Picture this: It’s a normal Wednesday morning. The sun is peeking through the window as you sip your first-second cup of coffee. Then you hear that iconic musical ding as an email notification dances across your screen. But, it’s not just any email. It’s THE email that changes your day:
I just tried to Google “ABC services,” and we’re nowhere to be found. I also searched for “the best ABC services in the world”—and nothing.
What do we need to do to fix this?
Your (Very Concerned) Boss
Naturally, you need to provide answers. You know that search is nuanced, and one person’s manual search of a couple queries doesn’t need to set off the alarm bells just yet. But nonetheless you engage the resources you need to look into it—but soon reality sinks in.
Perhaps you’re not gaining traction like you had been for certain priority keywords. Maybe traffic to some of your top-performing pages is down. Or, much to your dismay, you lost that coveted answer box. Then it hits you: You need an SEO audit.
But where do you start? What should be your top considerations? How will you take what you find and make it actionable? And what will really make this effort worthwhile?
An SEO audit is a great place to start when you’re trying to understand the factors that are hindering your search visibility. The data you collect, once analyzed, should help you create a roadmap to improve rankings and capitalize on white space. A great SEO audit looks at a variety of factors, including:
But, what makes an SEO audit worthwhile? Whether you embark on this journey with your internal team, or enlist the help of an agency partner, it’s important to understand what separates a thoughtful, strategic SEO audit from the rest. And, much like any journey, you need to start with a clear picture of where you are on the map.
So, what should you look for in an SEO audit? Let’s dive in.
Context is key when it comes to finding actionable insights within data. Without context, you can’t prioritize opportunities based on what will provide the best business outcomes. It allows for more qualitative analysis of the data, and gives you a starting point when determining where to look.
A solid understanding of this landscape also requires an audit of competitor tactics — whether those competitors are known or unknown. For example, you could list your competitors as x, y and z companies, but you could be competing against a, b and c companies in the SERPs for your most important keywords. All of those competitors need to be evaluated to form a complete picture.
This kind of competitive audit shouldn’t just look at how other sites are ranking, but what kind of content they’re creating that ranks best, and where there are opportunities to compete with additional channels or content types of your own. Being the best answer absolutely helps you achieve the rankings and visibility you want, but also means you’re providing the right answers in the preferred format and frequency of your audience.
For an SEO audit to be helpful, all factors that contribute to your site’s ability to rank need to be considered. For example, you could find hundreds of opportunities to optimize the on-page content on your site, but if you miss a wayward noindex tag or if you don’t realize that your site has more than one crawlable version, that on-page optimization won’t make much of an impact.
For the best possible outcome, it’s necessary to analyze technical, on-page and off-page factors. We’ve found that it helps to start with the technical pieces — making sure that your site is indexed, and then gaining a better understanding of how it is (or isn’t) being understood by search engines.
Some of the most common issues we find in SEO audits are 4xx and 3xx errors, redirect loops, indexing issues, duplicate content and site speed issues. Knowing the technical framework of your site helps add additional context when conducting the rest of your audit.
Looking at on-page factors can help you spot other common issues, like keyword cannibalization, opportunities to implement simple schema markup and internal linking opportunities. This can be a big undertaking, especially for larger sites, which is why we recommend a technical audit first. You can use that data to prioritize which on-page items need your attention first.
Finally, you’re going to want to make sure off-page elements are considered. Total referring domains and total backlinks are some of the top ranking factors – improving your backlink profile will help improve your search visibility if done correctly. Looking at not only how many referring domains you have, but analyzing the trust or spam score of those links, can give you a better picture of next steps. Don’t forget to run the same type of audit on your competitors’ sites, that can help you find opportunities for outreach.
SEO audits result in pages and pages of data. The value of an SEO audit is in the analysis of that data, and the insights gleaned by that analysis. For an audit to be valuable, it needs to result in clear actions you can take to improve your site. Data without insights is simply incomplete.
A strategic and thoughtful SEO audit will result in a clear, prioritized and actionable plan to improve your search visibility in the ways it matters most to your business. That plan should be able to answer ‘why’ and ‘how,’ along with what you should expect as a result.
For example, being told “you have duplicate content” is not as actionable as “xyz page has almost identical content to abc page. We’d recommend combining these pages and implementing a 301 redirect to xyz page as it’s currently driving more traffic and has a better chance of improving rankings.”
An SEO audit can be an intimidating project for any marketer. But, it doesn’t have to be. If you’re unsure of where to start, think about what you’d like to achieve. If you focus on the outcome, you can work backwards to find the answers you need. Start with looking at your competitive landscape, and then hone in on your own properties for a complete picture.
And remember, you’re not alone! If your team doesn’t have the capacity or capability to conduct a full-scale audit, enlist the help of a trusted partner to help you through the process. Keep in mind these key points to consider, and you’re on your way to SEO success.
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