Website best practices change over time. Layouts, organizational structures, and aesthetics fall in and out of vogue. Security requirements alter to keep pace with a developing threat landscape. The elements that Google and other search engines consider when deciding search rankings are in constant flux. Even a website’s messaging can grow stale with use.
What this means is that given enough time, your website will become a fossil, no matter how cutting edge it was when it first came into the world. Whether it cost $10,000 or $500,000, it, and every other site, are slowly descending into obsolescence. The process is inevitable. Nothing means anything. Human endeavors are folly. We’re all just blips on a cosmological timescale that neither knows we exist nor cares. One day the internet, and every cat video ever created will render to dust.
But there’s hope! The encroaching inky blackness doesn’t have to devour your hard-fought progress. Website audits are a baffle against the ever-grinding spiral toward mediocrity. They’re an opportunity to rate your site’s performance, aesthetics, SEO, security, and messaging against your competition and the standards of the day. They uncover elements that are no longer working and those that can be improved. A thorough audit offers periodic rejuvenation, allowing your website to last far longer than it would otherwise.
In short, website audits are critical because they keep your site healthy, up to date, and looking great. Think of them as your website’s annual physical, except that the doctor is a web designer, you don’t need insurance, and there’s no need to turn and cough.
What a Website Audit Covers
A website audit is a rigorous process that examines your site from several different perspectives. It’s critical not to skip a section because every component contributes equally to your website’s overall health. If you repair structural issues but don’t address security concerns, your website will remain exposed to attack. If you fix security issues but ignore SEO, your search performance will suffer. Let’s look at a few of the major areas included in a standard audit.
Websites are complex conglomerations that include many different types of files, images, and other elements. This file hierarchy needs to follow specific rules to function correctly and index thoroughly. Technical audits look for linking issues, structural problems, poorly-executed URL strategies, and other technical snafus that can affect performance and search rankings.
Unlike a technical audit, which examines the code, knobs, and levers that keep your site running behind the scenes, a content audit examines the face it presents to the world. It checks to make certain your messaging is appropriate, your images are optimized and effective, and your design is still relevant.
Is your site easy to navigate? Is every page accessible? Is your brand voice consistent? These are the sorts of questions a content audit answers. The process also checks for duplicate content that can affect rankings.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a notoriously complicated practice designed to align your website’s structure, content, and connectivity with the factors that Google and other search engines use to determine search rankings. If you’re generating lots of great content, focusing on relevant keywords, and netting quality backlinks, and you’re still having difficulty ranking well, an SEO audit may be in order.
SEO audits are holistic, covering content issues, structural deficits, keyword strategies, internal and external links, headers, metadata, and dozens of other factors. Because search engines are constantly refining and improving their algorithms, SEO strategies that once worked like gangbusters can bust just as quickly. SEO audits help protect and improve your rankings.
Search Penalty Audit
Penalty audits are a subset of SEO audits with a particular purpose. They look for antiquated SEO strategies that are impeding search progress.
For example, at one time, website owners could boost their search rankings by stuffing their websites with keywords. This led to text that wasn’t easy for people to read, but that got a lot of attention from search engines. However, as Google and its ilk became more sophisticated, they found better ways to rate website relevance and began actively penalizing websites for older “hack” strategies. Search penalty audits look for these negative markers and provide a path to reconciling them.
Web security follows a familiar trajectory from the analog world. You build a lock, and thieves figure out how to pick it. So you improve the lock, and the thieves scale their skills to match. As a result, website security protocols are always improving to keep up with evolving threats. Security audits exist to ensure that your defenses are contemporary with modern standards. The longer a website sits unchecked, the greater the risk of attack grows.
With a competition audit, you’re looking at your competitor’s websites instead of your own, applying many of the same principles listed above. What are they doing well? Where is your website deficient by comparison? What lessons can you learn and apply now to improve your conversions, search rankings, and traffic relative to your competition? Competition audits offer a useful lens for viewing your position in the competitive landscape.
Don’t Try This at Home
Yes, it’s good for you to perform a visual inspection of your website from time to time. But what you can see is only the bit of the iceberg that protrudes from the water. The bulk of the ice exists below the surface, and you likely don’t have the training necessary to inspect it. It didn’t go well for the Titanic, and it won’t go well for you.
Qualified web professionals should perform annual website audits. You’re investing in your site’s continued health, security, and performance. You can skip them, but your website will slide into the abyss far faster than it needs to. You’ll find yourself in need of a major overhaul or complete redesign years before you might otherwise.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. At Costello Creative Group, we’re happy to provide the cure, but we strongly recommend prevention instead. It’s more cost-effective, and it will keep your website humming right up until the day it’s ready to retire.