SEO Audits: What You Need to Know

July 3, 2009
By Rhea Drysdale in SEO

“The first step in diagnosis is to find the root cause.”
– Vanessa Fox at SMX Advanced 2009
Conducting an audit

We couldn’t agree more. That’s exactly how we approach SEO audits, they’re a diagnosis. You have a horrible, gaping wound and we’re here to fix it. There isn’t a fool proof system in place for what we do and we don’t have some trademarked, five step diagnostic process we follow. We’ve been doing this for a long time and don’t need some proprietary SEO audit checklist to tell us that you’re hemorraging duplicate pages or have unhealthy linking practices. We do have our methods for analyzing a site, but we don’t limit ourselves to only analyzing x pages and 37 on-site factors (or some other random buzz number).

We quote our clients for SEO audits based on the scope of the problem. This means, we’ve figured out the problem before we send you a proposal. From there, everything else is a formality, so that we can explain the problem thoroughly, cater the prescription to your resources and find other potential problems.

The problem we face when proposing SEO audits to potential clients is that they sound expensive and confusing. Worst still, many of those clients have gotten burned by them in the past. The truth is, SEO audits can be both costly and intimidating, but the benefit is immense when everything is implemented properly. So, I thought I’d take a moment to outline what you should and shouldn’t be looking for from an SEO audit, because frankly, I have to answer this too often.

What Shouldn’t Matter about SEO Audits

What the report looks like.
I love working with lawyers! They get it. They know that time is money and if they want the best from us, the more time we spend physically doing the work, the better return for them. I could give some of our clients a full SEO audit in a text document and they wouldn’t give a rat’s ass, because they know we’re getting the job done.

The length of the report.
Everyone wants their money’s worth and as painful as this may sound, size doesn’t matter. You don’t need bullshit. You need actions and you need them implemented quickly. I’m going to tell you exactly what you need to do to fix very specific problems and I’m going to try to do it in the least possible amount of words. Sometimes I find myself looking for ways to beef up an audit, because it’s only two pages. That’s when I have to sit back and realize the suggestions we just gave you in two pages (though they’re rarely this short) are going to have a HUGE impact on the performance of your site. This is advice you’ve been struggling with for years and we just handed it over. Should we wrap the answers to your problems in a beautiful shroud of bullshit? No, go implement the advice and the sooner the better. We respect you enough to know that you don’t need fluff, you need real help.

Testimonials.
Of course we have happy clients and happy partners and those are going to be the only testimonials we put on the site or share with you. Every company is like this, so why does it matter? You want some kind of insurance that we’re big and trusted. We get that. However, everyone screws up and sometimes, the biggest names in the game can hide crap results behind dozens of testimonials. This isn’t a popularity contest. It’s your business. So, don’t take our word when it comes to results, don’t take our partner’s words, don’t even take our friend’s words. Go and do the homework. Read our profiles, do searches for the company, analyze the sites we can publicly share with you, read interviews about us on other reputable sites, look at the history of speaking engagements, etc. Do whatever you have to do to feel confident in our abilities, but turning to a giant testimonials page on our own site just isn’t trustworthy.

Education.

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”
Frank Zappa

College degrees mean next to nothing in this industry and if our educational background is important to you, we’re not right for each other. Before you go getting your panties in a wad, let me clarify. Education is important, but where you get it from isn’t. Not just some but most of the best SEOs in the world did NOT go to college or if they did, they didn’t finish. This industry moves too quickly to study it in a formal classroom setting. You have to be in it everyday, testing, learning, sharing, succeeding. I did graduate from college and I don’t regret that decision, but I do know that “Internet marketing” was a single paragraph in my Principles of Advertising class. That’s it! One paragraph that said that Internet marketing was too new and risky for agencies to pursue it, we were better off carefully crafting newspaper ads and direct mailers! Thankfully, I was employed as a SEO before I graduated and I’ve never looked back (at least not in this field, primatology is a different story).

The sad fact is that these “shouldn’t matter” subjects will always matter to certain business owners and companies. The good news is, there are plenty of Internet marketing companies to go around.

What Makes a Good SEO Audit

Personalization.
Whoever you go with, the audit should be written for you. If it looks like a template, it’s easier to lose sight of the big picture. You came to us with a specific need and you won’t fit into the same box previous SEO audits came in. We aren’t going to only look at x pages and x on-site factors. We’re going to look at YOUR site, the industry, the competition and then figure out what’s wrong. I know I could waste an hour detailing every title tag on your site, but what if the problem has to do with dozens of mirrored sites? Well, that seems like a terrible waste of my time and your money just for the sake of conformity.

Customization.
You might already have a team of experienced SEOs, you might be one yourself, or you might have absolutely no knowledge of the basics. Whatever the situation, we want to know where you stand today, so that everything we give you is useful, not a bunch of links to other sources or blog posts or guides that are available for free on our site. You deserve a SEO audit that’s customized to your resources, goals, timeline and budget, not ours.

What do we need from you for the SEO audit?

Before we start, we’re going to ask you for access to your site’s:

  • Analytics solutions
  • Google Webmaster Central account (or we’ll verify our own account)
  • Other webmaster accounts if the problem isn’t specific to Google
  • Other types of information and access based on your situation

Once the work has been scheduled and we have access to everything we need, we’ll dive into the site.

What are we looking at in a SEO Audit?

The following is in no particular order and I’m sure I’ve left off lots of other fun stuff we find along the way, but it’s a quick breakdown of our client’s most common diagnoses after a SEO audit. Sometimes clients know the problem when they come to us, so also consider this a list of problems we can prescribe solutions for:

  • Duplicate content
  • Redirect issues
  • Indexing issues
  • Crawl issues
  • Improper categorization
  • Crappy title tags
  • Crappy meta descriptions
  • Usability problems
  • Conversion problems
  • Keyword research
  • Keyword density (we don’t have some 3.14% keyword density formula, but more often than not, our clients don’t have the keywords they want to rank on the pages that should be getting targeted!)
  • Internal linking strategies and anchor text
  • External linking strategies and anchor text
  • Site architecture and URLs
  • Nofollow, disallow, noindex
  • HTML and XML sitemaps
  • Social media indicators

Again, that wasn’t in a certain order and I already know I’ve left off some other yummy things we look at, but you get the big picture. We’re diagnosing your site just like a doctor would. We start with a blank slate and eliminate the things that aren’t hurting you, making note of the areas that are. Sometimes the problem is obvious and sometimes it’s a mountain of tiny problems. Whatever the situation, you deserve more than a pretty, fluffy, by-the-books audit. You deserve a custom and personalized SEO audit that quickly puts you on the road to recovery or growth.

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