Anatomy of a Hands-on SEO Audit – Part 2

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With SMX West this week, I was going to hold off on the 2nd part of my hands-on SEO Audit series.  Then I remembered that heck – I’m not going to be there so I bet enough other people in our industry won’t either that it will be a great way to give all the non-attendees a leg-up on the competition, as they all run around the conference hoping to grab actionable information.  🙂

If you haven’t read part 1 in this series, I encourage you to go read that first since it sets the foundation for what follows here.  Go ahead – I’ll wait.

Okay did you actually think I was going to wait for you to read that before I continued writing?  I sure hope not.  Because if you did, you seriously need to work on your gullibility.  If you’re too gullible, you’re going to get toasted in this industry.  🙂

Also while you’re at it, another other great resource I highly recommend when it comes time to writing up an SEO audit is Glen Gabe’s  “SEO Techinical Audits“.

Don’t Give Away The Farm

In this part of the series, I’d like to focus more on some of the things that should and shouldn’t go into an SEO audit.  This seems to be one of  the biggest areas of confusion for consultants just starting out.  And as I mentioned in part 1:

a site Audit isn’t supposed to be an advanced course in SEO.  It’s to point out problems and recommend methods of solution.

If a client is curious to know how I came to my recommendation, we’ll discuss that during the phone or in-person review of the audit, but only in broad terms.  Because I expect my clients to trust that I know what I’m talking about, not teach them my business.  That’s not why they’re hiring me.


Aaron Wall came out with an article today entitled “How to Construct Great Proposals“.  In that, he offers his own take on why we shouldn’t be giving away the farm. Yeah. Go read that.  I’ll just wait.  Again.  Because I care.

The fact is, I used to give away the farm.  We’re talking about detailing every single step of work – providing spreadsheets with page names, suggested page Titles, Meta content, URL seeding, and even suggested copy.

And that was professional self-sabotage.  Both because it took a lot longer to produce my audit/action plans, and because it set me up to have the client think they didn’t need me for anything.  Which is just crazy.  Right?

Now, I couldn’t do that on a large scale site, but then I used to only think I should work on small sites anyhow.  Which in itself was self-sabotage.

Not because I think there’s anything wrong with small business sites.  It’s just that it turns out that when I focus on big clients, it’s much more likely that they’ll have the budget needed for truly comprehensive SEO.  And in turn, that they’ll be much more likely to appreciate the work and respect my knowledge.

Limit What You Give Away

As I began focusing on clients that had the mind-set that SEO is a front-line critical aspect of most any marketing effort, I began paring down the document, and only including EXAMPLES of my findings and subsequent recommendation.

Sure, they’re real-world examples – taken right from that client’s site.  Which gives validation to what I’m saying is both a current challenge AND an industry best practices resolution.  And, too, even with only a few examples of each specific issue, I cover so many aspects of SEO that it really ends up being a soup-to-nuts comprehensive document in how thorough it is.   And the overall depth of it far outweighs, in long-term value, what most of my competitors provide.

Don’t Give Away What You’re Giving Away

Now if you remember, even in this type of scenario, I do NOT give away even this much information for free.  I charge for my audits.  By charging for audits, you immediately inform the prospective client that you’re serious.  A true professional.  That if they want access to your knowledge, they’re going to need to prove THEY’RE serious about this.

How much you charge is going to be up to you.  It needs to be commensurate with your experience, as well as your own belief in what you do and why you do it.  If you think you don’t deserve to get $1,000 or $5,000 for a site audit, you won’t ever get that.  Or if you do, it’s going to turn out to be a night-mare of a client relationship.  Because you’ll feel guilty.  And think you have to give away the farm in some other way to compensate.

Example Data

Whether you choose to use spreadsheets, or PowerPoint presentations, or a high-gloss full color bound book isn’t ever as important as the quality of the information you provide within the document.  So be sure to focus more on the quality of the content.  Just like you’re doing for the actual SEO for your client sites.  Right?  Right!

Competitive Landscape

One of the most challenging aspects of getting new clients to understand how serious the work is to come, is to get them to wake up to the competitive landscape.   All too often, they think “hey – if I just spend this money, POOF, I’ll be on the first page of Google.”

