Table of Contents
- Our approach to SEO audits
- Industry Approach to SEO Audits
Our approach to SEO audits
At Inseev, we don’t refer to SEO audits, as audits. We like to call them research and planning roadmaps. This is because they are meant to produce a clear and intentional plan of action each month for a 12-month period.
Think of our SEO audits as a thesis paper explaining how to do SEO for your website, service/product, and industry. This approach incorporates technical considerations but is quite different from most audit processes in the industry because it is much more deliberate regarding the aspects that require critical thinking and deductive reasoning.
We developed our approach to the SEO audit process after realizing that a lot of SEO audits are simply a regurgitation of automated data from third party tools.These tools can provide a basic technical overview that identifies issues like 301 redirect chains and broken (404) links but doesn’t provide a strategic campaign capable of achieving great results. Even audits that support more of a strategic approach versus a technical overview of the site, tend not to think big picture enough in terms of a sitewide strategy. This is problematic because focusing solely on technical aspects of your site is not the most important lever for growing your organic channel.
Our SEO Audit Process: The Breakdown
Next, we will provide a step-by-step overview of each area of your website and organic presence that we analyze and assess during the SEO audit process. Each of the considerations below plays an important role in your website’s ability to rank competitively on the search engine results page (SERP).
Consideration #1: SEO Audit Traffic Sources & Trends
This section goes into a deep dive analysis of the historical performance of the business to understand current visibility in the marketplace, brand versus non-brand presence, seasonal impact, revenue and goal completions, page performance analysis, and other implications that may be relevant to your profile.
The next step involves understanding industry specific trends (that are not necessarily unique to your individual business). From the search patterns that your target audience engages in to whether or not your business is in a growing or declining industry, these are all important aspects to analyze during this portion of the audit process.
We then assess both the business and industry level insights to make recommendations that are best for your brand. For example, does it make more sense to optimize your product pages over category pages? The answer to this question is dependent on what is working for your website and what the SERP is returning for a target keyword. Our completely customized dashboard allows us to create an unlimited number of ways to view and analyze this data, giving us the best finalized analysis possible.
Consideration #2: SEO Audit SWOT Analysis
We take the insights discovered in the Traffic Sources & Trends section of the report and culminate our findings into a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. This analysis is used to determine how your business stacks up against the industry in terms of organic search. (This is also commonly referred to as a competitor analysis.)
Our competitor analysis determines who is dominating the industry for our target keyword set. While we often like to ask who you consider as your competitors, it doesn’t always directly translate to who you are competing against on the SERP.
For example, the brands who rank in positions 1 through 3 for the head term, “reverse mortgages” aren’t even reverse mortgage lenders, they are editorial sites. It doesn’t necessarily mean we should go after those websites to outrank them but it is a good example of the important and nuanced considerations around creating your keyword strategy and conducting the competitor analysis.
This SWOT analysis also includes keyword gap research and bucketing, where other brands in the industry are ranking, but you aren’t, and what the top companies are implementing in their strategy for success.
Consideration #3: SEO On-Page Audit
This portion of the audit utilizes a checklist to determine on-page SEO opportunities.
This checklist highlights ten implementations we noticed on competitor sites that your business is missing. Each section of the checklist is assigned a score to determine how much priority it requires for the strategy. This section also includes a small editorial write up overviewing what the competitor implemented and examples of where it could be integrated on your website. Whether you need more comprehensive content, adding glossary style content to your editorial library, adding jump links or changes to your page templates, we’ve got it covered in this section of the audit. All of these on-page changes are done in consideration with all of the business analysis we’ve conducted up to this point.
It’s very important in this section to consider your customer’s purchasing journey and how your lead generation process flows.
If you have existing content on your site, your audit may also entail a content assessment. This assessment determines how well your content is performing and how the content strategy contributes to the success of the website and business.
For example, does your content engage your ideal customer, are you missing important industry topics, are there areas to improve existing content or templates. Additionally, do you have related posts linked to at the bottom of your articles, is there a strong internal linking strategy, are you including authorship (see Improving E-A-T- in 2021), is there a strong navigational structure with hub category pages based on topicality? Are you using multimedia and rich media or infographics? We can keep going, but we think you get the point.
Consideration #4: SEO Audit Technical Assessment
Finally, we get to the section of the audit that is relatively easy to automate and the premise for most of the other audits we’ve seen in our experience.
