Is Your School Website Primed for Search Traffic? A 5-Step SEO Website Audit
Putting together a great website to attract Google traffic or other search engine traffic requires doing a hundred things well—and every year, the bar for what’s considered a great website goes up. This can feel daunting, especially if managing your website presence is only one of many responsibilities you have in operating your beauty school.
The good news is that anyone, even if you have limited time and technical knowledge, can perform a brief check-up to see if anything is holding your website back from showing up to visitors searching online for beauty schools near them. Of course, going deeper to fix more complicated items may require bringing on search engine optimization (SEO) or web developer expertise, but this expertise is not necessary to performing this check-up.
Whether you are designing a new website from scratch for your beauty school or looking to optimize an existing site, make sure you’ve covered the basic foundation of a strong website for the 2021 search environment:
Audit Step #1: Check which webpages are indexable
For your webpages to be eligible to show up in Google or other search engines, they need to be what’s called “indexable.” This is basically a setting that tells search engines—either at the whole site domain level or on an individual page basis—whether you, the owner or manager of the site, want the page to have a chance of showing up in the search results.
There may be certain pages you don’t want showing up in search results. For instance, maybe you have a page that is only for instructors or enrolled students but not for public consumption. In that case, you will want to go into the settings of your content management system (CMS) to “noindex” those pages.
You can use online tools built for the purpose of checking indexation, such as Ahrefs Website Checker, but you can also use Google itself. To check quickly on Google, use the site-constrained search operator. For example, if your website is thenycbeautyschool.com, simply go to Google.com and type in the search bar: site:thenycbeautyschool.com
The search results shown are your indexable pages. You can also use this feature to check any competitor’s website to quickly see a list of their pages. Note that the site search operator is not foolproof, however: the results are not guaranteed to include all indexable pages.
Audit Step #2: Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly
If you don’t have a computer at work, chances are you do all your internet usage on your phone. Roughly 70 percent of all web traffic in the U.S. comes from a mobile device. Odds are, a mobile device is what your prospective student is relying on to research and select a beauty school.
Mobile-friendliness encompasses many, many items, but a very basic aspect of mobile-friendliness is whether the content on your website can be readily browsed on the smaller dimensions of a mobile device. Use your own mobile browser to bring up your school’s website and see whether it is responsive, which means that the content auto-adjusts to different sizes and dimensions of the screen to be as legible as possible across devices and browser types. Have people you know with different types of phones try this as well.
If you have Google Search Console installed for your website, log in and look for the Mobile Usability report, which flags the number of pages that contain what Google considers active errors when loading on mobile devices and also tells you which pages they are. Note that passing this Google-defined mobile-friendliness measure is kind of a bare minimum for mobile-friendliness. Even if all your pages do not contain mobile usability errors, you could potentially have a lot of improvements to make still to make them truly mobile-friendly.
Another increasingly important aspect of mobile-friendliness is page load speed. Websites load more slowly over cellular data networks than on a desktop inside an office with high-speed internet. That’s why search engines explicitly reward sites that are built in such a way as to load quickly—in a bare number of milliseconds.
How good or bad is your load speed? Put your website homepage into a tool such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights to get a detailed report as well as a headlining score from 1 – 100 (with scores in the 90 – 100 range being most desirable). Note that this tool checks one page at a time, so check a few of your school’s key webpages, not just the homepage. You can check your competitors’ webpages as well.
Audit Step #3: Crawl your site for other loose ends
Using free or subscription tools to crawl your site like the Googlebot would, you can more easily spot problem areas. A “crawl” of your site is a process by which an automated script starts with, say, your homepage, then follows all the links it finds to the next level of pages in the hierarchy, and so on, until it is either finished finding all pages on your site or you run out of crawl credits.
Examples of free-with-signup SEO audit tools include SEMRush (up to 100 URLs in the free version), SEOptimer, and Screaming Frog (requires download; must have a list of your pages to upload in the free version rather than entering just your domain as a starting point). Other tools to consider are Sitebulb and Ahrefs.
What kind of issues can you turn up with a site crawl? Every SEO site audit tool will check for slightly different issues, but all will include lists of outright errors or page elements that are suboptimal for SEO.
SEO Site Audit Issues and Why They Matter
HTML tags (title tags, meta descriptions, H1 tags) missing or duplicated
These are important headline labels to your pages. When they’re missing or duplicative, you are missing the opportunity to show search engines what each page is about.
These are pages that may exist in your sitemap but are not linked to from your homepage. Crawlers and users may not be able to get to them.
Broken or redirecting internal links or external links
When you link to outdated pages on your own or other sites, your users’ experience suffers. Search engines want site publishers to offer good user experiences.
Websites with security issues, such as http instead of https protocol, are more vulnerable to hacking.
Expect that the site audit report returned by these SEO tools may be overwhelming and too technical. It’s still a roadmap to help you understand all the areas that may need attention, some of which may be addressable easily by a non-technical person in your site’s content management system. Other issues may require some web developer or SEO expertise to prioritize and fix.
It’s rare for a site to have a clean bill of health with zero issues, so don’t be alarmed if you see a lot of flagged issues. Many categories of issues may not necessarily be critical errors but more nice-to-haves. Interpret the audit reports with a grain of salt.
Audit Step #4: Check that every page has a purpose and isn’t “thin content”
Take a look at each of your key pages and a sampling of your less-important pages. Does each one offer value to a user seeking answers about a specific family of questions? In other words, is there a reason for this page existing, and does it provide standalone value to justify its existence? Does it materially duplicate content on other pages?
For pages that don’t meet the bar, consider:
- Deleting the low-value page. If you do this, in your content management system, redirect the URL to another live page, so that if anybody has linked to the original page, they will be sent to the second page and not encounter a 404 error (dead end).
- Beefing up the low-value page with more content. For instance, if you have a page for your school’s cosmetology program, but it only has a brief paragraph of description and a series of photos of student work, it’s an opportunity add more to really make the page come to life for someone researching your school. You can consider adding topics such as curriculum topics covered, what to expect in a typical class, instructor headshots and bios, and how students earn training hours to meet state licensing requirements.
- Consolidating multiple pages that have a similar purpose but do not provide a lot of value individually. For instance, if you have a separate page for each of multiple continuing education classes, but you don’t have a lot to describe per class or have user actions that are specific to each class (such as registering for one), you might pull all of the continuing education class descriptions into a single continuing education page and redirect all the former continuing ed class pages to this consolidated page.
- Keeping the pages as-is but noindexing them. There may be situations where you do not wish to touch the page, but there’s not much point in exposing them to public search traffic, either. In these cases, think about intentionally taking them out of search engine consideration with a noindex directive.
Audit Step #5: Scrutinize conversion elements
Are you attracting traffic to your website—from paid advertisements online, from search engines, from business listings on Google, Yelp, or other directories and search platforms—only to squander the visitors with a poor conversion experience?
Important conversion actions a beauty school website could be:
- Submitting an admissions application or scheduling an admissions interview
- Scheduling a school visit
- Signing up for an email newsletter
To check the ease of conversion, put yourself in the shoes of a prospective student. Pull up your website on your phone or multiple phones (remember Audit Step #2, Ensure that your site is mobile-friendly?) and fill out your own form.
Are there obvious usability issues, such as a form that does not fit neatly on a mobile screen, or requires a pinch-and-zoom to be legible? If you tap into input entry fields, is it easy enough to free type responses or select from a dropdown menu? Any issues that cause frustration to you will absolutely reduce your conversions.
Are there questions asked that are not strictly necessary? Perhaps you don’t even use all the information provided when following up, or can be inferred for the most part (such as a state if you have their zip code), or there are questions that could be asked at a later date when the candidate enrollee has engaged with you further.
Less obviously, are your conversion elements buried—such as forms that only exist in a small banner at the bottom of your pages, or styled in a way that make them easy to gloss over when scanning the page?
What’s the user experience once you have submitted the form? Is there a good confirmation page and message that gives the user feedback that they successfully submitted the form and also preps them for what to expect next?
Optimizing your conversion rate with form testing is not a Marketing 101 topic, but often a little common sense and conscious thought about your conversion forms can go a long way, especially if you have not looked at these conversion elements in a long time.
Site Auditing Is a Continual Process
Auditing your school’s site for technical health and strong experience for users and search engines can be done without too much time or effort, but fixing the high-priority items will take time and resources. Create a plan for yourself to improve the site, but know that checking the site for items to fix—and implementing those changes—is a continual project.
However, knowing what to look for in an initial audit, especially if your site has been neglected for a while, can have large paybacks in traffic gains for patient school owners or marketing leads.