Mar 202014

SEO Site Audits Are Broken

Ah yes, the SEO site audit. That ever-present assumption. That industry norm. That old, tired and dusty tome. It's long past time this antiquated document was given a refresh.

Today's SEO audits are too big, too often filled with trivia, and oblivious to a company's goals and resource constraints.

SEO site audits image RKG

Revisiting the SEO site audit

"But Adam, what are you talking about? The SEO site audit is an essential document. Are you saying these are now useless? Balderdash!"

No, I'm not saying they're useless (although they can be). I'm saying they're in dire need of a facelift.

We've created and delivered hundreds of site audits at RKG. This isn't our first rodeo. These ideas are the outcome of many years performing site audits for our clients, including dozens of massive sites and household brands.

The Purpose of Site Audits

What is the problem the SEO audit attempts to solve? Let's run through some of them, but first an umbrella statement that encompasses the point:

SEO audits exist to generate a comprehensive understanding of every problem a site has that could possibly contribute to performance issues in organic search.

The audit becomes a solution to:

  • The agency and/or client needing a full view of the SEO health of a site
  • Benchmarks being established
  • Priorities being established in context
  • A full view of how many and what kinds of resources will be needed to improve SEO
  • A kind of 'SEO inventory' to work against

These are all worthy endeavors and certainly necessary. But there is a better way.

What's the problem with site audits, you may ask? It's a question I'll need to answer before we go any further.

The Problem with SEO Audits

The major problem with site audits today is they are too damn big. They are unwieldy. They're cumbersome, all-encompassing, dense and comprehensive documents that don't necessarily a) reflect exactly where the business's priorities, goals, and resource constraints exist, and b) deliver a coherent and clear prioritization. They also too frequently include minor site 'errors' and trivia that will do nothing to move the needle on SEO performance (not even in sum).

This isn't anyone's fault, really. We're all at fault for helping to perpetuate an industry standard that should have been questioned long ago.

A Better Site Audit

If the tradition of site audits is to create large documents that include many items that either don't matter or can't be implemented, what should SEO practitioners do to improve this approach?

Our approach is evolving to something that resembles the following:

First, taking 10-20 hours (instead of 90-120 hours) perform a quick 'deep dive' into a site to understand its strengths, opportunities for improvement, competitive positioning, etc. Spend enough time to thoroughly understand what a site will need to improve in organic search. For seasoned SEOs, this process will be shorter and much more efficient than it will be for less experienced folks.

From this analysis, carefully document the areas that will need focus in the coming weeks and months. However, stop short of offering a complete set of issues and recommendations. Instead, create a prioritized list with examples. Take this to your client or manager and go through the findings.

Understand where your company or client's goals are in the coming weeks and months. Understand where the company cannot implement fixes. Understand where they do want to focus efforts.

Now, create a strategic plan. The benefit of the initial deep-dive exercise? You've isolated the key priority areas, and synced with the business on their priorities, goals and resource constraints. Now you can go back and dive deeply into each of the priority areas that the business will actually execute on, and deliver detailed recommendations and business intelligence to help justify them. You haven't wasted your time on image optimizations, for example, because you know the company can't do anything here. Instead, you've focused on video strategies, because of the large focus the business has here (for example).

This approach has a dramatic impact on SEO programs: it actually gets things done. But even better, it provides early wins, gets more buy in, and allows for more good stuff to be implemented. It creates trust more quickly.

I can relax. My SEO audit will be aligned with my plans.

Dynamic, Efficient Audits

There's still a place for the massive behemoth comprehensive SEO audit. It will live on. But it needs to be used when needed, not just because 'that's what you do'. The right tool for the job isn't always a hammer. But when all you've got in the toolbox is a hammer... well, you know.

The single biggest impediment to SEO success is the lack of implementation. Your recommendations, your ideas, all your plans are useless if they don't get done. By adapting SEO audits to your client's or company's realities - which always include strained development and content resources - you're aligning your recommendations with the realities of the company. This ultimately results in getting more things done.



10 Responses to "SEO Site Audits Are Broken"
Carlos del Rio says:
I totally agree. We do a 10-hour audit with the intention of giving people clear instruction for action and enough raw data that they can expand on our insights if they have a gung-ho person on their internal team.
Todd says:
Adam, Very much agree with your statements. How many times do most items in large audits simply get put on the back burner, or worse, direct attention away from more crucial tasks? How many hours are wasted of an SEO's time on nitpicking low-impact details and presenting them in a perfect fashion when those hours could (as an example) be spent on helping an SEO be more effective/a better advocate within their own company? Seems to me it makes sense to provide multiple paths if we're strictly talking SEO auditing: 1) Quick and dirty audits that bring to light high-priority items and allow teams to quickly focus on doable tasks that are likely to have high-impact 2) Top-drawer all-encompassing beast audits which are a handbook for teams that just want to know what's wrong so that they can fix their issues on their own. Enjoyed the thoughts - I'm sure you guys are coming up with great things!
@Carlos, great to hear we're thinking the same on this. @Todd, your comments are right on the money, especially with regards to the opportunity cost of chasing trivial errors instead of working on SEO advocacy within the organization, or content strategy, or analytics, or whatever else.
A huge problem with SEO audits is paralysis by analysis for the website owner. Where do they start with a 30+ page document that details every possible search engine performance issue of their site? The problem is 80% of the analysis and recommendations usually cover things that will have little to virtually no impact on their search engine performance anyway. Besides that it's also usually code related issues that will take the longest time to implement. The best thing to do is focus on the fundamentals that will provide the biggest wins and not to sweat the small stuff. After all if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
Scott Clark says:
Tough one. I tend to present my audit outcomes on a continuum, based on low hanging fruit and followed with more difficult tasks. The resources available today are often insufficient to engage against the longer term issues, but they may become available if they can succeed on the easier-to-attain changes. These can often be on-page SEO or even technical problems with the site. I always try to encourage the contact at my client companies to work with me on a strategic growth plan for not only the business, but growth also of their influence and their (measurable and report-able) impact to bottom line. When status updates on the SEO program are provided, they have a great chance then to suggest what might be possible with additional resources... working up the tree.
Doc Sheldon says:
Great points, Adam! Gauging the value of a site audit by page-count is similar to gauging the quality of a blog post by word-count - misguided and often a waste of money. We typically offer a short form audit that looks at on-site and off-site issues separately, identifying and prioritizing issues that need attention, along with their possible impacts. During the follow-up brief, we explain in greater detail the potential impacts of allowing each situation to continue as is and the potential benefits of different corrective actions. At that point, the client can charge us with taking corrective action or providing a deeper dive of specific items, if they intend to take action themselves. This lets us provide our clients with less eye-wash and more actionable guidance, and keeps us from charging for data they really don't need and will likely never address.
@Scott - a super point. Measuring impact, making sure your primary contact is focusing not only on results but on *reporting* those results effectively, is critical. And too often overlooked I'm afraid. A great add, thanks. @Doc - appreciate you weighing in here. Sounds like we're thinking along the same lines. Such a better approach for the client, and for your team. Efficient, flexible, in sync.
Judd says:
You're exactly right, the data means nothing if it's not acted on. I believe Deep Crawl has a tasks feature that allows you to create todos based on specific issues their crawler discovers, and we've considered something similar at SiteCondor. Definitely a pain point and area for improvement. Actions speak louder than reports.


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