In parts one and two of our series on conducting SEO site audits, we looked at how to price and scope your SEO audit as well as questions to ask, accounts to gain access to, and tools to have at your disposal.
In this section I want to look at the overall approach an SEO takes in putting together an audit, as well as some presentation items like formatting and report layout.
Determining Your Approach to an SEO Audit
There are some strong arguments to be made that you might want to be somewhat “guarded” or “careful” with the information you “give away” in an SEO audit, but as I pointed out in the last post in this series, my personal approach to executing an SEO audit is to:
be completely sales-agnostic: I want to charge appropriately for the value I’m delivering, so that the audit itself is a valuable project that I’m not relying on as a lead-gen tool or loss leader. This allows you to make completely unbiased recommendations about what to outsource, what to keep in house, etc. By charging fairly for your services you mitigate the risk of “giving away” value (you’re charging for it, after all) and you also position yourself as an expert who does good work, which is a better sales pitch than under-delivering and offering to bridge the value gap for a price after the fact.
This doesn’t mean that you do an unreasonable amount of work and put your business at risk: it just means that you charge a fair price for your time and expertise, and then generate the best, most complete document possible. My suggestions here and in the next section will assume that this is the general approach to the auditing process that you’re taking.
Know Your Audience, Educate if Necessary
First, as a general rule with SEO audits I find it best to assume your reader has a limited knowledge of SEO unless you know otherwise. As I mentioned in section two of the series, if you know for a fact that the only one poring over your audit will be a savvy SEO, you can adjust your audit accordingly and not over-explain or come off as patronizing, but if you’re not entirely sure, the document is likely to be read by folks with a range of SEO expertise, etc. I think it’s valuable to educate throughout your audit – don’t just make a recommendation, explain why you made the recommendation and how it will help their business.
One positive here is that as you start to do multiple SEO audits, you’ll have some explanations you can re-use. I like to start various sections of the report with an explanation of what I’m trying to accomplish with my recommendations. This doesn’t mean I need to explain the history of keyword research or copy/paste a Wikipedia-style synopsis in the keyword research section, but it does mean I want to help he client understand why I’m making the recommendations I’m making. Here’s an example of a summary of the logic behind recommended keyword strategy:
In evaluating the potential of a keyword or set of keywords we’re considering:
- Relevance/Conversion – Is the term relevant to your business, and would a searcher be likely to convert after typing in this term and actually help to generate more revenue and profit for your business?
- Volume – Does a large volume of people search for this term?
- Competition – How competitive is this term and how difficult will it be to rank for it?
We want to identify the terms that represent the best balance of these three factors, and in some cases exploit inefficiencies in one or multiple areas (ie if competition is low in areas with low volume but high likelihood to convert that may represent an opportunity even though search volume isn’t high).
The intent here is to help the client understand the thinking behind the recommendations so they can intelligently implement them.
Don’t Just Explain: Use Examples
If you’re recommending a site-wide, systemic change it’s helpful to go beyond simple statements of what you’re suggesting and use hard and fast examples. For instance let’s say you want to recommend to the client, who sells widgets, that they not just use their company name as the title tag on every page of their site, and rather create title tags that dynamically insert the product name into the title tag. Rather than just writing this out, give them a real-life example:
Recommended Title Tag: Red Widgets – Buy Red Widgets at Great Prices | Widget Co. Widgets
And once again explain the logic behind the new title tag if appropriate, and call out the modifiers you’re suggesting and why so they understand the importance of formatting the title tag exactly as you suggest.
Formatting Your Audit: Think Web Copy
Many of the same best practices around writing great Web copy apply to creating a readable and actionable SEO audit, such as:
- Breaking your report into logical sections with clear headings
- Using anchors and a table of contents when the content is too long
- Leveraging strategic internal linking within your document to other parts of your document (in the case of the audit document you’ll use anchors – hat tip to Linsay Wassell’s 4 ways to improve your SEO audit post on SEO Moz – that post has a few other great tips, and she also wrote a great post on getting started with an SEO site audit).
- Using lots of visuals and screenshots where appropriate
Like with good Web copy, you want to make your report “scannable” even while offering a lot of complicated information.
Report Layout: What to Include Where to Include It
Finally, you’ll want to figure out how to layout your report. I find the following format helpful:
- Summary – A brief overview of what the report entails, what deliverables may be attached, and what the objectives of the report are.
- Table of Contents – A linked run down of each section within the report.
- Action Items Low Hanging Fruit – Here I include, in front of any of the in-depth recommendations and analysis, a quick-hit list of action items. Think first about “if the client could only make five relatively quick and dirty tweaks, what should I recommend?” This is informed by your knowledge of their internal resources. After that, include a detailed list of additional recommended actions. I like to break this down by priority and call out for each task whether it’s a one-time task or an ongoing project.
- Body Content – This is “the meat” of the report – the actual audit itself, complete with recommendations about various things related to the site’s SEO.
- Conclusion – This should offer a quick, high level summary of findings – good and bad – and opportunities, should point the reader back to the action item, and offer contact information.
So now we’ve covered a number of aspects around how you format and present the audit as well as the early posts in the series about how to properly prepare for your audit. All that’s left is the last (and most important) piece of the puzzle: what to put in and how to conduct the actual SEO audit itself. That’ll be the next and last installment of this four part series.
Read part 1 and 2: