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How To Conduct A Winning Local Search Audit
Every week, our support team at BrightLocal fields numerous questions from our customers about how best to conduct a local search audit. The questions range from the type and quantity of data to include, to what processes and tools can be used to speed up the audit.
This topic is well covered on many blogs, but I want to share my thoughts on the why, how and what of conducting a winning audit.
Why Do You Want To Do An Audit?
SEO is a journey, and any seasoned traveler knows that all successful journeys start with detailed planning. Conducting a search audit tells you where you are today, where you need to get to, and what route to take to get you there.
Sure, you can still be successful without planning — but it takes a lot more effort. Plus, you’re more likely to make mistakes and waste time focusing on areas that won’t deliver the improvements you’re looking for.
Be Clear On The Objective Of The Audit
Conducting an effective search audit isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. Depending on the objective of the audit, you should commit the right amount of time and resources to it.
- Evaluating A Potential Client. If your aim is to evaluate whether a prospective client is worth pursuing, then you don’t need to conduct a full-scale audit to determine this. Likewise, if you’re having preliminary conversations with a client, then you need just enough data to get an assessment of their situation and to impress them with initial findings and solutions.
- Starting A New Engagement. If you’ve landed a client and are kicking off a new engagement, then you will want to go deeper into the data so you can confidently identify the issues, consider the opportunities and determine the priorities.
Who Is The Audit For?
Similar to knowing the objective, it’s just as important to be sure who you’re doing the audit for.
Is the audit just for internal use, or will it be presented to the client?
A typical busy, local business owner will want to see the headline figures but not the fine detail behind it. For them, less is more.
But if the audit will form the basis of your mid- to long-term optimization, then you need the detail to determine the right course of action and to benchmark improvements against in order to keep you on track.
More often than not, an audit will be used both internally and externally. So you’ll need all the raw, juicy data to help you analyze the situation. But then you need to put on your editing hat and strip out the extra detail that a customer is unlikely to want.
Aligning Your Audit With Your Services
This is a common sense point, but I mention it because people are often too focused on what the client wants to know. Yes, you need to deliver on their expectations, but not at the expense of your own business objectives.
If your focus is on reputation management or social media, then your audit should focus on these areas. Clients may want wider information, but if you provide data on areas that you can’t help them with, you’ll look silly when you can’t then provide them with a solution.
A good local search audit goes into thorough detail on the eight areas outlined below.
A great audit will do this and compare results against at least one high-performing competitor. SEO is relative, so you need to know how you perform against your search rivals. Adding competitor data to your audit is also a great way to get prospective clients more engaged. Business owners really don’t like to see their competitors outperforming them, and this gives you a platform to show them how you can help them.
Creating An Audit Process & Template
If you’re a successful consultant or agency, then conducting an audit is something you’ll need to do over and over again as your business grows.
An audit of any scale takes time, and you need to be as efficient as possible. Therefore, it’s crucial that you develop a process which you can follow each time and hone it down to a fine art.
Part of this process includes presenting your findings. Therefore, you should create a professional looking template document to present the data back to the client. This is your pitch document, so ensure it’s nicely branded and includes sections where you can add custom analysis and insight which the client will value.
If you like to collate data in Excel — rather than using reports generated by purpose built tools (more on these below) — then make use of relevant functions and conditional formatting to make analysis easy and consistent in each report.
And of course, as you get better and more experienced at conducting audits, you need to optimize the process and cut out the parts that deliver least value. If a specific task takes up too much time, then reduce the scope or remove it from the process entirely. Be ruthless; your time is money.
8 Key Areas To Create A Winning Local SEO Audit
This audit guide focuses on data that can be publicly mined for any business and website. Chances are that for an initial audit you won’t have access to Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools or Google My Business, so you will have to re-engineer some of the insights that are available via these tools.
If you can get access to these tools, then they should be your first port of call. If not, then don’t despair — there is plenty of scope for auditing a local website using alternative techniques and tools.
This audit focuses on the technical structure, meta content and markup used on a client’s site. The objective here is to determine how accessible your website is to search engines. Can search engine crawlers easily navigate to your site’s most important pages? Can they access, read and parse the page content? Are you making the most of your meta data? And have you (correctly) implemented structured data markup, if applicable?
If your focus is on local search, then you can give it a local scope by looking for the presence of location terms within page titles and meta data. You should also check for correct use of structured data markup on addresses and testimonials so that data is easily parsed by search engines.
Beyond the technical structure of a site, we advocate looking at the calls-to-action as well. Getting a user to your site is just half the battle. Converting that user into a customer is the next step. So auditing the calls-to-action will help you understand how to better convert the users that the site is already receiving.
Conducting a technical audit is often the most in-depth and time-consuming part of the audit process. The findings from this can be very technical and confusing for business owners — so however deep you go for your own needs, present an overview to clients and focus on the key issues.
