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Data Diving with SEO Audits

In this episode, Evan Facinger and Jon Ballard guide you through the various kinds of SEO audits. They discuss technical audits, content strategies, backlinks, and creating effective SEO roadmaps.

The Importance of SEO Auditing in 2024

Hosts Evan Facinger and Jon Ballard dive deep into the world of SEO audits. As we step into a new year, they explore the significance of understanding and prioritizing different types of SEO audits, including technical, content, and competitor analysis. Evan and Jon discuss the complexities of technical SEO audits, emphasizing the importance of site crawlability, page speed, and the structure of a website in the eyes of search engines like Google. They also tackle common misconceptions and strategies around disavowing toxic backlinks, highlighting the nuanced opinions within the SEO community. As they shift focus to content and keyword analysis, our hosts provide valuable insights on identifying and leveraging fringe keywords, and the impact of on-page optimizations. This episode is not just about identifying problems through audits but also about developing actionable roadmaps to improve SEO performance. Whether you're a seasoned professional or new to the world of SEO, join Evan and Jon for a comprehensive guide through the intricate landscape of SEO audits.

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Jon Ballard: Where do I start? What's my next step after this?

Evan Facinger: It's going to depend on what the audit produces, and you need to know about SEO to be able to dive in and understand where your priorities are.

Evan Facinger: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast. This is Evan Facinger speaking, and of course, as usual, with me is Jon Ballard. How are you doing, Jon?

Jon Ballard: Good morning, Evan! How are you? I'm great today.

Evan Facinger: I am doing well myself and am excited for the topic today. One that I feel is near and dear to both of our hearts, right? It's at the core of a lot of what we do. And that is an SEO audit.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, and it's the perfect time to think about this kind of stuff. It's a new year. If you've been thinking about increasing the traffic on your site, this is the perfect place to start, so I think this is a really timely podcast as well.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And, just as you're taking a look back, reflecting on 2023, 2024 is probably just underway. We've been a lot faster at putting these podcasts out. So, I think we can be a little bit safer with mentioning dates, at least timeframes, with everything now. So, as you're taking a look back at everything and looking towards the future, especially with some of the changes that we talked about on our previous podcast that we expect to see in 2024, taking a look at that site audit or SEO audit, right, really diving into the details there, and it can mean a few different things. I know there are a few different tools, a few different processes. Do you want to kick us off and start walking through how you approach them?

Jon Ballard: Yeah, I was just going to say, maybe we should even back up a step. There are a lot of different things that people call SEO audits, right? So what are we talking about here? I think we're talking about a technical SEO audit, which is really diving deep into how the site works and functions and performs and how Google can crawl it. And those types of things. And then there are other types of SEO audits like you do, which might be content audits. And like competitor analysis like gap analysis to see what kind of keywords there could be audits of your keywords. So there's a lot to talk about here. I think for the first part of this podcast, we should really talk about technical audits and what a technical audit is. So, Evan, when we talk about technical audits, what comes to mind for you?

Evan Facinger: What comes to mind is really how does Google crawl and index the site? And then some of the other components. Page speed is going to be one with that. How is the CMS structured to the website in general? How do you have that set up? But at its core to me, when I talk about an actual technical site audit, it's whether Google is able to crawl and understand and index this website.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, I always look at SEO as like taking a college exam, right? There might be a hundred questions on there, and perfect would put you right at the top of search engines. But that's really hard to achieve on a big exam, right? So, it's sometimes just about getting good enough and looking at what your site needs to get an 'A' at least. So you're showing up in that top 10% so you get traffic. So, technical audits are great because they really help you understand if there are technical issues that are keeping you from ranking, no matter how good my content is, or how good the site is, how good it looks and how people are engaged. What doesn't Google like about my site?

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And I think that it's important to do that because, for example, if you have the robots.txt blocking Google from crawling your site, you're obviously never going to be indexed, no matter how great your content is. And it's some of the other components that you have on there. Is it loading too slowly? Are there other issues that you're able to identify by running that audit on there? Yeah, it's that first step. It's not the only step. And I do think that there are a lot of SEO people out there that focus heavily on the technical. I would say too much on the technical. And that's not meant to minimize the importance of technical, which can often be a deal-breaker, but if you don't have the content, you're never going to rank for the terms that you want to.

