Since I started doing audits I’ve seen them go from fringe SEO considerations to important parts of the SEO process for agencies, teams and individuals.
Today though, I continue to see posts on Forums, and various Facebook groups where people are asking about audits, and the overwhelming majority of responders recommend tools as the solution.
I think this is a big issue right now, because from my own experience I’ve seen the best growth come from a combination of manual audits, my approach to audits and utilizing tools as a means to an end. Not as the overall solution.
The Problem With Tools
Tools are a means to an end, and that’s the way they’ve always been from the days that our distant primate brethren decided to use a rock to crack open a nut.
Tools when used for the purpose of an audit are very important, this is because they can quickly scrape hundreds of pages worth of information and present it in a way that is organized and easy to navigate. It’s a crucial part of any audit.
Yes, it’s just part of an audit, and I’ve seen too many people and services come to rely on them as the be all end all.
The main problem with tools is that they’re limited in what they can do because they’re programmed in a way to go out there, treat every site as if it’s the same kind of site, scrape varying pieces of information and organize it in a way that the tools programmer thinks might be useful.
These tools just aren’t that smart, or at least, not as smart as a you or I. There is no tool on the market that can replace the human eye, and tools miss a hell of a lot…
For starters treating every site as if it’s the same out of the box is a big mistake, this is why you see a lot of SEOs chasing the perfect score on their favorite audit tools and never quite getting there. An affiliate site, an ecommerce site, even a lead generation site all function in distinctly different ways. This is why I still mainly use ScreamingFrog for that side of my audits, sure there are fancier tools out there, but it doesn’t presume to be able to mark your site. It simply gives you the information it knows you need, and leaves it at that.
Tools are a great means to an end, but utilizing them as your entire audit strategy is just plain dumb.
Why Manual Audits Are Important
Manual Audits as in the ones we do ourselves are a little limited also, in the sense that it’s limited by our own knowledge and is error prone since people will make mistakes.
That being said, over time if you develop a process for how you go about doing it then you’ll get much better results.
Manual audits do take time to do well, but the time investment is always worth it, I find issues that don’t get picked up on any tools, as well as find weak points on sites that tools aren’t even setup to look for.
Whenever I’ve done an audit for a client or for myself, the areas that I identified manually to be changed were always the ones that provided the best results. These results were usually quick, and far more powerful than the ones I’ve ever seen with making changes that tools have given me.
Manual Audit + Links = Growth
Sure making sure you’ve only got a single instance of an H1, or making sure your Page Title is within the guideline amount of characters or ensuring your .301 redirects are setup correctly is important, but these are usually small changes that impact a couple of pages of your site at most.
The manual process however looks at things at a much broader level as well as at the micro level, and a single change can impact the entire site. This is why you see much more meaningful results from implementing changes that you uncover doing things this way.
Page Type Vs. Every page
Audits can be broken down into two very distinct types, despite what you might see recommended elsewhere.
When I was running an ecommerce agency with Charles, we used to approach both of these types of audits for our clients at different stages of the campaign.
We would start off with a broad “page type” audit, this focuses on breaking down the site into the different types of pages it has.
For an ecommerce site that usually looks something like;
Info Page (About, Contact, Legal)
In these kinds of audits you can manually audit just one of each type to find the main issues with how the site works at a broad level, then using a tool you can identify common problems that might occur on all of these specific pages at once.
The second kind of audit we would do for the client would be the “every page” audit, and this would often take us several months to complete on large ecommerce sites.
Focusing on the most important pages first, we would manually look at that page, extending into using tools like Ahrefs to perform Keyword Research for the page, validating the source code, as well as using tools like ScreamingFrog to identify any specific problems... Plus a whole bunch of other stuff that goes into doing that well.
Here’s what I’d usually check on an ecommerce site first at this stage of an audit, based on what’s resulted in the most growth in the past:
Page Title - Using Ahrefs take your URL and place it into the Site Explorer. Click on Organic Keywords, filter them by searches and then export what’s left to create a Keyword Opportunity Model. Analyze whether or not your current Page Title is targeting the right keyword, or if you could add additional keyword variations into the overall page title.
H2s, H3s - Check the content on the page. If you are utilizing a buyers guide you especially need to check the H2s and H3s. Make sure they are targeting a keyword from your Keyword Opportunity Model rather than just containing random words that writers have picked out.
Link Volume - How many links are on the page? Can these links be reduced for better link flow? Quite often ecommerce sites can create clickable “cards” which turn the product image, text and surrounding area into a single link. This can create a huge link reduction on any given page. So checking that the pages aren’t setup to contain 1 link per element is crucial.
We would usually work on a number of pages per week for X duration for a certain ‘page type’. So we might initially work on all the Category pages, before moving onto optimizing all the sub-categories as well.
I took this approach back in January for one of the clients at SEO A.I focusing on Manual Audits that break down the site into distinct different pages…
We added around 4,000 Organic Keywords between Jan-Apr. The Spike in August last year was us switching them to SSL!
Over the course of about four months I worked on auditing every aspect of the site, from the Page Titles, to Internal Links and even rewrote some of the Content myself as an example of how to do it properly for the clients writers.
This approach of Page Type vs Every Page provides excellent results, because the manual side of things, as I mentioned in the last part of this article can deliver a sitewide impact, since every category page is going to be templated the same. Identifying specific issues with how that page is functioning is going to carry over to all the other category pages when fixes are applied.
Then with the “every page” audit, you get to optimize each page on a level that you wouldn’t be able to if you were simply performing an audit that focuses on fixing errors and making tiny changes here and there.
How often should you audit your sites?
I recently asked my On-Page Facebook Group how often they audit their sites.
The results were interesting;
Once a month - 40%
Once every few months - 30%
More than once a month - 15%
Once or twice a year - 10%
If you’ve got the right mindset, you know that audits should never end on your site. Interestingly only 15% were doing this. It shouldn’t be difficult to do them really regularly if you have the right mindset and approach.
It’s simply the frequency of different tasks that matters. My advice would be this;
Overview Audit - Every 3 Months
Page Type Audit - Every Month
Every Page Audit - On-Going
Technical Audit - On-Going
Monitoring - 24/7
Approaching your audits in this way is how you actually progressively optimize your site, and thanks to Monitoring tools like ContentKing you can actually catch any issues that arise as they happen. This means your Technical and Overview Audits never take a lot of time. Where you spend most of your time is doing the Page Type and Every Page Audits which are where you can drive the most growth.
Audits are actually a lot more complicated than people realize, right now tools are suffocating the progression of this important aspect (or process) of real Search Engine Optimization because they can appeal to peoples nature of quick solutions, as well as generate huge amounts of monthly revenue to dump into marketing themselves as the best thing since sliced bread.
Never forget that the manual aspect of audits are more important than tools would have you think, and never forget that there are different kinds of audits that tools just can’t do for you because the tools are part of the process, not THE process.