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Secure Protocol 101: How to Check the HTTPS Implementation of Your Website (video)

Another SEO Audit How-To Video

Google wants your website to be secure! That’s why they are favoring websites that use “https” instead of “http”

Image of a website running https

Above is an image of how a website will show in a browser if it is running https

 

Image of a website showing a not secure warning

Above is an image of a site that has not implemented https, or has done it incorrectly

This is another video in our series of SEO Audit Essentials how-to’s. In this video I discuss one of the items we always check when we’re doing an audit on a website, namely whether it’s running on secure protocol (in other words, using “https” instead of “http”), and then, if it is, whether that https protocol has been implemented correctly (often it has not).

Since Google is valuing https in their ranking we always want to make sure that Google doesn’t think the https implementation on a website is broken. It might negatively impact the trustworthiness of the site.

(This video is designed to complement our SEO Audit Essentials free checklist. To get a copy of that checklist for your SEO work, click here)

An audio transcript appears below the video.

Audio Transcript

Hi, everybody. This is Ross Barefoot with Horizon Web Marketing. I’m here with another tip for how to use our SEO audit checklist. As you may already know, and may already have a copy, we offer as a free download a checklist similar to the one we use in house for performing an SEO audit on your website. So, we’re just going to drill down into one small aspect of that, and show you how you can do a check on your site. And in this case, it’s for the security protocol that your site is operating under.

Let’s take a look at the checklist. You can see it here. It’s set up in a spreadsheet format.

image of seo audit essentials checklist

If we scroll down a little bit, you’ll see it there’s a setting that says security issues. And the first question is, is the site using HTTPS? Of course, as you probably know, Google is pushing everyone to use a secure protocol and here I’ve got a project site to take a look at. You’ll see up at the top left that the site is using HTTPS, as opposed to just HTTP. Whenever you visit a website, typically, if it’s running this secure protocol, if you’re using Chrome browser, it’s going to show secure, other browsers will show something similar.

Your first step is, if you’re going to check out your site is try typing in the address, just like I’ve done it here without any protocol [ed: without http or https] and hit Enter, and then see what it defaults to. In this case, it defaults to HTTPS. So, so far, so good. I’d click around to a few pages on a few links, see if it’s running HTTPS. Okay, so at this real basic level, it looks to be running HTTPS. But I’m going to check one other thing, and that is what about if somebody has a link out there with just the standard old-fashioned HTTP? So, I’m going to put that in for this site and I’m going to hit enter. Now notice that it redirects again to HTTPS.

So, some sites do not force it to check. Part of what you’re going to do is you’re going to check by taking out that S, and running it through and seeing if it redirects back to the secure protocol. But typically, you’re not done there.

Using the Insecure Content Report in Screaming Frog

Now tool that we use quite a bit, and I’ve talked about on some of my other videos is Screaming Frog [ed: for a link to any tools mentioned in this video, see the description of the video on YouTube]. It’s free for up to about 500 URLs. It’s a free download. Otherwise, if you have to buy it, it’s a good tool to have. I’ll do other videos on what we use it for, a whole bunch of different stuff. I’ve done a crawl here on a somewhat abandoned site called rockymountainsearchacademy.com. Once I do a crawl using Screaming Frog, they have a report that is called insecure content. When you click on that, it’ll prompt you to download a spreadsheet.

image of the dashboard of Screaming Frog

What the spreadsheet looks like is right here. You’ll notice that it will show me every page that has a link on it that points to an insecure destination. In this case, on my page, How To SEO Courses, you’ll see here under the column destination, notice how the protocol over here is HTTP. That’s not really the best case. Now in our situation, we do have what are called redirects in place. So, if someone clicks on that link, they are forced to a secure version of this page. But that puts an unnecessary step in the process. So, this would be an area that I would need to give some attention to, to change these links here to HTTPS.

