What Should be Learned from a Site Audit

We often have new prospective clients come to us, asking what’s wrong… why have they lost 60 – 70% of their organic traffic over the last couple of months. The first question they have is whether we can fix it. Then comes the ‘how long will it take’ question. The answer to the first is generally something along the lines of “Nearly everything can be fixed.” The second can’t be answered without a lot more information.

Sometimes a glance at their homepage is enough to give us a good idea of at least some of the site’s issues. But after examining hundreds of sites, we’ve yet to see more than a handful that had only one significant problem – it’s usually a hodgepodge of issues.

The First Step – Take Stock

There are a few quick things we need to know before we can even give a client a firm quote. Assuming they don’t have a manual penalty, we’ll take a look through their GSC (Google Search Console, previously called Google Webmaster Tools), their GA (Google Analytics) and take a stroll through their site while Screaming Frog is doing a crawl. If Penguin is a likely issue, at that point we’ll normally run a Majestic report, too.

With all that information, we’ll usually have enough idea of what the scope of the project may be, to know if a full-bore technical audit is needed or if a 30,000 foot fly-over will be sufficient. Either way, we can then give them a firm quote. If they took a 60% hit on organic, it’s likely to involve a full audit.

A full audit can range anywhere from $1500 to $8000 or more, depending upon the complexity and expansiveness of the site, which optional items are included and how fast it needs to be done. If it’s to include a content audit and link profile analysis, it’s obviously going to be more than a simple technical audit. Our basic technical audit includes looking at such things as:

  • content quality/quantity
  • keyword usage
  • site architecture
  • navigation
  • URL structure
  • status codes
  • internal linking
  • outbound linking
  • meta data
  • crawl and index
  • responsiveness
  • sitemap
  • .htaccess
  • robots.txt
  • semantic markup
  • languages and structure
  • image handling
  • pageload speed
  • redirects
  • canonicals
  • browser compatibility

There are also other miscellaneous items we check for and will dig deeper into if we detect an issue. And if a content audit or link profile audit are needed, we add those to the mix. The above, however, covers the vast majority of the sites we audit.

Our approach is based upon the assumption that in the event of either a manual penalty or an algorithmic filtering, the site may be held to a higher standard, going forward – we want to clean house and make it virtually impossible to find any reason to not give the site a clean bill of health. If our client’s site is to be on probation, we want it to be seen as a model netizen.

Digging Into the Data

Once we have the Screaming Frog crawl, we sort several versions of its output, based upon status codes, meta descriptions and titles, looking for issues. We also go into GSC and check for problems that Google may be seeing, and then we start on a page-by-page manual check of the site, using tools like Firebug, WeBuilder and SearchStatus, as well as reviewing the source code.

Throughout the process, we’re taking lots of notes, citing examples and snagging screenshots. When we’re finished gathering data, the “fun” starts.

Preparing the Audit Report

Our typical technical audit is split into 3 sections: Executive Summary, Findings and Recommendations.

In the Findings section, we call out specific issues we encountered under each heading, then assign a 1 – 10 value and a verbal description to both Risk Factors and Effects.

In the Recommendations section, we then address each item we called out in the Findings, making specific recommendations as to what should be done to correct each issue, assigning a 1 to 5 value and verbal description for the urgency we attach to making each correction. The Risk Factor, Effect and Urgency are also color-coded to make prioritization more easily determined at a glance.

It’s important to note that the Risk Factor, Effect and Urgency values are subjective, tailored to the overall health and vulnerabilities of each individual site. The same issue could conceivably be considered Low Risk and Low Priority for one site, but High Risk and Urgent for another.

The Audit Report closes with a Summary, driving home the urgent items and rationale, and inviting a request for clarification of any points in the report. It also provides some realistic time frames to expect to see results from several of the most important corrective actions.

The time necessary to perform the audit and prepare the report depends upon the complexity of the site and the issues encountered. Normally, we can tell the client how long we estimate the process will take by the point we quote a cost for the audit. Some audits take 10 days, others can take over a month.

A few days after we deliver the final report, we’ll arrange a phone consultation with you to go through the report in detail, clarify any doubts you may have and answer any new questions that may have arisen.

Our goal is to give you a comprehensive report on the current state of your website and a clear roadmap to correcting any issues. It will be up to you to decide if you want us to be further involved in implementing corrective actions.

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Doc Sheldon has worked in marketing since the 1980s and he's been writing professionally since the 1970s. He owned and published weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines during the ’80s, before becoming a business consultant and ultimately "retiring" in 2008. He began studying SEO in earnest in 2003, and now specializes in technical SEO. His passions are the development of the Semantic Web, trying to figure out what changes may be coming next from the search engines and eliminating misinformation.