Candour

Episode 46: SEO audits deep dive with Aleyda Solis

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What's in this episode?

In this episode you will hear a SearchNorwich recording of Aleyda Solis giving her talk "How to develop actionable and impactful SEO audits". Aleyda shares her vast experience of developing a process with SEO audits that can achieve real buy-in and deliver business change.

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MC: Welcome to episode 46 of the Search with Candour podcast! Recorded on Monday the 3rd of February 2020. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and this week we are bringing you the extended part 2 version of SEO audits with Aleyda Solis. So you may remember a couple of episodes ago we were joined by Aleyda from Orainti who talked us through before her SearchNorwich talk her thoughts on SEO audits and today we're gonna bring you her full talk that she did with Search Norwich. As usual, you can see her slides, you can watch a video of her talk as well at search.withcandour.co.uk. You also have a full transcription up there in a few days. Here is Aleyda and enjoy.

AS: I’m very excited to be here today and I have to say that you undersell Norwich because the first thing that I told him when I met him earlier today for the podcast recording was like, it's beautiful! It's like a fairy tale type of town. I could have spent a whole day walking around, taking photos - it is amazing, so thank you very much for having me.

So SEO audits and I would like to have your feedback before starting myself and can you please raise your hand and leave it raised if you have had any of the scenarios that I will share with you. You have invested weeks developing the most complete SEO audit, analyzing everything from technical, content, link, keyword research, you tie it all together and ended up having hundreds of pages that you deliver to your client, just for the client not implementing the SEO recommendations because they were not aware that some resources were needed. Yeah, please lift your hand, it’ll be quick - don't worry. Or the client never finished implementing the SEO recommendations, they started so that was good but they were never done, after weeks even months or the client started with the least important recommendation. I had a client, sometimes they’ll like “I have done it” and i’m like “what?” and they go “I changed the favicon!” - it's like okay, thank you very much. I guess now it is somehow, somewhat a little bit more important with the latest Google update!

Anyway the issues were fixed based on what was recommended, but they were undone a few weeks after... ongoing changes, later release, yeah these things happen and as a result you end up failing at your process right, because yes it's not that you don't grow, you grow, but your competitor is like this - somehow they don't have these challenges, somehow their pace is much faster than yours. How many of you, in general, have had any of these? Those of you who have never had this scenario, I want to touch you, give me your luck!

Anyway I have been there, many times, and through the years what I have found with the scenarios is that it has a lot to do with the way that we format, we communicate. We don’t only analysed, but also the way that we organise and specify the actions and the insights that we discovered through our SEO analysis, when we are doing the SEO audit with the SEO recommendations and the document that we deliver to our clients and how we share this document with a client. So we need to start thinking that the goal of the SEO audit is not to develop this, a document that we deliver that we hand to our client, but the actual goal of the SEO audit is this one, the one that was actually described by this at BrightonSEO last year, that is my favorite ever.

You know sometimes I just copy and paste my conversation with my clients and I know that they hate me for it but it's the goal of the SEO audit and the recommendations that you deliver as an outcome, is not the document itself but it's to be the driver of your SEO process, the driver of a bigger result, the one that your client has hired you to achieve. And the way that you focus on format for your SEO audit, I believe that plays a big part in helping you, or not, to get your recommendations done and through the different challenges that I have found, I have documented a few that you can see here and again you will see the slides afterwards.

I want to share with you today three ways to avoid these types of challenges, then just simplify it. I came up with this acronym SP2, because it's strategic, prioritize, solution focus, and proactive or preventive, by making your SEO audits and recommendations following these principles, I believe that you will already be halfway there in minimising these types of challenges and issues. So today I will go through how you can apply, how you can follow, these principles to your SEO audits with some very actionable steps that you should be able to to use within your work, in order to facilitate and maximize the outcome that you end up having a new SEO process, with your SEO outlets.

