If you’ve worked in the SEO industry for any significant length of time, you’ve inevitably had a situation arise where a brand new site was being planned or an existing site was being overhauled and you were brought in to ensure the new (or new version) site would get SEO.
And unless you have magic fairy dust at your beck and call, you have also had to deal with the fact that you were called in after the new site was already planned. Or more likely, the build was already taking place. Or worse, already done and in launch mode. Unfortunately this is the wrong time to be doing SEO, let alone performing an SEO audit.
1. Keyword Focus
If you don’t know what keywords to focus on, you can’t truly know or understand the topical focus you need to convey across the entire site. Sure, you may have content already written – maybe even from a previous site. Except without current data on now-trending topics, your message could now be irrelevant. Or even if it’s relevant, it could be lacking the focus necessary to current search trends.
In an SEO audit, keyword research is paramount. Not only to hone in on timely relevance and trending, but to also help reveal who the true competitors are that are currently ranking for those main topics you need to focus on.
2. URL Structure
All too often, marketers or site designers or developers know there needs to be content related to services or products, and information about the company or business, yet without first having an SEO audit performed, URLs can’t properly be seeded without that keyword research being performed. And only after the keyword research is performed can you understand what the URL structure needs to look like.
3. Content Organization
URL structure is integral to content organization, and builds on topical organization. Without a proper SEO audit, you don’t know the best way to organize the content on a site. Sure, you can guess, or “think” you know, yet that’s like rolling the dice believing (falsely) that “good enough” is well, good enough. If you don’t get your content organization plan hammered out before site build or rebuild, you end up causing topical dilution.
4. Content Depth
Without a proper SEO audit, how do you know the amount of content you need, whether it’s on an individual page, an entire section, or the whole site? Only a proper audit can reveal the sweet spot in your goal setting plans for competitive success. And only the sweet spot, weighed against topical focus priorities, will reveal how much content you need.
5. Inbound Link Planning
Only a proper SEO audit can reveal the details of a link building plan, based on the combination of the previous four reasons you need to do the audit first. From what keywords you’ll need in your inbound link mix, to what the URLs will be you’ll be targeting, to which groups of content need how much link building effort to support, supplement or overcome content depth factors.
6. Social Media Needs
Without a proper audit, social media initiatives are another shot in the dark. Maybe you’re going to succeed at reaching your prospective clients or customers, yet even if you do, you won’t be able to maximize the value of your effort without that site audit.
A properly performed audit will reveal details about your target market, competitive landscape and opportunities for social media initiatives. Again, the sweet spot grid will help identify some of these, as will an understanding of those topic priorities.
7. Production Costs
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been brought in to perform an audit after production has begun. Let’s just say “too many”. Given all of the issues I’ve described above, it’s going to inevitably mean some of that production effort will have to be scrapped if you want to get the full value from your SEO efforts. URL changes, content re-organization, topical messaging, starting link building campaigns…
All of these cost additional money that can always be saved by first having that audit performed.
This is actually an important reason – not just for the sake of the person performing the audit. Every person involved in the process, whether they’re willing to acknowledge this factor or not, will suffer a lot less stress, a lot less chaos when an audit is performed first.
Real World Barriers
Quite often, you’ll find key players in the web initiative will have a vested interest in having the site build started or even completed before SEO is considered. Usually it’s a financial issue – “we have to get the new site out there sooner – we can’t afford to wait a week or a month…”
Sadly, that’s usually because people have made promises or commitments they are unwilling to break. Sometimes its fear based, other times its more subtle fear – pride, stubborn thinking, ego-driven need to maintain control of a process. And yes, sometimes its even a matter of “any site is better than no site”.
Nonetheless, when taking a detached view of everything involved and the ramifications of failing to have that audit performed before the site build, everything points to the sequence needing to be audit first, build later.