the four variations into your browser. If your configuration is correct, they should all resolve to the same version.

For example, when you type “http://bluehillsdigital.com” into a browser, the URL resolves both to the version served over secure https and with the www prefix.

Ensuring only one version of your website is displayed to users

Step 3: Check that your website is mobile friendly

Making sure your website is easy to use on mobile devices is more important than ever, for two reasons:

Luckily, Google has a simple free tool to test URLs for mobile friendliness.

If any issues impacting mobile-friendliness are detected, you’ll see suggestions about fixes you can implement.

Google Mobile Friendly Testing Tool

Step 4: Improve your website’s speed

Similar to the mobile-friendliness check, website page load times are another area to monitor and work to improve. A website with pages that load quickly offer a better user experience, and page speed is one of the “ranking factors” considered by Google.

The recent Core Web Vitals update expands this focus on the user’s experience of how a webpage loads. The Core Web Vitals update also prioritizes the visual stability of webpages as they load and the time it takes for elements on a webpage to become interactive.

Luckily there are a couple of free, simple tools you can use to test your website speed and performance against these criteria.

First, run your website URL through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool:

Google PageSpeed Insights Results

PageSpeed Insights provides reports on mobile and desktop performance, and uses both lab and field data. Lab data is collected in a controlled environment and will be available for all websites. Additionally if your website has sufficient traffic, field data may also be available from real user sessions.

Additionally you may want to explore other speed and performance testing tools:

Don’t be surprised if you get different results from all of these tools. You’ll even get different results for the same URL from the same tool from test to test, since each time the test is performed conditions will be different (as they are for real-world users).

Here’s an example of URL report from GT Metrix:

GT Metrix Page Speed Report

However the results and technical suggestions will point you in the right direction for opportunities to speed up your website.

Generally, opportunities to speed up your website will come from two places:

  • Optimizing page load times (for example, by optimizing images, leveraging caching, using content delivery network)
  • Moving to better hosting provider (web hosting is an area where you often get what you pay for)

Step 5: Remove low-quality and unnecessary pages from Google’s index

This step is a favorite, because it makes the rest of the audit much easier!

It’s often a surprise to website owners just how many URLs Google has indexed on a website.

Open up Google and enter the query “site:yourdomain.com”, and check the total number of URLs returned:

Google Search Total URLs Crawled

This total number is often much higher than the total number of truly valuable content pages or blog posts on your website.

Google has made clear that including low-quality content in the group of pages indexed by Google certainly will not help your search rankings, and in some cases may harm your rankings. At minimum, more of Google’s “crawl budget” will be wasted indexing low-quality, low-value pages.

This doesn’t mean you should delete these pages from your website. But you should flag them with a noindex tag so that they will be excluded from the group of pages indexed by search engines.

Potentially low quality pages that are often indexed by default might include:

  • Taxonomy archive pages for categories or tags
  • Paginated archive pages
  • Pages that are not relevant to search engines, such as your Privacy Policy page, or your user login page

For more insight on the question of whether more content is better, check out this short discussion with Google’s Martin Splitt:

Step 6: Fix indexing problems using Google Search Console

Related to the previous step, let’s take a closer look at what Google is indexing on your website and what indexing issues the crawlers are encountering.

To do this, we’ll use the free tool Google Search Console.

If you don’t already have Google Search Console set up for your website, here’s a link to the official Google Search Console Beginners Guide.

To check for any indexing issues, open up the Index > Coverage report. Here, you’ll see a breakdown of the indexing status of all the URLs on your website that Google is aware of, along with details of any errors.

Google Search Console Index Coverage Report

In the image above you’ll see two URLs with an error related to the noindex tag. Once an error is fixed on your website, click on the error in the “Details” section of the page to “Validate” your fix. This may take a few days to complete.

You should also click over onto the grey “Excluded” tab to view details of the URLs that have been excluded from indexing. Make sure there aren’t any pages that have been excluded by mistake!

Broken links result in poor user experience, so it’s worth trying to resolve any broken links that are resulting in that “404 page not found” error message on your website.

Using the same Google Search Console Index > Coverage report we used in Step 6, you’ll see details of any broken links in the red “Errors” tab.

The example website below includes one URL with a “soft 404” error that should be resolved:

Google Search Console 404 Errors Report

Next, we’ll need to use a different tool to check for broken internal and external links that your webpages may contain. Professional website audit tools like SEMrush include broken link checking in their site audit tool suites.

Alternatively, there are also free tools like Broken Link Checker you can use for this purpose.

Here’s an example of a SEMrush Site Audit report revealing 22 broken internal links:

SEMrush Broken Link Check

Backlinks are links to pages on your website from other websites.

Backlinks are still a significant signal that contributes to search engine visibility, but it’s important to remember that not all backlinks are equally valuable.

The SEO benefit conferred on your website by a backlink depends on the domain authority (think of this as the quality, trustworthiness, and prominence) of the referring website.

Conversely, having too many backlinks pointing to your website from low-quality, spammy websites can negatively impact your website.

To analyze your backlink profile, you’ll need a tool like SEMrush (that’s what we use). Other options include Moz, Majestic, and Ahrefs.

Here’s a sample of a website Backlink Audit provided by SEMrush:

SEMrush Backlink Audit Report

In this example, no backlinks are identified as “potentially toxic” or “toxic,” which is great. If any backlinks to your website are identified as potentially toxic, you should follow Google’s guidance to consider whether the risk is enough to formally disavow those links.

Bear in mind that having a few spammy backlinks in your overall link profile is normal, and nothing to worry about. But if the balance of low quality backlinks to high quality backlinks starts to tip towards the low quality, spammy it will start to negatively impact your domain authority — that’s when you need to take action.

