How To Start An SEO Audit
We love SEO audits. Love them.
Audits are our chance to play the bold TV drama diagnostician who always finds the cure against all odds and saves the day for an endearing patient. Except our patients are websites and the remedies are measured in visits or online sales or donations. Different, but brilliant diagnosing nonetheless.
All of that excitement and passion is not without downsides. Audits are really difficult. Like a doctor meeting a patient for the first time, SEO analysts must start from scratch, gather what limited information is available, and quickly treat pain points — and clients expect immediate results.
This article outlines how to start an SEO audit in a way that positions the project and its SEO for success. Most of this process can be tailored to the client, but one piece is essential:
Rule: SEO AUDITS START WITH A MEETING
Like our favorite TV doctor, we need to meet the patient. This does not require a face-to-face appointment, but it does require some time to talk. Set aside 60 minutes, take out your notepad and prepare to interview the client. It’s time to diagnose a website.
Questions for Starting an SEO Audit
My questions are divided into three groups: the future (goals) of the website, its current state and a historical review. Each part plays a specific role, including the order.
Every audit project is fostered from a desired outcome — think optimization, recovery or expansion — so it is best to begin with the goals that will dictate scope and deliverables. I ask clients to begin with broad marketing goals and work their way toward specific SEO items. Here are some sample questions to guide the conversation.
What are the organization’s primary marketing goals for the next 12-18 months?
Are there additional online marketing goals?
How would the organization like its website to support those goals?
Are there specific SEO goals or metrics for success?
This portion should help the auditor understand the purpose of the SEO project and where the client would like to be after it. The conversation can then transition into how to reach those goals from where they are currently.
Current marketing practices and investments can reveal the inner workings and intentions of the organization. Do they have a blog? Who contributes? Do they spend money on advertising? Who manages the social media? This inside information adds perspective to the SEO audit and its recommendations. There is no use in prescribing a content calendar if it would only gain dust.
Identifying competitors can be the best way to learn about the industry and opportunities to advance within it.
CMS and organizational limitations determine the potential of any SEO project. Those Drupal dynamic pages might be a dead end or the home page copy was constructed with red tape. All of these things are good to know in advance.
Old SEO work is important to understand for two reasons. First, it might be the problem that they are trying to resolve. Knowing that a company hired a cheap link building service saves lots of time and uncomfortable questions during the project. Second, it is essential for judging potential return on their investment. If the organization has invested heavily in SEO and seen little results, there might be a better channel for their marketing dollars.
Major website changes are the source of many SEO audits. Redesign -> catastrophic traffic drop -> SEO audit. It lessens the load on your heart if you know about the crash before seeing it for the first time in Google Analytics.
Most Important SEO Audit Question
My first journalism professor (and each subsequent one) told us that the last question of every interview is, Is there anything else I should know? The same is true with SEO audits. Always ask if anything was missed. Then rephrase the question and ask it again. Some of the most valuable information can be discovered in the final minute of an audit discussion.
“An intern disavowed some links in Google Webmaster Tools last month.”
“We added a robots.txt file just before the traffic drop.”
“We are currently designing an amazing all-Flash site.”
Do you have any important SEO questions that I forgot to ask? Please share them in the comments.