What does a good SEO audit look like?
Although many SEOs (especially from agencies) regularly conduct SEO audits, they are almost never blogged about.
I would like to change that today and answer the most important questions about the SEO audit.
What is an SEO Audit?
An SEO audit is a review of a website for relevant SEO aspects. Often an SEO audit is the beginning of larger SEO work.
Some also call it an “SEO check”, but an audit feels more extensive than a check.
There are various reasons for conducting SEO audits:
As a newly hired SEO manager at a company that has not previously done SEO on the company Website, you usually do an audit. SEO audits are often carried out by agencies to thoroughly “check out” a website.
Another important reason is a relaunch and/or the merging of domains or internationalization, however, the audits are more targeted and often only relate to the areas that are necessary for a relaunch, for example, there could be URL audits or link audits.
Agencies often send an SEO audit in PDF form or present it as a presentation. We at SearchCombat like to do Video Audit Reports for the Initial Audits.
What does an SEO audit include?
I’ve seen many audits – not only from SearchCombat but also from other SEO agencies and in-house SEOs.
The fact is: everyone sets the focus of their work differently, which is why every audit is different.
An SEO with a very technical background will focus on the topics of loading time and server optimization, while an SEO with a passion for marketing will tend to ensure that the user is picked up well in terms of content.
There is, therefore, no real “must-have”, although the SEO basics should already be covered. But opinions are already divided here – because what are the SEO basics?
Basically, an audit ideally includes:
- Status of the website – how is it doing in terms of SEO?
- An outlook on the competitive landscape of the website
- SEO-strategic optimization tips – What can be done better with regard to the SEO strategy, e.g., page structure or basic keyword alignment
- SEO-technical optimization tips – how is the site technically? Are there crawling errors, or can you make technical improvements?
- SEO-content optimization tips – What about the content of the website? What can you optimize here?
- UX and user-focused optimization tips – this point should not be ignored in 2020, and essential tips are part of it. It is not about conversion optimization, but rather that the user can find his way around the website and use it well.
- A summary of the results and instructions for action is prioritized and justified according to the most important measures.
Unless you are doing the audit for yourself, you should structure each point as follows:
- What is the problem? (Example: There are hreflang attributes, but none for your own country)
- Why is that a problem? This point is significant if another team is responsible for fixing the error. The developers, in particular, are always keen to receive an explanation. In addition, changes are implemented more quickly if the developer understands the point behind a measure – and that is decisive for many companies with scarce developer resources. But always remember that people from outside the industry also read the audit. It may be that your marketing manager gives the audit to the CEO because he wants to know how the company is doing in terms of SEO. If the content is then written so that everyone can understand it, you have a plus point with the CEO! The same applies here.
- How can this problem be solved with the least amount of resources? If you already know how to approach a problem technically – the developers will be grateful to you.
It can look like this:
Perhaps easier than the answer to the question of what is included in an audit is the answer to the question,
“What does a good audit include?”
As a website owner, a purely technical audit that completely ignores the user and the content quality does not help me. A text-optimized audit that does not deal with things like forwarding, status codes, and loading time optimization still helps me. A good audit focuses on where the website needs it most. Without the slightest error in the code and a flawless search console, a super-fast website is of no use if I don’t have a good keyword strategy and the corresponding landing pages for my target group.
A good SEO with experience
- recognizes the most urgent construction sites,
- name this,
- explains why it should be tackled
- and prioritizes the recommendations for action.
Every SEO that I know is shaped in some way. One puts more emphasis on fast page loading speed, the other is a page structure, and the next is a content professional. This often leads to confusion when changing SEO agencies because different agencies usually have different focuses. Most of the time, one thing was not wrong, and the other was right – only the priorities were set differently. Interestingly, there are many ways to get there – that’s the great thing about SEO. One shouldn’t neglect one or the other part too much. A good SEO focuses on a certain point and does not neglect the others.
When is an SEO audit not good?
Basically, an audit is not good if it only comes from a tool, and no one has given their opinion. Nothing against tools; we love and work with many SEO tools. Nevertheless, you have to interpret the data – tools are still a long way from being able to do SEO automatically. This is why a meaningful interpretation of the data from tools is so essential; otherwise, the wrong conclusions will be drawn. The mere reporting of data from tools without a professional explanation is also one of the no-go’s.