Tools To Use:
In this part of the audit, your aim is to identify content areas which are under exploited or under optimized on the client’s site.
Some great questions that your audit should answer are:
- Is there a unique landing page for each location and service offered?
- Is the content used on landing pages in-depth and unique?
- Are there local signals like driving directions and Google Maps on location pages?
- Does the site use nice, clear images to showcase people and services?
- Are images geo-tagged and with geo-optimized alt text?
- Are there detailed FAQ pages for each service?
- Is the business name, address and phone number (NAP) displayed on each page?
- Are there prominent calls-to-action on every page?
- Is the business using call tracking numbers or free call numbers?
- Does business have a blog which is published on regularly?
- Are there social share buttons and links on all relevant pages?
- If available, what share numbers does client get on pages and posts?
There are a ton of great posts out there on link auditing, and I’ve linked to 3 below, so I’ll keep this section brief.
The objectives with the link audit are to:
- Quantify the volume of links a business has
- Evaluate the quality of their links
- Gauge which pages, products and services have/don’t have links
- Determine if there are toxic or low quality links which should be cleaned up
- Identify opportunities to create new links
Here are 3 great posts on how to do a link audit:
- How To Conduct A Link Audit (Search Engine Land)
- How to Conduct a Link Audit Like Sherlock Holmes (Crazy Egg)
- How to Conduct a Link Audit (Search Engine Watch)
Knowing where a business ranks in main search and local search gives you a good tideline for the state of their optimization. If you’re not able to get your hands on Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools data, then ranking data is the next best thing for determining current success in organic search.
To keep your audit efficient, avoid auditing and tracking hundreds of search terms. The more terms you audit, the more analysis you have to do. (We find that most of our local customers track between 5-25 search terms on their reports, with the average being 18.)
You need to pick the terms you track carefully to make sure they’re relevant to the client, so research their services and locations beforehand — don’t guess!
You should also check the traffic volumes for these terms using the Google Keyword Planner, so that you’re auditing terms that have good traffic potential for the client.
Additionally, make sure that you pick a variety of terms that cover a range of the services and locations covered. This will provide a clearer overall picture of the success a business has in search, so you’ll know where to focus your efforts later.
Tools To Use:
Many local audits start by assessing Google+ Local/GMB. It’s a key area of focus — and luckily, it’s an area that can be assessed quickly if you know what you’re looking for.
Some Important Questions To Answer:
- Is their profile verified?
- Is the NAP data consistent with what they use on their site?
- Is their map pin located correctly?
- Are they a service area business, and have they hidden their address?
- Have they selected the best categories and enough categories?
- Have they enriched their profile with additional information such as description, list of services, working hours?
- Have they added lots of high quality photos?
- Do they have a video on their profile?
- Do they have a good star rating and “enough” reviews?
- What quantity of followers and profile views have they had?
- Have they published any posts to their Google+ Local page?
A competitive benchmark at this point is useful and valuable. You may want to analyze the top 7 or top 10 local results for an important, high traffic keyword see how their optimization compares to competitors.
Tools To Use:
You want to audit 3 things for a business’s citations:
- Quantity Of Citations. This will tell you how many citations they have, which you can compare to their competitors.
- Quality Of Citations. Does the business have a listing on high authority directories, and are there any obvious ones missing or incomplete? These will be the ones you focus on first and the ones which have the most impact on your ranking.
- NAP Consistency On Citations. Does the business have the same Name, Address, Phone number on all citations, or do they have inconsistent data which needs to be cleaned up?
I have always found that business owners respond well to citation reports. They can understand the benefit of having a listing on many sites and also the importance of having accurate and consistent name and contact details in all places. This is more tangible to them than meta-data or internal linking.
Tools To Use:
Reputation is another tangible area which business owners appreciate the significance of. With 88% of consumers putting more trust in local reviews, it is important for a business to carefully manage its online reviews and ratings.
You want to audit both general review sites (e.g. Yelp) and also powerful niche review sites for the industry the business operates in (e.g. HealthGrades for doctors, FindLaw for attorneys).
You should capture review count and star rating, and should compare them to their top competitors.
Tools To Use:
The final area I suggest evaluating is the social interactions of a business. In the on-site content audit, you might have looked at use of social share buttons on the client’s website and the quantity of shares their content receives.
Now you want to audit how active they are on the main social networks. The questions you want to answer are:
- Do they have a profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube?
- How many followers/friends/connections do they have?
- How many and how recently did they post or interact on these sites?
A well-done site audit is an invaluable resource. You can use it to educate prospective clients, and you can then use it to inform your SEO strategy once you’ve won their business. Take the time to develop and hone a solid site audit process, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.