4 NON-TECHNICAL SKILLS FOR SUCCESSFUL SEO AUDITS
I’ve been learning German recently (which is why there’s a picture of the Berlin skyline). What I’m realising though more and more is instead of trying to cram into my head every Der, Die or Das is actually spending time improving how I’m approaching learning German in the first place. The same applies for auditing…
Brands need SEO Audits. Google changes and so does your website. But what doesn’t seem to change is people’s mindsets when approaching an audit - whether you’re doing it yourself, or hiring someone like me to do it for you.
So, here’s 4 of very important skills you’ll need. This isn’t a checklist of tools. Or a step by step process of what to audit. (If you’re looking for that then read this excellent post from IQSEO here). Instead we’re all about the non-technical things you’ll need to do so your audits will actually have a positive impact on your organic traffic.
If you’d also like to prepare for the questions your boss will inevitably ask you about audits there’s a also a guide here: What’s an SEO Audit? (And other common audit questions). Plus, a deep dive in how to sort out prioritising SEO audit recommendations if you need it.
THE 4 NON-TECHNICAL SKILLS FOR SUCCESSFUL SEO AUDITS:
HOW TO APPROACH AN AUDIT
Not to get too existential too early on but why are you really needing an SEO audit? There’s two most common reasons –
There’s specific problems which need identifying. An audit helps isolate the problem so you can work out a fix. This could everything from analysing a failed website migration or why specific sub-folders aren’t indexing. Either way, it’s specific.
Then there’s unspecific problems – more of a gut feel that something isn’t quite right. You’ve changed the website over the years. Google’s changed the standards over the years. Everything needs an MOT so you have the confidence to know everything is on the right track.
The mistake here is that the people fail to ask the questions up front about why they’re doing an audit at all. So, what you ask at the start will determine the output of at the end.
So what do you want to get from the project?
An SEO’s time and resources only stretch so far so:
Make a list of the areas you’re most concerned about on your site
Work out what areas you’ll need to look at
Work out what tools you can use to measure this
Gather existing data and reports to see where the site is currently at
Work out how you will measure any change/improvements in the areas once the audit is complete
For instance: “I’m concerned about how slow my website is as I know this could be affecting conversions. To work this out I’ll need to understand more about my site speed. To test this I can use Google Lighthouse and also look at my Core Web Vitals report via Google Search Console. If we’re able to increase the speed these tools will also tell me if the site speed has increased”.
SEO tools. No doubt over the years your ears will have been filled with an array of buzzwords and brand names which make no sense to anyone else but other SEO’s. Some tools are free, some are paid, some are specific, some are generic. Naturally, all of them are 5* recommended.
Regardless of your tools of choice it can be so easy to paste your website in see what answers it spits out and take the answers at face value. Please don’t do this.
You need to think critically about the results being shown to you - to firstly understand whether the data is correct and secondly whether the results even matters.
Relying on tools to provide you with the data is a good thing. Relying on tools to provide you with the answers is quite another thing.
It’s going to require interpretation.
Take the Backlink Auditing tool from Semrush. Running a website through it will often reveal a percentage of toxic backlinks - the kind of links you really shouldn’t have. The natural reaction is to gather the whole list into a Disavow file and have those ‘bad’ domains blocked forever. But here’s where it gets interesting. On more than one occasion I’ve looked through these lists and links that are considered toxic have been fine. Links that have been labelled as fine are anything but.
These tools are good; but they’re not perfect. If I treated the data at face value I wouldn’t be doing my job correctly. So be cynical, be critical, don’t accept the results of a tool just because it says so.
GETTING YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT
Taking a step back, even if the data is accurate, does all this data from all these tools really matter? Does improving your C grade site speed more important than writing 200 missing meta descriptions? Does your red grade keyword optimisation score in Yoast matter more than your redirect chain errors?
Let’s remember your purpose. Why is the audit being done in the first place? What’s important, what’s not? Keep focussed on the important issues. If your international SEO efforts are failing then Hreflang tags are important. Alt-text on images - less so.
I know I’m biased but this is the most compelling reason for hiring an SEO consultant. An experienced SEO doesn’t just identify problems. They work out what’s a priority, what’s not, how complicated a fix will be and how big an impact fixing it will have - saving time, money and a lot of head scratching.
As much as I’d like it to be this way, the role of an SEO audit never ends once you’ve audited all the things. That was the start and next comes the fun bit - getting everything across to people who might not know a great deal about SEO.
“An experienced SEO doesn’t just identify problems. They work out what’s a priority, what’s not, how complicated a fix will be and how big an impact fixing it will have - saving time, money and a lot of head scratching.”
Chances are, not many people are going have the time, energy or willpower to read a 100+ page doc outlining every damn item you’ve looked at. The mistake is that you probably think they will. The next mistake is thinking they'll understand it.
An audit has two objectives. First a full technical checklist SEO’s and Developers can work through. Second to act as a argument for why you need more investment in SEO - and that means understanding more about your audience.
Getting additional resource means needing to present your results to the wider business. That means getting in front of people who fall into one of these categories.
Knows a little bit about SEO
Doesn't know SEO (but think they do)
Knows nothing about SEO but knows about marketing
Know nothing about marketing but knows about the business
Communicating a range of often complicated facts, stats and actions to such a wide audience is damn hard. It warrants it’s own post just to cover this topic but a good place to start would be to send everyone a primer of the basics of SEO - which I cover in this post on SEO for luxury brands. So, without getting bogged down in it all know that you’re going to need the time, patience and communication capabilities to get your message across to the right people in the right way. In the meantime to keep developers and marketing people happy here’s the component parts of what I send over when an audit is completed:
THE AUDIT ISSUES:
I only write up the issues into a doc - rather than everything that’s been checked. Each item that gets makes it into the doc has 4 essential items:
An explanation of what’s been checked
What’s the specific issue with the site
Who can fix it
What priority (out of 5) is the issue
Here’s one I made earlier:
Overview: Pages which aren’t linked to from anywhere else are considered orphaned. If they aren’t linked to Google may struggle to discover the content on these pages and users will not be able to find them while navigating around the website.
Issue: There are 21 orphaned pages across the website. These should either be removed, or linked to from other parts of the website. This can be from the main navigation or footer if these pages are important, or from links on other product pages, collection pages or blog posts.
Who is responsible? SEO Team
Priority: Medium - 3/5
At the start of your doc I also include to need an Executive Summary (because who has time to read?)
It’s no more than a page
It sets the scene for what’s going on (good and bad)
There’s normally a graph highlighting key issues (if you’re approaching the audit for a specific question)
Then there’s a table:
It lists all of the issues in one table
They’re ordered by priority (from 1-5, 1 being the most urgent)
The priorities are colour coded (1 in red because it’s serious. 5 a cool blue to come across as less critical)
Without reading the detail - or without knowing much about SEO - its much easier to understand at a glance how big, small, important or unimportant the state of your website health is.
THE SEO AUDIT NOTES
As a separate spreadsheet the client then gets a full breakdown of all the items that have been checked. Each item has detailed notes alongside it (which I write for myself to write up the audit doc). They act as a useful resource for future SEO’s or Developers due to the level of detail in there. And for anyone non-technical who might open the spreadsheet? Well, it shows them how many component parts there are to SEO and (hopefully) what a thorough job has been done.
You'd also expect that the findings of your audit are wrapped into a presentation to the senior management/board. If you need to make this happen then here's how to present your SEO audit results.
MAKING CHANGE HAPPEN
Your audit is done, the business loves you and life is good. But your written words have to translate into actions and your actions need to increase your organic traffic.
What most marketers forget is that an audit is not the end but just the start of what can be a long and often painful process of making change happen. We’ll split this into two:
You need money. Because money turns into time and resource from specialists. Who will be working on your recommendations largely falls into 4 people/teams: The SEO person, the content person, the website person and the developer. This might be done in-house. You might hire an agency. Or you just might like to work with an SEO consultant instead.
All of these people need paying and whether it’s spread across projects or retainers don’t think that because you’re audit is complete that’s somehow the SEO sorted too. This will all feed into your decision making when working out how to set your SEO budget for the year ahead.
Even with those people in place you’re going to need stuff. Lots of stuff. On a practical side stuff includes, stats, images, video, copy, tools, access to those tools and so on. That takes time to assemble (and potential further discussions with your boss why you need it in the first place).
Then there’s the less practical, but very essential component part of getting buy-in for all this from your wider team and the wider business.
You will need to be on good terms with the content people with content. You will need to be on good terms with the back end developers to make technical changes. All that takes time and to be honest some serious skills to convince people why and how changes need to be made.
Want to know how to achieve that? Tom Critchlow’s The SEO MBA is a damn fine place to start.
So, to wrap things up there’s a lot more than just an audit checklist to consider when working on a review of your websites SEO. Is going to take time, effort and a lot of patience before, during and after an auditing process to actually make things happen. If you haven’t done an audit before then I hope this provides you with some of the knowledge you’ll need. If you’ve done an audit before then message me with what else I’m missing on actually translating those audit points into action.