FAQ: Do SEO audits need checklists? An open-minded approach.

Agencies often expect their freshly recruited SEO managers and senior execs to either design an audit template from scratch or contribute to improving one, and then adhere it for each client. In case this happens to you or someone you know, here’s some things you may wish to consider…

To checklist or not to checklist?

Many people follow a checklist when performing an SEO audit. Some are very useful; some are not.

However, depending on the level of formality, ownership and expertise, there can be times when a more instinct-driven, spontaneous, qualitative investigation is best, for both low-budget and high-budget clients.

Technical SEO audits should totally follow checklists; but if auditing a domain’s value and potential, or a brand, or something less technical, then it’s different. In this case, a few good ideas can be worth as much as a thousand ticks and crosses. Ultimately it all boils down to what the client expects from their audit.

A real top-level audit would be a bit like a valuation/appraisal, which considers all the main things. Let’s consider some examples…

Scenario 1: Internal audits within an SEO-skilled company

Let’s say we wanted to audit our own website – the type of audit we do should depend on our motivation. For businesses who have a decent level of expertise in SEO, most likely we wouldn’t be driven by a need or expectation of needing to patching errors widely, because we are already confident in the integrity of our content and code to a certain level. More likely for our needs, we would want to audit the backlink profile in terms of strengths and weaknesses, ie how many super strong links, how many risky toxic/spammy links, how relevant the topics and keywords, how diverse the link type and wording, basically all the ‘power factors’ and ‘spam factors’ that are externally influenced so are particularly unpredictable. But if we were a large company with some people working on the site who are not very well trained, and some distant stakeholders to report to who are not well informed of what happens on a daily basis, then we would have a greater need to audit all the on-site issues to fix any recent problems and spot trends in them to help prevent them from recurring, and we would have a greater need for all-round auditing in order to provide well-rounded reporting to properly inform all stakeholders.

Scenario 2: Agency audits for external clients

If we were an agency auditing a site for a client that has little experience in SEO, we would cover all the things they might not know, such as quality of content and code plus offsite factors. Thus, if doing the audit as an agency, we would usually put a lot of work into identifying technical ‘errors’ and ‘spam factors’ (these are the two types of potentially critical problem); then we would continue the audit by looking at non critical problems to fix/improve. From there, we would then go into ‘opportunities’ – ways we can improve the campaign by adding value, and ways to maximise the site’s potential after fixing immediate errors. A checklist could still be used, but with plenty of room for qualitative info for each checkpoint/section.

Broader scope

There are some significant factors that aren’t typically considered in SEO audits, or at least aren’t as highly prioritised as they should be. This includes conversion rate optimisation (CRO) because that’s the new age of SEO; creative campaign design because that’s the key factor in going forward with outreach & content marketing beside sales/negotiation with clients & partners; and business strategy/vision which is similar to campaign design but on a broader, higher level.