So the first principle, context-aware in order to make it a strategy. Take into consideration the side business and technical characteristics and restrictions as well as the type of SEO process. we cannot expect to try to cover every single a scenario of a standardised type of SEO audit. Very single type of this, different type of, not only projects but also the business type, the website size, the SEO maturity of the SEO process plays a role. The SEO audit that you end up having when you are doing an analysis for a recently launched medium-sized, national news website is completely different than the one of a well-established multi-country international marketplace, looking to recover after a Google update. It's not the same audit or record recommendations for an ongoing as your process for a completely new website that has just been launched than to an analysis focusing on our recovery. We cannot expect to follow the same steps and that these steps will be able to fulfill all of these different types of needs for the different situations we will end up having. So it's important that we make our analysis strategic based on the understanding of the context of the project, that's something important. Again this will depend on the type of project - if it is a one time type of thing or if it is part of an ongoing larger process. sometimes we have that push, sometimes I feel like that too, that we need to try to cover everything, you cannot leave anything out because maybe someone internally in the company may call you out and say “oh why haven’t you included this here?”

It all depends on a couple of things. First your understanding of the company restrictions, technical restrictions, platform restrictions, resources restrictions, if your client when they hire you, when you were doing the validation for a right fit of the process, when you were gathering the characteristics of of the project and they already told you, look I will have the capacity somehow to touch the HTACCESS in the next three months, so if you find something that requires you to edit the HTACCESS, it's not doable in the first three months. So of course if you find that you need to implement redirects at a massive scale for which you will need access to edit the HTACCESS file, maybe it's not something that you want to prioritise or to include right away, if you know if it is a part of a larger SEO process and that is something that you will mention but won't be top priority, number one. you will mention but you will push to be implemented right away if you know that there is a constraint going on already.

The same with content. If your client tells you, look I won't have content resources right at the beginning, but will afterwards, it isn't really actually meaningful that you end up focusing and doing a very in-depth content analysis right at the start, when they are waiting for you to deliver some actionable steps to start improving the technical side of it - it's not, isn't it. So it's important that we prioritise these types of tasks and actions that we deliver to the client. Also taking into consideration this - I have been in many situations where the SEO starts doing the analysis and it's autopilot mode, there are doubts, that is normal, that arise during the analysis process, but instead of asking to the client, just to validate, just to double check, just to not assume that an implementation has been done in a certain way by mistake. Because it is supposed to be a feature, they assume and they end up recommending something that it's not really useful for the client or it's obvious that they already knew about it so it's important that we have client feedback and validation, not only at the start and then when you deliver but also through the analysis or if you ever have or ever end up having any type of doubt because at the end of the day it depends - are you trying to come up with different scenarios to validate? So it's actually much more meaningful and not only for the client but also for you get ahead with what you actually need based on the context.

Then it is important to be goal-oriented. Validate and show the issues to decide revenue and results versus competitors - this is key to get support especially of the c-suite. If you end up doing SEO processes with bigger organisations, this is critical, to show the value of your work, to show the impact that it will have, especially if you need to move a lot of internal resources - they are not very happy with you to request changes or make a change from what they have done already, so this will allow you to better prioritize the recommendations too. So you can start and you can prioritise with those that will move the traffic needle right away.

On the other hand to show the business impact of your work and to get internal support, I have to say that there are quite a few tools already that do really good work integrating third-party data sources. So for example in this case it is Ryte that integrates the Google search console and Google Analytics data. So for example if I am analysing a set of pages that have content duplication issues or content issues by just clicking

some of this or any of this, you will show me what the current traffic is that any of these pages have and the clicks and data from Google Search Console so I can see if this page is already ranking for any keywords and which type of keywords, if these are keywords have high impressions so I will be able to identify if it is worthy for me to canonicalise compared to others or to self canonicalise and differentiate and make better decisions based on the particular impact of that particular page. And then to me, I think it's a matter of showing where the gap is with your competitors and how your competitors are outranking you because your client is not implementing what you are recommending. It's sad but many players out there, many businesses, they won't do anything unless they see their competitors doing what you recommend in a much better way and you know taking a big chunk of the pie that should be for your client at the end of the day.

Show how your top competitors are outranking you, due to the identify issue or opportunity that you are recommending for. So for example in this case your page is here number 24, take a look it is because your competitor is actually attracting more links and you have zero here because you are not correctly linking to that particular page or take a look the number of words of the top ranked pages, they have at least a thousand words and you have 200, so there is a very clear pattern for those pages that are out ranking you and it is about those recommendations that you provide that they are not implementing.

