Making The Case for a Human-Based Comprehensive SEO Site Audit
October 31, 2017 by Rob Andrews
Why Another Pitch For A Site Audit?
I can just hear the reactions already: Sigh. Yet another person telling us that we need to do a site audit? Stop already! But allow us, if you will, just a few minutes of your (admittedly) valuable time to make a couple of points here.
Why cut us a break? Because, what you might see in your smaller SEO planetary “neighborhood,” may be very different from what we see in our SEO “universe.” Each week, we take on (either as reseller partners, or businesses needing SEO for their own site) management of 12-20 new sites.
So believe us – really – when we say that over, and over again, with sites both big and small, new and established, in all different niches and industries — that 99% of all client sites come to us with multiple issues that currently impact their organic SEO rankings. These sites are in trouble, and the site owners are looking for a cure.
Why Site Audits Are Critical: An Example From Your Doctor’s Office
Sites in trouble, looking for the cure… Let’s pivot and think about another situation – going to the doctor’s office. You (or a family member) are not feeling well. You know something’s “not right,” but you don’t know what it could be. You’re worried, so off to the doctor you go.
You get in to see the doctor and what do they do? Whip out the prescription pad? Not at first. First they are going to ask you some questions, and do a brief exam there in the office. Depending on what seems to be happening (called, in medical lingo, your “presenting symptoms“) they might refer you for some blood work, x-rays or other tests.
Only when the test results are all in will they attempt a diagnosis – if they are doing medicine ethically, that is. First comes the testing and investigation – then a diagnosis – then and only then, the treatment is applied.
In the SEO world, exactly the same thing should be happening – at least in the ethical SEO world. The very first thing that should be done before launching any specific SEO campaigns is a diagnosis of the present situation — and that is what a site audit is and why it is of critical importance.
Not doing one can be the worst mistake you can make – simply because (like not getting the tests that your doctor has ordered) you may not uncover critical problems and deal with them, and not fixing those issues will hold back the effectiveness of any SEO campaign work you have done or will do in the future, regardless of budget (money spent).
We have seen this happen again and again: the audit is recommended, other tactics are employed instead, and then (sometimes after much $$$ has been spent) it becomes apparent things are not working as expected. A site audit is agreed to (usually reluctantly) and the issues are fixed — and then rankings and traffic begin to move into positive territory. But much time has been wasted – because those problems could have been identified and resolved earlier, and ranking results achieved earlier also, if they were corrected before doing anything else.
What Needs To Be The Focus In A Site Audit?
If you know anything about site audits you are aware that these can get quite detailed — simply because there are lots of areas that could potentially be focused on. But sometimes that’s not the best way to go.
Why? First of all, if you swamp a site owner with too much detail (the reporting from your audit), all at once, they will feel as if they are drowning in a sea of information reporting and recommendations, and won’t possibly know where to begin.
In addition, the time and resources of a site owner are limited, to make necessary changes, particularly “local SEO” clients who have very small staff. As well, often there is client pushback to the idea of even trying to make the necessary changes, especially if they will take time to fully implement or cost them money.
SO… The focus with site audits must be on identifying – and fixing – the things that are the most critical, the most likely, to help move the SEO needle.
A nice side-benefit of prioritizing the issues, is that gives your client (site owner) the guidance they need to work out a plan to address those issues and get them fixed — and as they see their initial round of fixes starting to have a positive impact on rankings, the client may be more agreeable to making further changes later on.
When Doing Site Audits, Tools Are Not Enough
But this brings up another important point about site audits – use of tools and services are not enough. As just mentioned, you have to decide what is the highest-priority class of issues to work on first – and for that decision-making you need a human, because a tool can’t get you that.
This means that auto-generated reports and exported data are not enough. Usually these reports have too much detail or may not report on enough detail to be truly useful in themselves. And as mentioned above, just hitting the “generate report” or “export CSV” button/link on a tool, and then just handing that to the site owner is just going to confuse them. And confusing them means that changes are not going to be implemented. The most complete audit is of no use if the recommended fixes are not put in place.
Good tools are available (and we use some of them ourselves) to gather data for an audit — but that information must be combined with actual inspection and review by a trained professional.
Not All Site Audit Tools Are Created Equal
Here’s another fact about tools for SEO: The results you get can be misleading and even downright inaccurate. For example, a well-known SEO tool often used for audits is horrible in documenting certain types of broken links. You just cannot rely on that particular class of data-reporting from that particular tool. It’s one thing to use a tool – and quite another to know the limitations of that tool. And that’s because it takes real expertise in actually doing audits to know what their limitations and inaccuracies are. (And no publisher of any tool will tell you the limitations of their tool, for obvious reasons.)
