SEO

An SEO’s Guide to SEO Audits Part 3: SEO Site Audit Approach & Layout

In parts one and two of our series on conducting SEO site audits, we looked at how to price and scope your SEO audit as well as questions to ask, accounts to gain access to, and tools to have at your disposal.

In this section I want to look at the overall approach an SEO takes in putting together an audit, as well as some presentation items like formatting and report layout.

Determining Your Approach to an SEO Audit

There are some strong arguments to be made that you might want to be somewhat “guarded” or “careful” with the information you “give away” in an SEO audit, but as I pointed out in the last post in this series, my personal approach to executing an SEO audit is to:

be completely sales-agnostic: I want to charge appropriately for the value I’m delivering, so that the audit itself is a valuable project that I’m not relying on as a lead-gen tool or loss leader. This allows you to make completely unbiased recommendations about what to outsource, what to keep in house, etc. By charging fairly for your services you mitigate the risk of “giving away” value (you’re charging for it, after all) and you also position yourself as an expert who does good work, which is a better sales pitch than under-delivering and offering to bridge the value gap for a price after the fact.

This doesn’t mean that you do an unreasonable amount of work and put your business at risk: it just means that you charge a fair price for your time and expertise, and then generate the best, most complete document possible. My suggestions here and in the next section will assume that this is the general approach to the auditing process that you’re taking.

Know Your Audience, Educate if Necessary

First, as a general rule with SEO audits I find it best to assume your reader has a limited knowledge of SEO unless you know otherwise. As I mentioned in section two of the series, if you know for a fact that the only one poring over your audit will be a savvy SEO, you can adjust your audit accordingly and not over-explain or come off as patronizing, but if you’re not entirely sure, the document is likely to be read by folks with a range of SEO expertise, etc. I think it’s valuable to educate throughout your audit – don’t just make a recommendation, explain why you made the recommendation and how it will help their business.

One positive here is that as you start to do multiple SEO audits, you’ll have some explanations you can re-use. I like to start various sections of the report with an explanation of what I’m trying to accomplish with my recommendations. This doesn’t mean I need to explain the history of keyword research or copy/paste a Wikipedia-style synopsis in the keyword research section, but it does mean I want to help he client understand why I’m making the recommendations I’m making. Here’s an example of a summary of the logic behind recommended keyword strategy:

In evaluating the potential of a keyword or set of keywords we’re considering:

  • Relevance/Conversion – Is the term relevant to your business, and would a searcher be likely to convert after typing in this term and actually help to generate more revenue and profit for your business?
  • Volume – Does a large volume of people search for this term?
  • Competition – How competitive is this term and how difficult will it be to rank for it?

We want to identify the terms that represent the best balance of these three factors, and in some cases exploit inefficiencies in one or multiple areas (ie if competition is low in areas with low volume but high likelihood to convert that may represent an opportunity even though search volume isn’t high).

The intent here is to help the client understand the thinking behind the recommendations so they can intelligently implement them.

Don’t Just Explain: Use Examples

If you’re recommending a site-wide, systemic change it’s helpful to go beyond simple statements of what you’re suggesting and use hard and fast examples. For instance let’s say you want to recommend to the client, who sells widgets, that they not just use their company name as the title tag on every page of their site, and rather create  title tags that dynamically insert the product name into the title tag. Rather than just writing this out, give them a real-life example:

Recommended Title Tag: Red Widgets – Buy Red Widgets at Great Prices | Widget Co. Widgets

And once again explain the logic behind the new title tag if appropriate, and call out the modifiers you’re suggesting and why so they understand the importance of formatting the title tag exactly as you suggest.

Formatting Your Audit: Think Web Copy

Many of the same best practices around writing great Web copy apply to creating a readable and actionable SEO audit, such as:

  • Breaking your report into logical sections with clear headings
  • Using anchors and a table of contents when the content is too long
  • Leveraging strategic internal linking within your document to other parts of your document (in the case of the audit document you’ll use anchors – hat tip to Linsay Wassell’s 4 ways to improve your SEO audit post on SEO Moz – that post has a few other great tips, and she also wrote a great post on getting started with an SEO site audit).
  • Using lots of visuals and screenshots where appropriate

Like with good Web copy, you want to make your report “scannable” even while offering a lot of complicated information.

