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How to Run an SEO Audit with Actionable Results – Areej Abuali
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When it comes to navigating the world of SEO, it’s an everchanging landscape. There are definitely some hard and fast rules that everybody follows, and then you have a few people making their own mark and creatively stepping outside the box.

 One of those innovators is Areej Abuali, who we talked to in this episode. She offered some new and exciting insight and ideas into addressing SEO issues for our clients as well as our own businesses. She also looks into the crystal ball with us and shares her thoughts on the future of search, including up and coming new search engines, and its effect on the almighty “Google ranking”.

Rich: My guest today is an SEO consultant who focuses on all things technical and on-site SEO. She is the founder of the Women in Tech SEO community, a global support network aimed at women in the technical SEO field. Armed with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering and an MBA in information technology, she’s been in the digital marketing industry for 8+ years and has spoken at conferences such as SMX, BrightonSEO, MozCon, and LondonSEO. Today. I’m excited to be diving into SEO audits with Areej Abuali. Welcome to the podcast.

Areej: Hey, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Rich: I’m excited to have you. I’ve got a lot of questions about SEO audits, but I first want to talk a little bit about the Women in Tech SEO group that you founded. What can you tell me about it?

Areej: Yeah, it’s one of the things that I enjoy spending the most time on. I started it almost two years ago now. There’s over 3,000 of us, which is amazing, and we do tons of different initiatives and activities on a day-to-day basis.

Rich: Fantastic. And this is global. There are people from there are women from all over the world who have joined your community, correct?

Areej: Yeah. Initially it started as a Facebook group. And then afterwards I started organizing a lot of different London events. But then post-lockdown when we started hosting a lot of our events more on a virtual basis, that’s when we really started getting tons of people from all around the world joining us.

Rich: That’s fantastic. If I may ask, why did you feel it was necessary to start this? Were there just not enough women in this segment of the industry, in your opinion?

Areej: So I think they were there, they were definitely everywhere. But I was really struggling to find them, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to start this. It’s very normal when you go to digital marketing conferences or so forth, within the technical SEO talks, it tends to be predominantly male, very male heavy. But I’m a tech SEO, and I knew there were others. So it was this idea of, you know, they should be around somewhere. So how do I find the soul?

And so when I started the group I kind of put a tweet out and I was like, “Women in tech is your rejoice. We now have a place where we can unite”. And within the first two days, I got over a hundred members, which I think kind of shows that we are an Island. We just needed to find each other.

Rich: That’s awesome. Being the father of two daughters, and one of them who just absolutely loves technology, it’s such a great thing to hear. You mentioned briefly just some initiatives, can you tell us anything about some of the initiatives that you’re putting out right now?

Areej: Yeah, definitely. So, right now we are running a WTS workshop. So these are, rather than your typical presentation slides, these are more about very workshop heavy where we have trainers kind of walk everyone through how to create a data studio dashboard, and how to use [inaudible] and things along those lines, and how to perform an actual technical audit. All of our trainers are paid, which is something I’m really advocating for, this idea of paying our speakers and trainers for sharing their knowledge.

We also ran a really successful mentorship program last summer, which I’m planning on running again soon. We paired up over 200 mentors and mentees on the program, which was amazing. It lasted around two months and there was tons of positive feedback from that.

And we have a lot of different virtual events that take place also in the form of different webinars. And last year, right before lockdown, we hosted our full day Women in Tech SEO Festival. Which fingers crossed, once we’re out of this, planning to definitely have another one as well.

Rich: That’s awesome. Before we get into the SEO audits, I just want to, for anybody who’s listening, is there a specific URL or place people should go to learn more about the Women in Tech SEO community?

Areej: Yeah. So womenintechseo.com. We host all of our content and all of our initiatives there. We have weekly interviews with a lot of community members where you can learn more about them. We have our community speaker hub, where you can learn more about how you can possibly diversify your speaker lineup. So, yeah, tons and tons of stuff on there, womenintechseo.com.

Rich: Awesome. And of course we’ll have links to that in the show notes. All right. Let’s segue into SEO audits. For anyone who’s out there listening right now who’s never been through the process, what exactly is an SEO audit and what are the objectives?

Areej: So it’s very normal that you kind of have a client come in and say, “Okay, we have been told that we need to conduct an SEO audit”. And in most places, clients may themselves not be quite too sure what is it exactly that this entails. I am someone who likes to break things into chunks, and I think simply taking on an SEO audit might feel very overwhelming. So it’s this idea of how do we potentially break this down? Because you could look into the different aspects of SEO, which are your technical, your content on page, and your off page and link aspect, and that’s how you kind of start to split out your different audits.

The overall objective is to have an understanding behind how this website is currently performing from an organic perspective, and to be able to give recommendations that are required that once implemented could give it a boost or an improvement to a website’s organic performance.

