International SEO audits

Insight into an International SEO Audit: Before the Work Begins

In this article I discuss what I do prior to taking on an International SEO audit. It's not for the faint at heart. Having a strong checklist is a start...

As the owner of an American consulting and optimization agency, I learned that not all SEO consulting agency works the same way. Now that we’ve planted ourselves firmly in the international market, I’ve realized that even optimization methods change, depending on the country, language and – most importantly – culture of the region.

Today, I’d like to take you through some of the SEO auditing process, but a little differently than has been done. There’s a lot of great information out there on how to perform an audit, what to look for, what to do, etc., I’d like to share the very beginning. –Because an SEO audit (especially an international audit) doesn’t start by crawling a website or reading the content. In actuality, it starts a lot earlier than that…

The Mind of an SEO Auditor

Optimizers and auditors aren’t mutually exclusive; they’re more like the rose and flower statement. All SEO auditors are optimizers, but not all optimizers are auditors. It takes a certain type of mind to make a good SEO auditor:

  • Attention to detail is extremely important to turn out a quality SEO audit. Some of the details are normal things to check for, such as www or non-www versions of a site (you shouldn’t have both), or indexed pages behind the Secure Socket Layers (SSL or https). Other details aren’t quite so easy to spot; the auditor has to actively look for them.
  • Being highly organized is also important, especially for an international audit. The SEO auditor will need to pull information from several sources (in several languages, if it’s global). They need to be able to turn that information into a comprehensive report for the client – one that makes sense! They also need to keep track of the steps they took to perform the audit to make sure nothing is missed.
  • Having an analytical mind provides the ability to apply logical thinking: to visualize, articulate and solve the issues found during the SEO audit. For example, if a site is ranking high for some key terms but the traffic for those terms is low, is it because:
    • The terms aren’t being used by very many searchers?
    • The terms are searched, but the resulting search snippet isn’t marketable?
    • The terms are actually bringing in lots of visitors, but the analytics program isn’t reporting correctly?

In today’s competitive digital economy, performance is more important than ever. Therefore, understanding your analytics and data is imperative; the right auditor makes a lot of difference.

Defining Measurable Results

As I’ve said repeatedly, you have to know where you are before you can track where you’re going. Unfortunately, measurable results elude many brands because they don’t know how to build a website that produces exactly that. They don’t understand that, in order to fix a site, we first have to understand what’s wrong with it. We have to find signals, anomalies, relationships, competitors and relevance. We also have to define proper performance indicators before making changes. Too often, our company/client conversations start with this:

Company: “What are you using for performance indicators?”

Client: “Well, I’m not making a lot of money off the site. Not getting a lot of sales…”

Company: “Okay… what was your conversion rate last month?”

Client: “My what?”

Better yet, many use things like traffic to define the success of a site. Because, as long as you’re bringing in 50,000 visitors a month, you must be doing something right. It doesn’t matter if you have zero sales or contacts… right?

The job of an audit isn’t just to find out where the site’s optimization is lacking. Its purpose is also to define which metrics are measurable. You don’t just pick some numbers and say, “I think I’ll watch these. If they go up, I’m doin’ good!” You have to make sure you’re tracking the right things before tracking will make any difference.

Asking the Right Questions

I’m positive that much of our success with clients is because of the questions we ask at the beginning of any project. Our Search Marketing Discovery is eleven pages of questions, we’ve only included seven of those eleven pages … and I’ve heard many comments about them. Comments like, “Do you want to know my blood type, too?” or “This is an awful lot of questions. Do I have to answer them all?”

You see, we strongly believe that to provide a helpful audit, we need to know where the client is going. We need to know as much as possible about the company, products and/or services, site and what’s been done with it. With this in mind, we ask questions like:

  • Have you done an SEO audit of your site (ever)?
  • What sort of time line do you have?
  • How strong are your organic search results (do you know)?
  • What have you done thus far in regards to SEO, SEM, and SMM?
  • What does your traffic look like?
  • What is your perception of your website presence in the search engines?
  • Are you using Google Analytics data to create new content?
  • Are you using Social Networks to drive new traffic to your website?
  • Are you willing to set a budget aside for relevant content marketing (what is your budget)?
  • What do you specifically hope to accomplish? (i.e. how will you judge the success of this project)?
  • Who is your target audience/market? Job status? Economic status? Please describe your “average” visitor as best you can.
  • What are the three most pressing problems that your company is trying to solve right now?
  • Do you have a keyword analysis? Can you send it to us?
  • Who are your competitors? (Give us at least 3 with url)
  • Describe digital content that’s been developed.
  • After a prospective customer visits your site, what SPECIFIC action or actions do you want them to do?
  • Identify any social media marketing programs in place.
  • Explain a little about your online lead generation process.
  • What is the % of Leads from Natural / Organic Searches PPC?
  • Where do you see your online marketing efforts going in 1 year’s time?