Jon Ballard: Yes, it’s definitely a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Right? If Google can't crawl your site or doesn't like your site, you're never going to rank. But if it gets there and loves your site, but there's no good content, you're never going to rank either. So the right answer is, you've got to have both. And so what we look at in a technical audit. We look at crawlability, how easy it is for the searches to get through. We look at the SSL certificates. How secure the site is. Are there any issues there, like, maybe are you linking from a secure page to a non-secure page? Some of that stuff could confuse Google. So there's a lot there. If your site's international, do you have the right tags in there to identify which pages belong to which languages and countries? That's all important stuff a lot of people don't think about. You mentioned it earlier: Is my site blocked from Google completely? We get calls about 5 or 6 times a year from somebody who just launched a WordPress site, brand new. They're excited. They use a different agency. and their traffic went away. There's a really simple fix for that in WordPress. Most people, a lot of developers that are SEO savvy will turn on or off this tag that says, don't index the site. That's a big problem, and a technical audit would cover that really quickly, Also on my list, we look at performance, like you mentioned earlier. How quick is the site? The structure of the links. Are the sections related in a way that makes sense and kind of gives Google a good idea of what each theme is about? Do you want to dive a little deeper into that, like theming and structure, Evan?

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And I think that site hierarchy is going to be a major component that you want to take a look at. Do you have your website categorized properly so that it makes sense to Google and makes sense to end users, right? And are you actually having your flow of that different content? Does it make sense? And I think that's something that when you're taking a look at that hierarchy, how are you placing those different values in your top-level pages? And then what's below those different top-level pages? And how are they all interlinking? Internal links are always a major component of SEO. And how are you able to guide not only the users to other relevant pages. But Google and other search engines showing that you have all of these different related topics.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, it's so important that Google kind of understands what your site is about. One of the best ways to do that is to interlink and silo or build content sections of your site that are closely related. So that's something that you should look at in your audit. The other thing that we're starting to do a lot with is marked-up data or structured data. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Evan Facinger: Yeah, schema markup is going to be something that you want to make sure you've got on all of your websites, and it's always relevant. And with AI, it's pretty easy to put together, especially with some of the tools that Google offers inside of Search Console. But it's important, because what that does is it's going to provide context around what the information is that you are having on your site, and what your site is, and who you are, and who the authors are. There's a lot of different types of schema markup and you want to make sure that you're capitalizing on all of the different relevant ones. And if you have it set up correctly, of course.

Jon Ballard: Here's another question I get quite often when we talk about audits. In my opinion, you should kind of almost do 2 different kinds of audits based on your audience. Right? So if you're really focused on local and you're a local restaurant or shopping place or something like that, that people go to locally, you should really do more of a technical SEO audit for local search versus if you're at a national or international level, they have some slightly different requirements. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Evan Facinger: Yeah, with the different types of audits that you'd want to be running, it's just making sure, number one, schema markup, just to go back to that, if you have a local business, and you don't have local schema markup on your site, that's something you're going to want to prioritize, which I would say is more important on a national level with everything. Then if you start to take a look at how you have that site structured and set up, and what sort of content do you have on there? If you're focusing on local, do you actually have relevant local content? Do you have that set up in a way? Or do you have that information on your website where you have created the Google business profile, taking you off the site a bit? And just taking a look at all those different things you need to show up in a certain area versus just for terms at a national level.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, that's a good point, too. Like backlink profiles, another thing we often look at and audit. For local businesses, we'd expect to see links from chambers and other local businesses and things like that. Whereas for national businesses, it's more about industry links and associations and those types of things. So, backlinks are another thing you should definitely look at and maybe compare to your competitors to see how strong your backlinks are when you do that audit.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, and I've got a question for you too that comes up quite a bit. What do you think about disavowing toxic backlinks?

Jon Ballard: That's a great question. Some of the tools we use, it’s a task you can do. And I think some of our new people are really interested in doing that because the tool says, 'Oh, you've got all these toxic backlinks.' But quite honestly, I've never seen that make a difference in search engine ranking unless it's really extreme, or unless you get a penalty from Google. So, if a search console is telling you that you've been penalized because you have a bunch of shady backlinks, then disavowing is the tool for you. But just to go disavow links because a search tool like SEMrush or something tells you that you have a bunch of bad backlinks, I don't think is a good idea, and I've never seen a benefit from that, personally. What's your take on it?

