SEO Audits That Get Results

by on 02/14/2012 • 21 Comments | SEO

SEO Audit JargonIt’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. That little gem may not get you very far in an argument with your significant other, but in business—and yes, in an SEO audit—it’s absolutely true.

It could be that you focus so much on what data you provide in an audit, that you neglect how you present it. Is what you’re saying easily understood? Is it actionable? Or are you just rambling on about canonical URLs and robots.txt and making your clients’ eyes glaze over?

If you want to make your clients love you, put some thought into how you present your data. And if you need an audit of your site, this list can help define your expectations, and give you an idea of what to look for when you’re hiring an SEO.

Gauge Your Audience

Before you even start writing an SEO audit, consider your client. Outspoken Media’s clients range from very computer literate, tech-savvy companies to individual entrepreneurs whose expertise lies far outside the tech and Internet realms. For our techie clients, we can write SEO audits using jargon and apt terminology. For our not-so-savvy clients, we make an effort to use layman’s terms and explain things a little more fully. One caveat—don’t let the pendulum swing too far that way. Be accommodating, not condescending.

Be Pithy

If you’re auditing a large site, the SEO audit document will probably be very long. It’ll be even longer if you ramble. Find the issues, provide the solutions, and move on. If you can say the same thing with half as many words, do it.

Be Specific

This goes hand in hand with being pithy. Develop a structure for your SEO audit that identifies the issues, and offers the solutions clearly and succinctly. Specificity is especially helpful to those who need a little extra help understanding the document. Generalities leave too much room for interpretation, and can lead to poorly or incorrectly implemented solutions.

Offer Alternative Solutions

You know what you’d like to see happen on a site that needs improvement. You lay it all out in an SEO audit, but then your client runs into a problem with the implementation. They need a backup plan. When outlining solutions, give the ideal, and then include an alternative, if one exists. If your client encounters a problem, they already have a second possible solution on hand, saving them time and money in not having to get you on the phone to figure out their next step.

Even better and more efficient, make an effort to discover any resource restrictions during the kickoff call and preliminary research. Knowing beforehand what your client can and can’t do will help you make the best implementation recommendations that won’t waste anyone’s time.

Arrange the Audit in Logical Sections

Sometimes we expand the scope of an SEO audit to include a brief link building strategy or social media plan. By organizing the audit into clearly labeled and separate sections, it’s easy for a client to parcel out tasks to their internal departments. It’s probably going to be IT that implements the SEO recommendations, while Marketing takes care of the link building and social media.

Making the audit easy to divide by department saves the client time since not everyone involved on their end will have to read the entire document to find the tasks that pertain to them.

Write in Active Voice

Passive voice can come off sounding like you’re just making halfhearted suggestions. Use dynamic wording, and you increase the likelihood that the client will take action. The easiest way to maintain an active voice is to start solution-recommending sentences with verbs. Here’s an example:

Passive: The redirection of this page to that page will avoid splitting keyword value.

Active: Redirect this page to that page to avoid splitting keyword value.

I’m going to interrupt this blog post to throw a little grammar at you. You may think you’re using a verb if you write:

Redirecting this page to that page will help you avoid splitting keyword value.

Actually, in this instance, redirecting is a gerund, a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun. You want the imperative form of the verb, which basically means you’re giving a direct instruction—redirect, rewrite, change, use, move, and the first word of every header in this post. Imperatives incite more action than nouns masquerading as verbs. That face you’re making right now is the same one my coworkers make on a regular basis when I wax grammatical in the office. I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Delegate SEO Audit Tasks

We’re all pretty well rounded Internet marketers at OSM, but we also have our individual areas of expertise, so rather than just one of us sitting down to tackle an entire audit, we work as a team. For example, while Rhea and Joe work on the more technical aspects of a site audit, Lisa may do a blog audit while I perform a site content evaluation, and then proof the final document before it goes to the client.

Not to impugn anyone’s skills, but if you’re auditing an 800-page site on your own, the probability of errors increases. That’s true of any complex task. Heck, even a 500-word blog post can benefit from an extra set of eyes. Because we work together on nearly every SEO audit we do, our clients can be assured they’re getting an outstanding product—in a fraction of the time it may take one person to cover the same amount of territory.

Delegating a few tasks may help you produce a better audit. And if your site is comprised of hundreds and hundreds of pages, you may want to consider the benefits of a team doing your SEO audit.

Ask Your Client for an Implementation Strategy

One of the things that makes OSM unique is that our interaction with our clients doesn’t end when we hand them an SEO audit. We could just pocket their payment and move on to the next project, but instead we ask every client for an implementation strategy.

After our clients have had a chance to review their audits, we talk to them so they can address concerns, and ask questions. We also talk about what they’re going to do with the audit, and what their time frame for making changes is. Some clients are responsive—some aren’t. But by doing this, you go above and beyond for your clients, and help them get the most out of the information you provided in the audit.

Provide a Prioritization Checklist

You just handed your client a bunch of pages full of recommendations they need to implement to improve their site’s rankings. What are they going to do first? That’s the question every client asks upon receiving an SEO audit. Don’t wait for the question before you give the answer.

