For many years I operated in a bubble performing audits on client sites. Coordinating and providing consulting in the implementation of my findings, yet not ever having an open dialogue with other professionals in the industry regarding what commonalities or differences we had in our approach.
As I began writing blog articles on my approach, and fielding questions from others regarding how I went about the process, I began to learn of two typical approaches.
One involves a quick audit, an hour or two, where the most common mistakes or issues are found, followed by broad recommendations. On the other end of the extreme, someone will spend countless hours auditing every detail, examining every page and inbound link, leading to a 50 page report, replete with complex Excel spreadsheets and analytics reports.
Personally, I take a different approach, one that works well for my needs, though it may not work for yours.
Strategic SEO Audits
The vast majority of my work these days involves strategic audits. Depending on the size and complexity of a site, I’ll spend anywhere from a few to several hours examining various aspects of a site revolving around how those aspects affect information architecture, content organization, and topical focus. While I’m doing this review, I consider indexation barriers, usability, and accessibility.
I then spend anywhere from a few minutes upwards of a couple hours examining the sites inbound link profile, considering total links, total root domains, link to root ratio, and scanning the source domains for patterns regarding domain families, domain types, keyword vs. brand anchor patterns, and overall inbound link health.
I also spend a few minutes up to an hour or so reviewing the competitive landscape and set up one or more sweet spot charts, looking for areas of weakness in the landscape. This is critical to my process because it shows me where opportunities exist to overcome competitive difficulty with the least amount of effort for the most value.
When appropriate, I’ll also review social media factors. Here, I’ll spend anywhere from a few minutes to upwards of an hour at most.
Patterns Reveal Bigger Problems
As I’ve communicated in several articles, I look for patterns in my audit reviews. If I find three or five pages on a site that have problems with any area, my experience tells me that this is something that needs addressing. Yet once I discover an area of concern, I don’t dig too much deeper at this point in my strategic audits. Instead, I record the information, describe the problem, describe why it’s a problem, and offer a few examples of it along with examples of how it can be resolved.
By the time I’m done with this process, I typically end up with a 10, 15, or 20 page document. A road map to resolving issues, that shows where energy needs to be applied. I don’t however, go beyond this much effort during a strategic audit.
Time is Valuable
I don’t go beyond the above described effort in a strategic audit for several reasons. First and foremost, I’ve contracted for a fixed bid audit. And with so many issues to consider, it’s too easy to get bogged down in any single factor and quickly use up all the time I’ve allocated. As much as I want to go the extra mile for my clients, I’ve come to learn that I’ve got a business to run, and my time is very precious in that regard.
Another reality I’ve found is if I present too much information to site owners and managers in my first audit, they rapidly become overwhelmed, discouraged and otherwise disheartened. By keeping my audits concise from this perspective, it’s enough to wake them up to real problems. It provides them enough education to help them accept the seriousness of issues revealed, and builds a level of trust and respect for the next step, implementing tactical SEO.
When I’ve presented a strategic audit and we’ve had a follow-up discussion regarding my findings, the next question from clients that comes naturally from that process is – “Where do we begin?”. If the client has an in-house person or team, or an existing vendor, they often have the ability to determine where to begin and how to go about the work. Or I might provide them a copy of my ebook, A Professional Guide For SEO.
If they need guidance or call upon my team and I to collaborate in the implementation, which is usually the case with clients facing extreme competition, here’s where it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get tactical.
Every site audit reveals different unique concerns and needs. Some sites might need to focus mostly on inbound link factors, others on-site factors, and others still, social media signals. Most of the time its a hybrid combination. Since I’m not an industry leading link building authority, or social media thought leader, I leave the tactical audit work in those areas to others I recommend – people and companies who are as passionate as I am but in their own area of expertise.
Defining What’s Important
When it comes to on-site factors, a typical tactical audit process happens in stages, and can most often be broken out into phases over time. There may be issues a sites developer or development team can resolve – these can include resolving on site 301 Redirect issues, duplicate content caused by other sites they own that should be eliminated, or architectural speed issues for example.