48 Actionable Checks

Optimize Word Placement

Structure Great Code

Identify Unnatural Patterns

Weed out Duplicate Snippets

Elevate Novelty Scores



Checklist

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Screaming Frog Checks

Screaming Frog is a freemium, desktop site crawling tool that's amazingly powerful in the right hands. Let's begin this audit by running a fresh scan of the site using Screaming Frog.

First, navigate to Configuration > Spider and make sure the following values are set:

Ignore internal "nofollow": NO
Ignore external "nofollow": NO
Ignore robots.txt: NO
Show Internal URLs blocked by robots.txt: YES

Now enter site URL and clicking "scan".

We'll step through the results below.

Does all content have clearly-defined keyword targets?

If not, that should occur before going too much further. We recommend doing keyword research before moving any further, and matching all content with keyword goals.

Keyword Representation

Are any primary keywords not properly represented in the site's architecture?

Disambiguation Opportunities

Are there opportunities to fully and elaborately split off "secondary keyword goals" to their own pages?

Missing/Empty Titles

Would you pay for an AdWords ad and then leave out the headline?

On top of typically being the most visible portion of your search ad, words in the title tag are given extra weight.

Long Title Tags

Shown in the right pane of Screaming Frog under Page Titles and note any above 487 pixels.

The actual number of characters displayed in Google's results will relate to the width of actual characters, so ignore the "65 characters" thing.

Some theorize that long titles are harmful, and for good reason. Since Google won't actually display longer title text, it means an inferior experience for Google users, which Google is frequently vocal about avoiding. In the case of extremely long titles, there's evidence that it invites keyword stuffing penalties.

Is one cutting it close that you're not sure about? Check out at a time using Dr. Pete's title tag tool.

Short Title Tags

Shown in the right pane of Screaming Frog under Page Titles and note any below 200 pixels.

This isn't necessarily harmful, but it suggests that we're probably not getting all the keyword value that we could. Keywords in title tags seem to be given the most weight towards relevance out of any other placement.

Duplicate Title Tags

Shown in the right pane of Screaming Frog under Page Titles.

Google devalues more minor instances of duplicate content, and penalizes extreme and apparently manipulative practices. At very least, the title tag is treated with an extreme level of weight towards keywords, so it's well-worth fixing.

Titles Lead with Primary Keyphrase

Countless SEO experiments indicate that when it comes to keyword placement, earlier gets better results.

A possible exception occurred in a study by Thumbtack.com, where the results determined that keywords earliest in the DISPLAY title won out (since Google will sometimes not display the title in your title tag, but one that they made up).

So for advanced campaigns, this may be worth a 30-60 day A/B test. But for 95% of implementations, the ideal format is going to be as follows:

Page Primary Keyphrase | Page Secondary Keyphrase | Brand

Log any issues where the word placement doesn't match the pairings from our Keyword Strategy audit.

Bad Title Keyphrase Delimiters

The ideal delimiter for keywords in your title tags are the pipe symbol: |

Dashes are also popular, but imply connection of words. Less-than, greater-than, or ampersands will cause code validation confusion. Using their character code equivalents seems to impact the quantity of title text that Google can process.

Google especially seems to dislike non-ASCII characters, and for good reason; they won't render correctly for many users.

So please, just make sure that we're using the pipe symbol everywhere. Scan through the Screaming Frog results and sum all rows that don't use this method.

Missing/Empty Meta Description

In the right pane of Screaming Frog, expand the Meta Description folder and note empty or missing metas.

Also exactly like title tags, meta descriptions are more often a part of your "organic search ad" in Google. Not only should you have them, you should treat them with a bit of obsession and A/B test for CTR.

Duplicate Meta Description

In the right pane of Screaming Frog, expand the Meta Description folder and note duplicate metas.

Exactly like duplicate title tags, this may have an impact on rankings, and it definitely has an impact on user experience and click through rates.

Long Meta Description

It's theorized that this could hurt you. Especially in a scenario where the tag appears to be exceedingly long, as this was once a very common webspam tactic, and especially if a missing " or > character leaves the tag appearing open. But at very least, there's no point to pressing the issue, since descriptions longer than 160 characters are not displayed. Therefore, tune your descriptions so that they look good in Google, and don't cut off at a "..."

Meta Descriptions Lead with Keyphrase

Our anecdotal experience suggests that the "first third rule" applies to meta descriptions just as much as it does to titles. If not a direct ranking factor, this may also help with improving CTR when users see their search query bolded in a search ad: which is actually a Google-recommended best practice for AdWords ads as well. If it improves an AdWords Quality Score, it's at least worth a thought for organic.

Therefore, we recommend making sure that the primary target keyphrase of a piece of content leads with each content piece's primary target keyphrase and giving this a test.

If you're still not convinced, we suggest doing a 30-day before/after test on click through rates for a handful of your top-ranking pages. Use Google Search Console to get CTR data.

Meta Keyword Abuse

Are there more than a few words in the meta keyword tags that are directly related (and appearing in) the page content?

Such is still a common webspam practice, although being completely ineffective, and we believe could theoretically cause the site to be flagged in association with a known webspam pattern. Google has made it clear that they don't rank using the meta keywords tag AT ALL. Our own experiments that placed made-up words in these tags and watched for them to rank confirms. But that doesn't mean that they won't punish known patterns of abuse here, as they do basically everywhere else, and in the early 2000s, numerous studies confirmed that they were indeed doing this.

Despite the above, Northcutt does recommend using 2-3 useful meta keywords that also appear on the page, because Google is not the only search engine and they're definitely not the only crawler. We won't count off for not using meta keywords at all though, and fully understand the reasons that you might not use it.

Missing H1

In the right pane, select the "H1" folder". The H1 tag is typically the most-weighted text on a page after the TITLE tag. These tags also improve accessibility for screen readers. Make sure that you have an H1 on all pages.

Duplicate H1

Considering that any page of any value should have at least some unique attributes that allow it to be uniquely identified, and the value given to the H1 tag, there's no excuse at all to have duplicate H1 tags.

Long H1

While an H1 tag longer than 70 characters is not necessarily indication of a problem (as Screaming Frog will flag all of in the right pane), all sections of a site where words are given powerful weight in Google have a history of widespread abuse.

As such, Google does have undisclosed thresholds in which they appear to punish sites that appear pushing the limits in an overtly manipulative manner. Look for a way to reduce these if you can, but don't lose sleep over the instances that might hit 75 characters.

Multiple H1

An H1 tag is considered the title of a document, and that's why it's given so much power. It doesn't make much sense to name a document more than once.

Matt Cutts actually once told us that multiple H1's were probably fine, but then immediately warned to be careful if it's abused. It's a good idea to fix if it's been drawn a little crazy, or is inviting of possible trouble in the future through being repeated as a part of a WordPress theme.

H1 Leads with Target Keywords

Do the H1 tags lead with the exact word or phrase that we're targeting?

Just like with title tags, other tags, body text; earlier seems to typically mean "more important" to Google. And that's sure not a stretch of the imagination as this models how we communicate offline as well.



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