Diving into SEO on an existing site can be challenging, but getting a good lay of the land is essential to correcting issues and building inbound traffic. What types of audits are there, and how should you perform a site audit on your website, or the website of a new client?
Part 1: The strategy of a good site audit
Welcome to Site Audits 101, a four-part series on strategic content management. This is part one, where we’ll talk about the value of finding the right SEO audit type for your business and go over the types of audits.
Why are site audits valuable for your business?
Say you want to dig deep into your site’s traffic, audience, and content. What organization wouldn’t find that prospect overwhelming? A content and site audit can help you assess all area of your site’s performance – and help you build your brand and understand your audience.
- Audits help you determine how your audience finds your site – and why you may not be as findable as you’d prefer.
- A site audit can serve as a how-to guide, establishing a to-do list to improve your traffic and ranking.
- Audits are part of pro-active site maintenance. Doing audits on a regular basis can help you spot issues before they impact your traffic, conversions and revenue.
- Audits can help you to prioritize tasks and measure the effectiveness of your changes. Which of those checklist items should be tackled first? And, which are making the biggest impact on your traffic? Audits can help you establish a baseline.
- A good site audit will create competitor intelligence, helping you to spot new competitors and competitor trends.
- Site-auditing can help you uncover optimization opportunities beyond “low-hanging fruit” site fixes. Optimized site structure will make a huge impact on your traffic, but a good site audit will help you identify off-site potential, too.
- Site auditing will help you provide the best site experience for your customers, establishing your brand’s reputation and authority in the process.
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Audits help you determine your site’s findability and your audience’s true goals
We define findability as “the ability for a person to access the products, services and information they need.” An SEO audit will help you discover why you might not be as findable as you might like, either generally or for specific search terms, products, or brands.
Seeking out the products and services we need comes naturally, and technology – including search engines and in-app tools – has evolved to mimic our natural use of language. Conversely, users have evolved to search more effectively. We’ve come a long way from asking Jeeves to using a variety of channels to find what we need.
Your site is found through a combination of channels, including search, social, email, word of mouth, and any other ways your users find you. Your audience may find you through types of content such as videos, images, blog posts, articles, and, of course, search terms. They may find you through Google’s universal search, in which the SERPS include links as well as images, answer-box content, and much more. A search audit should help you figure out the type of content your audience is finding, and determine how they are interacting with that content.
The nature of the findability ecosystem means that you need to consider channels beyond search when building your SEO strategy. A classic example is the statistic that most cable box owners water “dual screens” while watching TV, meaning that they’re on a tablet, phone or laptop while enjoying their favorite shows. That means that, if they see something interesting on TV, they’re more likely to engage online. And this effect goes both ways! A user who has been exposed to a product online (through digital ads, email, or social) is significantly more likely to engage with that product offline (when they encounter it in a store or discuss it with a friend).
Optimization is everywhere, and for every marketing channel
When auditing your content, you need to consider that optimization doesn’t only occur onsite. Of course, onsite keywords, tags, meta data and content are vital to SEO, but you also want optimization to create a cohesive experience for your user. That means your email headers, social media posts, paid ads, articles on partner sites, and even offline content should reflect the same brand, keywords, and feel of your onsite content.
SEO should target both your current audience and a wider group that we call the target audience. Your current audience is comprised of people who are– successfully or unsuccessfully – already engaging with your brand, services, products, and content. Your target audience, however, is made of anyone who could use what your brand offers – and that includes people you haven’t yet identified or reached. Your target audience includes users you could reach on social media, through search, via offsite content, and even offline.
And now for the good news: your target audience is always bigger than your current audience. That means you could be getting more traffic.– Erin Acheson, DemandSphere COO
So, who is your target audience? In order to find yourpeople, you need to understand five core things about your target audience:
- How are people finding you, your competition, and anything that fills a need that you serve? What are they searching for, where, and did you know?
- What type of content are they finding? Is it you, or, again, is it a competitor site? Are they finding the things they need, generally, or are they nine pages into a Google SERP with no light at the end of the tunnel?
- Who are they? What type of people are looking for the thing that you’re selling or the content you can share?
- Are they the right people? Is the thing that they’re searching for within your purview? Is the content you’re creating serving the market who is looking on your site?
- Are your users happy with what they’re finding? Look at bounce rate and your competition. Are you offering what your target audience is seeking, or should you consider a merchandising change?
From a search perspective, thinking about your target audience means considering what people are searching for, where they’re searching, and what channels lead them to your site. In creating a site audit, you’ll want to consider:
- Is your content targeted for keywords and topics relevant to your audience?
- Across your current channels, how findable is your content now?
- Does your content match your current audience?
- What type of content is found frequently for the type of searches relevant to your site – links, photos, videos, blog posts, rich snippet-type of matches?
- How do SERP and universal search elements engage your audience with your brand – and how does that change across devices?
- Are your keywords and topics engaging your marketing ecosystem beyond SEO?
Establishing a baseline understanding of your audience, and determining whether their needs are being met, is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your brand online. It encompasses not only how you are offering your product, but also consideration of which products and services you’re offering, and whether you are matching them to the right users.
Site audits should help you create deliverables and a project plan
Ideally, after completing an audit, you’ll have a checklist of tasks that will improve your traffic and visibility. If you’re working with a vendor who will handle those tasks for you, you’ll want to establish a timeline for those items to be completed. If you’re planning to make changes to your site yourself, you’ll need to prioritize the issues you plan to address first.
Your audit should identify issues and errors, and help you determine what’s most important, what you can tackle yourself, and what you should outsource. Major issues might include:
- Crawlability: Is your content actually findable? The audit should identify any content that is not crawlable, such as non-readable PDFs or images without tags. It should identify which items have been excluded from SERPs using nofollow tags, and whether those items should, indeed, be excluded. Crawlability is the top issue to address; if your content is not crawlable, none of the other issues really matter, because users won’t find your site.
- Page structure: Are your pages set up in a way that makes sense to your users? Are they tagged correctly, and are they under categories that make sense to anyone new to your site?
- Keyword targeting: Do the words and phrases on your pages match what users are seeking? Keyword targeting includes a hard look at, again, your target audience and what you think they want to find on your site.
- User Experience: How recently have you thought about UX? An audit should include a review of usability, and focus on navigation issues that may be causing users to bounce.
- Link Strategy: What other sites are linking to your site? How is your offsite content – whether social media, a blog, shopping engines, offsite sales pages on Amazon or Jet, or non-traditional search engines like Pinterest – affecting your onsite content?
The “low-hanging fruit” of common issues and errors might be all you want to address in a site audit, or you might want to go deeper on exploring your audience and competitors. Let’s look at the types of site audits that might be right for you.
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What type of content and SEO site audit is right for your organization?
In this, and through our four-part series, we’ll talk about eight types of SEO audits. Please note that these are generalizations, as audit types and offerings vary by service provider. Your mileage may vary, depending on your site’s size, your budget, and your goals!
- Automated SEO / URL checker: This product scans your site, or single URLs, for obvious errors and includes little or no human review. These tools are usually very cheap or free, and are great for identifying the most obvious problems with your site quickly.
- SEO analysis tools: These tools scan your entire site, or a chosen subdomain, for errors. They typically also provide some guidance on your overall site health. It’s similar to an automated checker, but may include offsite content and prioritization of your errors. Demandsphere’s Demandmetrics is one example; it provides information on which errors you should address first, and also provides some competitor discovery. Monthly or quarterly reporting may be an option, as well. Most enterprise models provide as little as a basic SEO analysis, but may expand to include competitor information, content suggestions, et cetera as you scale up to a more expensive and comprehensive product. Often, these tools are used as a way to monitor SEO performance in between, and in addition to, periodic audits.
- Mini audit: A mini audit is just what it sounds like – a quick gauge of your site’s overall SEO health, without a deep dive into page specifics. It’s often the first step of a bigger SEO strategy. You can think of it as a site-health litmus test, and is great for showing your organization the value of a longer-term SEO plan.
- Hybrid audit: A hybrid audit includes a technical tool for you to access on an ongoing basis, along with a vendor’s provision of strategic insights, reporting, and cross-function auditing. Demandsphere provides this solution because we have both an SEO platform and a managed-services team; with other providers, you may want to discuss choosing a la carte options when building your audit. A hybrid audit is a great solution if you have an internal team who would benefit from having ongoing access to an SEO platform, but does want help establishing a full audit of the site.
- Specialized audit: A specialized audit will focus on specific needs, such as ecommerce migrations or major changes in performance. It’s particularly useful in an emergency situation; say your organic performance has suddenly tanked, or your site has received Google red flag penalties. Your cost may vary depending on the type of solution needed, especially if you’re working on a tight deadline to turn around a sharp decline in traffic.
- Element audit: Under this type of audit, a solution provider checks a single, specific SEO element: title & meta data, alt tags, backlinks, anchor text, etc. Usually, they use a tool to assess the performance of that specific type of element, and to make a plan going forward. Element-specific audits are usually less popular services, but might be the right solution if you have one element that has proven to be a struggle for your organization.
- Strategic SEO audit: This is the all-encompassing SEO audit. Here, your solution provider checks your site and compiles a report including analysis, recommendations, and a project plan across all SEO elements. This will include project plans, competitor analysis, and strategy across all of your online properties and all of your SEO elements. Here, your service provider will really dig in to create a full timeline for the implementation of your new SEO strategy.
- Full service audit: A full-service audit includes everything provided in strategic SEO audit, as well as help actually carrying out that SEO plan. It will set up a long-term relationship with your service provider wherein they will help monitor your SEO performance, perform keyword research for you, and actually make (or suggest) updates to the site.
Timeline, budget, and goals will be major elements in determining which audit type is right for you.
In addition to considering your budget and your organization’s needs, you’ll want to consider the type of relationship you will have with your audit provider. An automated scan will take minutes, whereas the start-up time for a major audit may take several weeks, depending on the size of your site. In addition, a strategic audit will have your service provider, or an in-house team, revisiting your site on a frequent basis. A full-service audit will be even more extensive, potentially with your service provider working as an extension of your team to build out your site’s content.
In our next episode, we’ll talk about the deliverables you can expect from your audit.