By the time everything is said and done – if they’ve answered everything, that is – we have a strong bit of knowledge to start with. At the very least, we have the client’s view of their website, online marketing efforts and the success of their online business.

Understanding the International Culture

When it comes to SEO audits, the technical side doesn’t really change much. 301s are still 301s, no matter what country you’re in. Where it really begins to change is the visible side of the site. Key terms, content audits, marketability…

We recently had an international audit with several sites. The sites were cloned; all the technical information was about 98% the same. One technical audit was pretty much the same as another, but the content was different. A few examples:

  • In Taiwan, we weren’t targeting Google. We were targeting Baidu (the top search engine for that area). Some things that might be considered spam with Google are simply considered good practice with Baidu.
  • Traffic from Hong Kong was landing on a simplified Chinese version. While Americans might think, “Well, it’s all Chinese,” this is a serious cultural issue. The client needed to be notified to direct Hong Kong traffic to a traditional Chinese version.
  • In the U.S., we were looking at the term handbags. In the U.K., we were looking at bags. Although both are English-speaking countries, it’s important to remember the customs and language of the region. In some areas of the U.K., the differences in search quantity for the two terms were very marked.

Quite simply, you can’t perform an international SEO audit without understanding the culture of the region. Language isn’t the only difference. This is one of the many reasons I’ve built Level343’s international SEO team – because the best way to understand a culture is to live in it, like our team members do.

Assessing the Cost

If you notice, I haven’t even talked about actually performing the audit. Why? Because I want to make sure the cost of the audit is fair for the company and the client. Unfortunately, like everything else, audits aren’t cookie cutter. The cost depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • How complicated is the project (number of pages, length of content, etc.)?
  • How many sites are involved?
  • How many languages are involved?
  • How much time is it estimated to take?

Large sites take more time; small sites take less. More languages take more people, paid according to their own costs (i.e. paid in the Euro as compared to the Dollar and so on). A single site will most likely take less time than several sites.

Jumping Without Looking

Even the best of articles about SEO audits almost immediately jump into the audit itself. It’s as if preliminary information isn’t important. –And yet, at least with Level343, there is so much more that goes into an audit, even before the actual work begins. I firmly believe it’s what goes before that sets the foundation for in depth, helpful results.

What do you think? How much preliminary information is necessary for a good SEO audit? What has been your experience?

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12 Responses

  1. “Understanding the culture of the region” is the new point of SEO Audit which I have learned today. Most of the SEO audit specialists give so much priority to ON Page SEO and backlinking profile, these points remain untouched.

  2. SEO Audit has become the most important internet marketing tools evaluating the healthiness of your overall marketing design. It will also help you are aware of how search engines see your articles and how much confidence search engines have on your webpage.

  3. Excellent post. Measuring performance for SEO is vital for success. Effort Vs Cost associated for SEO activities various from one company to company based on expertise, local market & strategy. The post quite help to understand with practical examples. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome Sarah, as a mater of fact I’m writing a Part Deux for this International SEO audit. I hope you get a chance to read that one too… 🙂

  4. SEO audit is really important aspect of any website, It not just help you to know the right audience that needs to be targeted but also help you to recognize the places from where you can valuable links.

  5. I love the beginning by asking questions. I have sometimes struggled with getting outside consultants to actually listen to the answers. I remember an extensive data gathering that I presented to a young fellow who responded with a no that’s not right. I believe he was surprised when we showed him the exit.

  6. Nice tips and approach. Thanks also for sharing your Discovery Questionnaire. We follow a very similar approach, and the data collection phase starts the project off with a bang!

    1. Dana, I couldn’t have shared this discovery without the help of many SEO’s throughout the years. As a matter of fact I recall you sharing yours with me a few years back. We’ve included quite a few more changes and tweaks along the years. I’m always grateful for such a wonderful community, thank you Dana!

  7. Great article Gabriella.

    We think that for an effective SEO audit you need some good starting parameters – offering, key target customer groups, key messages and from an international perspective; available market sales channels. With this we try to approach and SEO audit without too many more limitations or assumptions.

    However, we do think an SEO audit (or setup month) is absolutely cost-effective in the medium term. Unlike many (would like to) believe, value-adding SEO is far from a commoditised service – especially since recent changes to the game (driven by Google and the like) and especially in an international context. We are a European digital agency business working with fast growing European multi-nationals and the vast majority still drive significant growth opportunities from international SEO because most of the competition is still not doing it properly.

    1. Hey Elliott, thanks for your input… I should have added there’s a Part Deux – I can’t imagine we will ever stop adding, adjusting, creating new parameters for a complete SEO audit. 🙂

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