Everything You Want to Know About Using SEO Auditing Tools

SEO audit tools, both free and paid, are a great resource for everyone involved in a site’s performance and well-being, from experienced SEOs to new webmasters. Auditing tools allow everyone to get a glimpse into a site’s ‘health’ and walk away with a list of actionable steps to improve their site without having to have a technical background.

What Are SEO Auditing Tools?

SEO auditing tools ‘grade’ or ‘score’ a website or webpage based on a set of criteria unique to that auditing tool. They’re used by a wide range of professionals from SEO consultants to web designers to analytics specialists. Auditing tools come in a wide variety of incarnations from browser extensions to self-hosted crawlers.

An SEO auditing tool, while it has SEO in the name, isn’t restricted to providing only recommendations that will help a page rank organically. They can provide recommendations around any of the following:

    • SEO
    • Analytics
    • UX/UI
    • Site speed
    • Technical site issues
  • Accessibility

As we can see, an auditing tool can be useful to a number of people in an organization like marketers, development, leadership, product, etc.

Why Should You Be Using One

SEO auditing tools have many advantages in addition to providing recommendations for all types of issues dealing with a website. They are generally really fast, and provide a great way to get quick insights into your site without your having to know what you’re looking for. This is especially helpful when you’re approaching a new site and you’re not even sure where to start with the auditing process. I like to run every site I’m working with through an auditing tool first thing (usually Google Lighthouse and GTMetrix to start), just to get a baseline for what I’m dealing with.

In addition to being fast, auditing tools can reveal issues that might not be visible or accessible to users unless you know what you’re looking for and have complete access to a site to dive into the backend. This can be useful if you’re working with a dev team and have limited access to aspects of a website. It can be useful to approach another department who you will need their help from with a list of items to tackle, rather than asking, “are there any issues with the site?” For example, it would be very difficult to determine how many of your pages return a certain status code, like 404 (the status code returned when a page can’t be found). An auditing tool can quickly scan your site and let you know which pages are broken or return a 404 status. Without an auditing tool, depending on the site size, this could be impossible.

Reasons why you should use an SEO auditing tool:

    • Quickly gather insights that would otherwise take a long time to do by hand
    • Get insights into parts of the site that aren’t user-facing
    • They provide a good ‘jumping off’ point if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for
    • Many are free
    • Most come with a chrome extension that extends their usability
  • Can be helpful when approaching different teams within an organization whose help you need to solve a problem

One thing to keep in mind is that auditing tools aren’t useful to you if you’re not walking away with a list of tasks or issues to tackle (unless your site is perfect, but I’ve never seen one that is!). The ultimate goal of auditing a site is to come out of the exercise with a game plan to fix the issues you found. Some auditing tools are better at providing key takeaways than others in addition to providing help on how to fix an issue, others not so much. Find one that gives you take aways that make sense to you and how you like to work and then use that tool.

Who Should be Using One?

An SEO auditing tool can be useful to anyone who is responsible for a website, from SEOs to developers. And because most auditing tools are free or are packaged with other useful tools, you may already be paying for one.

Auditing tools also empower everyone in an organization to take an active role in a site’s performance. It’s no longer only the developers who should be concerned with redirects, status codes, or too many DNS requests. Now everyone can lend a helping hand, whether that is fixing an issue or just pointing it out.

When Should You Use One?

Using an SEO auditing tool isn’t a one-time activity; they should be used frequently. How frequently is entirely up to you though. Personally, I like to use an auditing tool in the following scenarios:

    • When working on a new site  — it’s a great way to get a quick overview of the issues facing a site
    • After our recommendations are deployed — We usually re-audit a site right after our recommendations are deployed so we can make sure no major issues arise from the changes we suggested
    • After major site changes take place — For example, if the site moves platforms or enabled HTTPS
  • Random spot checks — I’ll be honest, I frequently run the sites I’m working on through various auditing tools unprovoked just to make sure everything is okay and also to unearth new things to work on

So feel free to use as many tools as you want as frequently as you want. Checking everyday won’t be useful because your site isn’t likely to change that much day-to-day but once a month or every two months should be fine in addition to after changes to the site have been made.

How Do I Use Auditing Tools?

Auditing tools come in a wide variety of incarnations, from browser extensions to self-hosted crawl bots. Browser extensions are some of the most common versions of auditing tools. They are generally extremely simple to use, and offer minimal customization options, which can be good for new users who are afraid of becoming overwhelmed with options. Using browser extensions is as simple as installing the extension in your browser and then clicking a button. The extension will do its thing and run a bunch of scripts in the background. When it’s done, it’ll provide a list of issues and a score. We recommend starting with an extension to keep things simple.