My hair always frizzles when things are identified as important in an audit, but they are not in truth (in my opinion). A famous example is HTML validity. Your code doesn’t have to be 100% W3C compliant. Google must be able to read the code, as most popular browsers. If there is too much space, then that doesn’t usually bother (unless of course it causes a significant error, for example, which shoots up the layout or makes a link no longer clickable). The more experienced the SEO, the easier it is to recognize the quick wins that bring maximum success with minimal resources.
What does an SEO audit do for me?
An SEO audit can bring a lot!
- You will be clear about the most important ranking elements on your domain.
- You have a document in your hands that you can pitch to the management or your marketing manager until they assign you more developer resources or a new employee.
- If someone other than you does the audit, you will get an idea of what is essential for your domain – even if you already have a lot of knowledge, you will get a fresh look.
Important: an SEO audit must be followed by action! If you have a huge plan but no resources to implement your plans, the audit will not do you any good. This part sounds trivial but is actually very important. All recommendations of an audit (whether in-house or agency does not matter) are almost never implemented. Every company only has a limited amount of time, which is why many things, unfortunately, fall by the wayside. Therefore, block large resources before your audit, because there is guaranteed to be a lot to do. If you do not have many resources, then take care of the audit in several steps and do one at a time.
How long does an SEO audit take?
It depends on the size of your website and the things you want to investigate. Audits by an agency usually take between one and several days, depending on the website’s size and the focus of the analysis. With us, around four days have proven to be optimal for average websites. In my opinion, in-house audits take significantly longer. Of course, it depends very much on the website and the goal of the audit. Do I want to thoroughly check an online shop that has so far only done a little SEO? This is similar to the question, “How long does it take to build a building?” Depending on whether it is a prefabricated house or the airport, the answers vary greatly.
In the case of larger audits, we now go over to creating it piece by piece. After completing the audit, you don’t stand in front of a huge mountain of work but move over several small hills. Even if the resources for the implementation are rather limited, this strategy makes sense.
What does an SEO audit cost?
Usually, you pay between Few hundred and several thousand dollars for an audit. The cheaper, the less time the agency employee has, and the more automation are behind it. These can be great, innovative work processes that still make the audit great. In the worst case, you will get various tool exports and then rightly ask yourself why you paid for such a report.
Do you work with a checklist?
Yes and No. It helps if you have a list of the points that you can look at – but only slavishly working through these, I would call the wrong approach. A good audit has to grow. Over time, the website’s overall impression gets better and better, and I get a feel for what the greatest levers could be. Studying is an advantage here because it is precisely this deep familiarization with a topic that you learn in many courses – these are the famous soft skills. But of course, you can also do an audit without studying.
If you really want a checklist, we also have a very rough checklist – but please don’t slavishly work through it!
- Development and benchmark
- Keyword strategy
- Transaction oriented
- Parameter URLs
- No follow links
- Links on 4XXer pages
- Links to redirects
- Forwarding Chains
- Correct use of 301/308 status codes
- Correct use of 302/307 status codes
- Number of server errors (500)
- Use of Http / https
- External duplicate content
- Internal duplicate content
- URL notation
- Canonical setting
- Recurring text modules
- URL & directory structure
- Structured data
- Rich snippets
- FAQ Pages
- Heading structure
- Alt attributes
- File names
- Text surrounding the image
- Thin Content & Soft 404 Errors
- Compress images
- Progressive JPEG
- Modern image formats
- CSS sprites
- Browser caching
- Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Server response time (first-byte time)
Conclusion and prioritization
Of course, strategic topics and content/user benefits are still missing here. And as mentioned before: Everyone sets their focus differently, including the creator of this checklist. But as I said: You shouldn’t work purely according to the checklist. A website is not a car that just has to work. The creative part is what ultimately destroys the checklists.
Can I do an SEO audit myself?
Yes, you can – if you don’t have a budget for an agency. Why not? In any case, that’s better than getting a cheap audit for 300 dollars. The difference between an experienced SEO and a layperson is due to one very important thing: an experienced SEO can interpret the data well. If they find a missing sitemap on a domain with 20 URLs, they don’t care much. A beginner may spend days trying to manually create a sitemap because he thinks this is particularly important. The prioritization of the recommended actions is what you pay for – not the pure analysis.
What happens after the audit?
What happens afterward is, of course, just as important as the audit itself. Now it’s time to implement the most important things. If someone stranger has done the audit for you, it is usually recommended – after you have read it – a conversation to clarify the open questions. Often there is also a presentation in front of a team. Here you should pay attention to who will be present. The developers and SEOs? Or the marketing manager and managing director? Depending on the situation, you should prepare the level differently. It is essential that afterward, the company has the will and the manpower to implement the measures.