So, OK, how do I get around that? You have to use a number of different tools on the same site and then pull it all together in a human-based analysis.
Humans are also needed to prioritize the discovered issues – listing out for first attention those items which are critical — and websites differ as to what the high-priority items earmarked for fixes need to be, so there is no single prioritization that will apply to all types of sites. For one site the page load times might be too slow, for another there may be duplicate/thin content issues, while for a third there may be too many broken links or over-optimized anchor text.
The reason that some smaller SEO shops rely on maybe 1 tool and no human analysis boils down to COST and TIME. It costs money (sometimes a lot) to subscribe to the best SEO tools, and you do need to use several. This is not going to be something within the budget of most smaller agencies.
And a human (staff person) will need to be paid for their time to analyze the data and prepare a prioritized report. And human analysis of the results and prioritization of the fixes needed (based on their relative value in helping rankings) takes a lot of time.
So (sorry guys) with most of the smaller shops you get a turnkey-based auto-audit. They just don’t have the finances (and time) to be able to offer more.
And it’s been our experience (again, sorry guys for telling tales out of school) that many SEO shops offering a “free” SEO site audit are just exporting some information out of a tool, so that having identified the “problems” they can then try to sell you on their “solutions.” But a superficial — or incorrect — set of audit findings can set site owners off in the wrong direction, from the very start.
Time wasted – and an upset client when the campaigns are not moving the needle as expected because underlying issues have not been fixed. Uggh.
“You Want Our Site To Get An Audit – Again?”
And here’s another bit of un-welcome news: If your site has had an audit done on it in the past, that does not mean that you are in the clear forever — That site may need to be re-audited again.
For example, in a first site audit problems with duplicate content may have been identified. Those pages may have been fixed. You’re in the clear? Not necessarily — I have personally seen a situation like that, where the client replaced the content with fresh, unique content but it was not long enough and the quality was so-so. So not really “fixed.” And this was only spotted in a re-audit about one year later — when some broken links surfaced as well.
Lesson learned: if issues were detected in your first site audit, another audit should be performed to make sure that first-round changes were taken care of, and also to uncover any other issues still left to deal with, as well as new ones surfacing because of other site changes or changes with your backlinking.
If your site has undergone extensive re-design, site migration, redirects/noindexing of pages, changes in URL structure, or lots of new pages added (or removed) since the last SEO site audit was done, then a re-audit is certainly warranted.
Use Us (Posirank) As a Guide to What to Include In A Site Audit
When you audit a site (your own or a customer’s) what should you be focusing on? Opinions vary, but if you like, take a page from us here at Posirank and be sure to target the following:
1. HTTPS Protocol
3. Canonical Issues
4. Title Tags
5. Meta Description Tags
6. Internal Broken Links
7. Internal Broken Images
8. Images Missing ALT Tag
9. H1 Heading Issues
10. Thin/Duplicate Content
12. Desktop Site Speed
13. Mobile Site Speed
In addition, as we work on auditing a particular site, when we uncover issues not covered by the above list, we will adjust our analysis (and reporting) accordingly.
And to keep it as simple, we don’t provide report sections where no issues were uncovered.
This should give you a pretty good idea of what to include in your own client site audits (if you do SEO work for your own clients).
But be warned: Doing SEO audits this way (the right way, the professional and ethical way) takes a LOT of time and effort. Which raises the question: Why are you still doing your own client site audits?
“But The Costs of Your Site Audits Are So &%)(#$&)@(# Expensive!”
We know, we know, and we’ve heard you. The message coming our way was very clear: You’d order our audits much more often if the price could be lowered. But the pricing was just out-of-reach for too many people.
So, recently we’ve greatly reduced the costs of our site audits – And believe me, we’re not trying to make (as a company) less money here, it’s just that the situation in the SEO world now makes it critical that all sites get a site audit, even if they are a brand-new site (errors can exist – and usually do – even on a just-completed site!). So we have vastly reduced the cost of our comprehensive site audit packages to make it as affordable as possible, to as many as possible.
Specifically: Our packages have been reduced from $699 (entry level) to $199. The turnaround times are much faster, the audits are just as in-depth (if not more so) and we’re leveraging multiple software audit products as well as a manual, human review by a trained (by us) SEO pro. And it’s the easiest service you can order, as all you need to give us is the domain URL! You’ll find it in your Posirank dashboard: Order Services > Onsite SEO > Full-Scale, Comprehensive Onsite Audits.
Since 2007 Rob Andrews has worked in the SEO and Content Marketing fields and is an established writer and trusted provider of thought-leadership for hundreds of SEO, advertising and marketing agencies worldwide. Read More