Another very simple way to show is through SemRush, you can show how bad your rankings are versus your competitors and show how your competitors are targeting and ranking in the best possible positions with those pages, that you still don't have or you are not optimising at all and are targeting keywords with very high search volume and you can also show how much organic traffic you will be able to attract with those pages that you are recommending to improve. Otherwise if you wanted to do a little bit of PPC with them that definitely shows the value of your work.

For example take a look this keyword here, the first player here is using this particular URL to rank with, it's attracting 7k in traffic per month and this amount traffic that will cost 5k to be attracted by PPC and this data is already provided by SemRush in a very simple way. It's easier for example to validate something that used to work in the past because now again with SEMRush, SISTRIX, Ahrefs, you can go back in time, even if your client doesn't have this data and show the former pages or the previously attracted traffic or rankings from those pages and the impact that these pages used to have and now that they are not indexable. So you can use historical data, even with external data sources and if at some point you want to show, and you should ideally, try to show the impact from a conversion perspective, the actual money that your client is not being able to make with these pages, you can go and look at your client, if that website has all the categories that are very similar, all the sections that are very similar and which ones are actually ranking well, attracting the expected traffic in a similar way that you wish that this other category or product pages were able to do.

But you cannot push forward with the implementation without showing the potential impact so you can compare and say, look, take a look at the data of area A, they are able to bring this search additional organic search traffic and this is the conversion on the goal value at the end of the month and this is what we are getting with this other category or this other area that is very similar in nature. But take a look it’s making one fifth of that, so by doing this you will be able to show in a much more simple way the money impact. At the end of the day, this is what certain levels of the organisations will understand much more.

Then to make it solution focused - describe the causes of the issues, how they are found and the steps to solve this. This is the thing, a lot of audits are focused on being checklisted. I check this, I check that, this is good, this is bad, this is like no. it is important that you provide context in order to facilitate to each issue to be solved internally and it is important to show on one hand what causes the issues for this potential platform work, if this is because these rules haven't been set in the platform or a validation that is not being made whether programmatically or even human validation by the editors which are the affected URLs and how they are affected and then how they are found internally, is it by some internal links that go towards them? Is it by a former page redirect that they found through the XML sitemaps? Because based on this, you will be able to specify steps to solve the actual costs of the issue on one hand and I know the other is to minimize defined this type of page. So for that, what I have found that it's very very useful that you segment as much as possible and integrate to show how these pages relate to each other.

So for example I will detect how the identifying issues and opportunities are generated and where they exist and which are the particular pages. So when I tell to my client, look you have content issues or content duplication issues and of course this is resource intensive, you cannot just recommend that all of these pages are differentiated but identify that there is a specific area of the website that is suffering from this particular issue, so you show the comparison, look the specific pages from this particular area, these are the pages that are actually suffering from these issues, take a look if I compare them with the others, it's not the same. The pages that are bringing much more of the volume and the traffic don't have these types of issues. So if we want to no-index this because all the pages are actually hurting the content quality of the overall website, we can do it without losing much because the active URLs from this set of pages is minimum and the visits volume is also minimum, so you can help the situation and make process happen in a much more straightforward way by also segmenting the data in this way. Also you can provide additional information right away, with all of the the URLs that you found. For example in this particular case, again for content issues, you can show the number of visits right away, if there are any internal links or not, if these are orphan URLs, if the users are actually getting there in some other ways, what is the role of these pages through the customer journey, in a much more simple way.

Then once you’ve shown that, you should be able to, in a very graphic way, step by step, to show what is happening, what the problem is and how it can be easily fixed. So this is the link that is going to this 404 right now, in this way and this is what you should do to fix it. It should go from that to here and you should redirect the former 404 to the actual 200 ‘okay working’ pages right now and to avoid it to be found. Again, if for some reason you perceive that there will be a little bit of a challenge for the client to implement the recommendation and what I love to do here is to provide examples of how the competitors are already doing it in the way that you recommended the client to do it.

