What Should an SEO Audit Cover? 10 Essential SEO Areas.

seal like rubber stamp with word audit

Will an “SEO Checker” perform a real “SEO Audit”?

Recently we’ve been looking at SEO Audit tools in our blog posts and videos. While we will be looking at many useful tools that do fill legitimate search engine optimization needs, we need to clarify that none of these tools can ever hope to perform a full SEO audit (and to be fair, none of them that I have seen claim to do so).

Of course as soon as we say “SEO Audit” it seems like we need to take a pause and discuss what a real SEO Audit should cover.

A Full and Complete SEO Audit Should Include the Following

  • Technical Factors
  • Content and Relevancy
  • Analytics and Tracking
  • Visitor Engagement
  • Business Conversion
  • SERP Conversions
  • Links and Authority
  • Trust and Brand
  • Keyword Research
  • Competitive Landscapes

This blog post will examine each of these areas.  If you’d prefer a video, we have one for you here, but the blog post has more information and details.

What does “SEO Audit” mean to you?

I think when most business people think of an SEO audit they think of the result. They hope it will be something that will open the door to better visibility in Google search results.

The thinking might go a little like this:

We aren’t getting leads off of our website.

I never hear customers talking about our website.

When I search for us on Google I don’t find our website but I find lots of our competitors.

Something’s wrong with our website!

LET’S FIND WHAT’S WRONG AND FIX IT!

You’d see a similar thought process if a business can’t figure out why they are running a loss (or making too small of a profit). And in many ways the methodology is the same:

  1. Find and hire a professional
  2. Open up your books to the “pro”
  3. Let them start looking in areas that you never would have thought of for problems you never realized existed.

SEO vs. Financial Audits

The main difference is that a financial audit is a process that relies on principles that change very little and have been examined across time over millions of businesses. An SEO audit is a process that has been with us a much shorter time, works in an environment of much more rapid change, has to take into account a much more diverse array of variables in terms of technology, marketing, the behavior of 3rd parties (most notably Google).

And despite this wealth of challenges, people still want free online SEO checkers, which process their observations in a minute or less, to give them all their answers that a full SEO audit would.  It’s an unfair expectation.

The first step in the process is to find a competent SEO professional who’s done this sort of thing before. More than once. The purpose of this post is not to tell you how to find that professional, but it might help you to decide which professional you want to “open your books” to.

If you are interviewing a professional SEO about conducting an SEO audit for your business, after you determine they have experience and integrity (as best you can), your next question should be, “what will your audit cover?”

In the past I’ve talked about the “twin pillars of SEO” (which are authority and relevance, as explained here), and any SEO audit will need to study each of those closely. In addition there are other important areas that need to be covered in your SEO audit, principally technical factors related to how your website is built and interacts with Google and Bing and their “crawlers.”

With these basic principles in mind, find out what your prospective SEO consultant what their audit will cover and compare it to the following brief overview:

Technical Factors

This is the arena of the geek, sometimes the uber-geek, but it’s increasingly necessary to make sure your website is sound when it comes to technical issues such as

  • Slow page load times
  • The presence of elements that might confuse search engines (flash, frames, confusing URLs, poorly structured redirects)
  • Presence of elements that might actually block search engines (primarily a mistakenly configured robots.txt)
  • Presence of elements that are designed to help Search Engines understand and index your website (these would include not just an XML sitemap, but also a working and properly configured account with Google Search Console)
  • And so much more…

Graphic indicating the free download for the SEO audit checklist

Content and Relevancy

The relevancy portion of an SEO audit is not a simple checklist of items, but rather a survey of whether your website is relevant to the desires and interests of your customer as they are searching online.

An audit for relevancy cannot be effectively conducted unless the SEO has had an in depth discussion with you about your typical customer, how they search, why they buy, and so forth.

Armed with knowledge of your product or service and information about your customer, the professional then will need to do keyword research related to those factors. It’s only by determining how your ideal customer is searching that the professional SEO can tell whether the content on your website makes it relevant, not just to a bunch of keywords, but to those desires or needs that drive the searches of your ideal customer.

In line with this, a full audit would examine your search analytics in Google Search Console to see what queries your website is already showing up for, which gives clues as to how Google views your relevancy right now.

