Welcome to part one in a series of articles on the anatomy of a hands-on SEO site audit! This was originally just going to be one article. But then my book-length article nature came up squarely against the awareness that true site audits can be extremely complex.
And as much as everyone just loves those cute little 9 steps to blah-de-blah, we all know already that such articles are rare for me to write anyhow. And this particular topic is one that I think comes to the top of the list as far as importance in our industry.
Fifteen College Credits
This series of articles isn’t going to be a comprehensive how-to covering every single aspect of the process, since that could easily take up an entire fully matriculated college semester. So what I share here today, and in future follow-up articles, should be used as a foundation – more like a check-list of tasks with enough detail along the way to be like a nice succulent rack of ribs, slathered in the best seasoning you’ve ever had.
And where I believe it will be beneficial, I’ll also offer some insights into the broader mind-set of why I go about the audit process the way I do, based on the notion that a proper process will lead to a much higher level of success in business, and in turn, personal happiness. Because the more successful we each are, and the happier we as individuals are, the better we, as an industry will become. Both from a human perspective and from the added respect we gain from our clients and SEO h8ers.
So once again, I invite you to go get a large cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage, kick back, and enjoy!
The Value of Hands On Audits
Everyone goes about the process of an SEO site audit differently. Some people rely on various tools or software to do the heavy lifting. Personally, I prefer to do most everything in a hands-on approach. I charge anywhere from $750 for a small to mid-size site, $2,000 to $3,000 or more for a complex site in a highly competitive field, and as much as $5,000 if it’s what I consider a “mega-site” -one that’s got (or will need) tens of thousands of pages. So I figure the client deserves the kind of attention to detail that such a method brings.
Also, when relying on software or someone else’s tool, you may actually miss some very important information, or even be led to conclusions that aren’t necessarily based on real world fact. This can be especially true when doing the competitive analysis, though it’s just as likely if you get lost in the hype that comes with some of those tools.
You may disagree with me on that concept. Personally, I think things like keyword density percentages, KPI scores, and competitor intelligence that comes from software (either in a downloaded install or an online service) are only as accurate as the logic that went into it, and more important to me, I’ve never once found such a “solution” that I couldn’t bust wide open as being wildly inaccurate at least some of the time when running tests against some of my biggest clients. (Sites that have hundreds of thousands or even millions of visitors).
In any case, I’ve consistently found that my hands-on approach gets stellar results, so until someone can show me a reason to do otherwise, I’ll continue to take the path that’s worked so well for me in the past.
Audits Are Useless Without Action Plans
In every audit I perform, I provide details on my findings – what works, what doesn’t. And I always provide action items – literally laying out the map of how to overcome issues I’ve discovered. That’s one of the reasons I charge the fees I do for my work. Before I had the luxury of cherry-picking my clients, I charged my fee because there was no guarantee that the client wouldn’t then turn around and find someone else who would charge a fraction of my rate to execute my plan.
And in those situations, if I give away my audit/action plan for free or on the cheap, many clients would freak out reading the last couple pages of it where I detail the costs of implementing that plan. Usually because my “free” or “low cost” audit caused them to think or reinforced their already existing belief that SEO is easy.
These days, I get the rates I do because my audits and action plans are the lion’s share of what I do. Probably 80% of my work comes from agencies who hire me either exclusively for this work, or for this work followed by overseeing the team that does implement (either that agencies team or their end client’s team). It also helps that I wasn’t afraid to charge the rates I do. I no longer live in fear mentality when it comes to that topic. Instead, I operate based on value pricing.
A Quality Audit & Action Plan Sets Healthy Expectations
By being as detailed as I am in this, it literally opens peoples eyes to what the causes were if they were in the SERP basement. It’s also a reality check on what the true competitive landscape consists of, which is usually something most business owners don’t have a clue about. And it also shows how many things need to be addressed, and the complexity of some of it.
All of which puts them in the “this is more serious than we ever considered” frame of mind that’s critical to their not labeling me as either a wanna-be hack or as someone out to rip them off. By the time we get through even a fraction of that final document, clients inevitably have a much higher level of respect for my expertise. They’re much more open to trusting that they hired the right person. And even if they went into this process with some ridiculously under-inflated expectation as to budgets, they’re then much more capable now of loosening those marketing purse-strings.
Not Everyone Can Afford Executing Every Recommended Action Item
The reality is that I often run into situations where clients have fixed-budget constraints. Either because the cash-flow just isn’t there, or because their in-house number crunchers are more skilled at arguing against spending than they (usually a marketing department) are at arguing in favor of spending.
Alternately, some businesses are already in deep financial trouble and getting better results from their web presence is a last-ditch effort to salvage an otherwise failing company. As much as this type of business owner / manager had already pinned their hopes on this process, they often learn it’s going to be impossible to do everything (you can’t take out a business loan for marketing when you’ve already lost all your investors or creditors).
Prioritizing Tasks Sometimes Saves The Day
Because of this, I will quite often assign a priority scale to each action item, with the tasks most likely to get the biggest bang for the buck getting the highest priority. When I do this, however, I make it crystal clear, in writing, that for each task not acted upon, the results process will take that much longer, and under certain circumstances, may mean focusing on only achieving some of the desired goals at all.
Know The Situation Before You Commit
While we can’t always know when a prospective client is already beyond hope, there are some key things you can do to gauge how solvent a prospective client is or how likely they are to become that proverbial nightmare client.
For example, when first speaking with a prospect, I explain that I’m just so busy with existing work that it could be a month before I can perform the audit, and (depending on the size of the site or the depth of competition) that implementing the plan / seeing real results could take three to six months.
That dialogue is essential, because it’s the easiest way up front to find out if they’re in desperation mode already or not. If the response you get is something like “is there any way you can do it sooner”, or “Really? That long?” or “We can’t wait that long”, or – “your rate seems too high”, my best advise to you, my industry colleagues, is to immediately ask for an explanation as to why they said that.
Couple that with a fee that is value based rather than desperation based (caving in and saying “I need this client, so I’ll charge them half my normal rate”), and the overwhelming majority of prospective clients who are already in business failure mode will show themselves.
Being Empathetic Without Being Codependent