We hope you can appreciate by this point how many additional considerations there are that go far beyond the technical aspects of your website. As we mentioned, it is important to consider the technical aspects of your site but it’s almost a moot point if you don’t consider all of the other influencing factors.
We also utilize a checklist for this section. The most important aspect of the technical assessment is determining whether or not there are technical issues that are actually holding your site back from ranking.
The primary influencing factor here is indexation. For example, are too many or too few pages being indexed? Are there backend issues that aren’t working that should be controlling the amount of pages you have? Are your pages indexable (i.e. does the code rendering for your website work for the search engine crawlers)?
Most SEO’s go wrong by looking at the technical details that don’t matter and then lack the understanding of how to prioritize the importance of the technical issues in direct correlation with your ability to rank competitively.
Other considerations around the technical assessment include your page level quality and if there are low quality pages being indexed or existing on the site in general, and if so, how do we remove and control for those, structure of 301 redirect chains, no index and canonical tags, page speed, mobile performance, core web vitals and data structure. While all of these are important influences on SEO, they aren’t massive blockers holding your website back from ranking targets.
Consideration #5: SEO Audit Authority Assessment
We believe one of the fundamental pillars of SEO is analyzing your website’s authority and it’s relative strength to your target SERP’s. Your website’s authority is determined by the total number of third party websites linking back to your website. While we can’t determine exactly how Google views your website’s authority, there are third party tools that help us assess the strength of your authority. Once we’ve determined how much authority your website has, we complete an assessment of the keywords we want to rank for and how much authority the competition for those keywords has. From this research, we can determine an approximate number of backlinks your website would need to increase the authority required to support your website ranking competitively for those head key terms.
Industry Approach to SEO Audits
While we have our own approach for SEO audits, there is an industry accepted approach for conducting the process at a high-level. In this section, we will break down a basic 20-step process that you can utilize if you are looking for what is accepted as an industry standard. Although the SEO audit overview we are about to provide can be extremely helpful, it’s important to note that you need to apply critical thinking and translate your audit into an actionable SEO strategy. It’s important that your audit identifies the areas you need to change or improve to actually increase organic search revenue.
20-Step Checklist for SEO Audits
There are three main pillars that we believe are the foundation for SEO, they are authority (i.e. backlinks), indexability and accessibility (i.e. technical health) and relevance (i.e. content & E-A-T signals). Every step on this checklist, should relate back to one of these pillars. In general, if you are looking at aspects of a website that are going to impact your ability to rank, they should fall into one of these three pillars.
Pillar 1: Authority
Authority refers to how trustworthy Google views your site against your industry. Authority is determined by the number of backlinks pointing to your website. If you aren’t familiar with the importance of your backlink profile, check out our blog posts in the Link Building category.
Step 1: Backlink Profile Analysis
You can use a number of tools to assess your website’s current authority. Ahrefs for example has a chart known as, “Ahrefs Rank”. Ahrefs Rank gives you an estimate of how your website stacks up against other websites in your industry.
In addition to Ahrefs Rank, you can also assess your UR, DR and number of referring domains in Ahrefs. To conduct a backlink profile analysis, you should look at these numbers in comparison to your website’s top competitors.
Other tools such as Semrush, Moz and Majestic all provide tools that can help you to assess how much authority you have versus how much you need to rank competitively.
Pro Tip: Look at the website holistically but also look at specific pages you want to rank. Sitewide you may have a lot of room for authority growth but on specific SERP’s you may only be a few backlinks away from taking a top position.
Step 2: Fix Broken Links
This one falls a little bit under the pillar of both technical SEO and authority. If you have a lot of backlinks coming into your website pointing to 404 pages, that’s a lot of authority that you are missing out on.
You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to conduct a sitewide crawl to identify all 404 pages on your website. If you have a good 1:1 match replacement page for the 404 page, you can set up a 301 redirect and leave the backlinks as they are.
If you don’t have a good 301 replacement for the page, you may want to consider conducting individual outreach for the broken links and request a manual update so that you maintain the same amount of authority the link originally received. This helpful article can help you identify what makes a high quality link (i.e. which ones you may want to go to the trouble of having manually updated).
