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SEO Site Audit, a Guerrilla Webmaster’s Guide

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SEO

google-webmastersIf your site is under performing in the organic (free) search engine results pages, you probably already know it. Traffic, sales and engagement have dropped giving way to rising concern. What’s wrong? The site used to work just fine!

Sadly, now searches (with personalized search disabled) reveal keyword rankings on Google’s “average front page” have plummeted or disappeared. Competition is overtaking your pages.

Perhaps your business’s PPC budget has been creeping higher or, more likely, rocketing skyward to compensate for lost organic revenue. You’re not alone, invisible webmaster. We rarely see new client-sites where SEO is not messed up, at least to some degree.

With over a trillion unique URLs, search engines have had to become much more stringent to prevent spam and provide relevant results for users. Though most SEO basics still apply, other previously acceptable optimization techniques are now considered sloppy, perceived as spam and rarely perform. Get ready to identify and button down any loose technical or semantic attributes.

This post is a guerrilla guide for webmasters, either undertaking a self-audit or engaging a professional SEO company to assist.

“One of the main objectives of an SEO audit & optimization project, is to help content achieve its maximum potential to be more discoverable.” Andrew Shotland LocalSEOGuide

Here are essential steps, common to most  SEO site audits. Keep in mind that every auditor has his or her own style and focus in addition to the basics. These days, thinking of SEO in terms of Digital PR and Universal Search has become very important so there are  specialists in optimizing for certain verticals like video, blogs, news, etc…

The guerrilla site auditor need to assess the current situation in detail by concentrated examination of technical assets,  semantic focus (on all interior & inbound nodes), the client’s technical & editorial capabilities and business objectives.

We hope this outline serves as a starting point for your efforts or validation for work already undertaken. Thanks to those SEOs who participate in the SEO site audit conversation via Twitter and other channels.

  • Take Analytics Baseline for later benchmark comparisons, include behavior & conversion analysis in addition to traditional web analytics.
  • Ensure the CMS has standard-operating-procedures in place so duplicate content problems are eliminated and then avoided with every new page.
  • Analyze current website templates, make UI and code revision recommendations to make content more discoverable.
  • Keyword Research: Keyword recommendations for most important pages and others identified as mission-critical, include technical & on-page assessment and keyword strategy advised by historic multi-channel conversion-analytics, conduct research to determine the optimum keywords for the site to target based on its traffic & conversion objectives
  • While classic keyword research counts phrase permutations users search for, Buzz Pocket Mining measures the individual and community-wide social graph. Be expert at trawling social media waters for insight regarding how customers chatter, act and react. Bring an understanding of the social web to keyword research and the intersection of SEO and SMO.
  • Competitive Intelligence (which is after all legal espionage), research previous marketing campaigns to see what was effective, both for site and competitors.

“The purpose of an SEO audit is to endeavor, within limits of the Content Management Systems (CMS) to provide out client’s website with a diagnoses for treatment. The objective is a “clean bill of  health” and a plan for raising the count of indexed pages, achieve better rankings for important keywords and a more qualified platform for driving customers to the site.” Matt Peterson, aimClear

“An SEO audit highlights the difference between what you think you are publishing and what search engines probably think you are publishing, and presents you with a summary of actions you can take to bring those two perspectives in line with your business goals.” John Andrews SEO for Upper Left Placement

  • Identify and recommend CMS fixes to eliminate duplicate content. Many aspects of a technical site audit are about eliminating duplicate content, a great threat to your site’s indexing potential.
  • Internal linking & keyword placement, with the emphasis on creating a holistic PageRank map, built in across a spectrum of keywords, permutations and fragments. Identify best places within the layout of templates to use keywords (keyword prominence) for best relevance based on each page’s content.
  • Comprehensive analysis of the internal and inbound semantic umbrella, distributed with  PageRank. Inbound links are not just about power, but also about semantic insight Google gleans along with the distribution of raw links. Some sites have images channeling the most link juice to irrelevant pages. My recurrent nightmare is that Google thinks my site means “Click Here.” :)
  • NoFollow PageRank sculpting recommendations to avoid wasteful channeling of energy
  • Suggest meta description and HTML title, image alt tags for top level and other most important pages, guidance writing tags or provide formulas for dynamically generating tags.
  • Identify most beneficial Heading tags for most important pages and provide the Client with rules on how, when & where to use them without incurring any penalties.
  • Ensure dynamic sitemaps are spawned (from within the content management system) to provide search engine robots a roadmap of content to index within the site. Google now allows multiple site maps, which makes for better transparency in evaluating indexing issues. We’ll advise and execute segmenting site maps for greater diagnostic transparency and recommend additional sitemap segmentation. Some SEOs believe that segmenting site maps makes for deeper crawls. There are definitely advantages to viewing segmented site maps in Google WebmasterCentral.
  • Robots.txt structure: Ensure its proper creation & maintenance within the CMS. Ensure that pages locked out by robots.txt are actually not being indexed. Identify pages that should or should not be indexing and act accordingly.
  • CSS recommendations: guidance on using images, links, and how to avoid penalties within the style sheets.
  • Image & Video optimization: Image optimization, from file names to internal links links is often overlooked in SEO. Websites can benefit seriously if savvy guidelines are implemented within the CMS and adhered to by the editorial staff. Page optimization for videos embedded in site pages, meta tagging & file name conventions for locally hosted media are crucial, Include YouTube/local site cross SEO tactics.
  • Server configuration: appropriate methods for delivering 404s, urls, redirects, etc.
  • UI & Code Audit: List of bugs & Keyword Recommendations, by page analysis of the website, URL structure and redirection strategy, optimize urls & taxonomy while avoiding automated ranking problems.
  • Recommendations for ongoing analytics, KPIs by which we measure SEO success and associated dashboard. It’s important to remain focused on empowering our client by training, heightened expectations and proof-by-analytics, to internalize or grow whatever processes are already or should be in-house.
  • Usability: While the focus will be on SEO, inevitably the analysis also touches on usability. As part of the audit we will provide you with usability recommendations with goal of improving engagement (page views & time on site), customer conversions and an overview of user experience issues.

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“The objective of SEO audit is to determine how search engine compatible a site is & what needs to be done to improve its compatibility.” Kalena

“The purpose of SEO site audit is to figure out what’s wrong with a site and make recommendations on how to fix it.” Jill Whalen High Rankings SEO Services

The Gift that Keeps on Giving
From the editorial perspective, the SEO site audit’s objective includes ensuring that each element of the client’s website has the best chance to generate as much free search engine traffic as reasonably possible and ensure that moving forward, the content teams have processes in place to maintain SEO benefits. This most often involves training in SEO basics including keyword research, buzz pocket mining, tag writing, and other fundamental SEO practices.

The good news is that huge improvements can be realized by doing the basics; eliminating duplicate content, unique tag writing, research etc …While there are other quirky aspects of SEO that sometimes require out-of-the-box attention, especially for very large enterprise sites, most concepts apply to all sites.

Get ready to tie up all loose ends both technically and semantically and just watch the improvement. SEO is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Happy hunting webmasters.

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12 Comments

  1. MikeMarshall on May 20, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Marty, this is great.

    The oracle of Duluth. Or, I guess, the second Oracle of Duluth.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  2. Marty Weintraub on May 20, 2009 at 1:34 am

    @MikeMarshall: So I have to ask, who is the first oracle of Duluth? :)

  3. MikeMarshall on May 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Dylan!

  4. Josh on May 20, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    An interesting read, sir. After reading it over, I’m rethinking how to improve my own personal site soon, this makes for a nice list to add to my revision. Thanks.

  5. Social Media Evangelist on May 24, 2009 at 5:55 am

    Cool! This should be included as an essential for any SEO student. Re-learning the basics!! Without these, any SEO campaign will always stay just that- a campaign…

    Manish Pahuja

  6. Furniture Cowboy on June 3, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    I would add use of inline scripts and inline coding. It falls under a usability issue since it effects load times. It can also effect search engines if they decide add load time into their algorithm.

  7. Dee Ford on July 22, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Marty, do you have a sample document? How do you organize the information into a report?

  8. Marty Weintraub on July 27, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    @Dee Ford: We have a document, but it’s not simple :). The form we use is part of an internal system of tools. I’ll think about the possibility of breaking it out into an excel doc or similar. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Dee Ford on July 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    @Marty No problem Marty, glad that I found your blog. Really good quality SEO info — keep up the good work.

  10. Steve Wiideman on December 29, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Marty, I like your approach with the audit breakdown. Hopefully other SEOs here are auditing their own audit sheets after the read. However, I think it’s equally if not more important to put emphasis on search engine optimization as a campaign rather than a task. Strategy is backbone of any campaign and optimizing the campaign holistically is far more beneficial than optimizing the website and IBL semantics; at least in my opinion.

    A timeline of specific tasks assigned to specific resources, coupled with numeric deliverables not only produces results, but produces results that are genuinely organic.

    Case in point, a video campaign created by individual members of an organization hosting their own mini-site can produce dozens of great inbound links from the organization’s corporate website if the content is noteworthy. That same campaign, syndicated appropriately can not only invoke action and ranking in video search engines (isn’t YouTube.com the 2nd largest SEO now?), but can also produce saturation in organic search. Case in point: the negative “westwood scammed me” campaign by lawyers is getting trumped in SERPS by a “westwood is awesome” campaign that utilized relevant video and content syndication.

    Thanks for helping me and other SEO’s audit our audit lists, this article definitely deserves merit. I personally appended my Sitemap(s) Review with a Segmenting Required parameter. Good stuff!

  11. Marty Weintraub on December 31, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    @Steve Wiideman: “A timeline of specific tasks assigned to specific resources, coupled with numeric deliverables not only produces results, but produces results that are genuinely organic.” Yup. thanks for engaging in this content. I like the idea of time lines tons.

  12. Shubham on February 11, 2010 at 7:58 am

    thanks for the guide…! Thumbs up..! Well its a complete package..thanks..!

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