Using JitBit to Double Check for Page Resources Called Insecurely

Now there’s one other free tool that I’m going to show you how to use. We’ll go back here, and we’ll check this tab. This is a cool little site called JitBit. You can go there and do an SSL check. Now, this will only go up to about 200 pages. But it gives you a good idea whether you might have a problem or not. Notice you have to tweet to gain access? That’s a small price to pay. So, I go ahead and tweet, and I’m going to show you what the result is when I did a check on Rocky Mountain search engine Academy. And you can see in the screen capture here, that it finds just one insecure item. Now, this is because it’s looking for actually where the website is calling some sort of a resource that is using something to build the page that is insecure. Now, this is something that Screaming Frog did not pick up on. And so, in essence, you really have to do a variety of different checks.

At this point, if you find that you do have a problem, and you’re not really technical, here’s where you call in your developer or an outside developer if you feel that your developer, or the person you’re working with, can’t handle this. And you say, “Well, here’s what I find:” In the case of Rocky Mountain search Academy, I have a bunch of insecure links that need to be swapped out. That can be done with a one-step database replacement operation. I would also show them the JitBit document, because it shows where an external script is being called insecurely. Both of those are red flags to Google. And so, they would need to be dealt with. Once you deal with them, you can mark this off your list.

Again, my name is Ross Barefoot with Horizon Web Marketing and Horizon Web Marketing Academy. I hope this has been useful to you. Please subscribe for more tips like this, and also click on the bell icon next to the subscribe button. That way, you’ll actually get a notification when we have new videos come out that will help you work through these tough SEO questions. Bye for now.

Video – How to Use Our SEO Audit Essentials Checklist (7 minutes)

Graphic indicating the free download for the SEO audit checklistHave You Downloaded Our Free SEO Audit Checklist Yet?

(If you haven’t, you can find it here.)

If you have, maybe you’d like a bit of a guided tour. In this brief video I’ll give you an overview and a few insights as to how you might want to use this resource in your own web development and digital marketing.

 

When you watch the video, feel free to post questions in the comments for either this blog post or the video itself. We want to make sure you can get the most out the SEO Audit checklist.

Why should you care about SEO? SEO is Search Engine Optimization to rank higher in search results. Here is a great reference to learn about the value of first page Google results.

What Should an SEO Audit Cover? 10 Essential SEO Areas.

Graphic indicating the free download for the SEO audit checklistWill an “SEO Checker” perform a real “SEO Audit”?

What business doesn’t want to rank higher in search results? Especially if those search results are on Google. Recently Infront Webworks out of Colorado Springs published a study on the value of a page one ranking, which demonstrated that over 90% of searchers will choose one of the page one results without ever making it to page two (and most of those will be clicking on the top 3 results).

Often, when a company looks at their rankings and wonders why they aren’t performing better in search, they think about doing an SEO Audit. Many will do their own search on Google for things like “SEO audit,” “SEO Checker,” “Website Checker,” and so forth. As soon as they do they notice the wealth of free SEO site check tools. For that reason, recently we’ve been looking at SEO Audit tools in our blog posts and videos. While we will be looking at many useful tools that do fill legitimate search engine optimization needs, we need to clarify that none of these tools can ever hope to perform a full SEO audit (and to be fair, none of them that I have seen claim to do so).

[This post was updated on 3/3/2018 and again 5/8/2018 with our how-to video to help you use our SEO Audit Essentials Checklist. Jump to the video.]

Of course as soon as we say “SEO Audit” it seems like we need to take a pause and discuss what a real SEO Audit should cover.

A Full and Complete SEO Audit Should Include the Following

  • Technical Factors
  • Content and Relevancy
  • Analytics and Tracking
  • Visitor Engagement
  • Business Conversion
  • SERP Conversions
  • Links and Authority
  • Trust and Brand
  • Keyword Research
  • Competitive Landscapes

This blog post will examine each of these areas.  If you’d prefer a video, we have one for you here, but the blog post has more information and details.

What does “SEO Audit” mean to you?

I think when most business people think of an SEO audit they think of the result. They hope it will be something that will open the door to better visibility in Google search results.

The thinking might go a little like this:

We aren’t getting leads off of our website.

I never hear customers talking about our website.

When I search for us on Google I don’t find our website but I find lots of our competitors.

Something’s wrong with our website!