Rich: So if someone’s sitting at home right now and no one outside the company or inside the company has told them they need an SEO audit, what are some of the signs or the triggers that they might say, “Oh yeah, I guess that’s something that I should be looking into”?

Areej: So have a really good understanding behind your current traffic split. How is your website getting traffic? And this is someone that’s anyone, even if they’re not too familiar with SEO, can easily find out through something like Google Analytics. So getting an understanding behind, this is how you’re currently performing from an organic aspect from direct, for email, from referrals, will give you an understanding behind how much of that traffic is all organic.

The more traffic that is through organic, the better for you, because that’s free traffic and you’re not having to spend a lot of time or money or so forth in terms of paid activity and so forth through it.

So that’s probably where I would start. Just getting an understanding behind what your traffic split is and how much of organic is representative of that.

Rich: Do you have a percentage in mind that you feel is a healthy amount of organic traffic for a website, or does it just so depend that it’s not really worth having that magic number?

Areej: Yeah, I wouldn’t honestly place a magic number to it. I’ve worked with some websites previously that have 70% to 80% organic traffic, and others that only have 20% to 30%. I guess at the end of the day it’s this idea of, how much of the traffic that’s coming through is through page for example, and how much of investments is being spent on that?

If you have a lot of traffic that’s coming through from director, from social, you’re definitely doing something right there, from a branding or from a social perspective. But yes, I wouldn’t necessarily try to put a number on it.

Rich: Okay. You earlier had mentioned a few elements that you might take a look at in an audit, and you’ve talked about “on page”, which is often like the keywords that we use and where we put them on the page. You mentioned “off page” or the number and quality of incoming links. And then you mentioned “technical SEO”, which I’m assuming is one of your favorite parts, based on the fact that you started an entire community around it. What do you consider to be part of technical SEO that a typical site owner or business should understand as things that they can change to improve their performance?

Areej: Yeah, so really good question. And yes, technical does tend to be my favorite part of the majority of audits. So I think with that, I’d probably kind of group it into three main things.

One being your crawl efficiency and index stability. And when I say that, I mean how is Google able to crawl your website? Is it able to understand your website? Is it struggling to go through your website? So your crawl efficiency and your indexability health, that’s usually the core parts of any website. Because it doesn’t matter how amazing your content is or how much coverage you get, if Google is struggling to go through your site, then you’re not going to end up ranking for much. So everything in terms of your navigation, your filters, your parameters, your canonicals, all of that stuff tends to fall within quality and indexability.

The second point would be around performance. And that’s something that’s getting more and more important with time. And we know that we’ll have announced that this year it’s going to have an even bigger weight there in terms of ranking factors. So that’s everything to do with page speeds. That’s everything to do with mobile friendliness, mobile usability. So bearing all those in mind, underneath performance and with performance, it’s really important to understand how you stack up against competitors. Because it’s difficult to say, “Oh, this is what my page speed score is. I guess that’s not too bad”, but what is the rest of the industry doing and how are they performing? So having an understanding of that is really important.

And then thirdly, which I would group around more of the hygiene element. So that’s everything in terms of your own page, your duplication, your internal links, your redirects things that could be broken, things that could be working. So that’s kind of your foundational clean up stuff that you need in there.

So yeah, I guess just to recap, it would be crawling index stability and then performance, and then more on the hygiene side of things.

Rich: That was very helpful. Thank you. You mentioned earlier that you like to take things in chunks, so maybe you could talk a little bit about if a client comes to you and says, “Hey, we want to have an SEO audit done”, how do you kind of chunk up that work? How do you make it more digestible?

Areej: Yeah. So it’s really important to have that initial conversation rather than don’t go ahead and just kind of assume what it is the client wants. Get a good understanding behind who are their competitors, what do they want to rank for, what are their goals for the next year? So that kind of helps sort of defy some of the ideas in your mind in terms of these are the things that are more important for them in terms of recommendation.

A client, for example, can say these specific landing pages are ones that they want to focus on driving traffic to. So then you know that you should ensure that you give enough recommendations on that specific site to help them drive traffic to it.

And then just in terms of how you could split it up. What I just explained now, in terms of rather than just saying, “I’m going to deliver a technical audit for you. I don’t know, it’s going to take me five days, leave me at it and I’ll come back to you when it’s done.” It’s really important to explain, this is what we’re going to be tackling, this is what we will be looking at, and just giving them that breakdown and granularity of details in terms of these are the different things I’m going to be covering.

Some clients, for them it could be quite important to understand where’s the gaps. So I think I perform well, but I don’t understand why my competitors outrank me. So in that case it could be really important to do something like a keyword opportunity analysis, or a gap analysis, in order to identify these are the categories you’re performing well, and these are the ones you don’t. And that takes its own analysis as well.