Evan Facinger: It's one of the more complicated answers, I would say, just because it seems that everybody has a pretty strong opinion one way or the other. And there's just so much conflicting information out there from very reputable sources, including Google themselves. And if you've been doing SEO long enough that you can't just listen to whatever Google says all the time, because that's not going to get you as far as you want. But you have to take a look at everything and see exactly what is working, what's working for others, and reverse engineer other people's success sometimes. But with disavowing backlinks, I have seen some studies that show that it works. I have read that Google is ignoring all of those. I have seen where one of the things that we changed was that, and it did provide a little bit more of a boost. Now, what else was going on is a lot of times not the only thing that we're doing, and we're changing. But I think you brought up probably the best point, and keep in mind, too, that these things change, right? I think if you just say, 'No, this is what we do. This is what we always do.' And you draw the line and you don't adjust what you're doing here, you're going to limit your success because Google gets smarter. Google changes the emphasis they place on different aspects of websites and SEO in general. But just relying on those tools, right? So like SEMrush, if you are just simply doing whatever they say is a toxic backlink and adding that on there and disavowing it, that is going to get you in trouble for sure. Right? The threshold that they have for doing that I have seen that negatively impact people for sure. Right? Sites, for sure, when we've taken over. And they've got just a ton of links disavowed. And those links can provide value. So doing it wrong will certainly hurt you.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, it brings up another point kind of related to this audit talk. It's about priorities, right? You're going to have stuff even the best websites typically have a bunch of stuff to do. But how important is it right in the grand scheme of things? Crawlability, if Google can't crawl the site, obviously, that's a really high priority. We got to fix that if the pages are slow. That should be something that should be fixed. But toxic backlinks are pretty far down on my list of things to fix right now. I'd rather spend time developing new content, or doing those types of things that might give me a little bit more return on investment. Because, like I said, my opinion is Google just ignores those unless they tell you that you've got a penalty. And then that's time to use that tool.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And you brought up a good point also, with content on there. And I think a lot of times when SEO audits are done, there's always a big emphasis on the website itself, and more of that site audits, which shows you different things that we talked about before, the technical analysis. And I know we don't want to just list out every possible or every single thing that you should check when it comes to a site audit. But as part of your SEO audit, you do need to also take a look at the content. Right? And do you have the right content in there? What is that content gap analysis? Those are all things that you're going to want to review as part of your audit, because that's what's going to help move the needle. And when you're running the audit, you should be running it in a way that's going to help with the roadmap. How are you going to make these changes? What changes are you going to implement? Is there anything else that you take a look at with the content?

Jon Ballard: Yeah, I was just going to say it's content, right? So I'm comparing my page to my competitor's page. If they're outranking me, it's asking why, right? Do they have more content, more words on the page? Is it more in-depth? Is it a better article? What else? What's linking to that? Do they have complementary articles or similar content pieces that link to it on their site? Do they have external links to that content? So it's really about helping identify what that person getting the good search ranking is doing that you're not. So content gap analysis is so important, and I think again, technical audits are great. But as you get through the higher priority stuff, then you should shift your focus to content because that's really what's going to drive traffic to your site.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, if you have a lot of thin pages, not a lot of words on them, and you're trying to rank that page compared to your competitors, and they have videos, they have more structure to it, they have a lot more just content in general, it's going to be an uphill battle for you. What about keywords? Right? I know that that's always a big part of these SEO audits as well. Do you want to walk us through the process that you follow with that?

Jon Ballard: Yeah, I really like to look- when I start a keyword research project or an audit. I really like to look at what we are ranking for now, but maybe not highly, right? So, obviously we've got your keywords that are in the top 10, and they're driving traffic. But I bet you, if you look at your site, there are tools out there that can tell you, 'Okay, I rank number 20 for this or number 30 for this term, or number 50 for this term. It's a lot easier, in my opinion, to try and build up some content and some rankings around terms that you are already ranking for, even though it's not very high, to get you towards the top of the search engines versus just going out and doing keyword research and starting brand new terms. Right? Because there's something on that page that Google likes and relates, and you're already relevant. It's just about how do we make you more relevant? So I like to start with, what we call, fringe keywords when we do a content audit, saying, 'Hey, what are we almost ranking for, that we could move the needle pretty quickly if we improve content?' And then from there, I kind of say, 'Okay, what are we missing? What terms are relevant? What other content can we build that's related to my industry that would drive good traffic?' And then start that process after I've looked at ‘what we are almost ranking for.’

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And it goes back to what you said a little bit around prioritization. And I think that when you're taking a look at the keywords, that's a great way to approach it, because, of course, everybody wants to rank for the search terms with the highest search volume and clearly relevant as well. But you can spend a lot of time and energy if you are starting off with a website that is just not ranking for barely anything. And Google doesn't find your website relevant. You don't have a lot of links; there's not a lot of authority built up in your website in Google's eyes. By doing that and focusing on those keywords that just have an incredibly high strength of competition around them, you can spend a lot of time and effort to not actually produce a lot of traffic to the website. So by taking a look at those fringe keywords, what you're able to do is identify where you're already relevant in Google. And also, you want to make sure it's relevant for your business, of course. But what can you do to get those to go higher where they're actually going to begin producing traffic? Because if you're ranking 20 or 30 on a very relevant term that you want to show up for, you're probably not generating any traffic at those positions. But if you can get that to the top 5, then you're going to be in a position where you can capitalize on that and generate a lot more traffic from it, which is ultimately what you're looking for when optimizing your site.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. Another common question I get regarding audits is how often they should be done. For our Foremost customers, the ones for whom we're doing ongoing SEO work, we typically set up an audit initially. When I refer to a technical audit, we set that up right away and analyze. Then, we run it every time we make changes to the site to ensure we didn't break anything. So, at least monthly, we're conducting a technical audit to check for broken links, product issues with the site, or anything that might slow it down, which is quite common. Maybe your intern uploads a blog post and includes a huge picture that slows down the page. Or something like that. We're continually checking to ensure the site is performing optimally with our technical audit. Now, content analysis, gap analysis, and keyword analysis, those are a bit more infrequent, maybe yearly or so. We use those to establish a roadmap and work through the year towards better search rankings and more content. But we don't do those quite as often. Any feedback on that? Any other thoughts?

Evan Facinger: Yeah, I think that is a good workflow unless something changes with the business and you want to reevaluate where you’re at with the content and some of those different factors. But otherwise, you should already have the roadmap based on the initial audit. Unless there’s something that changes that you need to come in and readjust, and that could be Google's changes, the business changes, seeing other things that are working, there’s a different emphasis on it, that’s important but, yeah sometimes there’s a lot of times other people in the website besides us, at least in our experience with working with a lot of different clients, and I'm sure that that's true throughout a lot of different businesses. It's good to keep track of all of that. Did they put that image in there in the original size? And it's not being resized, so it's hurting the page speed. Did they even put an Alt tag tag in that image? Those sort of things are what you want to just keep up on a regular basis. And, with a lot of the crawlers and audits, they're easy to do. You can see inside if you have a 404 error going to a page because the redirect wasn't put in properly when something was changed by somebody else like those sort of things, are what you want to just make sure you keep an eye on on a regular basis.

Jon Ballard: We had a client just the other day that has a huge site, I think 20,000 products, and they changed the top-level pages around without telling us and it broke a lot of the sub pages that were linked because the page structure and URL structure changed. They had a lot of bad practices like hard coded links in there and stuff, but our audit picked it up right away. We were able to find it pretty quickly. So, having those tools run and looking at them each month is, I think, really important. The other thing I urge you to do, if you haven't already, is set up Search Console and set up alerts in there and then look at that on a monthly basis as well.

Evan Facinger: When you’re doing an audit, do you delve into a lot of the on-page optimization for different pages? H1s, H2s, things like that?

Jon Ballard: Not so much. That's typically when we create the content that we focus on that. But, I guess if there's a fringe term, that's definitely a place to start. You could do an on-page audit for a page and say ‘Why isn’t this page ranking?’ Am I keyword stuffing? Is there not enough content? Are we not using the right words?’ There’s a lot of really cool tools out there that compare your page to the pages that are ranking and kind of give you some general ideas. ‘I should use this word more. I need to increase the content on the page. I need more backlinks to this page.’ So, that's something that I guess could be called an audit as well. But I consider that more on-page optimization as we're working towards a specific page towards a specific keyword.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, I would say certainly optimizing those H1s and H2s, and even the meta descriptions and site titles. One thing that I think we do on a regular basis though, is at least make sure that they're in there, right? They're not missing. So if you have pages that are missing H1s and missing some of those other on-page elements, those are pretty straightforward to detect on it. Then that way, it falls in as part of your optimization plan, if that's a page that you do want to focus on and increase for a certain keyword. Yeah, that's when you spend that extra time.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, and good point. I mean, some of those, if you don't have any of that stuff, your audit should pick that up, and you should definitely get that on your roadmap, because on-page is super important, just like we talked about earlier. So let's wrap this up. Okay, I've done all this auditing, I've got a lot of data. Where do I start Evan? and what's my next step after this?

Evan Facinger: Well, that's going to depend, and that's always one of my favorite SEO answers, and it's widely used in the industry. But it's going to depend on what that audit produces, and you need to know about SEO, quite frankly, to be able to dive in and understand where are your priorities. Some things are going to be obvious, like the robots.txt blocking Google from crawling your sites, probably going to be a pretty important one to get started on right away. but some of the other ones you just need to be able to go in and make sure that you're prioritizing what needs to be changed, and developing that roadmap around that audit. The audit isn't just to tell you where you're at, even though that's certainly part of it. It should be in place to guide you for what you need to do and where you need to go.

Jon Ballard: That's exactly what I was kind of thinking. I mean, I think from all this data, you need to set up a roadmap, and a prioritized roadmap, right? Here's the tech stuff I got to get done this month, this is super important. Here's the stuff I'm going to get the following month, here's the stuff I'm going to do after that, and then keep running that audit, right? As you do some of that stuff, you could be hurting other parts, so that priority map might change, but you should have a three, four, five-month roadmap of things that you want to get done on your site to keep moving forward, and that's how you're really going to see success. So if this is all a little overwhelming to you I know a guy or two. Do you know anybody, Evan, that could help?

Evan Facinger: We can link to them in this show notes. I think, and they can find out about maybe an audit from those dashing fellows.

Jon Ballard: Yeah, some guys at Foremost Media are pretty good at this stuff. So don't despair. We can even run the audit for you, but we do have a free audit offer on our website too if you're looking to just kind of see where your site's at, you're new to this, and you want to get some, some idea where you're at, no strings attached, just fill out the form, and we'll definitely link to that in the show notes. And send you a technical audit, and then we can start a conversation from there.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, exactly. And if you liked what you heard, or even if you didn't, you just want to help us out, you can like this and subscribe to this and be notified when we release more podcasts because we're actually doing it more frequently now, which is always nice.

Jon Ballard: Yes, And my mom loves it, so you guys should subscribe too. You can be like my mom. Be cool.

Evan Facinger: She has good taste.

Jon Ballard: Oh by the way, my wife, I found out does listen to this podcast. As soon as I got home the day it went live, she said, 'What, you've been sending me AI texts?'

Evan Facinger: Well, that's good. My wife does not. She has not mentioned a single thing about it, and I'm wondering if she ever will, at this point. I might tag her on Facebook to see.

Jon Ballard: I think from here on out, we just need to mention your wife on every episode until she catches on.

Evan Facinger: Hey, well, this is two in a row so we’re doing pretty good.

Jon Ballard: All right, and it's at the end, so we'll know if she's just like a partial listener or goes deep.

Evan Facinger: I love it. It's a great plan.

Jon Ballard: All right, my friend, thanks again for your time today. Anything else you want to cover?

Evan Facinger: No, I think this was great.

Jon Ballard: Alright, happy New Year!

Evan Facinger: Thanks.

Zach Baierl: Thanks for listening to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast. If you want to stay on top of your marketing game, make sure to like and subscribe so you never miss an episode. For more episodes, show transcripts, and marketing insights, go to foremostmedia.com