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SEO Site Audits Are Broken

Ah yes, the SEO site audit. That ever-present assumption. That industry norm. That old, tired and dusty tome. It's long past time this antiquated document was given a refresh.

Today's SEO audits are too big, too often filled with trivia, and oblivious to a company's goals and resource constraints.

SEO site audits image RKG

Revisiting the SEO site audit

"But Adam, what are you talking about? The SEO site audit is an essential document. Are you saying these are now useless? Balderdash!" No, I'm not saying they're useless (although they can be). I'm saying they're in dire need of a facelift. We've created and delivered hundreds of site audits at RKG. This isn't our first rodeo. These ideas are the outcome of many years performing site audits for our clients, including dozens of massive sites and household brands.

The Purpose of Site Audits

What is the problem the SEO audit attempts to solve? Let's run through some of them, but first an umbrella statement that encompasses the point: SEO audits exist to generate a comprehensive understanding of every problem a site has that could possibly contribute to performance issues in organic search. The audit becomes a solution to:
  • The agency and/or client needing a full view of the SEO health of a site
  • Benchmarks being established
  • Priorities being established in context
  • A full view of how many and what kinds of resources will be needed to improve SEO
  • A kind of 'SEO inventory' to work against
These are all worthy endeavors and certainly necessary. But there is a better way. What's the problem with site audits, you may ask? It's a question I'll need to answer before we go any further.

The Problem with SEO Audits

The major problem with site audits today is they are too damn big. They are unwieldy. They're cumbersome, all-encompassing, dense and comprehensive documents that don't necessarily a) reflect exactly where the business's priorities, goals, and resource constraints exist, and b) deliver a coherent and clear prioritization. They also too frequently include minor site 'errors' and trivia that will do nothing to move the needle on SEO performance (not even in sum). This isn't anyone's fault, really. We're all at fault for helping to perpetuate an industry standard that should have been questioned long ago.

A Better Site Audit

If the tradition of site audits is to create large documents that include many items that either don't matter or can't be implemented, what should SEO practitioners do to improve this approach? Our approach is evolving to something that resembles the following: First, taking 10-20 hours (instead of 90-120 hours) perform a quick 'deep dive' into a site to understand its strengths, opportunities for improvement, competitive positioning, etc. Spend enough time to thoroughly understand what a site will need to improve in organic search. For seasoned SEOs, this process will be shorter and much more efficient than it will be for less experienced folks. From this analysis, carefully document the areas that will need focus in the coming weeks and months. However, stop short of offering a complete set of issues and recommendations. Instead, create a prioritized list with examples. Take this to your client or manager and go through the findings. Understand where your company or client's goals are in the coming weeks and months. Understand where the company cannot implement fixes. Understand where they do want to focus efforts. Now, create a strategic plan. The benefit of the initial deep-dive exercise? You've isolated the key priority areas, and synced with the business on their priorities, goals and resource constraints. Now you can go back and dive deeply into each of the priority areas that the business will actually execute on, and deliver detailed recommendations and business intelligence to help justify them. You haven't wasted your time on image optimizations, for example, because you know the company can't do anything here. Instead, you've focused on video strategies, because of the large focus the business has here (for example). This approach has a dramatic impact on SEO programs: it actually gets things done. But even better, it provides early wins, gets more buy in, and allows for more good stuff to be implemented. It creates trust more quickly.

I can relax. My SEO audit will be aligned with my plans.

Dynamic, Efficient Audits

There's still a place for the massive behemoth comprehensive SEO audit. It will live on. But it needs to be used when needed, not just because 'that's what you do'. The right tool for the job isn't always a hammer. But when all you've got in the toolbox is a hammer... well, you know. The single biggest impediment to SEO success is the lack of implementation. Your recommendations, your ideas, all your plans are useless if they don't get done. By adapting SEO audits to your client's or company's realities - which always include strained development and content resources - you're aligning your recommendations with the realities of the company. This ultimately results in getting more things done.  
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