Final note: don’t pay for backlinks. Invest your money in quality content instead.

Step 9: Check your website against user accessibility guidelines

In this step, we’ll use a free tool provided by the WebAIM to check your website against accessibility standards.

Open the WAVE tool from WebAIM and enter a URL from your website. You may need to run the tool on several different pages from your website to make sure all your standard page layouts are set up correctly.

You’ll see a report that looks like this:

Accessibility report generated by WAVE WebAIM tool

The panel on the left includes a summary of the errors, warnings and accessibility features the tool identified on the page. You can click into the details tab to view more information about which page elements triggered the different checks.

You also click the badges overlaid on the webpage itself to get more information about specific elements.

Step 10: Improve on-page SEO for your most important content

Now we’re drilling down to the page level to look for SEO improvements.

For this step, pick a handful of the most important pages on your website to focus on. Here are some good places to start:

  • Pages or blog posts that target keywords that are important to your business
  • Pages that could boost your business if they attracted more traffic
  • Pages that already have a strong search presence but could get even higher (look at pages that are on page 2 of the Google search results and could reach page 1)

First of all, make sure your pages are optimized for their target keyword. Use this resource to learn more about conducting keyword research. If nothing else, make sure your target keyword or keyphrase is included in the page title, and in the first paragraph of content.

Second, make sure your pages are well connected to other relevant pages on the internet. Website crawling and indexing takes place by following links, so ensuring your webpages have these connections is key. Make sure to include:

  • Internal links to other relevant content on your own website
  • External links to reliable sources of relevant information on other websites

Third, make sure your content is easy to skim-read:

  • Use short sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists wherever possible.
  • Structure the content using subheadings that follow a clear hierarchy.
  • Include images, diagrams, graphics, and video where possible.

Step 11: Make sure your content gives users what they are looking for

Google wants to display the pages that will deliver the best user experience. For many search queries, this means answering the user’s question or providing relevant information about the topic they searched for.

Search engines (likely) pay attention to how much time a user spends on a page after clicking through from a search query. If users quickly return to the search and continue clicking on other results, that’s probably an indication that the user did not find what they were looking for on your page.

For all those important pages on your website that you identified in the previous step, consider what a searching user is likely to want when they enter your target keyword into Google. Make sure your page gives them what they are looking for!

Step 12: Organize your website navigation

Your website’s navigation structure is the easiest way to think about your overall site architecture: how pages are grouped together and organized into a hierarchy of importance.

Having a clean, simple website architecture is important for three reasons:

  1. It’s easier for users to understand what your website is about and find the content they are looking for.
  2. It’s easy for search engine crawlers to find all your content and index the website accurately.
  3. It communicates to Google (and your users) which pages are more or less important.

The first image below is an example of a messy, unclear site architecture. Notice a few things?

  • Some pages are buried four or five levels deep below the homepage
  • The distribution of pages between sections is uneven
  • Some pages are only accessible by going “down” into a section and then “across”
  • Some pages are “orphaned” – they don’t have a parent page and are not connected into the overall architecture.
Complex website architecture

On the other hand, here’s an example of a clean, simple website architecture. These examples generally appear more “flat” when mapped out in a sitemap diagram like this.

  • All pages are tied in to the overall architecture
  • All pages can be reached from the homepage within 3 clicks
Simple website architecture

Step 13: Peek at your competitors’ websites and identify content gaps

Next up, use a tool like SEMrush to spy on some of your competitors’ websites and see what organic keywords they are ranking for.

If you’re using SEMrush, you can enter any domain into the Organic Research tool and get a list of their top organic keywords (as well as an estimate of how much organic traffic they receive).

Here’s a preview of the Organic Research results page from SEMrush for Squarespace’s domain.

SEMrush Organic Research Squarespace

Once you’ve checked a few of your competitors’ websites, you’ll start to identify some content gaps: keywords that your competitors are ranking for that are missing from your own rankings. Consider these keywords, or related terms, for new content development on your website.

Step 14: Set up recurring website health monitoring and alerts

Congratulations – you almost made it to the end. Step 14 and 15 are all about making sure you continue to stay on top of all of the website performance issues we’ve cover in this checklist.

If you invest in a professional SEO tool, you can set up a recurring website audit which will scan your website on a regular schedule and alert you to a wide range of the issues we’ve covered in this guide.

We use SEMrush to run regular site audits, and happily recommend their suite of SEO tools.

Here’s an example of the Site Audit dashboard provided by SEMrush. This website is scanned every week and verified users receive an email alert about changes in the numbers of errors, warnings and notices across over 100 different audit checks.

SEMrush Site Audit Report Sample

Step 15: Set up keyword position tracking and alerts

If you have invested the time in doing keyword research and optimizing your website content, you’re probably interested in tracking whether your positions in the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) is increasing or decreasing.

Consider using SEMrush’s Position Tracking tool (or an equivalent keyword position tracker) to monitor the positions of your target keywords.

Here’s a sample from the Position Tracking Overview dashboard from the SEMrush position tracking tool for a client website with an active SEO campaign, tracking positions for 100 target keywords:

SEMrush Keyword Position Tracking Report

Explore our Website Audit Services

Conducting a full website audit takes time. And once you’ve gathered the information detailed in this guide it can be difficult to prioritize website improvements.

Our Working Website Audit service is designed to solve this problem for busy website owners. For an affordable price, we’ll conduct a one-time SEO and website health audit and share the results with you on a 45-minute Zoom video call with detailed recommendations on the top priority items to address.

Learn more and schedule your Working Website Audit.

Share this resource: