If you’re losing web traffic, it’s time for a SEO audit, says Lindsie Nelson, VP of client strategy at Transistor, a digital marketing agency that specializes in SEO and PPC.
In fact, any website that hasn’t done an in-depth SEO audit should do one because that will inform any SEO efforts and make them more effective.
We get into detail about the four main parts of a SEO audit, when it should be done, how to interpret results – and how the findings should guide SEO strategy moving forward. Lindsie shares what she looks for first and gets into the nitty-gritty of potential fixes – practical information anyone with a website should pay attention to.
Tune in to discover…
- How to tell if Google is “flying blind” on your website and how to fix it
- The simplest “back end” SEO mistakes to correct – you can do it yourself right now
- What many companies forget when building a new website (that kills their traffic)
- The best tools for conducting SEO audits
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they built successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today, I welcome back Lindsie Nelson. A few weeks ago, Lindsie and I talked about how to make SEO agile in uncertain times.
If you have not had a chance to listen to that episode, make sure you download and listen to it. Since I had such a good time during the first interview, I decided to bring her back and talk to her about the technical SEO audit. Just to give you a quick information on who Lindsie is, Lindsie is the vice president of client strategy at Transistor, a digital marketing agency that specializes in search engine marketing, SEO and PPC. Lindsie, great to have you back.
Lindsie Nelson: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Steffen: So as I already outlined, obviously, last time, we talked about what companies should be doing or how they should approach SEO, in uncertain times like these. Today, we wanted to kind of almost walk back because when we talk about what companies should do in SEO, that kind of assumes they have already done the first step, which is auditing where they are. So before a company can embark on a journey to improve their SEO, obviously, they have to conduct a thorough analysis of their site’s current status quo. Lindsie, someone might ask, why would someone want to conduct an SEO audit? Why is it important? Why should people care?
The Fundamentals of an SEO Audit
Lindsie: Yeah, it’s a really good question. And there are a variety of reasons that somebody will come to us wanting an SEO audit, or that we might suggest an SEO audit be completed on their site. So a big one is if they have lost or are currently losing traffic. So, we hear a ton of the time we have somebody come to us and they say, Hey, we launched a new website, or we replac formed our website, and then all of a sudden we’ve had a huge drop in traffic or 50% drop in revenue. What can we do? So it’s kind of this like SOS type of call.
And our audit is the first step there. There can be a number of other things that can happen. There can be increased competition and we need to figure out how to better position their website. Say it might come to us and say that they are really stagnating and they want to grow in ways they’ve never grown before. And an audit is going to provide us a lot of insight as to how the site is working today and how it can work tomorrow. But I think the biggest piece of this is also determining the viability of an SEO program, right?
I mean, a lot of people are coming to us and saying, Hey, we want SEO. But before I can tell somebody that they need to do x, y and z, I need to understand their website in and out. I need to know what CMS they’re using, what the technical issues are, what ramifications are there going to be for things they’ve done in the past? And this technical audit and an audit overall really gives us a good picture of how we can move forward with that site. So yeah, a lot of different reasons. But most sites are going to benefit from some sort of in-depth technical and search audit.
Steffen: Yeah, I find it always interesting when companies decide they want to build a new website, whether that’s just a create a new face of the website or the way how the website looks like. But then they completely forget about the fact that they need to reconnect almost like every page with the new site structure or the new site outline. They lose so much, as you said, so much traffic.
In those cases, I always feel like SEO is an afterthought in even big companies and, you know, I in my previous career before founding Symphonic Digital worked on fortune 100 companies and even they had issues and forgot about the fact that they should bring us in early to help them with the transition. Because sometimes you need less work if you already pull an SEO company in or consultant in when you’re in the process of getting your new site live and avoiding the issues that Lindsie outlined.
Lindsie: Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree with that. I would 100% recommend before anybody launches a new site that you engage somebody to do SEO work, even if it’s just evaluating what pages are successful on the site today to make sure those don’t get removed moving forward because a lot of the times, we get clouded by some of the branding and we feel that that data of what’s really working gets lost.
Steffen: Yeah, exactly, exactly. What is part of an audit? So an audit is kind of a general statement. What individual elements are part of an audit that needs to be conducted to identify or before you can even develop an SEO strategy?
Lindsie: Sure. Yeah, so there are four main parts that we look at. So one is technical, and the other really like the nuts and bolts of the site. What’s happening in the back end. There’s content, which is not only the copy on the site, but also the pages and all the information that it contains compared to the competitors or compared to what people are actually searching for. And tied closely to that is on-page, which is the next piece and that’s a lot of the metadata.
We’re looking at title tags, meta descriptions, things that are showing up in the search results as well as on the page. The final aspect is external. So this is really where we get deep into your external link strategy, your backlink profile. And over time, we want to evaluate things like large increases in links or drops in links, how you compare to other sites in the market.
And if that needs to be a small piece of a strategy, or sometimes it can also show us some red flags like, Hey, you know, you guys could be high risk of getting penalized from Google because of, you know, XY and Z that we’re seeing. So all four of those pieces are really important to see kind of where the site is today, what’s happened in the past, and then how we’re going to move it into the future.
Steffen: Yeah. So obviously today, we want to talk about technical SEO, right? Why is it the most complex of the four areas that you just briefly mentioned?
What’s so Technical About Technical SEO?
Lindsie: Yeah, I think technical is the most difficult because there are so many aspects of it and each site has different issues. And even if they have the same issues, let’s say site A and site B, both have the same concern, well, based on the market or the CMS or other limitations, it could be really, really important to fix it on-site A, but not so important to fix it on-site B. So it’s really this kind of juggling act of not only understanding technical aspects of a website, but also if it’s possible based on your website, and also how to prioritize it. So there’s just a lot of moving pieces to it and it’s easy to see it as simple when it’s actually quite complicated.
Steffen: And I think that’s probably also where a lot of value is in an SEO company or an SEO consultant. For the untrained eye or for the person that doesn’t understand SEO very well, they look at the information as like well, you know, I don’t know whether A, B, C or D problem is going to make a big impact when I solve it, right? What items in general are you looking at when you conduct a technical audit? Are there more complex things? Are there simple things that you always address immediately?
Lindsie: Yeah, I think that there are two separate, really, categories. So there’s those simple fixes. And this is like indexability, crawlability. These are like checkbox type things that we can say, Do you have it? Do you not have it? And those things can be fixed, you know, two to four weeks, right? Depending on how fast your developer works, how fast we can get things implemented. But then there’s also the more complicated long term things like your navigation, how your internal linking strategy is and how everything is working together. And that’s not going to be fixed in four weeks but it’s really important to identify those upfront in an audit like this.
Steffen: Can you elaborate a little bit more from your perspective, indexability, crawlability, what does that mean so that people understand a little bit better what we’re talking about?
Lindsie: Sure. Well, at a really basic level, this is asking the question, can Google get to our website, can their bot crawler, whatever you want to call it, see all the pages we want them to see? And then also have the information they need to be able to put those in the index. And if they’re indexed, then people can find them in the search results, right? So, these are really, really basic things. So, the first thing that is super important is going to be your XML sitemap. A lot of people get confused about this because there’s also a user-facing content sitemap. And that’s not what this is.
This is exclusively for bots. It’s going to be in a very particular format and it’s important one, to have it, but it’s also important that it’s a clean sitemap. So what this means is that sitemap needs to have every page on your site that you want to show up in the search results. We don’t want things like a login page to show up on the sitemap. But every category should be on there. The homepage, you know, these things are important. So that’s a big one. A secondary one is the robots.txt file. So this is again, not user-facing. This is only for bots. And this is essentially a site-wide rule page of what they can see and what they can’t see.
And a lot of developers may use this as a place to take sections out, or not even just developers but people that control the website might use this to take certain sections out of the index or tell crawlers they can or cannot look at it so important for us to evaluate. Make sure nothing is being excluded. That shouldn’t be. And in that same breath, there’s also something called meta robots that we want to look at. And robots.txt is big site level, that gives all big rules where the meta robots is page by page directives. And this is really important because people, what we can actually do is tell a crawler that we don’t want an individual page to be indexed.
We can also say that we don’t want links to be followed. There are a number of rules with these meta robots. And it’s really important that you have somebody that understands meta robots to help you implement these effectively, or else they can be quite concerning in terms of getting pages pulled out of the index or not indexed completely. So those things are super important in terms of your indexability and crawlability. And I think, kind of shifting and similar to that is going to be your errors and redirect. So this is
Steffen: If you just have one second before we go into errors and redirects, so probably to make it a little more understandable, it’s like when you drive down a highway, you have a traffic excited to tell you about, you know, next exit is Beverly Hills, I’m living in Los Angeles. So it’s Beverly Hills, or the next one is Culver City. And think about it in a similar way, right? The sitemap tells a crawler what happens if they go left or right, so to speak, right?
And then when you’re out of the highway, and you’re driving down the streets, you will have areas where you can’t enter streets, right? And it’s kind of the same thing for robot.txts and meta robots. It’s basically, it tells them don’t go in there. It’s not important when you can’t go in there because it’s, restricted, so to speak. So in kind of other terms, that’s basically what indexability crawlability, sitemap, robots.txt and meta robots are and what they do.
Lindsie: Perfect. Yeah, completely agree.
Steffen: Okay, go ahead. Tell us about errors and redirects, Lindsie.
Errors and Redirects
Lindsie: Yeah, absolutely. So this is something that I think is important to bring up because a lot of the times when you have, like a tool, for example, that spits out an audit for you, you’ll get this list of you have 5000 404 errors and all these redirects. And I think it’s important to understand what these mean. So the 404 errors are dead pages. So these are pages that no longer exist on your site.
And we want to make sure that these are redirected and that they are essentially, if somebody gets to a dead URL, they’re sent to a different like page, which is what a redirect is. And it’s really important that like, we were talking about the whole site launch thing that when you have new pages created, if you’re changing a URL, that we have to have redirects in place, because Google is not a mind reader. They don’t know that a new or similar page has been created to replace that dead page.
So it’s really important that we put those notes in there so that Google and other search engines understand that this is happening. And it also is good for users because we don’t want a user to get to a dead page and then they leave your site and don’t buy your products or your services. So it’s really important that we clean up those 404 errors. And then in terms of redirects, there’s a number of different types. But commonly, you’ll see a 301 and a 302 redirect.
And I’m going to stay like just as a basic rule, everybody should use a 301 redirect. Like, let’s just keep that basic. A 302 redirect is a temporary one and that can cause a lot of issues. So just don’t use them unless you know how to use them. So there are a lot of aspects to errors and redirects that are thought about and incorporated into an audit. But I think those are the two main things that you’ll really see a lot when you start to dig into these technical audits that you’ll get from either a person or a tool.
Steffen: What about site structure? How is that important from an audit perspective?
Lindsie: Yeah, I think this one is really interesting because the last few parts that we talked about are very, very checkbox items, right? Do you have a sitemap? Are there 404 errors? They’re pretty easy to identify and understand. But the site structure aspect is a lot more complex. And it’s a lot more about a person who understands websites, navigates your website, right? So we want to look at internal linking projects.
So is there a link, are there links within the copy of a page? So I’m not talking about top navigation or like learn more buttons, but actually like those little blue links within the copy. Are they using descriptive anchor text? Are there orphan pages? So are there pages that are floating around in the site somewhere but not linked? Those are important to identify. We want to understand if the site hierarchy, the navigation makes sense. Are there sections that are being deprioritized?
So if you’re less than two or three clicks from the homepage, Google sees those pages and sections as not important or much less important than the ones that are being found in the top navigation. So we do a full analysis of the site and how it should be maybe ideally structured. So this is looking at search trends, search volume competitors, and seeing how your site is different from others and how we can make it better. So this is typically a lot more long term, right?
This is not going to be something that’s going to be fixed tomorrow. But this can also be the most impactful in your search traffic. Fixing your sitemap is great. You may see some quick little benefits from improving some of those basic technical things but really, when you’re going to start to see traffic growth is when your site is structured optimally. And this is really that heavy piece that is going to give you that information to help this site grow and succeed in the future.
Steffen: Lindsie, I want to go back to indexability, crawlability in errors and redirects. If a site has issues in those areas, what does that mean for them as it relates to traffic? And maybe before that, as it relates to the Google crawler spider, again, however, you want to call it, going through the site and accessing the site and pulling information relevant to individual pages?
Lindsie: Yeah, I think what this does, so if you don’t have these kind of ducks in a row with the indexability and crawlability, there’s a strong chance that there are a lot of pages on your site that are being ignored. And that’s really what the goal is here is to make sure that Google is seeing as many pages as possible. And any way that they can discover those is going to make those pages more successful.
So that’s a big piece of, Okay, if there is a 404 error and that page has a bunch of external links to it, let’s say, if we can put a 301 redirect in place, well, that’ll give a nice boost to the new page that’s happening, or that’s live. So we’re able to kind of clean up the experience and help pages that are suffering right now. And give those nice little boosts to help crawlers really discover the site in its entirety.
Steffen: Okay. And then from a site structure perspective, you mentioned anchor text. Can you talk a little bit more about anchor text? What does it mean? What is an anchor text? And why is it important?
Lindsie: Sure, sure. So the anchor text is the text, so if you’re looking at like a little block of copy on your site, there can be a link on the words right? So typically, they’re a different color. Maybe Blue, depending on your branding, it could be a different color. But essentially those words, if they’re clicked on, takes you to another page on your site.
So it could be on an external site as well. But really heavily with an audit, we’re looking at internal linking. So linking from one page on our site to another page on our site, and what we want is that anchor text so that the words where the link is being held, be descriptive of the page that it’s linked to.
So that can give some nice keyword value to supportive pages on the site, if that makes sense. So it allows for these connections to be built and Google to make a better web and understanding of what’s on this site and what’s on all of these pages. If we have great descriptive anchor text, Google understands what this next page is about without having to read it all. And we want to make it, again, as quick and easy as possible for them.
Steffen: Okay. Are load times or how fast the site loads part all a technical audit?
Lindsie: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And honestly, the more that mobile is becoming so important. So it’s actually, we’re at mobile-first indexing now where Google is 100% invested in mobile traffic and mobile indexation and ranks. And speed is really, really important when it comes to that. So we definitely do a number of speed tests and evaluate things we can do. Sometimes there are quicker wins, like shrinking your image size. And then there are other things that you may look at that are more about how your images are stored and pulled in and all that good stuff. But yeah, definitely site speed is an important aspect of an audit.
Steffen: For sites with a few pages, this sounds like something that someone could do, you know, with some basic understanding and maybe kind of a checklist, they could go through individual pages and do this almost manually. But for sites with hundreds or even thousands of pages, this sounds like a lot of work to do. Are there tools? And if so, what kind of tools are available to help in the discovery process, in the audit process to collect information?
Tools That Assist With SEO Audits
Lindsie: Yeah, so we definitely, so we use tools. We’re an agency that does audits all the time, and we use a number of tools. And a lot of these can be used individually. But you’re definitely not going to get the whole picture if you use them individually. So I love Screaming Frog, which is one that just completely crawls your site, gives you all of that, like, really hardy technical data that you need.
Not expensive, but also not super, maybe intuitive to somebody that doesn’t understand it. There’s sites like SEM Rush or Ahrefs that are really great for somebody just to get like a quick audit done are some really easy information that they can pull from. We also use that for like, rank data, competitor information backlink profiles.
There’s like deep crawl, there’s so many tools out there. I think Moz is one that you can also use that’ll give you some quick outputs. And the cool thing is, is like we have access to, you know, six or eight of these that we can pull all of them through. And that’s part of it, instead of you having to go and pull all this information manually. So that’s, I guess, the benefit one of them, of going through an agency partner or just a freelancer even.
Steffen: Yeah. But at the end of the day, it sounds like that all you need is a tool and the tool gives you all the information. So why do you need an agency or an SEO consultant? Isn’t what I get from the tool already enough information to go ahead and fix my website or fix the website of the business I’m working for?
Lindsie: Well, that would be really nice and it would make it a lot easier. But unfortunately, tools are just out there just, they’re just tools. They’re exports without any experienced eye looking at it. And like I said earlier in our conversation, something that’s important to one site, even from a technical perspective, can be completely irrelevant or a lot less meaningful to another site.