So for example, in this case - Oh take a look this is your page that is not self canonicalised because the client believes that applying rules to no index, all of the two-level facets of subcategories, it was the easier way to handle, think content issues and it was true, but at the same time they left a lot of money on the table, a lot of opportunity because they are not ranking well for this group of terms that have a non-trivial search volume, as you can see, and are top competitors who have a particular page that is indexable and targeting this type of queries and are getting away with it and these pages self canonicalise. You are showing how they are doing it and all the value that they are bringing, then just to compliment all of this information, to make it easier especially for developers to understand what are the scope of the world, which are the patterns, which are the pages affected. You can again segment per type and attach all the data in Google Sheets, in Excel, the ones that you have found in the crawl, so you can show - okay these are the pages with this type of issues that are affected, they are being linked from here, this is where they are canonicalising for example, if it is a canonicalisation issue, and they should be going step here in a very obvious way for each type of the scenario.

Doing this is critical to be as resource specific as we can and I understand that at the end of the day you will need to validate this with the client once that you deliver the recommendations but it's important to include at least expected resources based on what your understanding of how the platform works right. By doing this, you'll be able to validate each recommendation viability with the client stakeholders when the recommendations are delivered in a much more simpler and do facilitate resource allocation planning from the start. It's important that you can, as much as possible, do this right from the beginning and of course there are a lot of things to consider and these are questions that you should actually ask right from the start, when you are starting the analysis - what’s the platform used for CMS use? What configurations can be changed through the platform directly? What needs development support? What's the flexibility of the configurations? What can be done in bulk or not? What needs to be done one by one? Are there any type of restrictions with our technical content business legal wise that you should be taken into consideration? Are there any technical content, PR resources in-house or to agencies that you also need to into consideration for coordination purposes?

This is the thing, when you develop the recommendations and you want to be solution focused, so you want to specify why this is important, how it affects the rankings, which are the different scenarios that you have found for the issue, how they can be fixed and what are the expected resources to fix it. To be able to consider the complexity, not only the impact in general, the ideal impact, the expected one but the complexity based on what the resources are that will be needed - it can be from PR outreach, content development, technical development and put them on with all of the other recommendations that you are doing. At the end of the day, this is all relative and this should be able to help you to prioritise, which we are going to see in a bit.

Additionally we all know when we are doing an SEO audit that there are certain aspects that tend to be more complex - for example the implementation of HREFLANG annotations but you also know that there are different ways to make them happen, there are different methodologies for their execution. So if you already know that it is common that there will be restrictions to make them happen and to implement them in the HTML head, you can already - maybe you don't need to explain each methodology of course and specify the same granularity but at least you can, after explaining that the ideal way is this one based on your particular context, that there are other alternatives that you may want to assess together, in case the first one is not doable. Like this though, we would be much more open for discussions and conversations on which is the trade off, what is needed, instead of the client being completely closed to not implementing something that they see is not doable for them right away.

Prioritisation - this is critical. Your recommendation should be prioritised to focus them based on their impact and goals and the difficulty to implement and this is the thing and again this mentality, that I also at some point I have, I don't want to leave anything out but we must, not only because we want to be able to deliver the recommendations right away, so the

execution starts as soon as possible but also because there might sometimes be paralysis by analysis, the client may be overwhelmed by seeing a huge document. So what I do to prioritise, especially for an ongoing process that there will be many iterations going on anyway, those actions are high priority, they should be the ones with high impact and low difficulty, then if there are not enough of those you can also include those with medium priority, high impact with medium difficulty or medium impact with low difficulty and the ones I will leave out, at least from the first iteration, from the first recommendations, are the ones that have low priority - medium impact or with medium difficulty or high impact with high difficulty, that you know there’s will be no way that they’re doable at this point and maybe it's not that you won't mention them at all, maybe you want these others to be known, so your client knows, these are all the aspect that I left out because what you told me right at the beginning when we were talking about your resource constraints, of your problems with the flexibility of the platform, so they know that these are out there and whenever is possible and doable you can bring them back on the table.

So for the impact you should take into consideration not only the overall SEO importance, but the actual importance within your specific context, the affected areas, the expected traffic that SEO is affecting and conversions, the business importance of these pages, the current optimistic these pages. From a difficulty perspective, the required resources, the no restrictions, this group of the issues of how many pages will be affected and based on this, you will be able to set a prioritise recommendation.

