A common task that is required of SEOs is performing technical audits. As an SEO, your ability to look at a website from a technical perspective and provide recommendations is essential to your role. The goal of this article is not to show you how to identify these issues. The goal is not to teach you how to fix the issues you find. Instead, this article focuses on outlining a framework that could be used when approaching SEO. My hope is that this framework will help make our recommendations clearer and more impactful.
My colleague, Ben, recently wrote a post on his process for performing technical audits using this spreadsheet he created. I would highly recommend reading and utilizing his article alongside this one.
Typical scenario for SEOs
I still see SEOs struggle (including myself) with the task of organizing findings into impactful recommendations. The longer I work at Distilled the more I see that understanding SEO well is only half of the battle. The ability to organize your thoughts and findings into clear actions is a skill that gets better with practice and is extremely powerful when working with clients.
And let’s be honest, the task of a technical audit can be daunting. Have you ever looked at a crawl of a website and spotted one issue, then found another issue, then another? It can be overwhelming taking it all in.
There is a better way to approach technical audits.
A better solution
It's worth taking time to construct a framework for your projects. There are two ‘buckets’ that most SEO-related issues can fall into:
1) There are issues with indexation.
2) Content is being indexed, but it isn’t ranking well.
This might seem obvious, but when you setup your audit and deliverable around these two ‘buckets’ it allows you to have extremely impactful recommendations, as well as focused meetings. Instead of jumping around from finding to finding, you can organize your deliverables in a way that allows for a streamlined way of approaching tasks.
Now, instead of worrying about organization you can focus on giving impactful recommendations. Additionally, having your findings split into these two buckets allows you to prioritize tasks.
Let's say you find 20 technical issues on a website. 5 of these issues have to do with indexation, and the rest are related to poor ranking. With this approach, you know to focus on the 5 indexation issues before tackling the rest.
Here are examples of issues one could identify:
Your title tags are not optimized well
Your landing pages are missing h1 tags
Your site takes longer than average to load
Your blog has noindex tags on every page
A certain part of your website isn't included in the sitemap
This approach allows you to phrase these findings like this:
There are two issues with indexation that we need to fix first
Once we fix the indexation issues, we can plan on fixing the 3 issues related to rankings
Note - It could be argued that there is a 3rd ‘bucket’ - specifically, how your results look in the SERPs (such as making sure reviews display correctly). We won't get into that in this article because 95% of technical audit tasks will fall into one of the first two buckets. It's worth learning to confidently recignise the first two before diving into the more unusual cases.
Let’s take a look at these two buckets in detail.
Our content isn’t being indexed
Indexation comes before rankings. One should not expect for a piece of content to rank well if it isn't indexable. This is why it's vital to focus on indexation before anything else.
Once you are confident that your page (or pages) are being indexed accurately, you can start focusing your mind on why they aren’t ranking well.
Some examples of issues that could fall into this bucket are:
Certain folders that the client wants ranking are blocked by robots.txt
Certain categories within the blog have a noindex tag on them
Sitemap isn’t being updated dynamically to include live-links
These findings are very specific, impactful, and actionable. In other words, there is 0% chance that these pages will rank if we don’t remedy the indexation issues in this bucket.
To summarize: discussing rankings before considering indexation is working backwards. A quick check can prevent you from having to go back and do more work in the long run.
Our content (that’s being indexed) isn’t ranking
Once you are confident that there are no technical reasons for specific pages being indexed, you can focus the conversation around why pages aren’t ranking as well as they should be. This is the second bucket of findings.
Some example findings include:
An important service page is >5 clicks from the homepage
All internal links are nofollow links
Canonical tags point to wrong URLs
Because of the way we have setup the technical audit, these recommendations should directly impact rankings. In other words, we can be 100% sure that everything we recommend in this bucket should impact rankings positively according to Google.
Putting them both together
Putting both of these buckets together can look different depending on the client that you have. I’m a huge fan of utilizing Google Docs and sharing the documents with my clients. This allows for commenting and collaboration without overwhelming anyone.
I would recommend explaining this two-bucket approach to your client before starting the audit just to make sure everyone is on the same page. Beyond the benefit of not feeling overwhelmed with your findings, there is a benefit of leading focused meetings when discussing your findings.
Depending on how many issues you find, you can focus one deliver on the first bucket, and once those actions are closer to being complete schedule a second meeting to discuss the second bucket.
If the site is smaller and doesn’t require many fixes, you can combine the two buckets and walk through the document all at once.
The point is you will feel confident in the recommendations you are giving, and your client will not feel overwhelmed and will clearly understand the impact that each change could have.
Additional benefit: KPIs
Beyond the benefits mentioned above, there is an added benefit of being able to clearly set KPIs with this approach. Typically, SEOs are judged based on whether or not rankings increase. The problem here is that you can never be 100% sure that rankings will increase, you can only be confident that you are providing the most optimal recommendations based on Google’s current guidelines.
This approach to organizing a technical audit makes it easier to set targets.
With this bucket approach, you can focus the KPIs on actions rather than just rankings. In other words, after fixing all the problems with indexation, you can be confident that you have done your job for that specific bucket. You can even go beyond this and watch the website indexation go up (or down, depending on what the issue was).
For rankings, the KPIs could be directly related to the tasks as well. For example, if a site’s blog isn’t ranking well and they don’t have any <H1> tags on their blog, a solid recommendation would be to add unique <H1> tags to each blog post and optimize them for specific keywords. You can easily show your client that you completed the task by crawling the site before and taking a screenshot with no <H1s>, then crawling the site after the change and showing the <H1> tags. This way, you stay away from having KPIs that might get met, to having KPIs that will get met.
It’s worth noting here that it’s important to discuss this approach with your client’s beforehand. Explaining that you will give the best recommendations that should impact rankings according to Google, but that at the end of the day it is in Google’s hands is an important step to finding the right clients and feeling great about your work.
Splitting the KPIs up ensures that you have done your job as best as possible up until it’s in Google’s hands.
Bucket 1 KPIs:
Identify issues for why content isn’t being indexed
Present the issues to your client
Fix the issues (you or the dev team)
Indexation should be improved in a week or two
Bucket 2 KPIs:
Identify issues for why content that’s indexed isn’t ranking well
Present the issues to your client
Fix the issues (you or the dev team)
Rankings should be affected in a positive way over time
There are many different approaches one could take when it comes to marketing (especially SEO). Personally, I have found it helpful to use this method of thinking to simplify my process up front, and produce better results at the end of the day.
The ability to commit to a task (such as a technical audit), outline clear goals, and come to an agreement with your client on the improvements that are necessary for their website to follow with Google’s guidelines is beneficial because it allows you to focus on doing good work, rather than beating your head around random tasks all day.
I’d be interested to hear any frameworks or processes that you/your company use when it comes to SEO. Drop a comment below or give me a shout on Twitter if you have any useful methods/resources.