And then on a third basis, I’d say from a link or a backlink perspective, other clients might either suffer from low quality backlinks or might not have much backlinks from a quantity perspective. So with that, it’s performing a link audit, looking into link risk, quantity, quality, and so forth. So rather than going ahead and just being like, “Okay, I’m going to give you all three. And it’s an SEO audit, and it’s going to take me that much time and this is how much it’s going to cost”, you know, spending the time to understand what their needs are, what actually matters to them, and then giving them the different options with that deep level of detail of this is what I can offer.

Rich: That makes sense. And it sounds like one size does not fit all. And really it comes down to the business’s objectives on how you might approach different types of SEO audits.

Areej: Yeah, yeah. 100%.

Rich: So as a business owner, we’re often hiring outside consultants and they hand us off some report when they’re done, whatever it is that they’ve done. And then we don’t know where to start. So how do we take an SEO audit and actually make it actionable?  Something that we can do and improve our search engine rankings, visibility, and traffic.

Areej: So it’s completely on the consultant to ensure that rather than just offering you a big, massive 100-page document of here’s all the things that are wrong with your site, to actually give you a proper action plan alongside that. The action plan is the most important document that can accompany this. And this can be as simple as a spreadsheet that includes, all 20 recommendations that came off the back of this. But most importantly, this is how you would prioritize them.

I tend to do my prioritization using t-shirt sizing. So I would look at the SEO impact in terms of large, medium, small. And to ensure that the client doesn’t wind up just going and spending the next few months only focused on the small size things it’s really important to actually dedicate time on the things that matter.

It’s really easy to overwhelm clients by, I don’t know, duplicated meta descriptions and things that actually on the long run won’t have much of an impact. So really clarifying that these are the two or three things that will move the needle for you so these are the things you should probably spend the next month working on.

Rich: Based on what you’ve seen when you’ve done SEO audits, and based on all the communication that’s been coming out of Google over the past six months to a year, what do you think overall are some of the most important large t-shirts, XXXL t-shirts out there, that people should be focused on when they are thinking about improving their SEO?

Areej: Yeah. And with that I always feel it’s going back to basics, right? It’s the ability for Google to appropriately crawl and understand your site. And as foundational as that sounds, every single time we have an algorithm update come out, Google simply states that if you’ve built your site with the right foundation, with good content, then you’re good to go. You’ve got nothing to worry about. So it’s stepping back and really checking and making sure that that foundation is clean.

But then in terms of performance, and page speed, and friendliness, those are the things that really shift the needle. Because this is where your competitors can get bonus points over you. So if you’re not dedicating time for things like your user experience, and your page experience, and how fast your website loads, you’re going to fall behind. And there’s more and more emphasis that’s been coming out on that over the past few years. And it’s going to be a big, big shift over the next year or two in terms of how you survive against your competitors.

Rich: Okay. Now we’ve been talking about using an outside agency this entire conversation. Is there any way that the typical in-house marketer or owner could do some level of SEO audit on their own? And if so, what might they be thinking about as they try and approach that type of project?

Areej: Yeah. It’s one of those things where I feel like you can always invest in outside help, but I tend to recommend not just investing in someone who can help give you an audit, but also provide you with training. It’s something I do with a lot of my clients, which is, when you give an audit and then you also give proper training. Let’s say, SEO training for developers, SEO training for concentrators. This makes things feel much more sustainable because it means that they don’t have to continue relying on the consultants every single time something happens, but it feels more sustainable and they can carry that stuff and know how to implement it and know how to check it the next time around.

So ensure that you invest in yourself and in your team, in good proper training so that this is something that you can take on down the line.

Rich: When you’re doing audits for your clients, what are some of the go-to tools that you use on all projects?

Areej: Yeah. So from a technical perspective, I use Screaming Frog. Like a lot of other technical SEOs, I don’t think you can really survive without it. Something I’ve been using a lot more recently is Sitebulb. Their visualization is awesome. They’re also a crawler, but what they tend to do is they easily visualize what your site structure looks like. And it’s these types of visualization that make it really easy when you’re trying to explain to a client, this is where the issue is. So Sitebulb was great for that.

And then from a keyword on page content perspective, I tend to use Ahrefs.  I’ve also used SEMrush in the past. SEO monitor is one that I used when I was agency side, and it was great as well. But there’s tons of tools and something I always tend to advise is, take them with a grain of salt. They’re not there to help you do your job better, they’re just there to kind of solidify some of the thinking that you already have.

Rich: Yes. I always have to explain to clients that Yoast, which is a tool that we all use in SEO, is not going to make your website suddenly rank really high. And don’t put 27 hours into making sure that one page turns green necessarily. That’s just one signal that you might be on the right path. So, good to hear that you’re saying something similar.