No, we’re not even going to get into the noise about how many companies out there use pure hype to make it sound so simple.  Because if we do, this will become a rant.  And then I’ll have to move it to my own blog.  Because THAT rant will get ugly.  Fast.

Instead, I’m going to just talk about the need that exists for sometimes jarring clients into reality.

This is why I like to use a Competitive Analysis chart.

In this one chart above, I really lay it out on the line.  I make it crystal clear exactly where they stand when it comes to the competition.  Sugar-coating not included.

Honestly Is Yada Yada Yada

Note – in that chart my client’s got the first row. So that sets the tone.  From there, I don’t sort this in some biased manner, or only show competitors that have 8,000 more pages or 5,000 more back-links.  Because ultimately, I don’t have to.

And later on in the notes section, I go on to mention that the statistics within the chart are only numeric values, not keyword ranking related.  And that’s really important.

By first showing your client that their site clearly needs work just when held up against the competitive landscape in terms of content depth, link depth, social networking depth. and THEN, afterward, throwing a competitive landscape Keyword Ranking chart, you are throwing the one-two knock-out punch.

Caveats Rule The Day

Throughout every SEO audit/action plan I create, I pepper the information with caveats – warnings and disclaimers.  Because it’s important to help clarify what you’re presenting.  If I didn’t explain, for example, that the above chart is only a SAMPLING of competitor sites, or if I didn’t also mention in my disclaimer that this chart’s understanding can ONLY come from matching it up against the competitive keyword ranking data, it would leave the client open to assume too much.

And that’s dangerous.

By clarifying these realities, even if a client IGNORES them before hiring you, they exist as a point of reference to go back to if you ever need to do that.  You’re protecting yourself, your business, and your reputation.

Generalize While Being Specific

Note in the chart above how I provide specific counts for pages indexed?  I don’t need, in this proposal, to get into the specifics of “indexed in Google’s Public “Site:” method as compared to Google Webmaster Tools”.  And for the social networking comparison, I give an N for not present, a Y to say yes, they’ve got one but it’s not so great, G to represent that it’s pretty good, and VG to say it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread.

Yet I don’t go into specifics to explain what my criteria are for each rating.

It’s enough that I, myself, know what goes into that subjective rating system.

But of course, if I include a disclaimer about the fact that “just because competitor X has a VG in Facebook, doesn’t mean that I’m recommending THIS client needs one”, that sets the stage for later in the proposal where I specifically cover social networking.  In it’s own section.  At the end of the document.  After all the ON-SITE stuff.

Every Site Is Unique So Every Audit Needs To Be Unique

Another reality is that I can’t sit here and provide you with a comprehensive laundry list of every single thing you should be covering in your audit.  Because every site is unique within every market.  And  every site owner’s got a pre-determined expectation as to what they are going to ask for.  And you’re going to need to ask a lot of questions up front to understand this.  Then you’ll need to tailor each audit accordingly.

Maybe you don’t go into any depth covering the social networking.  Perhaps it’s because that specific client has an offering that has no business being promoted in social networking environments.  Like former CIA spies who now operate a competitive intelligence business.  (Yes, I’ve got such clients, thank you very much).  Or maybe you already know that the client’s budget is already bursting at the seams.  So you just briefly touch on social networking and say something like:

While we believe social networking will need to be one more part of your comprehensive marketing efforts, this document does not detail any recommendations in that regard due to previous discussion with you and is therefore not included in our action-plan for this phase.

By saying “this phase”, you set the stage for future work, should the opportunity present itself.  And that’s another important concept.  Consideration may need to be given to the fact that even clients who truly appreciate your worth, and respect your recommendations, need to operate within budgetary financial constraints. And that’s okay.  Because you can take the “multiple-phase” approach.  Which means you’ll have plenty of work for many years to come.

And that’s always a good thing.

So there you have it – an overview of what to include and what not to include in the typical audit.  Of course, I didn’t go into specifics as relates to keyword ranking or keyword evaluations.  Yet by now you should have gotten the idea.  – Give just enough to show you know what you’re talking about, specific to each client.  And that in turn will open the door for you to propose more comprehensive work.

Alan Bleiweiss has been an Internet professional since 1995, managing client projects valued at upwards of $2,000,000.00.  Just a few of his most notable clients through the years have included,, and  Follow him on Twitter @AlanBleiweiss , read his blog at Search Marketing Wisdom, and be sure to read his column here at the 2nd and 4th Tuesday each month.

Alan Bleiweiss
Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites consisting of upwards of 50 million pages and tens of millions of visitors... Read Full Bio
Alan Bleiweiss
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  • Hanz Bergmann

    You missed me?
    Thanks for sharing this. As you know this means a lot for me and your article series (although not completed till now) is one of the best ressources i was able to find. I was trying to think how often i was searching on sej for the “Anatomy of a Hands-on SEO Audit” query- must have been up to 10-15 times.
    Warning Duplicate Content: Thank you very much for sharing this!

    • Alan Bleiweiss


      Of course I missed you! I kept thinking – when I get my act together and focus long enough to write part to in the series, I hope Hanz finds it!

      Stick around – there may even be a part 3 and a part 4!

  • Nate Moller


    For this, and many other reasons, you’re a class act. I don’t believe many other “SEO professionals” would share info like this that helps all of us assess what we’re doing and why.

    I actually printed out both part 1 and part 2 and plan to go over each recommendation with my team.

    Thanks and Go Yankees in 2010!

    Nate Moller

    • Alan Bleiweiss

      Oh yeah… Is it spring training yet?

  • Alan Bleiweiss


    Dude, that means the world to me- I’m truly humbled. All I do is write articles that focus on what I am passionate about. The fact that they actually help others is just fantastic. Honestly though – I have only achieved the success I have in this industry because other have done the same.

    We each have our own unique passions and our own unique experience. That mine can sometimes possibly help you and others to avoid some of the very sink-holes I encountered along the way just means I’m on the right track. 🙂

  • Soyculto

    Your first piece was amazing and helped us out on some cases we’ve been working on. Thanks again for that. This new part is also very precise and interesting and I surely may agree in most of it.
    Hence, I would emphasize on the customer context for SEO audit. Here your commercial feeling is crucial to determine what is the hidden agenda.
    In my humble experience some customers solicited soyculto for a SEO audit and had others ideas in mind.
    Once a customer wanted a precise audit so he can select and orient other “friendly referenced” SEO (not been us of course)… Charging the audit was clearly indicated.
    In other circumstance, a customer wanted to SEO audit the site so he can sell up the idea to Management. Being there for the first moment help oriented naturally the selection precess. We worked together to enhance the online strategy. In this context SEO Audit was an investment I did charge afterwards.
    Last is the customer who want a SEO audit so he can built up an in-house SEO team/initiative but doesn´t know how to do it. The Audit helps him to select the expert who will then train and assess the team… In such case, SEO audit is to be charged upfront or not… Depends on the context.
    As you can see customer context is crucial… Have fun determining the context to find success!

    • Alan Bleiweiss

      Interesting concept on when to charge and when not to. These are definitely considerations that carry some weight. I suppose it is up to each company to decide how to approach it. These days I work strictly with agencies and they’re the ones who determine whether to charge for the audit or not.

      If they want to give the audit away, I don’t mind as much since I’m getting paid by them for the effort. 🙂

  • Mush


    though I’m not new to marketing and SEO, but your article is truly helpful. I mean it helped me a lot, especially when it comes to “giving out knowledge” part :).


    • Alan Bleiweiss

      Thanks Mush! Giving out knowledge is one of the most enjoyable aspects of our industry.

  • Brian Carter

    Alan, this is awesome. I agree with a lot of your approach. We do similar things, particularly the competitive profile. I wrote about it here:

    • Alan Bleiweiss

      Brian – just read your process article. Yes- there’s some common threads in our approaches, though honestly you use a lot of tools to automate evaluation, whereas I’m old school – and other than the Adwords Keyword Tool, or perhaps Google Analytics (or whatever visitor log solution is in place) I do everything EVERYTHING manually.

      So your one hour process is my 10 hour process.

      Well, it is for the mega-sites I work on these days, anyhow. 🙂

      The latest audit/action plan I’m working on this week is already 15 pages long. And that’s WITHOUT all the detail I used to put in. 😉