Analytics and Tracking

One of the most important advantages that Internet marketing offers over traditional marketing and sales is the unprecedented ability to track results. Tracking results alerts to problems, allows for fine tuning of any marketing effort, and insures the best use of funds. There is a wealth of tools and methodologies for tracking a website and how it serves the company’s interests.

The downside to this is that website analytics and tracking really need to be set up and configured by an expert, due to the complexity and subtlety of many tracking issues. The wrong tracking is worse than no tracking at all, because it leads to a distorted picture and decisions based on mistaken assumptions.

Any full SEO audit should examine the way that a website is tracking visitors, which is usually handled these days by Google Analytics, and should examine the Analytics configuration to make sure it is set up to track in a way that best serves the company’s business needs.

Visitor Engagement

Not only is visitor engagement necessary to achieve business goals (see business conversions below), it is also needed to send signals to Google that may help the website to be shown in search results to a broader audience and in a more commanding position on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).  Google likes to show websites that engage the visitors.

Visitor engagement is another issue where an experienced eye is needed. Any company can read basic metrics such as bounce rate, number of pages per session, average time on page, and so forth. But the numbers are useless if they are not tied back into the business goals and if they are not analyzed by someone who can interpret the data and translate it into action items for the business.

An SEO audit should look not merely at engagement metrics, but ideally should ferret out pages that are killing engagement, or perhaps should be able to provide the company at least with an idea about whether their numbers are poor or good, and the implication.

Business Conversion and Conversion Rate Optimization

Usually free SEO Checkers will give you a good set of data for taking on technical SEO issues, but are blind to your individual business goals.

This is yet another area where an SEO audit will be useless unless the professional conducting the assessment has taken some time to learn more about your business and what it needs to achieve from its website.

After examining your pages for the presence or absence of factors that will improve your ability to convert visitors to customers or leads, an SEO audit should offer specific guidance on how pages should be changed to reduce barriers to, and increase incentives for, a visitor to take the desired action on your website.

SERP Conversions

Before you ever get a visitor to your website through organic search two things have to occur, 1) the business’s website needs to appear prominently in search results, or the SERPs, and 2) a person who sees your website listed along with 14 other listings on that SERP needs to decide that yours is the website they need to visit.

In the SEO business tremendous emphasis is placed on #1 above and often virtually none on #2. An SEO audit, however, should not only look at how your website ranks, but in addition to that should see whether it’s optimized to make the most of any search visibility it’s getting by making sure the “snippet,” that is the listing for your website in search results, makes a compelling case to searchers that they should visit your website to find what they are looking for.

Links and Authority

One of the most important factors that determine whether your website will be an SEO success or not is the number and quality of other websites that link to yours. These are known as “back links” and any legitimate SEO audit will take a close look at them. They will inform you of the number and quality of these links as a whole, but will also tell you how your website scores on at least a couple of the numerous 3rd party services that will quantify, not only the links to your site, but their overall impact.

In addition, however, since links are one of those SEO factors that can actually hurt you if done wrong, an SEO audit will need to determine whether or not there are “toxic links” in your back link profile that constitute a “poison pill” that might kill off your search results quietly, without you understanding the harm that is being done.

If an SEO audit uncovers harmful links it will also provide you with a clear explanation of what your options are and show you a path to rectifying the situation.

Trust and Brand

Google looks not only for “authority” created by numerous links, or “votes,” recommending a site, but it also needs to have a high level of confidence that your business and business website are legitimate. For that reason a modern SEO assessment also needs to look at how your brand is referenced online, and how consistently your company is represented — as a company — across numerous “local directories” as well as social media platforms.

Keyword Research

We already mentioned keyword research under “Content and Relevancy,” but it is so important we thought it needed its own section.

Companies always have an idea of what keywords matter when it comes to connecting with their ideal customer in search. Yet I have yet to encounter a business that had a complete picture of the keywords that are important.

The reason for this is simple: human behavior is not entirely predictable. When people are online searching, especially now that searches often include voice-to-text searching, they will find an infinite variety of ways to express to a search engine what they are looking for.