I’m sure this is on a case by case basis, but have you ever run an audit and there’s just no clear problem, but the client still isn’t ranking all that well? Or is there always a cause to be found, in your experience?

Areej: Well I think when it happens, when there’s no clear problem, it’s usually there’s no clear problem from a technical perspective. So they’re quite healthy from a technical perspective, but at that point it’s this idea of you need more content to rank. And it usually falls to that in terms of your foundation is great, you’ve got everything set up, but you’re not ranking. Which means you need more content, number one. Number two, you need to optimize the content you have. And number three, you really need to kind of test and experiment. Because it reaches this point where, will this work more than that, should we have a bunch of FAQ content in displays, should we make sure that we go for more quality here? Should we use some user generated content? So it’s this idea of how can we test and experiment with different content models and identify some of the gaps there.

I always like to think that when your foundation is clean, this is where you kind of start at your base. And then the content and the backlinks and so forth, that’s when you actually start getting a leg up and a boost on how you potentially rank.

Rich: I’m glad to hear that because I’ve definitely gone and worked on SEO projects in the past, and it’s like, there’s no obvious reason why they shouldn’t be ranking as well as their competition. So from what I’m hearing is, there is an element of experimentation and measuring results in SEO. You can take care of all the basics, but that’s when you really have to start trying different things and seeing how they work in the search engines.

Areej: Yeah, 100%. And sometimes when you fix a little of the tech stuff, I tend to say it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to improve in ranking, but it does mean you’re not going to get penalized again. And that’s a huge win. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to increase their visibility by X percent.

So yes, ensuring that you need to have room to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t work, but also perform proper competitor audits as well and understand how their sites are built and understand what are they ranking for best and what’s the main differentiation between us and them. Doing something like that on a quarterly basis gives you a lot of ideas in terms of why am I being outranked by some of these competitors?

Rich: That’s really interesting. So you would recommend running basically the same type of SEO audits on our competitors as we’re doing on ourselves. Is there anything that we can’t get done when we’re doing a competitor SEO audit that we could get when we’re doing a self SEO audit?

Areej: So the main challenge would be not having access to enough data. So not being able to look into search console, not being able to understand their traffic splits and so forth. But other than that, crawling the site, monitoring how things are set up, understanding how they rank, really analyzing some of their key landing pages, you can definitely do a lot of that. And that’s something on a quarterly basis, it’s really worth looking into.

A piece of advice as well that can be super helpful is, I tend to set up monitoring tools on some of my competitors and it basically tells me every time there’s a change on their homepage or on a navigation or in their foot or in their internal links. And that alerts you to, “Oh no, they’re working on their site, they’re doing optimization, that’s something we should probably think of as well.”

Rich: That’s awesome. What tool do you use to do that?

Areej: So I use Distill, but there is also Little Warden, it’s really popular in the UK and it does very similar to that.

Rich: That’s awesome. All right. Okay. I want you to look into the future for a moment. I just read the other day that DuckDuckGo hit like a hundred million searches in a single day. Obviously, you’ve probably heard there’s rumors or maybe beyond rumors that Apple is developing their own search engine, which I assume would replace Google on all iOS devices. Everything people talk about in SEO these days seem to be based on what Google is telling us. What do you think once if DuckDuckGo because of privacy issues, becomes more and more popular, and Apple because of all the hardware that’s out there, becomes a more popular search engine, how might that change how we approach SEO in the future?

Areej: I think it’s really exciting because it means we’re not going to be out of a job anytime soon, you know, if we’ve got all these new search engines coming out. Then more than ever we will be beyond relevant, and we will be really important.

And you know, that’s the thing with SEO, I’ve been doing it for around eight years. Every year t’s different. There’s always something new coming out. We’re always having to adapt to that change, and that makes it really, really exciting. So I think whatever does end up coming next, we will know how to adapt and how to shift focus.

I don’t think there will be a massive change in terms of how things operate right now and how people search. But what will be different is our access to data and being able to adapt to that and being able to realize we’re not easily going to be able to scrape SERPs, as an example or so forth. But it means we won’t be out of a job anytime soon, as the way I see it. Which is great.

Rich: Awesome. This has been absolutely fantastic, Areej. I really appreciate all you’ve shared with us. If people want to learn more about you, where can we send them online?

Areej: So I’m on areejabuali.com. And then on Twitter, @Areej_Abuali. I spend far too much time on it.

Rich: Awesome. Thanks so much for stopping by today. Really appreciate it.

Areej: Thanks for having me.

Show Notes:

Areej Abuali is not only a champion for women in the tech SEO community, she has a fresh approach to technical SEO that’s both detailed, yet straightforward. If you’re a woman in the tech SEO field looking for a supportive network, you definitely need to check out global member group for that. And then head on over to her website for more info including her blog. And of course be sure to follow her on Twitter.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing. 

SEO auditing tools discussed in this episode: