What is an SEO Website Audit?
SEO website audits are audits that perform a deep dive into your site’s SEO. From content to technical SEO, to links, every corner of your site should be unearthed by these audits. Depending on your auditor, they may include super technical items like WordPress code, or server issues causing crawler traps. Other audits provide a deep analysis of your business’ SEO factors and how they play into your site’s overall SEO. What then, does a website audit do and not do?
Website audits tend to be a mixed bag in terms of any technical issues they may reveal. It can also be down to the auditor themselves what it does (or does not) cover. You have penalty audits, content audits, and server security audits. You have link profile audits, Google Analytics audits, entity audits, and even local SEO audits. The purpose of your audit will differ depending on your ultimate goals. You can’t expect a penalty audit to always uncover why your site’s not converting properly. But, you can expect a content audit to get to the underlying issues of why your site’s not converting traffic.
What if You Have Been Hit by a Penalty?
Have you been hit by a penalty? If so, you are all too familiar with the sinking feeling of looking at your Google Analytics, and noticing that you dropped 50% overnight. Whether you were hit by a core update, or another update, facing this kind of traffic loss is painful. Know that you are not alone. When these updates hit, thousands of people who rely on Google for daily organic traffic suffer. If you are unsure about anything on your site, or why things are happening the way they are, then you definitely should purchase an audit. A deep dive audit can help uncover issues that may have been previously overlooked.
Audits, by their very nature, should be entirely custom, have custom processes from the ground up, and special attention paid to how each issue currently exists, how it will impact your site moving forward, and how to best position your site by fixing these issues. I concentrate on the issues that are most likely to move the needle, and then some: content, links, and technical SEO. Each of these attributes of SEO can have a major impact in terms of your site’s performance in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
How Does a Site Audit Uncover Technical Weaknesses?
When it comes to search traffic, the reality of the game is there are fluctuations, regardless of what you do to your site. There can be 3% reduction in traffic, 10%, or whatever. Things like site changes, lack of developmental oversight (resulting in the staging site being indexed when it should be), or simple issues developers don’t catch (such as setting URL canonicals to the staging site rather than the live site).
These drops are not always the fault of the SEO professional or even developers. Google is its own search engine, and knowledge about how traffic fluctuates due to issues beyond the SEO’s control is critical. In addition, algorithm updates are their own beast – and can take your traffic from 100% to 50% overnight.
Measuring traffic alone is a poor metric to assess whether or not the site really is performing. There are several reasons behind this. Did you know that you can fake traffic? Or how about leads? Anyone can go onto a contact form and fill out their information, making it look like leads are happening when they’re not. Unless security measures are in place. The only differences are their morals – or lack thereof. While you would think that things like this were a thing of the past, they do still happen and can wreak havoc on your reporting numbers if you are not careful.
This is why an SEO audit is critical to maintaining a safe and sane online presence. If you let your online presence get away from you, many times it actually will. And this is when an SEO audit can help reign things in and bring you back to the light. Aside from algorithm updates, there are several scenarios in which a website audit will be necessary. Have you performed a redesign, only to see your site traffic tank overnight? This is a common scenario, most likely due to redirects that should have been implemented but they weren’t. This scenario can also vary between sites, though, so it’s not as simple as saying a redirect is always the cause of an issue. This is why the phrase “it depends” can be the bane of an SEO’s existence: many situations really do “depend” on the industry, your site, and can even come down to specific SERPs. These are not one-size-fits-all scenarios.
Are You Unsure If You Were Hacked?
Have you been hacked, but you can’t figure out where the hack came from? Have you performed certain changes to a site, only to have them result in reduced traffic? Have you been publishing content, you’re in month 4, but all of a sudden your traffic tanks? It could be due to an algorithm update. If you’re not keeping up with the news in this fashion, you could suffer traffic losses from an update you were not planning on. This is also another scenario in which you will need a website audit. But make no mistake, an audit without implementation is just like having no audit at all – it won’t do anything. You must have accurate implementation taking place after the audit as well. Without this, your audit does nothing.
When embarking on a project of this scale, you may have many questions. How long will the audit take? How much will it cost? How long will it take to see changes take effect? And, the most important to site owners: how long will it take to see improvement in my organic search traffic?
What Are the Goals of SEO Website Audits?
