Countless websites' search engine rankings were affected by the many major Google algorithm updates of the past few years. Search engine optimization (SEO) priorities have also shifted in this post Panda-Penguin-Hummingbird-Pigeon world. An SEO site audit is an essential way to take stock of how your website performs, especially in regards to its search engine rankings.\n"Conducting an SEO audit is key for every business,\u201d says Jeanine Krzyzanowski, director of link building strategy, Teknicks. \u201cIn order for your business to succeed, you need a solid foundation. It\u2019s like building a house. Google has become very sophisticated over the past few years and if there is anything wrong with the foundation of your website, you may be at risk of being penalized by Google.\u201d\nMost experts say the core principles behind an SEO site audit haven\u2019t changed significantly, but some aspects are more important than they used to be.\n\u201cGoogle still wants great, valuable, useful content,\u201d says Philip DiPatrizio, founder of Treezio. \u201cIn the past, you may not have needed to worry as much about duplicate content or spammy backlinks. Both weren't a good idea to begin with, but Google wasn't as good at catching those signals as it is today. Now, more than ever, it\u2019s vital to look for these things in an audit and correct them immediately.\u201d\n[Related: Top 25 DIY Tips for Better SEO]\nSEO audits have become more holistic, according to Oleg Korneitchouk, director of digital marketing, SmartSites. \u201cIf before audits focused on the technical layout, navigation and backlink profile of the website, they should now include content analysis and social analysis. All these parts should be examined separately and together to draw actionable fixes to improve your SEO.\u201d\nWhile a thorough SEO site audit is usually best left to professionals, those who aren\u2019t steeped in SEO can still perform high-level audits of their websites' performance, often using free online tools. Here are some top DIY SEO site audit tips and best practices from search and digital marketing experts.\nWhat to Look for in SEO Website Audits\nThe Basics\nIf you aren't too experienced with SEO, you should start your audit with the non-technical stuff, according to Courtney Herda, CEO, Smarter Searches. Ask yourself, \u201cDoes each page of the site have a clearly defined focus? Is each page written clearly to explain the who, what, why, when, where and how? Is the navigation clear and purposeful to lead to specific calls to action? Is everything spelled correctly? Does the site make sense?\u201d\nHTML and URLs\nAfter considering the basics, take a look at the technical aspects of your site. \u201cDo you have HTML title tags, meta descriptions, headings and images properly tagged for searches,\u201d asks Herda. \u201cHave you included a sitemap? Is navigation between content quick and easy? Who is linking to you and which pages are they linking to? Inventory the links and determine if there are any harmful or negative links.\u201d\n\u201cThe title tag is one of Google's main signals as to what a page is about,\u201d according to DiPatrizio. You should ensure that each page has a unique HTML title tag with keywords relevant to each page, and \u201cdo your best to ensure text is \u2018live\u2019 and not part of an image,\u201d he says. (Text in images isn\u2019t searchable.) \u201cKeep image file sizes at a minimum to increase load times. Use static URLs, such as 'example.com\/services\/example-service' instead of 'example.com\/services.php?id=12.' Check if header tags (H1, H2 and H3) are being used. If they aren\u2019t, use them.\u201d\nDuplicate Content\u00a0\nDuplicate content makes Google choose which page to display in search results, and that can diminish SEO efforts.\u00a0\n\u201cEnsuring that your website is not unintentionally hosting duplicate content is one of the most important things to check for when performing an onsite audit," says Richard Kline, Internet marketing manager, LegalAdvice.com. Kline recommends using Moz\u2019s Open Site Explorer to check for duplicate content.\nSpeed\nHow quickly (or slowly) does your site load? A few seconds lag time may seem like no big deal, but SEO experts say Google rewards sites that have fast download times. Google's PageSpeed Tool works well for checking your site\u2019s speed on mobile devices and desktop computers, according to DiPatrizio.\nCrawlability\nIs Google able to easily crawl and index your entire site? You can, and should, use the free Google Webmaster Tools to check how many pages of your site Google indexes, according to Petar Traychev, CEO, Hop Online.\nCompetitors\u00a0\nDon\u2019t forget to take a look at your competitors\u2019 websites when auditing your own, says Michael Riley, co-founder, Boxter.\nLook at how competitors rank in search results for keywords you care about. If they\u2019re beating you in Google rankings, look at their sites for reasons why. What are they doing that you aren\u2019t or could do better?\nYou should look at how your site\u2019s content compares to competitors' content that ranks above yours, according to Luke Marchie, co-founder, Majux Marketing. \u201cIf you both have a page vying for the same keyword, is the amount of content and detail on your page blowing your competition out of the water or is it half-assed?\u201d\nYou should also look at your competitors\u2019 backlinks, or links to their site from other sites. \u201cHow are they getting those links,\u201d Marchie asks. \u201cAnalyzing your competition\u2019s backlink sources can reveal a lot of missed traffic and backlink opportunities you'll want your marketing team to chase.\u201d\nUsability and Design\u00a0\nYou should audit your site from the perspective of your target visitor, according to Herda. Take user experience into account and how it relates to the site\u2019s usability, while also keeping in mind the search engine\u2019s "experience" of your site, including how easy or difficult it is to crawl and index.\n[Related:\u00a0Busting the Top 15 SEO Myths of 2014]\n\u201cNot many SEO companies include design in their audits, but we do because it's a huge part of the user experience,\u201d says Stephanie Biscow, vice president of digital media, DCW Media. \u201cIf your site is ugly, people aren\u2019t going to be as intrigued. Simplicity and cleanliness give users the ability to easily read content without distractions. We also like to evaluate where advertisements are placed. Sometimes websites plaster ads all over the place and it doesn't allow for a user-friendly experience.\u201d\n\n\t\n\nRecommended Site Auditing Tools\nIn addition to the tools already mentioned, SEO experts recommend the following utilities to help with site audits.\nBrandamos and Flair Interactive Services both offer free, basic SEO site analysis tools that grade sites on how well they're optimized for target keyword phrases.\nScreaming Frog SEO Spider\u00a0is a favorite among many SEO experts. \u201cThere\u2019s a free version that inexperienced DIY SEO individuals can use to familiarize themselves with the data,\u201d says LILLY + Associates' DiPatrizio. \u201cSimply enter your site's URL and click \u2018Start.\u2019 Clicking through each tab and using the built-in filters can give you a great idea of what might need to be fixed on your site.\u201d\n Hemera\/Thinkstock\nCopyscape\u00a0is duplicate-content-detection software and a plagiarism checker, and it's another favorite of SEO experts. A free version is available. Copyscape Premium will analyze a site\u2019s entire content for 5 cents a page. "Within minutes you'll have a plethora of data about which pages on your website contain duplicate content, the exact content highlighted for you, and a full list of other Web pages that your content was also discovered on,\u201d says DiPatrizio.\nMajesticSEO offers a basic free plan as well as paid plans, and it \u201cevaluates all links and helps separate high-quality links from low-quality links,\u201d according to LegalAdvice.com's Kline. \u201cThe site also breaks down anchor text in a pie chart and is a great tool to see if your link anchor text is over-optimized. That is, whether Google would deem your anchor text wording an out-of-compliance attempt to spam or game the search engines.\u201d (Anchor text is the text within a hyperlinked phrase.)\u00a0\nYoast\u2019s WordPress SEO Plugin (free) is for sites that use the open-source WordPress.org CMS, and it \u201ccan automatically fix and streamline many technical errors a site might have without too much technical knowledge needed,\u201d says Marchie. \u201cYou can also use it to enter your HTML title tags and meta descriptions.\u201d\u00a0\nRaven\u2019s free 30-day trial provides an in-depth audit using its Site Auditor tool. \u201cThis will give you another tool to check your metadata, alt tags, headings, keyword usage, as well as a few additional data points,\u201d Marchie says. The report arrives in PDF format, and you can use it to measure progress as you fix site problems.\nCrazy Egg shows you a "heat map" of where your site's visitors tend to click most frequently. Plans start at $9 a month. The tool helps you discover which pages are most important to your visitors, according to Dave Davies, CEO, Beanstalk SEO.\nSiteliner is a free utility designed to help find duplicate content, broken links and other site issues that can negatively impact SEO.\nAhrefs Site Explorer is a popular tool, with a free trial, for investigating links to and from your site.\nQuickSprout offers free website analysis tools in graphical format and provides recommendations for fixing problems.\nWhat to Do With Data You Collect\nMany SEO experts use spreadsheet programs, such as Microsoft Excel, to incorporate data they gather from site audits, and they often augment the spreadsheets with written reports or presentations.\n\u201cTypically, we deliver two documents in the site audit,\u201d Marchie says. \u201cThe first is a spreadsheet with every active URL listed and a note of the changes we'd recommend to each URL, such as redirects, content updates, title tag changes and so on. Additionally, we use this to line up the keyword we want to optimize each page for.\u201d\n[Related: Top 10 Technical SEO Issues (and How to Fix Them)]\nMarchie also prepares a Word or PDF document with broader recommendations he'd give to the site's owners. "This can point out poorly structured URLs, poor converting design issues, speed issues, and crawler errors, as well as off-page opportunities their competition may be using. We also sum up the changes we recommend in our spreadsheet.\u201d\nSEO Audits Aren't 'Set and Forget' Affairs\n\u201cYou can\u2019t justrun an SEO audit, fix all of the items that have been flagged, and assume you'll be in the clear,\u201d says Lisa Kirschner, managing director, Flair Interactive Services Inc. \u201cYou have to go above and beyond that and make sure you're truly offering unique, valuable content in many forms. That's what attracts users, converts them into paying customers, gets readers to share your message and ultimately increases your rankings. SEO is a constant endeavor that requires continual improvements and truly valuable content.\u201d\nOne audit isn\u2019t enough, according to Davies. \u201cOnce an audit is completed, it's time to schedule the work to be done and to schedule the next audit. If you did an audit every year or six months, there would be a lot of new information to digest and a lot of algorithm and industry tweaks to consider.\u201d\nSEO is always changing, and staying on top of it is a time-consuming process, according to James Blews, online presence consultant, Smart Idea Lane. \u201cBut if you get started today, you\u2019ll see returns one day earlier,\u201d Blews says.