We need to talk about SEO audits. There’s a lot of stuff Bastian doesn’t like and thinks a lot of them are shit.

Who has conducted an SEO audit recently? Were you 100% happy with it? Did you implement everything your recommended?

Most people Bastian surveyed earlier in the year said that their audit was absolutely sh…not great.

There is so much money going down the toilet. We as an industry need to do better. It’s just burning money for nothing.

So why should we care?

If you are an agency, doing good audits will allow you to recommend and prioritise actions based on the biggest business impact, which will lead to increased ROI and make clients happy.

On the client side, if you are requesting an audit, following it will help you to implement actions and changes that really make a difference, as opposed to wasting money on stuff that does nothing and puts you off SEO.

Bastian has a process to stop wasting time on shitty audits.

Speaking of bullshit, if you’re someone who just exports from a tool and passes it over to a client as your whole audit, this could do more harm than good.

His top 3 basic issues are:

  1. The wrong format or output are used. What does your recipient want or need to see? What do they expect? We have all seen massive 46-page audits. This is not always the right answer. You need to understand your clients and their expectations. It’s not always the right answer. It comes down to figuring out the goal of that audit and trying to understand the recipient. Who is working with the audit at each stage? When you want to persuade management into a budget commitment, they will not read a huge document. They need a more precise, specific slide deck or something like that. Or, if you’re tasked to support IT or a dev agency, the output could be creating tickets. They don’t care about a presentation they just want to see the actions. So it all depends on the audience.Of course, there is a need for in-depth documents, but consider the level of detail you actually need when creating them. Bastian likes to look for a brief, executive summary. What is the essence of the document? Think about formatting, grammar, spelling etc. If you include images, reference the source. Just tell him where it comes from! It’s not that hard. Also, include code examples if the audit is very tech-heavy. Code snippets help to visualise what you want to achieve.
  2. People are often describing symptoms without getting to the root cause. If you discover loads of duplicated content, we could recommend using unique page titles or you could identify the cause to stop this being a big issue in the future. Exporting all the duplicate URLs is just identifying systems.Start thinking in patterns! If people have told you that the cause of 55,000 duplicate URLs is a template issue where no unique content was specified, talk about the template, identify the underlying mechanics and solve the root problems. Fix the template, not the individual pages.
  3. The lack of priorities, or badly assigned priorities, is another huge issue. Every single item needs a priority assigned to it. This is absolutely essential. Create a table or list or whatever and sort items by impact and effort. Getting there is not always easy, but you need to do it. Testing and experience are the most helpful. Using log files is a big help to understand what Googlebot is actually doing. Come up with something that’s somewhat reasonable to assign priority.

The big issue is that we’re trying to make our audits do too much. We’re very much focused on just SEO. We’re lacking the bigger picture and struggle to quantify the impact of individual items. Audits can also be seen as an insurance policy against the next Google update.

An audit often looks like someone has been working hard, but they’re really just trying to achieve too much.

So, don’t include everything in an audit. Use an appendix if you want to mention low priority issues. Use the main document to focus on the biggest issues.

Have a plan B in place to anticipate issues that can’t be solved. Having a backup option can help speed things up and keep improvements moving.

Every type of domain has very different challenges (e.g. ecommerce, publishing, lead-lead-in etc.) and different size sites have different challenges. You can always drill these quadrants down further to identify niches within your categories. For the sake of simplicity in this talk, Bastian won’t go too deep today.

Bastian has come up with top 5 items for ecommerce, publishing and classifieds for maximum business impacts.

Remember, always align the audit with what the site is trying to achieve overall.

Ecommerce with 10K to 100K URLs

  1. Understand how to handle multiple versions of the same product. Splitting URLs across 100s of variations is not ideal. Bastian is not a fan of canonicals, but if you use them, at least use Search Console to check if they’re working. If you can make product variations remain contained in one URL you’ll end up with all your link equity and value on one URL.
  2. Single products are often available across multiple categories. This can sometimes lead to different URLs, leading to duplication which will shoot down rankings.
  3. Brand filters vs branded categories is another consideration. If you index both, which is supposed to rank for branded search terms? Choose one URL for keyword targeting and minimise internal competition.
  4. Faceted navigation is another hard thing to tackle (including sorting and filtering). It should be tackled for pretty much any ecommerce store. Only allow filters with actual search demand to be crawled and indexed. Also, try to work out which of your filters are actually being used.
  5. Finally, work out how they handle out of stock or expired products. Whatever you do, don’t keep all your expired products out of stock! This leads to bounces and overall creates bad engagement metrics. Understand if products are temporarily expired and what happens when they come back. It usually comes down to a mix of product redirects and 410s, combined with a text layer to keep customers properly informed. You just don’t want your index bloated with expired products. You also need to be able to deal with categories that have a high churn rate.

Publications

  1. What’s the indexing strategy for tags, archives, categories etc? If you put everything into the index you normally end up with a crazy amount of URLs that take indexing budget away from your actual articles. You need to understand that someone has to create a strategy around what to index and when.
  2. Another consideration is around content quality. There are various types of low quality content, but in an audit someone needs to assess different types of low value content and work out which pages you need to exclude from the index.
  3. How do you expedite discovery? Look into sitemap maintenance and log file analysis. In publishing, Bastian wants to see an input based on crawl hubs. Find out which URL Google is hitting more than others and use these as hubs for internal linking. For sitemaps, you just need to think about quality. Which URLs are included? For 1,000,000+ URLs, they absolutely all need to all be valid.
  4. Accessibility is another big consideration. He uses the example of a health publication with courses that hides their content at the bottom of the page behind loads of ads, links and popups. How do your users find the content? Usability can really hurt SEO performance. If an overlay appears, Googlebot might not see any content. If it’s rendering the page it’s going to see an empty page.
  5. Finally, consider Google News, which would be a deck of its own.

Classifieds

  1. Indexing strategy
  2. Handing multiple listings with the same attributes – how do you decide which ones to index?
  3. Expired listing management
  4. Discovery
  5. Faceted navigation

Some audit items are universal. Basically, look for issues around JavaScript, Search Console performance, international considerations, broken URLs, crawlability, accessibility etc.

In summary, the right format matters a lot. Tackle the root causes, not the symptoms. Make sure in-depth audits are usable and somewhat fun. Type and scope matter. Please do not just export something from a tool and say it’s your SEO audit.

Ben Garry

SEO Strategist

I'm a Strategist in Impression’s SEO team. This means that I work to make our clients stand out in the crowded online space through on-page optimisation and original, high-quality content.

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