Really, that depends on you, the website owner. But, if you would like further insight into this question, most website owners come to us when they have seen a significant drop in traffic on their site. They want to know what has caused this traffic drop. Any number of things could be the cause, including:
- Changes in the actual SERP the site was enjoying rankings on for a while,
- Overall website changes that caused the site’s traffic to tank (most common),
- Link penalties resulting from link spam other less-than-legitimate SEOs are guilty of doing,
- Developers who don’t follow protocol when creating a new site (such as letting entire staging sites get indexed), resulting in duplicate content,
- Hackers hacking the site, resulting in a hacked site notification appearing in the SERPs (this can be disastrous for rankings if you don’t catch it for some time),
- Other situations dependent on developmental oversight and proper execution of SEO tasks that fall short of full completion.
SEO website audits should, in general, be designed and use sustainable solutions to create a long-term online presence that Google will love. They should be designed to be impervious to most algorithm updates. But, and this is a big one here – you must ensure that other SEO work does not interfere with the work of the audit itself. Don’t let someone else’s bad quality work interfere with the work that your SEO auditor is doing.
SEO audits can be a mixed bag as well. If you don’t properly vet your SEO professional, you could get one who does not know what they are doing. They could make things worse than before if all the details are not accounted for.
Also important: an SEO audit is not a quick fix, get-rich-quick scheme. Some audits are designed to get you back into Google’s good graces after a penalty or to find and fix a myriad of SEO issues that you may not have realized were plaguing your site. Don’t just ignore the advice of the audit after purchasing it. Most SEOs use audits with attributes carefully considered for your site vs. those of your competitors, and you will need to ensure that the implementation follows suit correctly. Make sure you ask about these aspects of the audit – whether work is included as part of the audit or not, anyone working on the audit should be able to point you in the direction of a competent practitioner who can, if they no longer do implementation work.
Any audit’s ultimate priority should be to recommend solutions that will result in an increase in your site’s overall performance: its organic traffic, rankings, leads, and overall ROI. Legitimate SEO audits should not use black hat techniques, and they should also not recommend black hat techniques disguised as legitimate. It should be a tome` of how to get your sites into Google’s good graces naturally, and without spammy tactics. They should also comply with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to a T. They should also have the ultimate goal of fixing any mess of technical SEO issues that may exist on your site, and create an updated version that takes care of many different SEO issues.
For this reason, I love Bruce Clay’s SEO audits. They have sufficient depth, expertise, and breadth of experience to put any website on a competitive footing with Google. Check them out now.
Why Do I Need an SEO Website Audit?
Your business website is a complex system of coding languages, applications, graphics, and files. At any one point, something can happen to your organic traffic. Perhaps Google has had a significant algorithm update. Perhaps you did one 301 redirect too many and your traffic drop happened right after that? Maybe you are under a negative SEO attack and this is the reason for your traffic drop? Or maybe your technical SEO implementation just isn’t where it should be?
Maybe you stopped performing maintenance on your site in terms of content, and all of a sudden you saw a traffic drop? There are many situations where organic traffic can drop where the root cause is not a penalty. But, in order to assess what exactly is happening with your traffic, you should at the very least have an SEO audit performed.
What Do You Need to Begin?
Before beginning the audit, your SEO will usually need full access to your Google Analytics (or another analytics platform) and your Google Search Console account. From there, to be most effective, they need full information about what has happened to your site within the last 60-90 days. Ideally, a year is preferred for more in-depth assessments. If you have server log files, they will probably need those also. Uncovering severe technical issues on your site can oftentimes be accomplished by looking at your site’s log files.
During the discovery questionnaire process, uncovering these answers is important because it will give your SEO a window into your business, and how your website runs.
That’s why it’s critical to have an SEO audit performed by a professional in the industry: someone who knows how to dig into the deep details and uncover exactly why your traffic dropped. Experience what it’s like to uncover your site’s true objective today with an audit from an SEO professional.
What Is Covered as Part of SEO Website Audits?
Google has over 200 ranking factors. Audits must take into account many issues that can impact them, and from there your SEO can put together a strategy to tackle weaknesses on your site in a cohesive, holistic manner. Don’t just assume that your site is the best in your industry. Make sure it is by auditing the most compelling factors.