LET’S FIND WHAT’S WRONG AND FIX IT!

You’d see a similar thought process if a business can’t figure out why they are running a loss (or making too small of a profit). And in many ways the methodology is the same:

  1. Find and hire a professional
  2. Open up your books to the “pro”
  3. Let them start looking in areas that you never would have thought of for problems you never realized existed.

seal like rubber stamp with word auditSEO vs. Financial Audits

The main difference is that a financial audit is a process that relies on principles that change very little and have been examined across time over millions of businesses. An SEO audit is a process that has been with us a much shorter time, works in an environment of much more rapid change, has to take into account a much more diverse array of variables in terms of technology, marketing, the behavior of 3rd parties (most notably Google).

And despite this wealth of challenges, people still want free online SEO checkers, which process their observations in a minute or less, to give them all their answers that a full SEO audit would.  It’s an unfair expectation.

The first step in the process is to find a competent SEO professional who’s done this sort of thing before. More than once. The purpose of this post is not to tell you how to find that professional, but it might help you to decide which professional you want to “open your books” to.

If you are interviewing a professional SEO about conducting an SEO audit for your business, after you determine they have experience and integrity (as best you can), your next question should be, “what will your audit cover?”

In the past I’ve talked about the “twin pillars of SEO” (which are authority and relevance, as explained here), and any SEO audit will need to study each of those closely. In addition there are other important areas that need to be covered in your SEO audit, principally technical factors related to how your website is built and interacts with Google and Bing and their “crawlers.”

With these basic principles in mind, find out what your prospective SEO consultant what their audit will cover and compare it to the following brief overview:

Technical Factors

This is the arena of the geek, sometimes the uber-geek, but it’s increasingly necessary to make sure your website is sound when it comes to technical issues such as

  • Slow page load times
  • The presence of elements that might confuse search engines (flash, frames, confusing URLs, poorly structured redirects)
  • Presence of elements that might actually block search engines (primarily a mistakenly configured robots.txt)
  • Presence of elements that are designed to help Search Engines understand and index your website (these would include not just an XML sitemap, but also a working and properly configured account with Google Search Console)
  • And so much more…

Graphic indicating the free download for the SEO audit checklist

Content and Relevancy

The relevancy portion of an SEO audit is not a simple checklist of items, but rather a survey of whether your website is relevant to the desires and interests of your customer as they are searching online.

An audit for relevancy cannot be effectively conducted unless the SEO has had an in depth discussion with you about your typical customer, how they search, why they buy, and so forth.

Armed with knowledge of your product or service and information about your customer, the professional then will need to do keyword research related to those factors. It’s only by determining how your ideal customer is searching that the professional SEO can tell whether the content on your website makes it relevant, not just to a bunch of keywords, but to those desires or needs that drive the searches of your ideal customer.

In line with this, a full audit would examine your search analytics in Google Search Console to see what queries your website is already showing up for, which gives clues as to how Google views your relevancy right now.

Analytics and Tracking

One of the most important advantages that Internet marketing offers over traditional marketing and sales is the unprecedented ability to track results. Tracking results alerts to problems, allows for fine tuning of any marketing effort, and insures the best use of funds. There is a wealth of tools and methodologies for tracking a website and how it serves the company’s interests.

The downside to this is that website analytics and tracking really need to be set up and configured by an expert, due to the complexity and subtlety of many tracking issues. The wrong tracking is worse than no tracking at all, because it leads to a distorted picture and decisions based on mistaken assumptions.

Any full SEO audit should examine the way that a website is tracking visitors, which is usually handled these days by Google Analytics, and should examine the Analytics configuration to make sure it is set up to track in a way that best serves the company’s business needs.

Visitor Engagement

Not only is visitor engagement necessary to achieve business goals (see business conversions below), it is also needed to send signals to Google that may help the website to be shown in search results to a broader audience and in a more commanding position on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).  Google likes to show websites that engage the visitors.

Visitor engagement is another issue where an experienced eye is needed. Any company can read basic metrics such as bounce rate, number of pages per session, average time on page, and so forth. But the numbers are useless if they are not tied back into the business goals and if they are not analyzed by someone who can interpret the data and translate it into action items for the business.

An SEO audit should look not merely at engagement metrics, but ideally should ferret out pages that are killing engagement, or perhaps should be able to provide the company at least with an idea about whether their numbers are poor or good, and the implication.

Business Conversion and Conversion Rate Optimization

Usually free SEO Checkers will give you a good set of data for taking on technical SEO issues, but are blind to your individual business goals.

This is yet another area where an SEO audit will be useless unless the professional conducting the assessment has taken some time to learn more about your business and what it needs to achieve from its website.

After examining your pages for the presence or absence of factors that will improve your ability to convert visitors to customers or leads, an SEO audit should offer specific guidance on how pages should be changed to reduce barriers to, and increase incentives for, a visitor to take the desired action on your website.

SERP Conversions

Before you ever get a visitor to your website through organic search two things have to occur, 1) the business’s website needs to appear prominently in search results, or the SERPs, and 2) a person who sees your website listed along with 14 other listings on that SERP needs to decide that yours is the website they need to visit.

In the SEO business tremendous emphasis is placed on #1 above and often virtually none on #2. An SEO audit, however, should not only look at how your website ranks, but in addition to that should see whether it’s optimized to make the most of any search visibility it’s getting by making sure the “snippet,” that is the listing for your website in search results, makes a compelling case to searchers that they should visit your website to find what they are looking for.

Links and Authority

One of the most important factors that determine whether your website will be an SEO success or not is the number and quality of other websites that link to yours. These are known as “back links” and any legitimate SEO audit will take a close look at them. They will inform you of the number and quality of these links as a whole, but will also tell you how your website scores on at least a couple of the numerous 3rd party services that will quantify, not only the links to your site, but their overall impact.

In addition, however, since links are one of those SEO factors that can actually hurt you if done wrong, an SEO audit will need to determine whether or not there are “toxic links” in your back link profile that constitute a “poison pill” that might kill off your search results quietly, without you understanding the harm that is being done.

If an SEO audit uncovers harmful links it will also provide you with a clear explanation of what your options are and show you a path to rectifying the situation.

Trust and Brand

Google looks not only for “authority” created by numerous links, or “votes,” recommending a site, but it also needs to have a high level of confidence that your business and business website are legitimate. For that reason a modern SEO assessment also needs to look at how your brand is referenced online, and how consistently your company is represented — as a company — across numerous “local directories” as well as social media platforms.

Keyword Research

We already mentioned keyword research under “Content and Relevancy,” but it is so important we thought it needed its own section.

Companies always have an idea of what keywords matter when it comes to connecting with their ideal customer in search. Yet I have yet to encounter a business that had a complete picture of the keywords that are important.

The reason for this is simple: human behavior is not entirely predictable. When people are online searching, especially now that searches often include voice-to-text searching, they will find an infinite variety of ways to express to a search engine what they are looking for.

A good SEO audit will take into account the keywords that the business owner wants to rank for, will also survey the keywords that a website is already ranking for, but then will go far beyond that, exploring a wide range of innovative ideas from a number of data sources to discover missing opportunities to connect with important prospects.

Competitive Landscapes

No search visibility occurs in a vacuum. If I search for “best cellphone under $500” I will join a huge audience that is sought by thousands of vendors, all of them jockeying for position in my search results. If I search on “best cellphone over $2000,” suddenly I will find very few companies trying to appear in my search results.

The goal of an SEO audit is to try and quantify the level of competition, usually as a part of keyword research. It also will look for areas where you have a higher chance of success, or, conversely, will help you to avoid fighting losing battles. But more generally, such an assessment will also determine the strength of your primary business competitors in SEO terms, and create a strategy either to help you catch up to them, or stay ahead, depending on where you are right now.

Get the checklist: What Should Your SEO Audit Cover?

Graphic indicating the free download for the SEO audit checklistTo help you get a firm handle on this admittedly broad subject, we’ve come up with an SEO Audit checklist that covers each of these 10 areas.  Visit this page to request to download this powerful – and free – SEO resource.