If you’re aren’t familiar with the Screaming Frog tool for SEO, get ready for your life to change. Screaming Frog is a free SEO tool that will crawl your website and spit out pages of information. You can view all of your website’s internal and external links, response codes, URLs, metadata, and directives (and that’s scratching the surface).
Because of the large amount of information that Screaming Frog gives you, it can be daunting at first. However, there are a lot of great resources available that can help you better understand how to use the tool for your benefit.
Today I’m going to touch on how I use Screaming Frog while performing a site audit. Because there are countless ways you can use Screaming Frog, I’m going to focus on just a few features that have been extremely helpful when optimizing a website:
1. Finding 404 Errors Within a Website
One of the first things I do is see how many 404 error code pages are on the website. If a site has a lot of 404 errors, Google will rank it poorly and won’t see it as a reliable source. It’s important that when auditing a website you find all the pages that are 404s or “not found.”
Once you’ve crawled a website in Screaming Frog, you can click on the “Response Codes” tab to get a list of all the Response Codes on your website. You can sort the codes by number by clicking on the Status Code column on the right.
From there, you’ll have a list of all 404 errors that need to be changed to 301 redirects. Redirecting 404s will greatly improve the quality, functionality, and Page Rankings of your website.
2. Optimizing Meta Titles & Descriptions
Meta titles and descriptions are what people see when they are looking through the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Therefore, it’s important that they are engaging, informative, and action-oriented. Checking metadata is a must when performing a site audit.
Click on the “Page Titles” and “Meta Description” tabs on Screaming Frog to access all the meta titles and descriptions on your site. Here are a few questions that I ask myself when looking at them:
i. Are the titles and descriptions keyword optimized?
ii. Are they a good length?
Long titles and descriptions will get cut off in the SERP and will make it difficult to read. But if they’re too short, they won’t be engaging and it will be harder for them to rank. Shoot for titles between 50-65 characters and descriptions no longer than 160 characters.
iii. Are there titles and descriptions that are missing?
If so, write and publish them.
iv. Are there duplicates?
Ensure that each meta title and description on your website is unique.
v. Will they intrigue and engage the audience?
Your meta title and descriptions should have strong action verbiage and language. If they don’t intrigue or interest your audience, you might want to rewrite them.
3. Analyzing URL Structures
When performing your site audit, it’s critical that you also check your URL structure. If your site has a long list of URLs that contain strange characters and unusual parameters, Google will have a difficult time crawling and ranking your website. Not only that, weird parameters lead to poor user experience, which means people are more likely to get confused or lost while navigating throughout your website.
To check my website’s URL structure, I go to the “URI” tab in Screaming Frog. From there, I first look to see if there are any duplicate URLs. If there are, I will either canonicalize the pages, use a 301 redirect, or implement a rel=canonical.
As you check your URLs, ensure that each one:
- Is readable (the more English words the better)
- Contains keywords
- Is generally shorter (4-5 words)
- Doesn’t contain unwieldy punctuation characters (see this list of examples)
- Separates words with hyphens and underscores
Basically, my rule of thumb is: if it looks spammy, it probably needs changing.
4. Checking Response Time
Wouldn’t it be nice to see all the load times of your website pages? Well, lucky for you, with Screaming Frog you can! First, click on the “Internal” tab. Then, with the bottom scrollbar, scroll to the right until you see the “Response Time” column. I personally like to drag the column over so it’s right next to the Address column.
Now you can see your load time for each of your pages. You can click on the column to sort your website by longest or shortest response time. For me, I take a look at pages that are taking longer than 2 seconds to load.
Your website won’t rank very well if it contains pages that have a long response time. Not to mention, a lot of visitors will get frustrated and bounce from your site if it takes too long to load.
5. Investigating Crawl Depth
Analyzing your pages’ Crawl Depth will give you insight into your website’s structure and hierarchy. A page’s Crawl Depth is the number of clicks it takes to get to that page from the homepage.
An important thing to remember is that the higher the Crawl Depth is, the harder it is for a page to be crawled, ranked, and visited. During a site audit, I make sure that there aren’t any important pages (such as a product page) that have an abnormally high Crawl Depth.
To do this, go to the “Internal” tab on Screaming Frog. Similar to finding the “Response Time” column, use the bottom scroll bar and scroll to the right until you see the “Crawl Depth” column.
Again, I like to drag the column to the left so I can see the URL address and the Crawl Depth number at the same time. Click on the column to sort from lowest to highest, and click again to sort from highest to lowest.
Ask yourself the following questions when looking at Crawl Depth and website structure data:
- Are there important pages on my site that have a Crawl Depth higher than 3?
- Are there less important pages that have a Crawl Depth lower than 3?
- Is my website structured in a way that lets users see the most important pages first?
- How easy (or hard) is it for users to navigate throughout my website and carry out a conversion?
Now it’s Your Turn!
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of Screaming Frog and how it can help you when you are performing an in-depth website audit. Now it’s your turn — download the free Screaming Frog tool and start analyzing your website!
Again, I only covered a few of Screaming Frog’s capabilities. If you want to get more in-depth into using Screaming Frog, I suggest you check out this guide.
There are also a lot of other great tools that can help you in your next site audit, so be sure to research other SEO tools on your own as well.