Website Performance Audit: A Step-by-Step Guide

Improve your site with this easy-to-understand introduction to website performance audits. Learn key tips, ideas, and tactics that will get results.

POST UPDATED:

January 17, 2024

what is website optimization

Businesses invest thousands of dollars in their websites and SEO efforts. But most of them overlook a critical piece of the puzzle that keeps their site running at a high level. Because of this, many business websites are not as profitable as they could be.

A website performance audit turns your site into an asset that drives revenue.

Table of Contents

    Why is website performance important?

    Did you know the top three websites in a search result (SERP) get over 54 percent of all the traffic for that search term?

    And if you aren’t on page one of any search engine results, your site will not get any visitors.

    If your website isn’t generating positive ROI, it is little more than a digital brochure. Site performance issues develop over time because technology and user needs evolve. Routine audits help reduce marketing, advertising, and customer service costs.

    Do you want to optimize your digital marketing strategy?

    Learn more about conversion rate optimization consulting.

    How do you know if your website needs a performance audit?

    You should get a website performance audit if it takes over three seconds to load on mobile devices. High bounce rates, low conversions, and decreasing website traffic are also signs. Audits reveal your site’s performance issues and provide recommendations to fix them.

    Benefits of a website performance audit

    Better site performance makes it easier to rank higher on search engines. That means you will spend less time and money on SEO tactics and content marketing.

    Sites with high search rankings command more online brand authority, which is the key to increasing your site’s ROI.

    Site load speed

    Are you losing potential customers because your site is slow?

    Sites that load quickly keep users on the page. In fact, if it takes over four seconds for your site to load, the user abandonment rate goes up to 90 percent.

    There is a direct link between the average time on the page and conversion rates. A slow website will lose potential customers at a rate of approximately four percent per second.

    There are other key benefits of a website performance audit. High-performing sites attract more organic search traffic. Generating buyers from free traffic sources reduces the average cost of customer acquisition.

    Google PageSpeed Insights Page Speed Test (Click to expand)

    Algorithm Updates

    A website performance audit can protect a site from massive traffic drops. Traffic levels often drop with search engine algorithm updates. Since algorithms change often, it does not take long to fall behind.

    It is also crucial for your site to display correctly on all device types. People use various devices, including desktops, tablets, and mobile phones. A site’s layout changes depending on the device’s screen size. A website audit ensures the display is correct, regardless of the device used.

    Three types of website users

    Most brands only consider how their website performs for the target audience. But there are actually three types of users:

    1. Target customers (humans)
    2. Web browsers (i.e., Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge)
    3. Search engines (i.e., Google, Bing, Yahoo)

    Site performance audits ensure that web pages are designed and optimized for each.

    Your customers should like the way your site looks and be able to navigate it without issues. But it should also meet the technical requirements of search engines and browsers.

    Humans only care about the features that help them use the site, such as the layout, fonts, and content. These elements contribute to the overall user experience. The easier and more enjoyable a site is to use, the more likely people are to stay on it for a while.

    Browsers like Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge want web pages to be responsive. This means the site adjusts its layout based on different devices and screen sizes. Without responsive design, a site will suffer from display errors. These errors can vary from one browser to another.

    Search engines must also be able to interpret your site’s content. Proper meta tags, relevant keywords, and content for SEO performance are essential. You should also make sure your site is free of technical errors to avoid search engine penalties.

    Website performance audit: An overview

    A website performance audit can be complex. I would have to write a book to discuss every step, so I will only address the most common areas covered in the following sections.

    Website conversion funnel

    Many companies see a website audit as a technical process used to improve search results—and much of it is. However, the purpose of an audit is also to align the site’s performance with your business goals. Building online authority and increasing conversions are examples of goals.

    Marketers use a conversion funnel model to optimize a site’s engagement. A conversion funnel illustrates a visitor’s path as they interact with a site. This process helps marketing teams figure out how to improve conversion rates.

    Website metrics tell the story of user engagement for web pages and posts. Website owners use this data to improve the customer journey and conversion funnel. Google Analytics is one of the most popular platforms that provides user data.

    Traditional customer journey model
    Traditional customer journey model

    Keyword strategy

    A website performance audit also helps you find new keyword opportunities.

    When customers search for a brand, they use certain words or phrases to find what they want. Once you have identified these terms, you can include them in your site’s content and metadata. This technique increases the site’s organic traffic.

    You can use website audit tools like SEMRush to find new keywords. Google Keyword Planner is a free keyword tool that contains terms related to your brand’s offers.

    Be creative in this step. Consider potential broad keywords, “long-tail” phrases, or other unique queries consumers might use. Analyzing competitor sites can help you discover their target terms and provide you with new keyword opportunities.

    IMAGE: MOZ Keyword Research Tool (CLICK TO EXPAND)

    Content analysis

    Your customers and search engines want high-quality content. This type of content is in-depth, educational, and authentic. Producing content also allows you to show off your expertise. In this step, check all website content to assess whether any changes are in order.

    First, you must decide if it would be beneficial to update or remove any existing content. Platforms like Google Analytics reveal which landing pages attract the most organic traffic. It also shows how much time people spend on each and which content is the most popular. As a result, you can update and improve content to boost traffic. You may also delete pages that aren’t getting traffic or don’t fit your current strategy. One of the most popular content analysis tools is Yoast SEO. It analyzes content based on keyword usage, social media engagement, and other factors.

    Also, check references and external links to ensure they are still relevant. Sources often become outdated over time, or better references may become available.

    The goal of content analysis is to ensure its quality. The site’s content should be well-written and include keywords to help on-page SEO. Content analysis tools can help your team check for quality. Writing tools like ProWritingAid and Grammarly improve content clarity and readability.

    IMAGE: Surfer SEO Content Optimization Tool

    User experience (UX)

    User experience (UX) refers to the site’s design and how visitors interact with it. Here are some crucial factors that contribute to UX:

    • Load speed
    • Layout for the mobile experience
    • Visual appeal
    • Content design
    • Page navigation

    To improve the user experience, consider anything that might happen while a visitor is on a web page. As an example, does the shopping cart work? Are visitors redirected to the proper page after they buy a product?

    Customer feedback is one of the best ways to get ideas that will help you improve the user experience. Find out what users think when they go on your site and use what you learn to hone it.

    You must understand the customer’s needs and wants before you can audit a website’s user experience. Customer insights allow you to map out user intent. Intent refers to why people are looking for something. Once you know what they want, you can address potential issues to improve the buyer’s journey.

    Website Accessibility

    Website accessibility should be another area to cover during an audit. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published guidelines for disabled web users. Brands should be familiar with these standards and ensure their sites comply.

    Interpreting accessibility is complex. We recommend talking with your attorney about meeting ADA guidelines.

    website accessibility checker
    IMAGE: Website Accessibility Checker

    Heatmaps

    Website session recordings can also help companies map user behavior flow. Heatmaps can give you a 360-degree view of visitors' engagement with a webpage.

    Heatmaps record where users click, how they scroll over a page, and the time spent on each page. Your marketing team can use this data to increase conversions.

    plerdy heatmap tool
    IMAGE: Plerdy heatmap tool

    Technical SEO

    Search engine optimization is often associated with a website performance audit. Given the scope of technical SEO, I’ll only discuss examples of the most common issues. Your web development team should be able to assist you with these.

    Auditing website code: Javascript and CSS

    The complexity and size of code play an essential role in performance. A site with clean, efficient code is much easier for search bots to crawl and index. Bloated or cluttered code can cause slow website speed and lower rankings in SERPs.

    Here are ways to optimize code:

    • Reduce large image files
    • Remove unnecessary scripts
    • Minify HTML and CSS files
    • Defer other scripts, if possible

    You should also be sure to compress images for faster download times. Caching specific code snippets will also help reduce loading time.

