The Importance of Performing an SEO Audit in 2017
We've been designing, building, and ranking websites on the web since before it was cool. It’s an understatement to say that the tactics we used to get ranked even five years ago are not the ones that we would use today. Google and the other search engines are constantly revising and updating their algorithms to determine who's number one.
To push your website higher in the rankings, there must be a continuous process of evaluation and implementation. It's not fire and forget. SEO audits are a vital part of our process for determining the right strategy for a business and keeping a website’s rankings high. Why?
There is an old joke about two men that are about to get chased by a wild animal. One man laces up his shoes in response to the danger and says to the other man, “I don’t have to outrun the animal. I just have to outrun you.” The game of SEO is exactly like this. Your ranking isn’t just about how well you look to the search engines. It also has to do with how well your competitors are ranking. You could have whiz-bang SEO, but if your competitor is just a little bit better, you’ll never surpass.
If you are only performing an SEO audit on yourself, you’re doing a disservice. You have to look at your competitors next to you in the SERPs and audit them as well. That informs your total strategy.
We divide our audits into three parts: technical auditing, link profile auditing, and keyword auditing. Here is what we mean by these terms and why they’re important to add to your audits.
The core task of any search engine is to offer the most accurate results to their searchers. An SEO expert’s job is to make the site they are improving look as good as possible to search engine spiders. Technical auditing involves checking the site code for any possible problems that would make a search engine confused or ignorant about the site.
Depending on the age of the site and the SEO tactics used, there could be deep technical issues that keep a site from ranking at all. Black hat SEO tactics can lead a site to get delisted from Google’s rankings. If the site isn’t in the rankings at all that needs to be addressed first.
Assuming a site is listed, we start looking at things like how well the site code conforms to W3C standards. Does a page have proper titles and headings? Is there an updated site map? Is a robots.txt file keeping certain parts from getting seen that you want to be seen? This is very basic stuff, but many business owners aren’t web designers and many web designers don’t know enough about SEO to handle the basics. If a site does have a good code base, we may consider extending that code to include things like Schema notation to take advantage of the latest search engine features.
The more information you can give a search engine spider, and the easier you can make it for the spiders to find that information, the higher you will rank. You’d be surprised at how much you can rise by just fixing basic technical errors, especially if you’re languishing somewhere deep in the rankings.
Link Profile Auditing
Google looks at hundreds of different signals to determine rankings, but the core one is still the link profile. In a nutshell, the more sites that link to your site, the more popular your site seems. Higher popularity means higher rankings, especially if the sites that link to you are popular as well. These links from other sites are called backlinks and form your link profile.
People learned how to scam this basic system and Google cracked down hard on many bad link building practices, e.g. the manual penalties have been doubled in 2016 only. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to remove a backlink once you have one. Removing bad backlinks is like pulling weeds from a garden. Necessary, but not fun and can be harder than you think.
Once all the bad backlinks are pulled, how do you plant good ones? This is where an SEO audit of your competitors really shines. If you can discover their backlink profile, and there are tools to do this, you can try to obtain backlinks from the high-ranking sites that have backlinked to them.
Obtaining good backlinks is a marketing game these days, not a technical one. A common way to obtain good backlinks is by offering content to a popular site, such as in guest posting. You have to persuade these sites to allow you a link. Thus, if you’re considering hiring an SEO company you should ask them what do they offer other sites in exchange for backlinks. Never trust a company that says they can get you hundreds of backlinks fast. That’s the royal road to getting delisted.
Keyword auditing is where many businesses start thinking about SEO, but we put it after the other two categories because bad link profiles and code will drag a site down regardless of keywords. However, some keyword auditing is needed at the beginning so that you know which competitors to focus on when doing technical or backlink auditing.
The key challenge for selecting keywords is picking the ones that your audience uses to find you. Analyzing which keywords your higher-ranking competitors use can reveal new keyword phrases you never thought of and provide new areas of competition for search engine rankings. Depending on the phrase, it can reveal a content gap that needs to be filled on your site.
As you have read, performing regular SEO audits on yourself and your competitors is the key to make SEO gains and to retain your place. You’re always running to keep at the top of the list. By keeping an eye on the race and adjusting your course, you can position yourself at the top of the SERPs.