Understanding SEO Audits

While most SEOs will agree that having an SEO audit of your site done is a good thing to do, the details that surround the audit like audit method or cost of the project are somewhat polarizing among website owners and SEO-industry practitioners alike. What should be included in an SEO audit? Should the audit be free or paid? How long and in-depth should it be? When should it be done? By whom?

Let’s start with what an SEO audit is. An SEO audit is the process of evaluating a website for factors related to the site’s search engine performance, such as page titles, site speed, robots.txt, XML sitemaps, etc. The goal of an SEO audit is to improve the website’s performance in organic search engines like Google and Bing.

I will break down the when, why, who and what for SEO audits conducted by UpBuild so you can feel confident in whatever decisions you make regarding an SEO audit of your site.

When Should an SEO Audit be Performed?

The timing of an audit can be important, but what matters most is that every site should be periodically evaluated for SEO-friendliness. UpBuild recommends getting an SEO audit of your site in any of these cases:

  • During a redesign of the your website (an audit should be done before the new site is launched and then certain elements should be re-checked once the site is launched)
  • When major changes are made to an existing version of your site
  • Immediately if you suspect there are issues related to your technical SEO
  • On a regular schedule (annually, bi-annually, etc.)

Each of the first three scenarios call for an SEO audit because each represents a major shift for a site, which could lead to unforeseen issues. The fourth scenario (on a regular schedule) takes into account the fact that sites change gradually over time, so it’s important to regularly check in to make sure small changes haven’t resulted in big problems.

We don’t generally recommend getting an SEO audit of a site that is about to be redesigned; there might not be much value in auditing a site that will be completely redone soon. The issues from the old site will most likely not exist once the new site is launched, and that time would be better spent making sure the new site is in tip-top shape.

Who Should Perform an SEO Audit?

This question is tricky. There are plenty of reasons to have someone in-house perform the audit if you have someone qualified to do it. You don’t have to pay them a fee for it, they’re more familiar with your site than an outside consultant would be, and they might know how to get things fixed quicker because they understand your company’s organization structure better, like who to talk to about getting new marketing copy written.

While having an in-house employee perform an SEO audit may be a good option for your company, hiring an outside consultant for the work allows for an expert to evaluate your site honestly and provide unbiased feedback. A new set of (experienced) eyes and some perspective could unearth issues in-house people have become blind to.

How Long Should it Be?

This part is really hard to quantify; the final SEO audit should be as long as it needs to be. Our SEO audits are generally around 50 Powerpoint slides in length, but sometimes can be up to 200+ slides in extreme cases. The length of the final SEO audit report is going to depend on the issues that are discovered and how detailed the auditor wants to be. Audits may include additional information like why the presented issues are occurring, what effects those issues are having on your site, and initial recommendations on how to fix the problems.

If a site is in really bad shape, the SEO audit report may end up being a long document. If the audit report contains a long list of issues, request a prioritized list from your SEO auditor or in-house SEO lead detailing the critical issues to address first and a plan of action for the remaining items. Remember, the audit should be useful to you, so don’t hesitate to ask your SEO auditor questions about their process. If they aren’t willing to produce a document that is useful to you, then what is the point of the audit?

Just like the length of an audit can vary, so can the amount of hours it takes to complete one. At UpBuild, audits take between 25 and 50 hours to complete. This can be important if your auditor is charging you by the hour.

How Much Should It Cost?

Now that you’ve decided to get an SEO audit done on your site and you think you have the timing down, you may be wondering how much is it going to cost? Should you even pay for an SEO audit? Unfortunately, there is no single answer.

Whether you pay for an audit, or how much you pay is going to depend largely on the depth and quality of the audit. If your SEO is only running your site through an automated tool and giving you very general recommendations, then that might be free — the SEO is probably using it as sales strategy to show you what’s wrong with your site and then offering to fix it without devoting much time to the audit, in case a sale doesn’t happen. In our opinion, this type of audit is not very useful (and you could it do it on your own, using the same tool).

The real value of an SEO audit comes from the additional context and advice the SEO can provide based on their experience. Information about what to do, how to do it, and what to prioritize is much more valuable than a simple list of problems to fix.

For example, here at UpBuild, we focus on creating in-depth SEO audits so clients can take the audit anywhere from their dev team to another agency and they should be able to use our audit to make the suggested updates to the site. Our audits can take anywhere from 25-50 hours to complete — these are done by members of our team, not by automated tools. This means that our audits tend to be on the more expensive end.

For some businesses, this sort of in-depth SEO audit may be more than what’s needed. If you’re already well-situated to fix SEO problems and feel that you have a firm grasp of what SEO activities will provide the most value to your site, you may be able to get by just fine with a free or cheap SEO audit driven by an auditing tool.

In the end, audit pricing varies between various SEO shops and your budget will determine how much you can afford to invest in an audit.

What Should Be in Your SEO Audit

Now that you have a better understanding of the decision making process around SEO audits, let’s talk about what should be in any in-depth SEO audit you receive.

At the very minimum, an in-depth SEO audit should include analysis on the following categories of elements on your site:

  • Access
  • Relevance
  • Structured Data
  • Performance
  • Authority

Each category above represents a number of elements that need to be checked, analyzed, and highlighted within the audit.

If you are unsure if you are getting a thorough and professional site audit, use the information below to determine its effectiveness.

These are not instructions on how to perform an SEO audit, or even what is right and wrong with a site; they are simply outlines for the various elements that should be analyzed and the type of feedback you should get from your auditor.

Access

The first category is Access, which includes elements such as robots.txt, XML & HTML sitemaps, in addition to how your site content renders for search engines.

In this section you should understand how easy or difficult it is for search engines to find, crawl, and parse the information on your website. For example, the audit should answer questions like, “does the site rely on Javascript for the main navigation to function correctly?” or “is the site using iFrames to load vital content?” . We also love to provide specific examples where issues are occurring and some background on what could be causing those issues in addition to how to fix them.

Relevance

Relevance refers to elements on your site like metadata usage (page titles, descriptions, etc.), HTML heading usage, content volume and quality, and keyword/topic targeting.

This section requires your SEO to break down and analyze how well the site is utilizing its metadata and on-page content, and should answer questions like “does each major landing page have a title tag that is optimized?” “Does each page have a clear topic, and does the page do a good job of presenting information relevant to that topic?” etc.

You should see specific examples of your metadata and content and then comments on whether it’s well-optimized or needs work, and then some recommendations on how to improve these elements.

Structured Data

Structured data relates to how well a site enables search engines to understand not only the pages on the site but the entities that those pages discuss or represent.

In this section of the audit your SEO should highlight what kind of markup the site is already using (if any), if there are any problems or errors with that current markup, and then recommendations or opportunities to expand the site’s use of structured data.

Performance

Here we’re looking at how well a site performs for search engine users and how those search engines perceive that performance.

More specifically we’re looking at the infrastructure behind the site (Does the site use a CDN? Does the site have a lot of downtime? etc.), the site’s speed (How fast does the site load for users?), and whether the site is mobile-friendly (Does the site work on mobile devices? How is that user experience? etc.), among other performance-related issues.

Authority

Finally, your SEO audit should explore the site’s authority or trust in the eyes of search engines.

This section will include analyzing both on- and off-site elements that can affect a site’s trustworthiness or authority on a certain topic. These elements can include things like previous search engine penalty histories, variations in URL use, link counts, whether the site is secure for users, etc.

This section should include tips and recommendations for making the site appear more trustworthy, improving its authority on its given topic, and ensuring the site’s security.

Custom Tailoring

While this might seem like a lot, it is really just the minimum any solid SEO audit should take into account. Different sites may raise different issues and if those issues have an impact on SEO they should be analyzed and discussed.

One thing that helps keep UpBuild’s and other quality SEO outfits audits useful to clients is that they are not one-size-fits-all. We have basic things we look for on every site but our audits work around the site we’re dealing with, not the other way around. This gives the auditor the flexibility to deliver something that is useful to the specific client rather than a templated deliverable.

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