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Before you can even begin to create a successful SEO strategy for your small business, you need to know exactly where your website currently stands, how it is performing, and what the traffic and health look like. This is where a comprehensive SEO audit can come in handy, but what should you expect from your SEO audit? And what does it all mean? Heck, what even is an SEO audit?
As the SEO specialists we’ve grown to be, we know that you cannot move forward until you have a plan, and you cannot create a successful plan without the data…but getting that data from a reliable source (and a source that is willing to walk alongside you) is sometimes a high hurdle.
Instead of trying to clamber over that obstacle on your own, let’s dive in together and discover what you need to know, what you need to look for, and what you need to understand about your SEO audit right now, before you get started on your wonderful digital marketing and SEO journey.
First Things First – What is an SEO Audit?
An SEO audit is essentially the sum of its parts, meaning, it is an audit (or inspection) of all of your website’s SEO components (aspects that affect your search engine optimization and ranking). This means a comprehensive SEO audit should analyze all of your website based on known ranking factors, or at least the most important ranking factors (as there are likely over 200 ranking factors for the Search Engine King: Google). An SEO audit should dig deep into your website’s technical infrastructure, on-page and off-page factors, as well as competition from your industry in order to understand potential weaknesses, strengths, and fixes. It should lay it all out in a user-friendly, understandable, and actionable way, but now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
1. Your SEO Audit Should Always Begin with the Data
We are sticklers about following the research and using numbers and statistics to guide our strategies, and this is exactly where every comprehensive SEO audit should start as well. What ‘beginning with the data’ means is that you have to get all your tools set and in place (and feeding you their data) before you can assemble or truly understand what’s going on under the hood of your site. The data and tools are the most important things to look for in an SEO audit because everything else flows from those tools and the data collected.
Make sure you ask your potential SEO analyst about what tools or programs they use, as well as what data those tools gather. The answers they give you, and how understandable those responses are, should be a sign pointing towards the quality of the SEO audit they’ll offer.
A few of the tools they might use include:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Google Page Speed Insights (or GTMetrix)
- Google Lighthouse
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider
See any common denominators? Yes, Google actually has many tools which should absolutely be utilized when running a full, comprehensive SEO audit.
2. Understanding Audit Accessibility
Audit accessibility might sound like the ease in which you can conduct or access your own SEO audit, but the name is a little misleading. What audit accessibility actually means is how easily the search engines can access your website, and how that ease (or difficulty level) is affecting your rankings.
Every SEO audit should make sure that your website’s foundation is strong and that there are no obstacles impeding search engines from finding or ‘crawling’ the pages of your site. If your site is blocked for any reason, this needs to be fixed before the audit can continue.
Some of the things that audit accessibility looks at are:
- Robots meta tag
- HTTP status codes
- XML sitemaps
- Site architecture
As always, remember to speak to your potential audit provider to ensure they are willing to share what their audit accessibility includes and what each unknown term means as well. Knowledge is power, and you should never let a company keep that from you.
3. Are You Indexable?
After the tools are set up and you are sure that your website can be fully and easily accessed, the next step is making sure your website and pages can be found by others. In simpler words, are search engines indexing your pages (including them in their search results)? This doesn’t mean you are on the first page or even the 10th page. Instead, it simply means that your website is able to be indexed and included in potential search results.
Most SEO audits will do this by running queries through common search engines to learn what pages are able to be pulled up. Additionally, a comprehensive SEO audit should run brand queries and keyword queries as well, to give you the best understanding of, well, your standing.
4. Check-In with Your Ranking Factors
Remember when we mentioned the 200+ known and speculated Google ranking factors? Well, this is where roughly half of those come in. This is also where a hefty part of the length of your SEO audit should come from.
A few of the current high-impact on-site ranking factors that should be assessed are;
- Information architecture and structure
- Site layout/user experience
- Keyword use/overuse
- Duplicate content
- HTML markup
- Outbound links
- Site speed
This is also a good time to tell you that size matters in SEO audits – or, better put, if your proposed company says they can send you a ‘comprehensive’ SEO audit in just 10 pages, you shouldn’t be buying whatever it is they are selling. A solid and actionable SEO audit can easily be 40, 50, even 80 pages long. Because it is going through countless factors both on your site and off, as well as explaining the function of each, the impact on your SEO, and possible fixes or next-steps. There is a reason why few small business owners do their own SEO, and that is because SEO is a much larger beast than most think. And that beast is still growing and changing every day.
5. Look for Outside Ranking Factors, Too
If roughly half of those pesky ranking factors are in regard to on-site elements, then it seems only accurate to seek the other half outside of your site. Ranking factors are not only those elements that are easily seen or used on your website, but also the quality of backlinks your website has, how popular you are in comparison to the competition, your status trajectory, trustworthiness, domain linking statistics as well as authority, social engagement, and much more.
Beware, it is not uncommon for a ‘comprehensive’ SEO audit to glide over these outside ranking factors, or perhaps only touch on backlinks due to their popularity and mainstream knowledge. And though backlinks are one of the most high-impact ranking factors in this section, it is not the only important one. Make sure your SEO audit gives adequate importance and length to these ‘outside’ factors and explains them thoroughly.
6. Compare Yourself & Win
Comparing yourself to a star athlete or swimsuit model might not be a healthy pastime but comparing your website to your competition sure can be! As one of the final steps before you have a completed SEO audit, your projected SEO company should compare your site against at least three of your top-ranking competitors.
This is a good practice both for themselves and for you, as it gives great insight into what you could be doing better, where you’re being beat, and what additional fixes might be needed in order to catch up to and surpass the competition. The fixes mentioned above should be throughout your SEO audit, and they should be actionable. This means the report doesn’t just say ‘content is thin.
7. The Best SEO Audit is a Clear SEO Audit
As mentioned a few times throughout this nifty guide to SEO audits, an audit is only helpful if it is understood, and a company is only good if they are helpful. The final thing to look for in an SEO audit is actually the clarity of that audit, and therefore, the clarity and helpfulness of the company you receive the audit from. A good, trustworthy, and transparent company will sit down with you to explain the audit in plain terms. This showcases both their knowledge as well as their customer service – two things that should hold a lot of weight if you are considering working with them in the future.'An SEO audit is only helpful if it is understood, and a company is only good if they are helpful.' - Tierney Mosier, JSL Marketing & Web Design Click To Tweet
Additionally, an audit that isn’t clear is probably not of high quality. Instead of settling for an SEO audit or an SEO company that doesn’t do the job right or seems too busy to answer your questions fully or go over your analytics and next-steps with you, be picky and make them earn your business. Your website and your SEO strategy are important to your business’ future success, and all that starts with a comprehensive, thorough, and clear SEO audit.
We hope you now feel well-versed in SEO audits as well as their best practices and can go into your digital marketing and SEO futures with confidence!