Report Layout: What to Include & Where to Include It

Finally, you’ll want to figure out how to layout your report. I find the following format helpful:

  • Summary – A brief overview of what the report entails, what deliverables may be attached, and what the objectives of the report are.
  • Table of Contents – A linked run down of each section within the report.
  • Action Items & Low Hanging Fruit – Here I include, in front of any of the in-depth recommendations and analysis, a quick-hit list of action items. Think first about “if the client could only make five relatively quick and dirty tweaks, what should I recommend?” This is informed by your knowledge of their internal resources. After that, include a detailed list of additional recommended actions. I like to break this down by priority and call out for each task whether it’s a one-time task or an ongoing project.
  • Body Content – This is “the meat” of the report – the actual audit itself, complete with recommendations about various things related to the site’s SEO.
  • Conclusion – This should offer a quick, high level summary of findings – good and bad – and opportunities, should point the reader back to the action item, and offer contact information.

So now we’ve covered a number of aspects around how you format and present the audit as well as the early posts in the series about how to properly prepare for your audit. All that’s left is the last (and most important) piece of the puzzle: what to put in and how to conduct the actual SEO audit itself. That’ll be the next and last installment of this four part series.

Read part 1 and 2:

An SEO’s Guide to SEO Audits Part 1: The Pre-Audit Preparation Process What to Charge & What to Do

An SEO’s Guide to SEO Audits Part 2: The Pre-Audit Preparation

Image Credit: winui / Shutterstock

 An SEO’s Guide to SEO Audits Part 3: SEO Site Audit Approach & Layout
Tom is a co-founder and managing partner at Measured SEM, a search engine marketing consulting firm that offers a variety of search engine marketing services including paid search management and search engine optimization (SEO) to businesses of varying sizes in various industries. Tom has over five years of experience in search engine marketing, most recently as the Director of Marketing for search marketing software provider WordStream, Inc. Prior to working at WordStream, he was an in-house SEO specialist and SEO Manager, worked as an SEO consultant for a search engine marketing agency, and has done independent organic and paid search engine marketing consulting for numerous clients.

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9 thoughts on “An SEO’s Guide to SEO Audits Part 3: SEO Site Audit Approach & Layout

  1. “explain why you made the recommendation and how it will help their business.”

    I totally agree. You want to be completely transparent with your clients. Walking them through the “why” helps them understand the process so much more, and it helps build trust.

  2. Thanks for writing such a pithy strategy. But in a day and age where there are concerns that SEO is going away, how do you quantify the SEO audit. One more question, when you mentioned keyword rank, does this mean your audit prescribes a PPC?

  3. How do you define competitiveness of a keyword? I hear people talk about this a lot and never seem to get a straight answer as to how to measure competitiveness, especially if its a client whose industry you’re not familiar with. What factors do you consider or benchmarks do you look at to quantify the competitiveness of a term?

    1. For competitiveness you should be looking at what the sites in the top ten have in terms of SEO. Do they all have perfect on page SEO. Is there content great? Have the been around for years and do they have plenty of good quality links coming in. Then you should also consider the competition coming up behind them. Are there millions of matches returned by Google or just tens of thousands? Answer these questions and you have an idea of competitiveness.
      Best regards Steve

      1. Hi Mike,

        When I say “competitiveness” I guess I really mean difficulty to rank – for me in thinking about this I’m mostly looking at the first page (and really mainly the top five) of results for the core keywords I’d consider targeting and thinking about:

        1) The age of those sites
        2) Their back link profiles (quality and quantity)
        3) The types of pages that are ranking (ie is it specific documents that aggressively target the term in the title tag, or is it the homepage of a site that doesn’t even include the word/doesn’t seem to be actively trying to improve rankings for the term but is ranking because it’s an older site?)

        When I was at WordStream we did a group interview on this that had a lot of good answers from people too (it’s a bit old but still some useful stuff):

        http://http://www.wordstream.com/articles/ultimate-guide-to-keyword-competition

  4. Competitiveness comes from the search engine perspective. What kind of keyword is client looking for and what is the competition of that keyword in top ten SERP’s in google. As the keywords get ranked competitiveness also goes on increasing.

  5. Hi Tom

    First chance I even had to take the time to read your audit article series (life and work gets crazy like that) – and though there are a handful of essentially minor differences to our approach, I think you’ve done a great job detailing a lot of considerations most people never bring into play when they do or think they want to offer audits.

    I can’t believe it’s been two years since I wrote my series on the subject! And I’m glad you wrote these to help people learn. For all the SEO content out there, there’s a serious lack of depth regarding the business aspects of what we do.

    1. Hi Alan,

      Thanks so much for the kind words! As I mentioned I really enjoyed your series and I’m generally a fan of your writings, thanks for commenting!