Auditing any business venture is always a good idea. Looking for mistakes and conflicts that could be hurting your bottom line is just good business. SEO audits are no different. They can uncover mistakes that need to be fixed, and changes that can be made to improve the search engine rankings your site is producing. The more serious you are about results the more frequently you will perform SEO audits. They may only be tied to marketing, but a well-run audit can give better insights into a site, its pages, and the traffic they receive. All in all, an SEO audit is a great idea at the launch of a new project, and at the beginning of every new quarter after launch.
When performing an SEO audit, your goal at the end of the process is to have three distinct results. First, you want a detailed description of your website’s performance in search, social, and other areas of interest. This is the “State of the Account” address, and will tell you many things relating to the current state of your site. Second, you will have a lengthy list of recommended actions to take based off the SEO audit checklist you used, and a description of how, when, and why you should make the changes. Last, you want to produce a report that outlines a complete marketing strategy aimed at taking full advantage of the available opportunities and traffic on the web.
It is important to remember that the size of your site can have a real impact on the ways Google handles your data. Small websites need to realize that stats by themselves can be a waste of time, and concentrating on them can have serious ramifications for your business. There are better ways to spend your time and energy. Larger websites are a different story. When traffic begins to drop at these sites, it is imperative that an audit be performed to catch the problem before it spirals out of control. Always keep in mind that an audit for its own sake is a waste of your time. Auditing should be done to address issues and uncover mysteries affecting your results. Otherwise, they are just a glorified fact-checking tour, and you would be better off investing that time somewhere else.
Nine times out of ten, SEO experts are contacted by businesses to address only one issue; rankings. This is too bad because an SEO audit addresses so many areas, and using it to look at only one data point seems to be missing the forest for the trees. SEO auditors are looking at multiple aspects of your site’s health in order to grasp what is doing well and where improvements can be made. Audits usually consist of four basic parts: a technical analysis, an on-page analysis, an off-page analysis, and a competitive analysis with keyword research.
A technical analysis of your site is the only logical starting point for an SEO audit. This is the step where we determine if the site is performing as designed. If you skip this step, you run the risk of everything you find later on being skewed due to a missed technical problem. That could cost you time and frustration, so do yourself a favor and perform the technical analysis first. The issues we find during our analysis can be grouped into two specific areas; accessibility and indexability.
Accessibility means exactly what it says. It describes the ease with which users and Google can access your site. All the incredible content you create means absolutely nothing if your pages can’t be seen, so check your robots.txt file and your robots meta-tags. They can restrict access to certain areas of your site, and could have inadvertently been set incorrectly. Both of these must be checked manually to ensure they are properly set and functioning. Accessibility basically refers to a crawler’s ability to access the pages on your site, so the focus should be on overall website architecture, speed, and mobile friendliness.
Indexability and accessibility are partners in Google’s eyes. They both are integral to end users being able to access your site. Just as accessibility addresses the ability of crawlers to access your pages, indexability allows your pages to be presented in search engine results. If your site is having problems in these areas, you may want to perform an audit to find the cause, and remember that it isn’t necessarily a Google Penalty. When you are hit with one of those, you will receive a message in your webmaster tools account. So, don’t lose your mind yet! If the worst has happened, and you did get a Google Penalty, make sure you identify the reason, fix the problem, and ask Google to reconsider their action. It’s a process, so it may take a little time, but it’s not the end of the world. Learn from it and move forward.
Now, we are ready to begin our on-page analysis of the site. This analysis focuses our attention on two areas; general content and individual page issues. General content issues tend to centralize around content duplication and keyword cannibalization. This is caused by the propensity of people to write on the same general topic, and inevitably the content, due to the limited scope of the topic, becomes too close for the crawlers comfort. Jumping on the bandwagon to write about hot topics is an excellent way to drum up traffic to your site, but you run a serious risk of your pages getting flagged for content duplication. So, be careful when selecting your next topic!
Individual page issues are directly connected to the way a page is structured and written. Everyone knows that great content equals great rankings, so you should be focused on creating clean, longer articles (Google likes articles of at least 500 words) for your site. Just make sure what you create is unique and valuable to your readers, include LSI keywords, and be grammatically correct.
It’s important to look closely at your URL as well. It should describe your content briefly and fittingly, and contain your main keyword. The title of the page should contain the keyword too. You should also optimize your site’s images, so they can rank in Google’s image searches. Meta descriptions are another way, if slightly outdated, to increase your conversion rate, so include those during this phase of the audit.
You may want to consider adding links to your page. Put aside the uneasy feeling you have when you think of linking to other resources. You are not helping your competition by linking outside. You actually have an excellent shot at increasing your website’s quality score by improving the overall quality of your content, and, through your links, becoming more trustworthy in Google’s eyes. That is never a bad thing.
We are now set to begin our off-page analysis. This is really an insight into how other people react to your site, so it can tell you a myriad of things about your popularity among readers and bloggers. It also gives you a pretty clear picture of the strength of your domain. Off-page analysis is all about the trust your site has engendered in search engines, and that trust can mean everything to your site. The more your site is trusted, and by extension you as a white hat SEO expert, the more opportunities you will be afforded by the search engines to rank highly in results pages. It’s all about the value of your content, and steering clear of “gaming” the system through the exploitation of quirks in the search engine algorithm. It is never a good idea to try to outsmart Google. It may pay off for a while, but you will be caught and the punishment is not worth the few dollars you made in the process.
Competitive analysis performed during an SEO audit is actually keyword research. As the smallest unit of measure in SEO, keywords give an excellent idea of what your competition is doing. Whenever you study those keywords, you are, in essence, studying your competitors.
Keywords should be looked at in terms of two things; difficulty and traffic. Traffic is fairly obvious. It gives us an idea of how many people searched for a specific keyword in a specific amount of time. Difficulty gives an indication of the rankings possible for that keyword, so you have an idea of how difficult it will be to rank using that word. Keyword recommendations, from auditor to client, should be considered very carefully. They will form the backbone of the site, and should be treated with the appropriate caution. They will be the deciding factor in the future growth of the campaign, so do your due diligence, pay close attention to your data, and choose the best options for your client.
There are few things more important to the overall health and well-being of your website than an SEO audit performed by a professional. It will give you all the data you need to diagnose how you are doing, and where you can improve. You are aiming at bettering the site’s performance, its trustworthiness, and its relationship with Google and the other search engines. Those are goals worthy of your time, energy, and your client’s investment.