    Metadata

    Search engines use metadata to figure out what your website is about. Here are some examples:

    • Page titles
    • Meta descriptions
    • Tags (i.e., h1, h2)
    • Alt image text
    • Body text (i.e., keyword density)

    Proper metadata should contain keywords that apply to a page or post. This can be especially beneficial for e-commerce sites. Brands that sell on platforms like Google Shopping or Amazon will also benefit. You can use SEO tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs to improve metadata.

    Page speed tests

    Slow websites are frustrating. In fact, Google announced several years ago that a website’s load speed is a primary ranking factor. Since then, Google has retired site speed as a ranking factor, but it can still impact your site’s performance.

    Online SEO tools are available to help developers identify and resolve speed issues. Pingdom Website Speed Test, and GTMetrix are examples. Google PageSpeed Insights is a free tool you can use.

    These optimization tools check a website’s performance and make recommendations, such as:

    • Image compression to reduce file size
    • Browser caching to store static files
    • Content optimization suggestions
    • Code optimization tips (CSS, JavaScript, HTML)
    Pingdom Website Speed Test
    IMAGE: Pingdom Website Speed Test

    HTTP requests

    The number of requests a website makes determines its loading speed. The average number of HTTP requests to load a webpage is between 69 and 75 requests.

    You can use a tool like the HTTP Requests Checker to determine how many requests it takes to load your site.

    Scalability and hosting

    Scalability is another important aspect of website performance. A scalability audit can help ensure that your site can accommodate future growth. One way to improve scalability is through server-side caching. This stores frequently requested data closer to the server source. The result is quicker and more efficient content delivery.

    Hosting services are critical to the performance of your website. Make sure the server can handle traffic levels and number of requests. Your web host should also offer added layers of security. This will help protect your site from vulnerabilities, malware, and threats.

    Broken links

    Sometimes, links used for external sites or other pages break. This happens when the URL address changes, a file is missing, or even when a domain expires. Internal links can also break when a website’s content structure changes.

    To fix broken links, locate the link using a web analysis tool, such as Google Search Console or Ahrefs. Once you have identified the issue, you can update or delete the URL if it is no longer needed. Test all recently created links to make sure they are working.

    Caching

    Website caching stores site data on a local server. This reduces load speed when users access the same page many times. Caching can decrease bandwidth usage and improve response times.

    You can use a plugin or module on your content management system to set up caching. You should also fine-tune configuration settings to optimize it. Expirations and type of content to cache are examples. Also, be sure to set up a process for clearing your cache. Flushing older cached files is also essential.

    Website Optimization Strategies to Boost Google Rankings

    Learn about the website optimization strategies that can help you attain higher rankings on Google and tips to maximize your website's visibility.

    How often should you optimize your site?

    We recommend running a website performance audit at least once per year. Quarterly audits are ideal. Routine audits minimize site performance problems and reduce the annual cost of site maintenance.

    Do you need a website performance audit?

    Website errors can be challenging to identify and fix, but they could cost money. So, how can you eliminate errors, increase conversions, and cut costs?

    The answer lies in website audit services. The Brand Auditors can help you be sure your site is running at peak performance.

    Click on the button below to schedule a free consultation to learn more.

    Chris Fulmer

    Chris Fulmer

    Brand Strategist | Managing Director

    Chris has over 15 years of experience in brand development and marketing. He has designed strategies across various industries, such as technology, B2B services, and healthcare. His areas of expertise include brand positioning, competitive analysis, content marketing, and web development.

    Are you ready to find out how a brand audit can transform your business?

    Our brand audit process is a comprehensive analysis designed to help companies optimize performance.

    • Increase ROI on lead generation and sales conversions.
    • Reduce marketing expenses.
    • Strengthen brand positioning to become more competitive.

    We guarantee satisfaction or get your money back! Schedule a discovery call with a brand auditor to find out more.

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