So for example, for each of your recommendations, like this, as granular as possible, I develop this table with the specific action,the affected area, the SEO effect, the business importance, the current optimization, if I expect that they need content support, tech support, or building support and then at the end I add the ideal priority and the ideal SEO iteration to include it. If I include the SEO iteration, if I already know that they have, for example, by weekly launches, by weekly sprints, so I already more or less know how fast they can be done ideally. For this ideal priority I think if the first consideration is only the impact, this is my ideal work - as if all the resources were there, no restrictions at all, this is my ideal scenario if I really wanted just to push and to prioritise those actions with the highest impact. So I will only keep those remember with high immediate impact, because if it's not going to have a good impact or a high impact, why do I want to waste my time with that? At least at the beginning then after that I will start taking into the difficulty, the expected difficulty, the one that I know exists based on my understanding of the context of the business, of the website, the strengths, the limitations on resources. So I will have the expected implementation difficulty for each one of them, the expected priority after applying the difficulties, so maybe a very high impact action here that has a medium type of difficulty because of the restrictions that exist in the company may move or switch a bit in priority.

After I develop this I will be able to share this with my client, with the expected priority, ones that I shared with my client, I will have the final priority, the validated priority. This is the thing, why do I waste my time doing this? The ideal one and the expected one because once that I validate the prioritisation with my client and my client says, look Aleyda, what you expected to be low difficulty it's not like that because this and this and this and this changed and it's high difficulty so please - this won't be doable in the first six months okay, I will eliminate, that is okay but after we go through the process with the client, validating the actual priority based on difficulty, we will be able to tell you know what take a look at the gap, don't ask me then why the results that are achieved are not the expected ones. if half of my recommendations that were high priority are not implemented or only one from ten are actually doable, the ones of high impact at the start, don't ask me in six months why are we not achieving the results that we will allow us to advance. So this is critical to show what has been done ideally, only taking into consideration the impact of the recommendations and what actually ends up being doable because of all of the restrictions that you have gone through with the client.

Consist, this is important for fast development and delivery and an easy to understand document, this very straight forward, it is actually much easier than expected. Remember what I shared with you before about how for each one of your recommendations you should explain why it was important, how it affects the rankings, the scenarios, the expected resources and remember also the little matrix, the little table specifying each one of them as columns. Bring them here, at the start of each recommendation so they serve us a summary and remember the tables here at some point when you deliver the document you should add an extra column here that will serve as the index, to specify the page where each one of these recommendations can be found in the document. So it's a win-win this - document will serve to navigate the recommendations. So each one of the recommendations should be able to tell in a very simple way, for anybody who's not even involved in the process the importance of that recommendation, the impact on the results, how is it found and generated, the actions to fix it, which scenario are found in the website, the expected resources and the priority in the project and then what you will be doing with that is to actually organize the order of your document with it, why you want to start your 50 pages or 20 pages document with the less important the least important recommendation.

No. Start with the highest priority one. I know that in our minds we need to have a very specific standardised type of order and it shouldn't be like this, start with the ones that have the highest impact, that you want the client to implement faster and then it's important that you can switch, you may switch based on validation that you do with the client afterwards. I was talking before at the conversation that we had this afternoon, if it was actually best to deliver a single document, that even if you apply all of these principles will end up easily being 50 pages, to every single member, all of the stakeholders but you may want to split the document based on the team members, based on the actual role that they will have with the document and the area that they will be implementing. For example the development team - maybe you want to split and just send them the specific technical implementation, the content development team to send only the content related recommendations, that doesn't mean that you want to have a full document together that you can revise with the stakeholders or the decision makers that will actually support the project manager of the process.

So this is what I mentioned before, a page you can use the same matrix as an index of your document and this is amazing because this same matrix - take a look - will summarise everything, all of the recommendations, not only the what, the where, the why, the how and this same table, you can use it to coordinate your project management afterwards because you can specify the who - the person in charge of each task, the implementation date or the day that you expect each recommendation to be tested and the launch date. This is great because you will be able to track everything in a single place that can be tied with your recommendations document in a versatile way. So if anybody at some point has any doubt on how to actually implement this, they can go in a very simple way there.

