Technical audits are one of the activities that define SEO—we’ve all done them. But audits are only as valuable as their impact. Whether you’re a practitioner or an agency partner, your job really begins when the audit is finished. You must take your recommendations and make them a reality. Distilled thrives on this “effecting change” mindset.
Yet the (long, laborious) audit has still got to be done. We sift through crawls, consider best practices, analyze sitemaps—the list goes on.
But we’re committed to the technical audit. So if we’re going to audit a site, why not do the audit in a way that makes the fun part—making change happen—much easier?
With that in mind, we asked “Can we design an audit that helps make real change happen?” The result is an aware technical audit checklist. It considers the underlying problems we’re tackling (or trying to prevent). It makes technical audits faster, more effective, and more impactful.
Read on for more about how to put the checklist to use. Many on our team find it self-explanatory, though, so if you want to get cracking have at it! And then let us know what you think.
Every great audit starts with a checklist
There are lots of technical checklists out there. And with good reason—technical audit require inspecting many different things in many different places. Checklists are perfect. They are simple tools with lots of benefits. Checklists are:
Comprehensive - Without a checklist, you’ll probably still discover the obvious technical problems with a site. Using a checklist ensures you remember to check all the relevant boxes.
Productive - Working without a checklist takes more effort. At each stage you have to decide what to do next. The checklist answers this question for you.
Communicable - Rigorously defining your work with a checklist lets you delegate. Unfortunately, an intern can’t osmose your intuition!
This checklist is different
No matter how into-the-weeds we get, technical SEO has one purpose: ensure site implementation won’t hurt rankings. Everything we uncover leads back to that point.
Beyond that, many folks start breaking down technical to-dos by where they need to look or what tool they need to use. They might look at all on-page elements, then move on to all sitemap issues. That’s a valid way of approaching the problem. But not our way.
A snapshot of our audit checklist.
We look ahead to the conversations we’ll have when the audit is done. Consider this (realistic) thought process: “We’re concerned that important content isn’t being indexed because URLs aren’t discoverable by crawlers. Submitting a sitemap to Webmaster Tools could help us understand whether there is a problem, and might help fix it if there is one.”
This is a coherent technical recommendation. It explains why a change should be prioritized. It has 3 parts:
Outcome - important content isn’t being indexed.
Cause - URLs aren’t discoverable by crawlers.
Issue - we haven’t uploaded sitemaps to Webmaster Tools.
That’s the difference: you’ll see this is exactly how we’ve structured the checklist. Take a moment to jump over and inspect it with this model in mind. By now you’re probably getting the idea—this isn’t just a technical checklist. It’s also a tool for communicating the value of your work.
A few pointers
This checklist template is available to the public. When you open it, you’ll discover that you only have “view” permissions for the master document. To use it, you’ll first want to create a copy:
Each technical check can be marked Pass, OK, or Fail:
Pass means you have no concerns.
OK means the issues doesn’t seem relevant currently.
Fail means something appears to be wrong.
When you update an Issue, the grade for the Cause and Outcome will also be updated. If any Issue’s score is Fail, the Cause and Outcome will also Fail.
Understand what’s at stake
Filtering for only Outcomes and Causes gives you a quick-and-dirty summary of a site’s strengths and weaknesses. This is the first thing I look at when I see a completed audit!
Filtering related tasks
Organizing a checklist by Causes and Issues doesn’t mean we need to give up the efficiency of a task-oriented checklist. Try filtering by the “Where” column. This will let you grade all Issues for each area at once.
We want to learn from you, too
This checklist is intended to be a living document. We appreciate any feedback you have. Feel free to jump in the comments section here or find me on Twitter: @BenjaminEstes.
Interested in working with us?
This audit is just one example of the way Distilled approaches consulting. We aren’t limited to SEO—we also help our clients with marketing strategy, content creation and production, paid search, and more. If our approach sounds interesting, please reach out!