Adam Audette of Audette Media, an SEO company based in Oregon, like mine, Words in a Row has done a good job of summarizing what’s involved in an SEO Audit; that is, an analysis of what a website needs to do to get better search rankings at Google.
Adam presents a short list of some tools that are useful to anyone doing in-depth analysis of a website to see why it is not ranking at Google, and has organized the process into a checklist. Kudos to Adam for sharing this info! I’ve appreciated his generosity since the days (10 years ago and more, now) of his old email newsletters.
However, like most such checklists for doing an SEO audit I’ve seen online, a lot of the “why’s & wherefore’s” are left out. It just says, for example:
- Related Linking Structures
- Recommendation Engine
- Cross and Category Linking
- Nofollow Use
- Anchor Tech
Partial list of SEO Audit Factors
Adam gives the caveat that his is a ‘partial list’, and it does omit some important aspects of internal linking, such as “authority hubs” and “title attributes” of internal links, that should always be considered when doing internal linking.
He also doesn’t mention siloing a website by controlling the link structure and what links Google sees, versus what a human visitor sees.
But it is an overview, after all.
What the uninitiated are to do with such a list is never explained; a newbie to SEO would study over Adam’s list and be no wiser for it. Adam assumes if you’re an SEO person, you already know how cross-linking can kill the flow of PageRank within a site, and how using nofollow “leaks” PageRank, and can hurt a page in the rankings.
In my Words in a Row site and blog posts here on JMblog, I’ve tried to give explanations for these things — HOW they work, and WHY they work to optimize a website.
When doing an SEO audit, it is necessary to inspect all these things Adam lists — but only an intimate familiarity with the subject matter will allow an SEO consultant to actually use them to perform an analysis and figure out what needs to change on the site to get better rankings in the search engines. What is an analysis, after all, but comparing the existing scene to the ideal scene, and figuring out how to get there from here?
Skills Needed for an SEO Audit
In my view, SEO Analysis of a website boils down to a few key skills that, in the aggregate, comprise a LOT of SEO expertise. An SEO audit should not be done by a newbie, and should never be trusted to a software program. Here are the skills an SEO consultant needs to do an SEO audit:
- Knowing what exactly your keyword phrases are, that you’re targeting. This holds true even for a very large site. And then comparing that knowledge against what the site is actually doing now to “target” those keyword phrases. Do pages exist that have those keywords in their URLs? Do such pages actually use those keywords in the right places (titles, meta description tags, headings, body text)?
- Knowing how Google follows links and flows PageRank to sub-pages of the site, and how to channel that PageRank where you want it to go using <A HREF> links. This means understanding siloing, and comparing the existing linking structure of the site to the ideal scene that would flow all your PageRank where you want it to go.
- Knowing HOW the on-page factors (titles, headings, meta description, canonical tags, body text, and so on) affect how a page will rank at Google, and comparing that to what actually exists in the website you are analyzing, so you can see how to improve it and make recommendations to do so.
- Knowing the other SEO factors that may kill a website’s rankings, and being alert for them. Excessive use of 302 redirects, excessive 404 errors, incorrect sitemap.xml files, robots.txt settings that disallow Google from indexing it, etc. Being able to SEE what you SEE is also important. One actually has to look, don’t listen!. Often, I’ve found that what one is told by a webmaster or IT staff is not actually true when I went and looked for myself in the logs or in the files that make up the website.
This is why automated tools, programs like IBP (and many others) must be interpreted by a human with SEO experience — and why most of them are useless and can waste a lot of time, money and effort to handle things that aren’t the real problem with the website. I’ve had clients send me automated “Site Audit Reports” from Indian SEO firms that just run an automated report and send it out (a form of SPAM, really) in an effort to get business by confusing their prospects.
Clients often come to me and say, “I need to rank better for this keyword phrase: blahblahblah”.
When I go look at the site, I often find that there are NO pages that use that specific keyword phrase, anywhere in their site. When building their site, they completely omitted the phrase from body text, from titles, page names, meta data; it’s just not in the site anywhere. (Which makes for an easy fix!)
As Adam says, “SEO is both an art and a science.” The science is in the DATA — what you see when you look at the inner workings of the site. The ART is in knowing what that data MEANS, and the effective methods of using that data to achieve higher rankings at Google, Bing, Yahoo and the rest.
I’m not certain that’s a complete list, but every item on it is important when looking at a website to see how it can do better at Google.