Pillar 2: Technical SEO
As we mentioned earlier in this article, a lot of SEOs tend to focus on the technical aspects of the audit process. We find that while major technical issues can hold a site back from ranking, it isn’t the factor that acts as a driving force for a winning strategy. The technical portions of an SEO audit are also the areas that are easiest to automate.
Step 3: Indexable Page Assessment
Only one version of every page on your site should be accessible (i.e. indexable) and each page should be on the version of the domain that is intended to be indexed (i.e. the secure https version of your site versus the unsecure http version). There are three approaches we generally stick to when determining which pages are indexed:
1. Conducting a site search:
* This won’t give us the exact pages that are indexed but is a good way to check if there are too many or too few pages being indexed
2. Crawling the site with a 3rd party tool like Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl
3. Running a GSC coverage report to understand if there is improper indexation/no-indexation
* This is the most comprehensive way to conduct an indexation audit
Step 4: Mobile-Friendliness
With an ever increasing shift towards mobile, Google has continued to prioritize mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor. You need to make sure that you have a mobile website site up and that the website is formatted to render correctly on mobile, i.e. users don’t have to scroll left to right on the page to access all the content. If there are issues with how your website appears on mobile, work with your development team to make any necessary changes.
Step 5: Website Speed
How quickly your website loads is important for showing up first at the top of the results page. There are numerous tools on the market for testing your site speed, one even provided directly from Google.
This is a work in progress but most likely isn’t holding us back from rankings.
If you need to reduce your site speed, you can reduce image file sizes, enable compression, improve server response time and several other solutions. Our friends over at Moz have a super helpful guide on increasing site speed!
Step 6: On-Page Assessment
This step covers all of the on-page SEO ranking factors like making sure that you have a strong, clickable title tag, that there are customized meta descriptions, multiple instances of a strong H1, H2’s and H3’s, making sure all headers are being utilized correctly, etc. This one also starts to crossover slightly under the next pillar, relevance.
Step 7: Internal Linking
Just like having links coming into your website from external sources, you should also have internal links pointing to important pages on your website. Internal links make for an improved user experience and helps Google’s crawlers to better navigate and understand your website. Tools like Screaming Frog can help you determine how many internal links you have to which pages and how many instances you are using a specific anchor text for that internal link. There isn’t a golden rule to use when adding additional internal links. Like all best practices in SEO, do want makes sense and seems natural. For example, if there are instances where you are talking about something that directly relates to one of your primary category pages but doesn’t have an internal link, then add one.
Most importantly, is internal linking being done properly or even at all?
Pillar 3: Relevance
This is the pillar we consider to be the most important and impactful when it comes to ranking. It’s essentially all of the aspects of your website that Google uses to determine what your website and business are about and how much value you add to your industry, community, following, etc.
Step 8: Performance Overview
A big part of understanding where the business needs to grow and go forward, is understanding where it’s currently at. Being able to optimize for the revenue driving pages can provide a lift on what’s already performing well. In one specific instance, we were starting to work with a client and were going to conduct our audit based on a category page strategy. After assessing the current profile’s performance, we realized that conversions were much higher on product pages and that our strategy should focus on PDP’s (product display pages) instead of CLP’s (category landing pages).
Step 9: E-A-T Assessment
With Google’s medic update in 2019, significant importance has shifted towards being able establish your expertise and authority to the search algorithms. This is especially important if you fall under a Y-M-Y-L (Your Money, Your Life) brand. E-A-T assessment will focus on aspects such as having author bios attributed to editorial content and utilizing experts in the field with reputable credentials for that author attribution. Google wants to ensure that you are qualified to discuss the topics your website is writing about, this will continue to increase in importance over the coming years.
Step 10: Existing Content Assessment
What is the quality of the existing content on your website? Are there pages that are thin or duplicate content, if so they should be removed and revamped. The decision to remove or revamp should depend on the current keyword value and target difficulty. You can assess this by looking at what else is ranking in the SERP for the article’s target keyword. If the article doesn’t have a clearly defined target keyword, then it definitely needs to be removed or rewritten. Make sure that any duplicate content is removed from the website or if you want customers to still find the page because it’s similar but not an exact match to another important page, add a canonical tag. This indicates to Google that the master version of that page lives at XYZ URL. Overall, make sure all of the existing and indexed content on the site is adding quality.
Below is an example of existing content on the Inseev site, changes that need to be made for optimization and pages that don’t exist where we should develop new content. For tips on new content, read on to the next section!