Last but not least, the recommendations should be preventive and proactive to you a little bit, establishing mechanisms to avoid the identify issues to happen in the future. Not only in an automated way, I'm going to show you a few tools that can be used, but also this is achievable with evangelization, with dedication, with all of the team members are involved in the process, so you may want to start and you saw how the recommendations document explained the importance of each one of the SEO recommendations, I will say for those aspects that cannot be programmatically integrated with the platform and automatically validated, you create checklists, you create best practices, you create a wiki, a manual, that you can share, you can even do a webinar and record the webinar and create a library, so any new copywriter that enters the company needs to watch that SEO for copywriting webinar that you did and in the webinar you can go through all of the checklists that the copywriter needs to check, to validate before publishing any new content, besides the automatic type of validations are done within the platform.

Then of course there are rules that you can set within the platform, to your development team; to validate that some of the issues, for example content issues like various kinds of localisation issues and they don't happen again and they take into consideration also additional, potential opportunities when the rules are applied. So for example, for the different scenarios of pages within content, it's not only by default, if it is a second level category or a second level facet to canonicalise to the powering category - no, you need to validate that you may want to integrate with APIs and keyword tools and validate if this has more than “N” amount of traffic already on the page, if it targets query with more than “N” amount of volume or it has more than “N” amount of products, so it is worthy for you to actually differentiate and put effort there to optimise this page to target meaningful traffic.

Whenever you start development team, it's not only to send recommendations, give best practices and that's it, you need to ideally be able to work together and validate together and set a workflow and you should be able to be flexible here to work with them and their workflow,so they don't see you as an obstacle or as this extra issue that they need to fix every single time but you are there and you facilitate this, already existing workflow that they have. So if they launch every Thursday, for example, you know that every Tuesday you should be able to validate before the launch and after that you should be doing a post launch validation and after that you can set systems to identify them automatically.

So a lot of SEO crawlers nowadays allow you to schedule ongoing crawls, so every week you agree and you talk - I will set this crawl every week, so every Friday you can expect any additional issues on Monday for example - or you can use tools like ContentKing and Little Warden that will be doing and identifying in real time any type of issues and it will send you real-time alerts. For example, if any specific page with X type of criteria that you have said of this particular type of page, of this particular area, changes the canonicalization or the extra annotations are missed or the title tags are changed, you are alerted and you get an alert in a very simple way.

I love this tool because it actually allows you to integrate with Google Analytics, Google Search Console data and you say, ok you send me the alert if it is a page that has more than five visits, ten visit, one hundred visits or that is something that is actually worthy and you can integrate with your project management system in a very simple way, set additional alerts so you can even send this with tools like Integra mad to your program management system, ping it in someone in particular within your team, so realistically it shouldn't be that much work.

But if you still think that it's a lot of work, unfortunately some people do, don't worry I have created these resources for you, so you can go and check out all of what I have explained and given examples for you to fill with the criteria that I have mentioned previously and also I have shared a few of the tools that I use to validate every single area to if you're open to checking out even more tools than the ones that you already have.

So just to finish, let's think about this and Chris Green who's also British a SEO here, he did this series of tweets, sharing a little bit of his experience when sending and sharing recommendations for one of their clients and and he shared like - yes after they change the way the format they had with their own recommendations and illuminated those that were not priority, he understood that the client didn't know where to start, so it's critical, is important that we apply certain project management and communication and coordination, soft skills that sometimes are overlooked in SEO to make things happen because at the end of the day, it is not to deliver a document but to achieve this. The actual final goal. To achieve the expected growth, the actual expected outcome from our work. It's not really that complex, you here have all of the specific actions that I described before summarise. You know, a very easy way to follow and with this I finish. I don't know if I have hopefully - I see you standing here since 10 minutes ago, so sorry! So hopefully this will be much more doable like this, thank you very much.

MC: I really hope you enjoyed that, as I said before the talk you can get the video slides and transcription of the latest talk at search.withcandour.co.uk - please join us next week, we'll be back on Monday the 10th of February where we'll be going through some of the changes Google's brought about with Google search console and Rob will be joining us to talk about some other changes with Google ads. Have a great week!

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