Ranking factors are different than website enhancements. Ranking factors include those that have a direct impact on your site’s traffic, regardless of when they’re implemented. The issues most SEOs tend to cover will fall into these 12 buckets of known ranking factors:
- Technical SEO Factors
- Content Factors
- On-Page Optimization Factors
- Website Architecture Factors
- Keyword Targeting Factors
- Internal Linking Factors
- External Linking Factors
- Website Design Factors
- Website Development Factors
- Usability, User Experience Factors
- Mobile Friendliness Factors
- E-A-T Factors (Expertise, Authority, and Trust)
Of course, you will have to purchase an audit and have an SEO of your choice complete it to see all the specifics. But, this is a high-level overview of everything included in an audit. Only the SEO can tell you exactly what is included in their specific audit, however. There’s a lot here, isn’t there? That’s why it pays to have an SEO professional with years of experience on your side. This wealth of knowledge can save you many headaches later!
What Should an SEO Site Audit Report Include?
At its most basic level, an SEO site audit should include analysis of your website, including an analysis of your site’s competitors, current keyword rankings, keyword opportunities, technical issues, content issues, and much more. The site audit should provide intrinsic business value that, when implemented, will drive significant improvement to your site’s traffic and overall search engine ranking.
But, there are different types of audits, in which their scope will be defined during an initial consultation with your SEO consultant. Technical SEO audits are a deep dive into your site’s technical issues including, but not limited to:
- Overall keyword rankings, benchmarks, and market competition,
- Keyword targeting opportunities to drive traffic,
- Link profile analysis which should uncover specific weaknesses in your site’s backlink profile,
- Content analysis to determine what the current state of your content is,
- Detailed analysis of modern site issues including page speed, intrusive interstitials, and anything in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines,
- Detailed analysis of your site’s traffic and how it’s being impacted by any recent updates,
- Impact analysis of your site’s pages and structure, and how any changes could have affected traffic if known to the SEO consultant,
- Robots.txt issues,
- Sitemap issues,
- Error handling and specific error types such as 4xx and 5xx errors,
- Issues impacting page speed like images, JS script file execution, time to first byte, server issues, and issues on the server-side and third-party scripts,
- CSS file errors and issues with CSS implementation,
- Schema.org markup and entity analysis to discover opportunities for attaining rich snippets (if applicable to your site’s industry and situation),
- Analysis of your site’s overall online sentiment including reviews and issues surrounding your site’s standing in the overall online community,
- Analysis of any social media accounts and their overall promotional activities,
- Assessments of your site’s coding and any impact of W3C-valid coding best practices,
- How the implementation of all of these can eventually impact your site’s business overall,
- And much much more, depending on what you have discussed with your SEO consultant.
Because of all of these factors and more, it’s important to note that you should not request a free audit from your SEO representative at first. This is an unfortunate issue propagated by Google’s recent recommendations on asking for a free audit. While this may be an OK way to assess the potential fit of your SEO consultant or agency, it seldom reveals much at the outset as to what will happen when your audit is complete. A better way to vet your professional is to ask for references of past work, look at their results, and decide how they will best fit into your overall business’ projected goals and outcomes for the project.
No audit should ever be a simple list of “I checked this or that.” These types of audits are seldom helpful and serve to frustrate rather than help any client achieve significant results with their site.
How Long Does an SEO Site Audit Take?
Your audit should take approximately 4-6 weeks (or anywhere from 60 – 120 hours). This also varies depending on other factors including:
- The cooperation of your existing team,
- When your SEO receives complete access to Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and all other software being used on the site,
- When your SEO receive other information they ask for in the discovery phase,
- Any other factors that may be beyond your SEO’s control
The sooner that all access is granted to all requested items, the sooner your SEO will be able to begin your audit. They should be communicating to you these deadline-specific issues and items that are required on their part.
How Much Will My SEO Website Audit Cost?
To find out, discuss your needs in a consultation with your favorite SEO professional!
Why is an SEO Audit Important?
Even the best website owners may find that changes get away from them if they are not careful. This is why site audits are so important. They help you build on existing processes, work through complex problems, and exist as a guideline for the future health and performance of your site. Don’t let control of your website’s objective get away from you.
Resolve technical issues getting in the way of your site getting crawled and indexed. Focus on keywords that your site has a chance of ranking for. Write content that will put your site on competitive footing against others in the SERPs for that query. Get your page speed to competitive numbers. Cut down on thin, junk content. Get better E-A-T factors in your site’s overall link profile. Get better quality links. Target more competitive keywords that have a likelier chance of conversions. Get your on-page optimization in check, conforming to today’s best practices designed to elicit the best results. And, most importantly, the site audit should communicate their overall value to your business: what can you expect when you implement these changes 6 months down the line? A year from now?
All of these and more are what most site audits should cover. Get your site’s audit completed today with a competent SEO professional after you have vetted them and understand everything they can do for you.
And embrace your site’s true objective.