I’ll try to keep this article as straight forward and non-technical as possible since many digital marketers, including myself, have a tendency to occasionally talk over our potential customers’ heads and to literally confuse the heck out of them. SEO is a true passion for us and I think we simply sometimes forget that it took us many years to acquire the knowledge that we have and that not everybody “speaks” our SEO language.
What Exactly is an SEO Website Audit?
Probably a good analogy and the most accurate description I can give is: “A comprehensive, in depth ‘medical’ evaluation of your website and the outside factors that contribute to the overall health of your website and it’s performance in search engines and how well it ranks for its target SEO keywords.”
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Goals and Components of an SEO Site Audit
Google currently considers 200+ ranking signals in its algorithm and the more information you have on how well your site complies with these rankings signals the higher the chances that you’ll succeed. That said, the overall goal of an SEO site audit is to help website owners identify areas of improvements so that the proper actions can be taken in order to boost organic search traffic to a website and to improve the rankings of the target SEO keywords in search engines.
Depending on the specific findings of the below discussed site audit sections, a search engine optimization website audits usually ranges anywhere from 35-50-pages and also includes several supporting Excel spreadsheets (Google docs) with data ranging from keyword rankings, a list of duplicate content, meta tags information, files with missing image descriptions, etc. You can also expect a ton of useful and educational information as part of the overall deliverable.
In order to be able to perform a meaningful SEO website analysis, you need to provide your SEO consultant with access to your Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools accounts, along with a list of your current target SEO keywords and phrases, and the names and websites of 3-4 competitors.
The SEO audits that I create usually include the following sections:
General Overview: This section includes an introduction to search engine optimization and digital marketing in general and explains how SEO, content marketing and social media are intimately interconnected nowadays. It also provide instructions on how to use and interpret the provided information as you can see below:
Technical Health of Website: The overall “health” of your website is a very important, yet often overlooked, part of increasing organic search traffic to your site. This section examines things such as the website’s:
- URL and IP canonicalization
- Content duplication
- Meta tags quality and content duplication
- Existence and use of a robots.txt file
- Existence and use of an XML Sitemap
- If Frames and Flash are used
- page loading speed
- Existence and use of a 404 page
- How many pages or indexed on Google
- Applicable 4XX and 5XX errors
It’s basically a deep examination of what’s going on with the inside of the website.
While auditing a website recently, I noticed that none of the site’s pages were actually indexed on Google and the client’s website did not show up in searches, even when typing in the company name. After examining the robots.txt file, I saw that someone had manually manipulated the file to tell search engines not to index the website…. Really?!? After reporting this issue to the site owner, I found out that they recently had a falling out with their web designer and that they had to fire him. I came to the conclusion that the web designer unfortunately tried to get back at them by completely de-indexing their website on Google. The fix was easy and very effective.
Another technical SEO analysis revealed that the website in question had been hacked and malicious malware had infiltrated the site. There were dozens of outbound links pointing to porn and sexual enhancement products websites. Yikes! After cleaning the site up, the website’s performance started to improve right away.
Website Functionality: Increasing organic search traffic and improving the online visibility of your company, services and products in search engines is only half the battle, but getting website visitors to stay on your website and to take a desired action and to engage with you is ultimately what will convert website visitors to customers. A comprehensive SEO audit provides recommendations on how you could increase your website’s conversion rate.
After implementing the recommended actions for one of our clients, we saw a tremendous increase in conversions as you can see from the below example:
On-Page Search Engine Optimization and Website Content: On-page SEO refers to anything that you can do directly on your website in order to tell Google that your website is relevant and that it should rank high for your target SEO keywords.
In this section, the SEO analysis will take a closer look at your existing target SEO keywords, how your site currently ranks for these keywords and we’ll also research and identify new keywords that your target audience may use to search for your products and services. This section will also provide information about:
- Your competitor keywords rankings
- How you appear in Google search engine results pages (SERPs)
- Your website’s meta tags (title, descriptions, keywords, and image alt tags)
- URL optimization
- Internal linking
- How your site performs in mobile searches
A big component of this section is the review and analysis of your website’s content and how well it is optimized for search. In fact, the content of your website is one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm as the search giant considers your website’s relevance and importance based on the above factors in relation to your sites content and target keywords.
Off-Page Search Engine Optimization: Off-page SEO refers to anything that you can do outside of your website to contribute to your overall SEO success.
In this section, the audit examines:
- If there are high quality business and directory listings for your site and how well they are optimized for search
- The existence and quality of backlinks to your site (this is also one of the most important ranking signals for Google)
- Mentions of your company, products or service on the web, in press releases, etc.
Off-page SEO is becoming more and more important as this directly relates to “earned media.” Wikipedia defines “earned media” as follows: “Earned media (or free media) refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising, as opposed to paid media, which refers to publicity gained through advertising.”
Social Media Marketing: This section of the SEO audit closely reviews your social media marketing strategy and if your social media profiles and the content you post are optimized for search and engagement.
Social media marketing is an important part of increasing referral and organic search traffic to your website. In fact, Google actively indexes the pages and content of social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Twitter and they are included in Google’s search engine results. As you can see from the below example, Google display’s a Facebook post about an SEO training I recently hosted in Boulder, CO for the search term “SEO training Boulder”:
Recommendations: The SEO audit provides the reader with an assessment of how well the site performs for many ranking signals and also how to fix it as you can see from the following example:
The findings of the SEO audit are best reviewed and discussed in an in-person or screen sharing meeting which usually takes 60-90 minutes.
How Much Does An SEO Audit Cost
SEO website audits are usually billed on actual time spent preparing the report and they range between $1,000-3,000 in most cases.
What Are the Results of Implementing SEO Site Audit Findings
Over the last five years, search engine optimization has changed dramatically, and Google and other search engines continue to refine their algorithms on a daily basis. There is no one thing that will help boost keyword rankings and organic search traffic, but rather the implementation of a systematic digital marketing strategy that includes some, or ideally all of the findings and recommendations of an SEO audit.
There are no guarantees when it comes to SEO but we usually see an increase in organic search traffic from Google between 50% and 200% within 4-12 months for many of our clients.
If you think your site is underperforming or you’re simply not sure, then a site audit may be right for you. If nothing else, you’ll receive a ton of useful and actionable information and you even may be able to increase organic search traffic, keyword rankings, site conversion and ultimately improve sales.
About the Author
Chris Raulf is founder of Boulder SEO Marketing, a boutique SEO training and consulting agency located in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. Chris and his team assist local, national as well as international clients with all of their SEO, social media and content marketing needs.
Chris has 15+ years of digital marketing expertise under his belt and The Online Marketing Institute recently added him to their “Top 40+ Digital Strategists in Marketing for 2014” list.