Most people follow a checklist when performing an SEO audit however depending on the level of formality, ownership and expertise though, there can be times when a more instinct-driven investigation is best, both at the super-low and super-high budget ends. There will be a lot of agencies that expect SEO managers and senior SEO execs to either design an audit template from scratch or contribute to improving it.
A real top-level audit would be a bit like a valuation which considers all the main things. Let’s say we wanted to internally audit any given site, the type of audit would depend on our reason for wanting the audit. For businesses who have a decent level of experience in SEO most likely we wouldn’t want to be patching errors 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’.
However if we were an agency auditing it for a site owner with little experience in SEO, we would cover all the things they might not know, such as quality of content and code. Hence if doing the audit as an agency, i would usually put a lot of work into identifying technical ‘errors’ and ‘spam factors’ (these are the two types of potentially critical problem); then i would continue the audit by looking at non critical problems to fix/improve, and then go into ‘opportunities’ – ways we can improve the campaign by adding value and maximise the site’s potential after fixing immediate errors. Essentially a checklist could still be used but with plenty of room for qualitative info for each checkpoint/section.
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 an audit.
There are other 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 outreach & content marketing beside sales/negotiation with clients & partners, and business strategy/vision which is similar to campaign design but on a higher level.