For more advanced needs you can leverage a self-hosted auditing tool like Screaming Frog. The difference between self-hosted and a browser extension will become obvious upon opening Screaming Frog for the first time. With nearly endless options and configuration settings, unless you know what you’re doing, you might find yourself overwhelmed. But if you know what you’re doing these tools represent infinite possibilities. You can have complete control over how your site is crawled and analyzed. Screaming Frog and similar tools won’t give you a ‘score’, so if you’re looking to find an audit score, you may want to pursue other options. Using a tool like Screaming Frog can be a great next step after you’ve run an audit, though, since you’ll need to get deeper in the weeds to actually fix the issues.

Finally, most other auditing tools will be web-based, meaning, you go to a website and enter a URL and let that site’s auditing tool analyze your page or site.

Like we mentioned, if you don’t walk away from an SEO auditing tool with a list of action items to tackle then the audit was a failure. What’s the point of getting a list of issues if you’re not going to fix them?

To help make sure you’re not just auditing for the sake of auditing here is a template for an SEO Audit Action Plan that we put together to help keep track of issues, their causes, fixes and who should address them. Feel free to make a copy and edit and use at your own discretion.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1flTmTuzyUCjEPTER3BAeHdjjIGOl55rddhxM7xlIFDs/edit?usp=sharing

Which Auditing Tools Should I Use?

Now to the question everyone is probably asking: which SEO audit tool should I be using? Well, the answer is simple: use any and as many of them as you want!

Every SEO auditing tool is designed differently and will report different insights back to you. For example, here is how UpBuild’s site does when ran through 5 different auditing tools:

Each of these tools pointed out different issues and scored our site differently. What does this mean? Well, it means the site isn’t in complete disrepair but it also means we have lots of issues to work on (in classic SEO agency style, we’re often too busy working on client projects to give our site the TLC it deserves). Each tool pointed out something different and came to a different conclusion about the state of the site. Had we just used one of these, we might get the impression that the site was doing excellent, or that the site status is critical. This is why it’s important to try lots of tools — like getting multiple opinions on your outfit.

Auditing tools, by design, can only look for certain issues in a very specific and rigid way. Because every auditing tool needs to work on every website it is used on, they are designed to look for very specific things and in specific formats or locations. If it can’t find something where it thinks it should be, it will ding you for it and tell you there’s a problem, even if there isn’t. These types of strict guidelines can be a good place to start looking for problems, but auditing tools can throw false positives pretty easily. For example, if an auditing tool is designed to look for an HTML sitemap but can only identify the sitemap if it has an .html extension and you have a sitemap in /sitemap/ but no ‘.html’ an automated tool might assume you don’t have an HTML sitemap when you clearly do. Or what if you have a sitemap at sitemap.html but there are no actual links on the page? The auditing tool might tell you your sitemap is fine when it’s really not.

When using auditing tools we recommend using a variety of tools from different tool makers to get an overview of how your site is doing and what issues are found from a variety of sources. Every SEO audit score provided by an automated tool will base its score on a different set of guidelines and criteria so using multiples can let you see how your site stacks up against a number of standards.

Also, keep in mind that some auditing tools will only audit your site for something specific like “SEO” (kind of general but that is what they call it) or “speed” or “accessibility” while others will audit multiple factors within one report like Google’s Lighthouse.

The auditing tools below are all free, but some offer paid options for advanced features. These tools cover SEO, Speed & Performance, and Analytics auditing:

General SEO Auditing Tools:

Speed & Performance Auditing Tools:

Analytics Auditing Tools:

  • https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tag-assistant-by-google/kejbdjndbnbjgmefkgdddjlbokphdefk

Other:

  • Screaming Frog

If you have an auditing tool you like, leave a note in the comments and I’ll add it to the list above.

So, Why Do I Need to Pay an SEO?

You’re probably wondering at this point: “why should I pay an SEO if an auditing tool does the same thing?” It’s a fair question. As we mentioned earlier, auditing tools are extremely rigid — if it’s not what the tool thinks is right it will ding you for it. There is a lot of gray area that auditing tools just can’t understand.

Professional SEOs can understand the nuance and outliers that almost no auditing tools can. A professional will be able to take the audit data and figure out what it means, how to prioritize the issues, help communicate why it’s important, and then propose how to fix it. Most auditing tools, if you’re lucky, will give you a list of issues and URLs or resources affected and then some generic advice on fixing issues. Taking the next step to actually fix the issues requires someone who has the experience to know what issues need to be fixed to see the best improvements. It is a bit like using a diagnostic reading device for your car when your check engine light comes on. It can tell you there is a problem and even what that problem is but it doesn’t tell you the urgency of the problem or how to actually fix it. Even if you found a step-by-step guide to fixing it, you have to have the time, tools, and skills to do it. In this case, an auditing tool is your diagnostic port — it can tell you whats wrong but not much beyond that. It certaintly can’t fix the issues for you.

With that said, the great thing about running an audit on your own is that when you’re talking to potential SEO agencies you can approach the conversation with specific knowledge about issues your site is facing. Knowledge is power. Much like going to your mechanic, if you already have an idea of the problem then you can ask questions to your mechanic and have a better insight into the issues.

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