A good SEO audit will take into account the keywords that the business owner wants to rank for, will also survey the keywords that a website is already ranking for, but then will go far beyond that, exploring a wide range of innovative ideas from a number of data sources to discover missing opportunities to connect with important prospects.

Competitive Landscapes

No search visibility occurs in a vacuum. If I search for “best cellphone under $500” I will join a huge audience that is sought by thousands of vendors, all of them jockeying for position in my search results. If I search on “best cellphone over $2000,” suddenly I will find very few companies trying to appear in my search results.

The goal of an SEO audit is to try and quantify the level of competition, usually as a part of keyword research. It also will look for areas where you have a higher chance of success, or, conversely, will help you to avoid fighting losing battles. But more generally, such an assessment will also determine the strength of your primary business competitors in SEO terms, and create a strategy either to help you catch up to them, or stay ahead, depending on where you are right now.

Get the checklist: What Should Your SEO Audit Cover?

Graphic indicating the free download for the SEO audit checklistTo help you get a firm handle on this admittedly broad subject, we’ve come up with an SEO Audit checklist that covers each of these 10 areas.  Visit this page to request to download this powerful – and free – SEO resource.

 

Ross Barefoot is the Chief Technology Officer at Horizon Web Marketing. In his work with Horizon Ross brings 35 years of small business management experience, 25 years programming experience, 20 years web development experience, and 13 years experience as a professional SEO. Ross is also currently a certified SEO trainer with the Search Engine Academy and serves on its board of directors.
      

Can Free SEO Checkers Help Your Business Website?

What Kind of SEO Tool This Post Covers

First let me explain what I mean by an SEO Checker: Essentially it’s a diagnostic tool that will examine any web page and tell you what is right and wrong with it from a Search Engine’s perspective.

There are very sophisticated versions of these tools that cost a bunch to access, but there are also some pretty good ones that are free.  And, to be fair, there are some pretty poor ones that are free as well.  In fact, in some cases we’ve seen SEO Check Up tools that even give erroneous results or obsolete optimization instructions.

In most cases these tools will offer advice and recommendations for how to take the information they give you and put it to good use in optimizing your website for better results in search.

What’s a Website Owner to Do?

So what SEO diagnostic tools can you trust?  Is it enough to do a search on Bing or Google and go with whatever comes up in the top results?

And then, even if you do go “all in” with a particular tool, what do you do with the information you get?

I decided to address a few of these questions in a recent Video I released on our YouTube channel (see below, it’s embedded at the bottom of this post).  I also plan on doing reviews of some of the most popular SEO checkers in blog posts and videos over the next couple of months, and we’ve also prepared a cheat sheet you can download (also for FREE) here.

So here are a few tips for actually finding and getting the most out of some pretty great and totally free SEO Checkers.

  • Subscribe to our blog
  • Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (Clicking this link will take you directly to a subscribe confirmation)
  • Keep in mind that SEO tools ALWAYS have limitations and ALWAYS require some knowledge and experience to apply correctly, so be prepared for some research and self-education to make the most of any free resource you find, therefore
  • Check out our Horizon Web Marketing Academy, because we don’t just provide consulting services, we also provide knowledge and training (some free, some for a fee) to help empower your own web marketing efforts

 

Ross Barefoot is the Chief Technology Officer at Horizon Web Marketing. In his work with Horizon Ross brings 35 years of small business management experience, 25 years programming experience, 20 years web development experience, and 13 years experience as a professional SEO. Ross is also currently a certified SEO trainer with the Search Engine Academy and serves on its board of directors.
      

Sale Stoppers: Why Some Websites Never Generate Any Business

man unhappy with website sales stares at screen, line drawing

“Why have I invested all this money in a website? It never generates any leads or sales for my business!?! What a waste!”

Have you ever found yourself screaming in frustration at your website because it’s not giving you any return on investment?

Guess what, you’re part of a vast army of disappointed website owners.

Determining the cause of website non-performance isn’t always easy, but we have to start somewhere, and usually in our consulting business at Horizon Web Marketing we start, not with paid search or “organic” SEO, but by looking at the website and asking ourselves: “How can this website do a better job earning money for its owners RIGHT NOW?”

We call this process “conversion rate optimization” (CRO), and it’s all about doing more with the traffic you already have BEFORE you go out and try to attract a bunch of new visitors.

We know from our own experience that this process can bear rich fruit for small business, and so we decided to host a free webinar to give you some actionable tips for identifying and correcting simple, common mistakes that might be standing in the way of your website’s ability to convert visitors to customers.

Join us for free, and ask your questions at the end of the webinar.  I’d love to have you attend, and I’m sure you’ll find it a profitable hour.

This webinar is limited to 100 attendees at the live session.  It will be recorded and freely available for only 30 days after the broadcast date, so make sure you sign up today: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1928031404525741825?source=hwmwebsite

Ross Barefoot is the Chief Technology Officer at Horizon Web Marketing. In his work with Horizon Ross brings 35 years of small business management experience, 25 years programming experience, 20 years web development experience, and 13 years experience as a professional SEO. Ross is also currently a certified SEO trainer with the Search Engine Academy and serves on its board of directors.
      

How to Choose the Right SEO Firm or Consultant, According to Google

picture of Maile Ohye of Google discussing ways to make sure you hire a good seoGreat Advice on Vetting and Hiring an SEO Firm

If you hang around SEO, as we do, you’ve seen a recent video from Google Tech Lead Maile Ohye getting a lot of sharing love lately, especially from legitimate SEO companies, like, well…Horizon Web Marketing.

We like it so much we’re embedding it below.  But in case you don’t have 11 minutes handy to watch it, here’s the bullet pointed highlights (and if you know us you’ll know it’s what we’ve been preaching for years now):

  • Hiring a bad SEO isn’t just a waste of money, it can actually hurt your rankings
  • SEO is NOT black magic or some bag of “tricks”
  • Any SEO can only succeed if you invest in a good website and will make suggestions about your whole website experience for your visitors, and not just where you rank in search; they want to help your business, not just your rankings
  • SEO starts with making your site “search friendly” (we call it “search engine friendly” or SEF)
  • A legitimate Search Engine Optimization program will take 4-12 months to start bearing fruit
  • If an SEO recommends something, they need to be able to back it up and show you how their practices are based on Google documentation, they should be willing to educate you about what they do
  • The starting point in a relationship with an SEO firm will usually be an search engine optimization audit, and yes, it usually does cost money to perform one
  • Competitive analysis is important (what are your competitors doing that affects search and their website)
  • Technical issues are important (so any firm you hire has to be technically competent)
  • If you’re not ready to commit to improving your website and following the recommendations of your SEO professional, don’t bother

Here’s the thing that strikes me repeatedly in the points that Maile makes: an SEO has to be able to communicate well with you about your business.  Having a 2-way dialogue is critical.

These are just a few of the high points.  Make sure you watch the whole video.  We’re glad that what Google thinks is important is exactly how we would represent our business value to you.

https://youtu.be/dT038wiWHPY

 

Ross Barefoot is the Chief Technology Officer at Horizon Web Marketing. In his work with Horizon Ross brings 35 years of small business management experience, 25 years programming experience, 20 years web development experience, and 13 years experience as a professional SEO. Ross is also currently a certified SEO trainer with the Search Engine Academy and serves on its board of directors.
      

Looking for Some Real World SEO Training?

Kate: Can you imagine a life where everything was just easy?  You know, like where you ask for things, and then people just bring them to you?

Jack: It’s wonderful…

– “The Family Man” (2000)

Ah yes, wouldn’t it be nice if you could read some sage bit of Search Engine Optimization or Digital Marketing advice, call in one of your well trained staff members, ask them to implement and simply wait for them to bring you the results?

Welcome to the Real World

picture of man who's overwhelmed by the thought of SEO training

Is SEO training just one more thing on your plate? Then only worry about the essentials!

I don’t know about you, but that ain’t the business world I operate in.  I grew up in small business, literally, and I’ve spent the last 35+ years in a world where managing a business or a department tends to be like fighting 5 fires in a high wind with a garden hose and a shovel.

Taking time away from all the other concerns of a hectic day to become an expert in SEO simply isn’t an option for most small business managers.  If you’re like me, you long for information that is stripped down to the essentials.

It’s to fill that need in SEO that we created a new online training course called “Real World SEO: Essentials.”  This course is designed to cut through all the stuff that no one in the “real world” will ever do and focus on the meaningful concepts and the realistic actions most busy small businesses CAN take based on knowing those concepts.

The course is divided into 9 modules and is approximately 6 hours of video training.

Who is the Course For?

Business owners and managers

This course wasn’t just designed for business owners.  It is designed for ANYONE who has to get their website seen while managing other business operations.

Independent web developers

It’s also a perfect class for Web developers who need to perform SEO for their clients but need to focus ONLY on the essentials that will have the best shot at results.

Marketing professionals

Finally, if you’re a marketing professional who is expected to manage, or simply know about, Search Engine Optimization, this course is a compact way to bring you up to speed on those concepts that will benefit your clients and put you ahead of most other marketing agencies who are after their SEO business.

Get the First 3 Modules for Free

Already know you want the full course?  Sign up here and take $50 off (this introductory offer is only good through January 31st, 2017)

 Try it Out for Free

We know how valuable your time is, otherwise you probably wouldn’t have been interested in the premise of this post.  So instead of forcing you to commit to a purchase of the full 9 modules, we’re giving away the first 3 absolutely free.  Once you sign up you’ll also get a downloadable free bonus: our SEO Workflow Journal, a template similar to what our agency uses for managing an SEO project.

The free sampler we’re giving away carries a double benefit: Not only will you have an idea of the value of the training before you purchase the full course, but regardless of whether you get the full course, you’ll get valuable and actionable insights.

What you’ll learn in Real World SEO: Essentials

Get the First 3 Modules for Free

Already know you want the full course?  Sign up here and take $50 off (this introductory offer is only good through January 31st, 2017)

Module 1 – Introduction (34 minutes)

  • The Starting Point: pragmatic SEO
  • Be ready to roll up your sleeves and do some work
  • Expectations for the course
  • What you will need
  • What the goals of the course are

Module 2 – Basic Understanding (22 minutes)

  • How search engines find web pages
  • How they organize and store web page content
  • The anatomy of a SERP
  • Why certain sites are ranked higher than others

Module 3 – Evaluating Your Website (36 minutes)

  • How to evaluate your current website
  • The importance of KPI’s
  • Getting started with Google Analytics and Google Search Console
  • Resources for evaluating your website such as Open Site Explorer

Module 4 – Make it Search Engine Friendly (SEF) (62 minutes)

  • What SEF means
  • How to check for health problems using Google Search Console (GSC)
  • How to create an XML sitemap and let Google know about it, also using GSC
  • What a robots.txt file is, and why you need to check yours

Module 5 – Keyword Research (58 minutes)

  • Why keyword research is foundational to SEO success
  • How to do keyword research using Google’s “keyword planner”
  • How to determine whether a keyword is really competitive
  • Why “themes” are more important than “keywords”
  • How to set priorities for your SEO using your keyword research

Module 6 – Relevancy (56 minutes)

  • The important principle of “relevancy”
  • Key parts of the page for SEO
  • How to optimize a page for relevancy
  • What Panda is, and how to check your content for Panda-proof quality
  • The importance of a content-creation strategy

Module 7 – Authority (43 minutes)

  • The second pill ar of SEO success: Authority
  • What PageRank is and how it changed the search engine game
  • The impact of Google’s Penguin updates
  • Link-building basics

Module 8 – Conversion Optimization (27 minutes)

  • Why visits are meaningless without conversion
  • What factors keep people from taking action on your website
  • What conversion boosters will help you to get the most out of your SERP rankings
  • How higher conversions can also help your organic SEO efforts

Module 9 – Managing Your SEO (21 minutes)

  • Learn the difference between urgent and important
  • How to avoid SEO paralysis
  • How to get the most out of the SEO Journal that we provide as a bonus
  • What options are available to you to take your study of SEO and Internet Marketing to the next level

Bonus Materials

  • Sample SEO Workflow Journal (a handy team document for tracking and managing your SEO)
  • Google Special Search Operators for Keyword Research
  • Match Type cheat sheet to help you get the most out of Google’s Keyword Plan

Get the First 3 Modules for Free

Already know you want the full course?  Sign up here and take $50 off (this introductory offer is only good through January 31st, 2017)