So I think that it’s crucial, honestly, to have somebody with insight on priorities and the ability to do the search research that like an SEO agency would do to be able to get that information and really make sense of what those tools are exporting. So yeah, you know, you can do an export from Screaming Frog, but then figuring out like, what to do next is where people get lost.
Steffen: Yeah. And just to clarify, obviously, I know that just adding a tool is not a solution. It’s about identifying which items have priority, right? Which are the low hanging fruits? Which are the to implement or to make fixes for or to even see results being impacted? So that’s definitely another consideration point why it makes sense to get an SEO consultant or an agency to help with identifying the information. Once an audit was completed, what is the next step?
Lindsie: Yeah. And I think that this is really where an agency or consultant of any sort is going to make the big difference. So you have this audit, you understand where the issues are with your website, what do you do with it? So what our next steps are, is we will, at the end of every audit, I always have this like a fancy table, which is not fancy at all. It says here all of the issues we identified. This is your priority, high, medium to low. This is the person or team that would be responsible for making this change.
And this is how you do it, right? So here’s a, easy way that we can all coordinate with each other and get things done. And then a part of this is also going to be, do we need more SEO support moving forward? Are we going to have to take this and say, okay, you know, we have a major navigation problem. We are hiding a bunch of information six clicks from the homepage. Okay, we need an SEO agency to really help us plan that out, figure out what pages we need, where they should be.
And then we’ll kind of build out a longer-term plan based on the findings of that audit. So once the audit is done, we figure out what needs to be completed by who and really what the timeframe is. But even with that said, like one audit is not like that’s it and it’s done. So you do the audit, you implement it, and you’re like, good to go. Greenlight. SEO is perfect. That would be really awesome, but that’s not the case.
Steffen: I’m glad, sorry, go ahead. You finish your thought.
Lindsie: Yeah, no, it’s a process. It’s, you know, we have to come back and revisit, especially when there’s a lot of people touching the site all the time. We have to do audits, you know, all the time. So at least twice a year, if not, you know, once every other month just to make sure we don’t have things that are breaking and really impacting search. So, yes, it’s not a one and done.
Steffen: Yeah. And I’m glad you just said that because I want to make sure that no one gets the idea that you do the audit, you get a list of what needs to be fixed and then you’re done. I think we hear that a lot, right? I don’t know, at least I hear that a lot when I talk to companies. I don’t know if it’s the same for you but it’s like so you do an audit and then we’re good? It’s like, no, you’re not good, because then the big work actually starts, right? You need to take the information and develop an SEO strategy.
And again, as you mentioned earlier, right? It differs from company to company. Some companies might have great content and they might need a new internal linking strategy, for example, or they’re missing backlinks to kind of get their good content further up on search engine result pages. Others have too little content. So there’s a number of things that need to be done and it’s an ongoing activity that needs to adjust, also, to the changing environment that Google or any other search engine is because they’ve released constant updates on how they want pages to behave in kind of the search engine realm, if we can say it that way.
Lindsie: Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree. It’s this kind of moving target and I also always like to emphasize that if your competitors are actively investing in search and constantly changing but you’re not, you’re gonna fall behind, right? So other people are doing it and they are going to progress ahead of the sites that are not, unfortunately. So keeping that in mind that this is kind of something you have to water and take care of and nurture over time is really great.
And the cool thing about SEO is that the things you do today are going to impact you for six months, a year, two years. These aren’t things that like you do it today and it only helps you today. So even if you can only afford for some reason, you know, six months or a year of SEO support, like the things that get done within that year are gonna benefit you in the future as well. So it’s definitely this thing that’s constantly growing and evolving on itself.
Steffen: Yeah. So one of the things I hear quite often is when I talk to companies is like so if we do start with the audit today and we got done over the next 30 days, how soon can I see results, not only as it relates to making changes that we’re identifying, but also how soon can I see results in regards to increased traffic? What is your answer to this question? I’m sure you get this answer a lot.
How Soon Can You See Results in Traffic?
Lindsie: Yes, yes. And my answer is always the same. I don’t have a perfect answer for that. There is no wonderful timeline. Like Google will have these indexed, they will make changes within, you know, three hours. Part of it is the size of your website and how often Google crawls your site. We can do things like ping Google to recrawl your site. You know, we can do like little things to help encourage traffic to grow faster or for Google to recognize the changes that we’ve made.
But really, we don’t typically start to see changes in traffic at least for like a good four to six weeks. And again, it’s totally dependent on the market, the type of changes that are happening And all of that. It’s kind of this like, a moving target. We don’t have a perfect answer. But it’s definitely something that we can monitor and track over time and make sure that things are progressing in the right direction.
Steffen: Yeah. So a little while ago we talked and brought this conversation. We mentioned, I think, two ways that an audit could be done, right? You could use third party tools to get, to collect information about your website for a number of areas. Not only detecting the site, but it can also give you contact information, on-page information and also external information. But it could also work for an SEO probe, whether that is an agency or a consultant. Do you have any other thoughts on why is one or the other better?
Lindsie: Yeah, I mean, I am a strong proponent of always, if you can, working with some sort of SEO consultant. I think people get lost in the amount of information that is exported from any sort of tool. And I know us, along with other agencies out there, individual consultants will work with websites of really any size just to try to get them in the right place, right? I want to help websites and people do better and improve. So we’re always willing to kind of work within budgets.
And I think there’s a lot of us out there that just kind of want to help as much as we can. So if you can, you know, get that extra support, you’ll probably end up saving money instead of investing in this long term subscription for something you’re not even gonna really use. You know, doing kind of, even if it’s a short term project, I think that’s gonna benefit you a lot more in the long run then paying for some tool that you never really get to use effectively.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Well, if someone wants to now hire, again, whether it’s an individual or company, and they don’t really have much knowledge on SEO, how would they be able to qualify the service provider?
Lindsie: Yeah, I mean, all SEO people are not created equal. I’m gonna start with that. I have heard from many people like, oh, there was this SEO guy, and he didn’t do anything for us. Okay, so there are those people. But I think that there are some questions that you can ask as a business owner, or a marketing manager to really qualify somebody. One is their experience. You know, have you worked with our platform before?
I can tell you from experience working with a Magento site versus a WordPress site is worlds apart. And understanding the limitations of your platform is really important. So that would be a question. Honestly, I would like to see what your output is going to look like. What kind of information can I expect? Can I see a finished product? Even if it doesn’t have client information, I just want to understand what information I’m going to get. And then what’s the next step? So we kind of talked about what my next steps would be.
But if somebody comes to you and just as Oh, you know, just send this to your developer, they’ll know what to do. Like, that’s not true. Most developers are not just going to know what to do to fix these things. And maybe they’ll be able to fix some of it. But definitely not just like, just give them this and they’ll know how to fix it all. So ask a few things, whether it’s the examples, their experience, and then what the final execution is gonna look like. If you have those three answers, you should be able to find somebody pretty well-qualified.
Steffen: So, does that mean that that the SEO specialist is creating a document, handing it over, obviously assisting the web team to get it in place, or are they also instances where an SEO provider would help or even make the changes himself?
Lindsie: Yeah, I mean, it totally depends. So we kind of work in two different ways. There are some things that we are not at a developer. I am not going to be able to code your website in any kind of way. But I have worked within CMS’s and I can make those changes to certain things. And we could kind of work through what things I would be capable of versus a developer. And we have some clients that just honestly say, we don’t want you to touch anything. We would rather just our dev team take care of it. And that’s totally fine, too. So I think it’s just dependent on comfort level and maybe the internal resources.
Steffen: Well, Lindsie, thank you so much for again, joining me on the Performance Delivered Podcast and for sharing your knowledge on how to do a technical SEO audit or what is part of a technical SEO audit. Again, I really enjoyed our conversation. If people want to find out more about you, Transistor, how can they get in touch?
Lindsie: Yeah, absolutely. So Anybody can go to transistordigital.com about us. And I’m always willing to have conversations with people. Send me an email. It’s Lindsie LINDSIE at JFET.io. So always open to talking to anybody that needs help.
Steffen: Wonderful. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered Podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.