E-commerce Audit Checklist for 2017 – The Guide to Improve Your eBusiness

E-Commerce Audit ChecklistLooking for a guide to troubleshoot your eStore? Then this e-commerce audit checklist is here to save the day.

Conducting an audit of your e-commerce website is always a time well-spent. 

Said no-one ever.

But it’s a must nonetheless.

So here is the e-commerce audit checklist that will get you ahead of the game.

An audit should be at the heart of your digital strategy this year. Use it to help you map out web improvements – identify key store weaknesses and strengths, and then build out an improvement strategy.

Here you will find the core elements that should be part of every e-commerce audit: from technical elements to content.

Cross these points off your e-commerce audit checklist to help you increase sales and conversions.

1.0. E-commerce Benchmarking

How do you measure up?

Don’t forget to benchmark your audit – figure out where your site is right now, where you need it to be, and how to get there.

When you will look around, you will find out which sites are winning the search game and that’s a good start to get ahead.

1.1. Competitor research

  1. One of the first steps of any web audit is to put your website in context with other websites. Start with the top ten results in Google for your main keywords.
    • They are currently ranking for what you want to rank – so what can you learn from them?
    • Look at their site architecture, on-page content, optimization, and backlinks. Make a list of all things that seem to be working well for these sites – they might be worth implementing on your site too. There are loads of SEO competitor backlink checker tools you can use, such as Linkody for backlinks and Screaming Frog for SEO metadata.
  2. Don’t forget to look at the websites of your main industry competitors, whether they are ranking or not. This pool may include a mix of big players like Amazon, as well as local businesses.
    • See what you can learn from their digital branding. Big sites like Amazon can teach you a lot about category organization – but there are plenty of things that won’t work on a smaller store (like keyword heavy product names). Pick and mix the elements that will actually work on your site.
  3. Competitor research is NOT about copying what someone else has done word for word – but it is important that you keep up with the competition and see how they are using search phrases.
    • Always try to improve on what your competitors are doing.

1.2. Baseline & projection

What are your current conversion rates? Do you know your sales figures? What about your website metrics? Don’t start an audit without having a clear picture of where you are starting from.

  • Once you know your baseline, try to map out some targets and ideal scenarios to help you structure your audit. Identify what elements are going to be a priority.
  • When auditing, always try to come up with tangible recommendations for improvements backed by data or examples – no one will be able to act on vague opinions.

1.3. Auditing tools

Use SEO tools to help you speed up and manage the auditing process. Use manual checks for the high-level stuff, but don’t waste your time doing something that a tool can take care of.

Auditing tools can help you check key things fast:

  • Headings
  • Metadata (page titles, meta descriptions etc.)
  • Image data
  • Incoming and outbound links
  • Page speed
  • URL structure
  • Redirects
  • 404s
  • ….. The list goes on!

2.0. Website Usability

Users aren’t going to buy from a site they can’t figure out.

In fact, they’ll probably leave it within seconds instead.  Your main focus when auditing an e-commerce site should be its usability. A site with a poor user experience isn’t going to help conversion rates or sales.

Usability issues can be hard to fix, and bigger issues often involve expensive design and development time.

Always have a few options to hand that factor in timing and budget. E.g. if you have identified issues with the menu, mock up a few alternatives for review and testing.

2.1. Customer journey

Think of the customer first when you look at the site. Start with the nuts and bolts stuff – how a site behaves when in use.

You can conduct unmoderated remote usability tests as part of your audit, but if there isn’t enough time for that; just try to put yourself in users’ shoes as you go through the site:

  • Are the menus well categorized and clear?
  • Can I see words that resonate with what I’m looking for?
  • Is the search bar obvious?
  • How easily can I access my shopping cart or make a payment?
  • What if I need to go back; are there any breadcrumbs for me to follow?

2.2. Speed

Speed issues put people off, so make sure your website is speedy both on desktop and mobile (use AMP for a speedier mobile experience).

If speed is a problem, look at both frontend performance, backend environment, and server-side elements to accurately troubleshoot the issue.

Main factors that are slowing down your page are fonts, images, JavScript files and server overload.

3.0. SEO Optimisation & Content

Good on-page SEO makes an e-commerce website far more likely to succeed in the rankings game. So how do you check whether a store has been correctly optimized?

Other than user experience, content is the key that on-page SEO experts need to watch out for.

Make sure keyword usage is logical, varied, natural, and topically relevant. Give each page a clear purpose of avoiding similar pages competing with each other.

3.1. Product page copy

Search engines need words to make sense of a page – make sure product and category pages have plenty of unique copy.

  • ‘Borrowing’ manufacturer copy might seem like a time-saver at first, but it will probably lead to slightly worse off rankings. (And you could get done for duplicating copy). Make a note of any copy that sounds like it’s straight from the factory floor.
  • Product page copy should build trust by providing information, and drive conversions by selling effectively. Make a note of any pages that fail to build trust or sell. Compare well-performing product pages with others that don’t do so well – what copy lessons can be learned?

3.2. Onsite thematic relevance

A website that’s just one pushy sales pitch after the next is not well optimized for users and will use repetitive, boring language. It’s important to think about a topic in and well-rounded way in order to produce plenty of fresh, juicy content.

  • Make sure there is a good balance between product pages and pages that provide information. Informational pages like FAQs and resource pages can help a store rank for longtail keywords and user questions.
  • All e-commerce stores should have pages about delivery terms & conditions and returns. These pages are key trust builders and should be written in plain English to help avoid confusion.
  • Is the store’s blog publishing relevant and user-focused content? See whether more could be made of the blog and the themes it explores. A blog is a great way to diversify the language, keywords, and content on any site.
  • A good e-commerce content strategy balances out user-friendly content with seasonal topics and content that is tied to your biggest sellers. Good content can be used for lead generation, but it should also be about building a compelling brand.
  • Look at what pages searches are coming in on. Why is that? Try to learn from those pages – they are obviously doing something right.
  • Are no pages currently performing well? Try to craft landing pages that are optimized for targeted search queries – category landing pages are often the obvious choice for e-commerce sites as they are user-friendly and easy to optimize.
  • Microcopy is a big usability factor – make sure it’s clear and that users know what to do next. A confusing form or checkout process is going to harm conversions.

4.0. Imagery & Visuals

Product images, landing page images, hero image, icons – the web is a visual medium. Make sure that there is a good balance between text and image elements, and that imagery is fit for purpose.

4.1. Relevant imagery

  • Make a note of any terrible stock imagery that will have to go. You are better off investing in images that have user value, not just faceless and irrelevant images of sunsets and trees.
  • Product imagery is especially important and can have a big impact on sales – keep images crisp and high quality with a clear indication of product size.
  • Photos start to look dated fast – it’s not that expensive to take high-quality photos so it’s a good idea to keep the regularly updated.

4.2. Optimised images & video

Images that are too large can really slow a site down – make sure that they are compressed and optimized for speed. All images should include accurate image data and be optimized for SEO with keywords.

Same for videos – make sure they are all optimized for speed and SEO, with detailed descriptions and transcripts where necessary. Videos are a smart investment as they generally improve on-page engagement metrics.

5.0. Technical Web Elements

The technical aspect of the audit is crucial.

A proper audit needs to take into account how web technology behaves, and how a store is built from the ground up. It’s worth working closely with developers on technical queries.

5.1. Backend

Put the site’s development on trial by auditing the backend code. You want a backend that is streamlined and supports a logical framework – it will make it easier for the store to grow.

  • See how pages and categories have been built out and whether there is any room for improvement. You want to avoid a messy structure with too many unnecessary sublevels.
  • Know your platform well when making suggestions for improvements. Something like a Shopify store is going to have a very different technical environment from a Drupal. In Drupal, you will have to completely custom build your own SEO environment starting from a meta tag module, whereas a hosted environment like Shopify will have a lot of that built-in. Always keep CMS-specific challenges in mind when making any recommendations.
  • Make a note of any outdated plugins, apps or modules – they should go.

5.2. Redirects & 404s

  • Check on any redirects and make sure they are regularly updated. Make a note of any that can now be removed – it’s never a good idea to have loads of concurrent redirects.

5.3. URLs

URLs are an important usability and relevancy factor.

  • Are there any usability issues with the current URL structure – could it be improved? Make note of any URL improvements that make the site more user-friendly or increase keyword relevancy.
  • Use canonical URLs to point search engines back to the original page if your CMS creates a load of dynamic URLs.

5.4. Structured data

Does your store take advantage of structured data?

Structured data markup is a great way to make your site more interesting for search engines and users – it helps flag up reviews, products, and loads of other useful data.

6.0. Did you find this e-commerce audit checklist useful?

A proper e-commerce web audit should be all about getting your hands dirty and analyzing your site from A to Z.

E-commerce audit checklist for e-shops is like spring cleaning for your house.

Use your newfound auditing insights to increase traffic, conversions, and sales. We hope that with this checklist, your e-commerce business will flourish in 2017.

Have you got anything to add?

Is there something you would do differently?

Let’s share the wisdom.

This post wouldn’t be possible without Gareth Simpson. He is an SEO specialist and startup founder. Follow him on Twitter.

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