Step 11: New Content Assessment
Where are there current gaps or opportunities in the existing content and keyword profile? (See section on Keyword Roadmap for additional considerations). Are there important industry topics that you are missing editorial content for? Prioritize new editorial topics by the content that’s considered low-funnel versus high-funnel. For example, if you are a running shoe company, you might write about how to pick the right running shoe as a low-funnel topic and how to make a habit of running as a high-funnel topic. One piece of content targets the customer when they are closer to making a purchasing journey than the other. These are the website elements you should be looking at and good questions to ask.
Step 12: Website Architecture
Website architecture is another one of those considerations that falls under both the relevance and technical SEO pillars. Website architecture is important for a variety of different reasons. Website architecture influences user experience, i.e. how many clicks it takes for a user to reach their desired page, how easy your site is for a crawler to navigate and it’s relevant importance to the rest of your website. Website architecture is also important as it will influence your overall technical health in the long-term. If you are unsure of where to start when determining website architecture and navigation, look at what the top ranking companies in your vertical are doing and research overall best practices for setting up a website’s architecture.
Step 13: Keyword Roadmap
A keyword roadmap is essentially the framework you are going to use to identify which keywords you want to rank for and which page either new or existing you are going to use to target that keyword. We recommended indicating what your current keyword position is so that you can track progress throughout the project. Semrush provides historic data as well so you can always go back and check. The prioritization of your keyword map should be dependent on the targets that are most valuable to the website’s business but also on your ability to rank competitively. Even if the search volume for a keyword may be smaller, the impact may be more significant if you can get to a top 1-3 position much faster than the big targets.
Step 14: User Experience
The user experience of your website relates back to a lot of the areas we’ve already discussed, i.e. website speed, navigation, mobile-friendliness, etc. User experience is not only important for getting your pages into the top spots, but also for increasing time on page and conversions, overall helping the end goal of increasing organic search revenue.
Step 15: Business Assessment and Goals
Just like with the Performance Overview, it’s important to understand the long-term business objectives to make sure the SEO strategy is aligned, i.e. is there a new product launch happening, if so it will influence how you structure the website architecture. Make sure you have an in-depth conversation about all future considerations with either the business owner or whoever is in charge of making these types of long-term decisions.
Step 16: Competitive Analysis
The competitive analysis is extremely impactful and important. Going back to a concept we’ve mentioned a few times now, a lot of SEO is all about your relative strength. Everything is dependent on the space you are competing in. Find where your competitors have weaknesses and fill in those gaps. It’s also important to conduct your competitive assessment in relation to your direct competitors as well as who you are competing against in the SERP, they may not always be the same. Many of the industry tools we’ve mentioned so far have competitor analysis tools but this is one area that requires nuanced considerations and critical thinking. Use industry tools as a jumping off point but make sure you are assessing all of the recommendations under a critical lens regarding what you know about the business and long-term plans.
In the example below, what is WebFX doing that we aren’t that has the potential to impact rankings? Look at the page and then make adjustments based on what the competitor is doing well.
Step 17: Local, National, International Presence and Goals
This step is dependent on the individual client. If it’s a national company with a national presence and no intention of expanding, then there may not be much to consider or strategize around. If there are immediate or even far off goals based on geographic locations, you’ll want to identify potential opportunities that are specific to a region and incorporate it into your keyword roadmap and strategy.
Step 18: Target Audience
Matching the search intent for keywords that your ideal customer is actually searching for is going to have a significant impact on your CTR (click-through-rate) and conversions. If you are going to actualize a successful SEO strategy you need to not only make sure that you are able to rank for the keywords but that you can also convert customers on those keywords with the page that is ranking.
As you can see, SEO audits should be extremely customized. To create an in-depth, customized, and actionable audit for your company, there are unique aspects of your business that need to be discussed. Below we’ve listed out some of the common questions we ask during our discovery call to get started on our SEO audit process. Hopefully this list gives you a good idea of what questions a qualified SEO company should be asking when you are considering a potential partnership.
Discovery Call Questions
- Are you expanding internationally?
- Do you have a local presence?
- What is your primary business focus?
If you are interested in learning more about what our SEO audit can do for your organic profile, contact us!
If you are an SEO and need guidance regarding any of the above considerations, don’t hesitate to give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from you. Good luck and happy auditing!