“How are you going to make us number one?”
We get asked this on the reg, and so long as the planet revolves around the sun – I guess I did retain information from elementary school, after all – SEO specialists and marketers will continue to answer that question. It’s some sort of unbreakable rule written in digital stone.
Most salespeople shoot buzzwords from the hip when approaching new business. And that tactic works well since buzzwords are designed to excite, draw upon humankind’s innate neediness, and build up a euphoric sense of gratitude for being allowed entry into some mysterious, clandestine club. (Few have ventured past these doors and lived to tell their tale!)
However, unlike buzzwords, there’s nothing sexy about the term “SEO audit.” Consider how you would react if someone said they were auditing you. Just hearing the word—audit—makes you want to spit in the face of the first person to look at you funny. Say it out loud: Audit. Emphasize its syllables: Au–dit. Doesn’t it make you hate babies and want to stomp flowers into dust?
That, my friends, is no buzzword: It’s a buzzkill!
But should it be? The benefits of selling yourself as an expert SEO auditor typically outweigh the risks of mentioning it, so why have we slapped it with the “unsexy” label when it’s more like “nerdy chic”? Well, there’s no time like the present to take a stand and revolt. Follow these secret SEO auditing tips from the pros, and together we can Make Audits Sexy Again.
Identify Issues & Prioritize Fixes (Primary vs. Secondary)
Not all things are created equal. A spelling error on a subpage isn’t the same as a homepage sans metadata, so don’t grade a client’s SEO as if it was. Instead, split the on-page issues into primary and secondary groups. The majority of your work will be to address those primary on-page SEO problems, which may include:
- Metadata on main pages – Analyze meta titles and descriptions of all the major pages on the site, focusing on proper length, geo-targeted locations, spelling errors, calls to action, and keyword usage.
- Keyword cannibalization – The crux of good SEO is focusing on no more than two main keywords per page. This means meta titles and H2/H3 headings shouldn’t be cannibalizing keywords found on other pages unless the plan all along is to confuse sitemap crawlers.
- Content quality and quantity – Assess the copy for staleness, canonical elements, content duplication, word count, stuffed keywords, strategically written headers, and frequency of updates.
- Site speed – While more of a technical issue for developers and web hosts to solve, slow site speeds can really bury a company’s presence online. Beef it up by using Google’s PageSpeed Tool and consider downloading site add-ons that improve cache speed.
- URL structure – Each page URL should reflect what the content and topic of that page are about (e.g. a web page about turkey giblets should end with “/turkey-guts/” rather than a “pageid=42325?/” URL path).
- Mobile-friendliness – Is the website mobile-friendly? It better be.
- Markup – Structured site data is what today’s search-engine crawlers look for to better understand and filter audiences based on employed keywords.
- Broken links – Broken links signal to readers that the site owners don’t really care about their experience. They’re easily fixable, so you might want to start the clean-up process here.
- Errors – Run a site crawl through Google to discover internal site problems like invalid DNS statuses, 500 errors, or 404 redirects. (The use of a 404 error is fine, but there may be backlinks that need to be fixed.)
- Navigation – An organized site structure is essential. If users can’t find what they’re looking for early in the pipeline, they’ll book it in favor of another more accessible site.
- Manual penalties – You did the crime, but that doesn’t mean you need to do the time in GoogleJail. If you notice a past manual penalty when performing a site audit, figure out why and how to rectify it. Sometimes a simple manual link removal can do the trick.
There are also two trains of thought when it comes to auditing a site. First is the “go big or go home” strategy in which you choose the most important issues to fix first, no matter how time-consuming it may be. The second strategy is to tackle the dead-end fixes, like broken links and spelling errors, before putting all your efforts into larger projects, like rewriting all the content. To each their own.
We personally based our marketing services on both tactics, offering our new clients SEO scorecards that outline the major deficits and weaknesses of their website, as well as an action plan to fix identified issues. How we do it all is a secret family recipe, but we’ll share the delicious results with anyone needing a comprehensive SEO audit.
Competitor’s SEO Analysis
The barometer for success is how well a company is performing versus rivals in their industry. Are competitors clawing their way up the SERP to your client’s level or looking down at your client’s lowly #2 spot? How are they succeeding? What can be done to top them?
If you’ve never performed a full analysis of a competitor’s SEO strategy, download the right tools, utilize a premade competitive analysis spreadsheet, and consider adding the following tasks to a new SEO audit checklist:
- Choose and compare up to ~5 competitor sites’ local or global rankings, depending on your client’s goals. If you need someplace to start, do a reverse Google search on your client’s services, products, and offerings to see which brands are their biggest rivals.
- Mark down all sites’ organic/local pack rankings for a certain number of your client’s targeted keywords (this is a “Keyword Gap Analysis”).
- Review the homepage copy on all sites to assess duplicate content, keyword selection, headings, and internal link structure.
- Assess the UX on each site; do they have prominently displayed details, such as address, phone number, and provided services?
- Retrieve a current link profile for each site, making note of relevant links that your client should have (this is a “Backlink Gap Analysis”).
- Count and mark down the number of pages each site has.
- Inspect links from testimonial sites and social media. If competitors have more inbound links from these sites, add an “obtain more customer reviews” recommendation to your action plan.
- Check site security (http:// vs. https://).
- Consider performing a few mystery shops to get comparative data on customer service and general site UX. Are there any common issues related to form submissions, shopping carts, reply times, or general requests for support?
- Analyze Google Trends for certain branded keywords; use that trend line to track past and future performance versus competitors.
- Check site speeds and mobile-friendliness.
- Inspect publishing dates on any high-ranking blogs. You can build a better, updated post on that same topic, and run a link-building campaign to acquire some of those competitor’s inbound clicks.
- Create a Gmail account for your client, and send Google Alerts to that email when someone mentions your competitor by name. Somehow weasel your way into that conversation.
- Identify each homepage’s major call to action, and make an educated guess as to its effectiveness to convert and acquire more leads. Replicate or improve upon it on your client’s site, if possible.
- Don’t forget to examine linked images and their ALT text. Case studies have shown that links attached to images can have a huge influence on the placement of a site, even when that site’s link profile is relatively similar to a competitor’s.
Knowledge is power, so empower yourself with the right knowledge by analyzing the strategies of the biggest players in your client’s niche. It’s the only way to understand where your client stands and how you can prop them up.
Personalized SEO Scorecards & Reports
Delivering results after a full SEO audit isn’t just in your conversion rate and traffic metrics—it’s in the pre-work reporting. Even though SEO auditing isn’t sexy, the reports you provide clients should be. Professionals like Annie Cushing understand the value of sexy SEO audit reports, and you should too.
To start, ensure you’re catering each document to your client. Beyond templated verbiage, data placements, and graphics, your SEO reports should appear as if they were given all your TLC. A customized report may convince clients that you are truly committed to their success.
Here are a number of expert tips to personalize your audit reports:
- Create your SEO audit report template using all the tools at your disposal, such as Screaming Frog, Google Search Console, Analytics, and Ahrefs. Distance yourself from your own competitors by being creative.
- Add an SEO scorecard with a letter or percentage grade. Put those clients back to high school algebra class.
- Include a short opening paragraph that introduces the client and website. Write this as if you were explaining what you believe the client wants new customers to know. First impressions matter, yo.
- Make the goals of your SEO audit clear. What will you concentrate on? Why is it important? How are you able to help fix any uncovered issues?
- Try to refrain from using a second-person perspective (e.g. “you” or “your site”) when addressing your client. Sometimes it can be difficult to take criticism if it feels like a personal attack. Instead, swap “you” with the client’s site or brand name.
- Only include action items and analyses of problems that you can address. Don’t put yourself in a deep hole from the get-go.
- Circle or use arrows emphasize the largest problem areas in screenshots. Just because you understand the issue doesn’t mean your clients will. Rather than gawking at hard data, they’ll appreciate seeing a visual representation. (Wouldn’t you?)
- Include an appendix at the end of your reporting. There are SEO-industry buzzwords (and buzzkills) they may want explained. While you’re at it, also add links to articles and studies that support your recommendations.
- Insert data and screenshots to demonstrate how they’re generally being compared to competitors for shared keywords.
- If you gain access to their Analytics, take a snippet of any penalty- or algo-related downturns in traffic, leads, conversions, impressions, et cetera. You can make annotations in Google Analytics
- Run a “whois” check on their domain. Include the registry expiration date, creation date, and registrar (host) server.
- Provide the important numbers, but just a sampler’s plate. Otherwise, potential clients may try their hand at SEO, and that’s never a good idea. As Reddit user hrmiracle writes, “I always tell to-be clients this: ‘If you take everything I said and go do it yourself, you’re no longer a [car dealership], you’ll be an SEO company – you won’t have the time to do both – at least, definitely not well.’”
- You may think all the data you dove into is cool, but we doubt your client’s developers will enjoy the open criticism. But if you provide them with an accessible SEO audit report and an organized action plan and timeline, they may be more willing to make your suggested alterations. (Still, most web developers could care less about SEO issues if the site is working – this is just one reason why we never recommend putting all your digital marketing eggs into one basket when it comes to your website.)
If you want to see how we develop our SEO audit reports and scorecards, you’ll have to speak with a member of the Opp Max marketing team. We offer numerous digital marketing solutions and products that will analyze your digital frontage, site, and brand visibility, such as our Digital Visibility Analysis, which includes scorecards on SEO, local listings, paid search, and more. Get to work by ordering us to get to work.
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