After talking to our clients about their implementation strategy, we provide them with prioritization checklists, also broken out by tasks that correlate to departments. The checklist gives an overview of the tasks we detailed throughout the audit, and puts them in implementation order with dependencies. What I mean by that is, some tasks must be completed before others can be started.

With the checklist, your client knows what they have to do, and in what order. It makes things easier on the client, and decreases the likelihood of mistakes you may have to go back and fix later, saving everyone time and money.

Out of all these tips, I think that last one is the most important one. An SEO audit takes a lot of time, energy, attention to detail, and caffeine. But once you’ve done your part, it really has to fall to the company to implement the strategies you lay out for them. Ultimately, they’re more familiar with their purpose than anyone. And whether you’re an individual SEO, or a small agency like us, your client will more likely have the internal resources necessary to make changes to their site. You held the bike for them while they pedaled. Now it’s time to let go and cheer them on.

We showed you ours; now you show us yours. What do you do to help your SEO audits get results?

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About the Author

Michelle Lowery

Michelle Lowery is an ardent word nerd, but is also known to say "y'all" from time to time.

Get social with Michelle at Twitter

21 thoughts on “SEO Audits That Get Results

  1. And this is one of the reasons that OSM is one of the very few agencies I trust when referring out audit work that my team and I don’t have the bandwidth for!

    • Thanks, Kristi! Yeah, I love when I can apply linguistic principles to SEO work. I think it really does make a difference in how the information is perceived, though.

    • Agreed! It’s important to sound confident and competent. I dabble in site audits myself. The biggest problem I run into is getting the client to implement the changes suggested on the audit. If I’m unable to take care of any site audits in the future I’ll definitely be referring them to you.

  2. Great article, in the process of finishing an audit due Friday and certainly read a few things that I’ve had on my mind for the past week.

    I think “Be pithy” & arrange in sections are important. I try to make my reports useful, and that includes fat headers to make the doc easy to scan, as well as color-coded priority images (red for high, yellow for medium, green for low) so that the doc can be scanned for importance & priority as well.

  3. I give them specific ACTION items that are bolded and in a stand out color. This lets them get down to the nitty gritty without wading through the whole report.
    I love your idea of prioritizing them . Thanks!

    • Mary, do you mean the action items are separate from the rest of the report as well, or just bolded/colored to be easily picked out among the other information? We want our clients to take action, but we also want them to understand why we’re recommending something, and how the action we suggest will help them. It’s just interesting to learn how others organize data. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Excellent post, Michelle!

    The wannabe English teacher in me especially appreciates your passive & active voice insights. As a reminder to readers, you don’t have to precede your active verbs with “Please…” It’s an imperative. What they do with it is their choice.

    Prioritizing action items is key to provide insight into how critical the violation is or if it’s just a warning/best practice. I especially like the idea of implementation order with dependencies. Smart!

    I also like the OMS approach toward implementation strategy. How many of us have had a multi-page PDF just sit on someone’s desktop?

    • Thanks so much, Dana! I agree–”please,” while polite, can come off a little too tentative. It’s all about demonstrating authority and confidence in our expertise. And the PDF just sitting on someone’s desktop isn’t doing anyone any good–especially the client who paid for it. Thanks again for weighing in!

  5. Awesome improvement tips, i’m just working out the process around an action plan that works for web devs but also client’s, the only point I see is that a great SEO audit takes a long time. Also found the way through with a client on each step and helping them with expectations on time frames for fixes they can do, I will do or they need web dev assistance on helps makes the outcome easier to digest.

    I might try and colour coding idea for my next one and will work out how to better structure the implementation steps.

    • I agree that a great SEO audit takes time, but not necessarily a long time. There are so many factors that go into it: how large the site is; how many people are working on it; whether it’s incorporating a link building or social media strategy; how many issues need to be addressed. The key is to not rush through it, regardless of those factors. And I have to admit, that color coding idea is growing on me! :-) Thanks for your comment!

  6. As a variation of a classic how you say it versus what you say;
    *I* didn’t say she stole the money (emphasis on I means I was not the one who said it)
    I didn’t *say* she stole the money (emphasis on say, means I didn’t say it, although I might have implied it)
    I didn’t say *she* stole the money (She was not the one who stole the money)
    I didn’t say she *stole*the money (she did not steal the money)
    I didn’t say she stole *the money* (It was the not the money that she stole)
    You could switch out money with keyword rankings, or she for he or they, or whatever.
    If definitely matters HOW you say it.
    Thanks.

  7. Great insights!
    From my experience the “Gauge Your Audience” is a must. Some basic knowledge and references are great to “spool” readers up so they can grasp what they are reading.

    Thanks!

    • Absolutely, Scott. It’s actually very similar to the dependencies for the Prioritization Checklist. You can’t write an SEO audit until you know a little more about your client. Thanks!

  8. It’s definitely important to think about how tech savvy your clients are when presenting the result of the audit.

    Also having Danish clients it’s important not to slip into the easy solution and use the English terms that we use our self all the time – most clients simply won’t understand.

    • Excellent point about language barriers, Thomas. That’s just an added level of difficulty over and above using jargon that we’re so used to, we don’t realize it sounds like gibberish to the uninitiated. For those who work in international SEO, it’s an important point to remember. Thanks for bringing it up!

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