As an independent SEO consultant, I’ve to integrate an increasing amount of audits into my working agenda. Recently, I reviewed and slightly modified my SEO audit questionnaire and, as I thought it might be worth sharing, I’ve posted it online for you.
If you want to jump directly to the questions, please click here.
You will also find a link to the Google Doc sheet below.
However, before we begin, I would like to share some of my thoughts concerning these questions.
So, what’s the story? Well, of course, there are a tremendous amount of client onboarding checklists and questions available, many of which are fantastic. However, when it comes to SEO audits specifically, I felt that there weren’t many resources on offer, or at least, I haven’t found any. Yet, please be aware that this list is not(!) a general client onboarding questionnaire, although some of the questions are broad and would also be applicable in this context. The questions are also not an SEO audit or a client onboarding checklist – again, there are more than enough available out there. If you are looking for information how to perform an SEO audit, I highly recommend this presentation from Aleyda Solis, this video from Barry Adams and this presentation from Bastian Grimm. The focus here is more on generating website-specific questions prior(!) to an SEO audit as a means of gathering information. What’s more, I definitely don’t consider them a definitive list (state: September 2020) – more a list of ideas. It’s also apparent that depending on the answers, additional questions may follow.
When preparing for an audit, I think that many SEO experts rush into it. I guess we simply cannot contain our curiosity ;-). Of course, we are all trained and well-educated in identifying issues and performance-hindering factors, putting them together, and making client-specific recommendations. But, in some cases, I experienced that having the client answer a wealth of questions beforehand makes my work more effective and provides me with valuable information concerning my client’s status. Further, having some of these answers before I begin assists me during analysis and when mulling over the issues at hand. Some of the questions included here come from very specific past audits, but depending on your circumstances, they may also prove of use as I tried to generalize each question. Again, please bear in mind that questions may differ depending on if you are auditing an eCommerce website, a classifier, or a lead-gen website. Context matters.
Of course, some rightly highlight that confronting the client with too many questions at the beginning can be a frustrating process. This is especially true when they cannot answer the questions personally and instead, require support from their teams, such as development. However, I think as a professional you have to ask these difficult questions. Naturally though, some clients can answer these questions more easily than others – that’s just the truth. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t expect to receive a fully answered questionnaire (I only received two in six years) and of course, sometimes I make a preselection. But, not receiving answers also gives me valuable information about the client.
So, you may not find all the questions helpful and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some (feel free to let me know which!), but they can hopefully be useful as a general rough guide. I tried to cluster the questions, but this is also not set in stone. Please exclusively use the questions which match your needs if you so wish. However, some of the answers to the questions may have the potential to improve the result of the audit in general, or at least provide a hint as to which areas need to be reviewed, which is certainly in the client’s best interests.
Communication & Expectations
- Which department/person must be reported to regarding SEO-related topics?
- Who is the main audit stakeholder (e.g. development, marketing)?
- What are the goals of this audit?
- Are there any specific questions you would like to cover?
- Who will the audit be presented to and what is the preferred format?
- How many check-ins would you like to have during the auditing process?
- During the audit, who is the main contact person for questions?
- Depending on the length of the auditing process, who can we trust to ensure that any significant changes on the website are communicated effectively?
- Are there any legal/industry restrictions that need to be considered in the analysis?
- Is there any data security information that needs to be considered during the auditing process?
- Please provide non restricted access to all created Google Search Console properties and Google Analytics if possible.
- Please provide Google access logfiles (anonymized logs from all Google bots) from the last three to six months if possible.
- Please provide an overview of information/results from your last UX/AB tests from the previous six months if possible.
- Do we require any kind of specific logins for processing the audit (e.g. staging environment, when features need to be tested)?
Domain History / Workflow
- Please provide an overview of all the internally known historical and critical points regarding the domain (i.e. relaunches, penalties, shutdowns of entire content areas, any form of “URL clean-ups” etc.). Bullet points are sufficient.
- Have any restructuring measures been made in the last 12 months?
- Please name any possible predecessor domains of the current domain.
- Please list all domains owned by the company including their status (e.g. active, inactive).
- Please indicate any special features of the domain that you are aware of.
- What upcoming projects are planned over the next three months?
- If there is something like a fix release period, what does it look like?
- What does your Q&A process for releases look like?
- Which SEO problems are already known internally and should, therefore, be listed but not treated in detail?
- Is a CDN used for images or other files? (Please list)
- What are the known limitations of the CMS from an SEO point of view?
- When have major system updates taken place?
- Do you use a custom font?
- Which image formats are predominantly used?
- Are images compressed before being uploaded?
- Do you provide images in different predefined sizes dependent on the device?
- Are noscript-tags being used and if yes, in which circumstances?
- Are you using any kind of load balancer services? If yes, could you also provide the logfiles from them?
- Are there any regular database clean-ups that could cause any issues?
- Are any kind of preloaders being used?
- Is lazy loading being used?
- Is the GTM or any other script being used to inject SEO-relevant tags or information?
- Are there plans to switch to HTTPS/2 if you’ve not already?
- Does a keyword analysis or targeting concept exist and can it be provided?
- Which 5-10 domains are internally considered as competitors?
- Have there recently been any keywords where performance has noticeably decreased?
- Please name the 5 most important categories in terms of sales/revenue.
- Which verticals are the highest traffic drivers?
- How is the website monetized? Which conversion elements are the most profitable?
- What is the average stock value, customer lifetime value etc.?
- Please provide a list of the most valuable PPC keywords.
- What structured data is being used?
- What formats are being used for structured data?
- Has there been any change in formats recently?
- Have there been any new implementations recently?
- Have there been any implementation problems in the past?
- Have there been any penalties in the last year?
- Are any kind of automated indexing rules implemented on the domain and if yes, how are these rules configured?
- Does your domain have any known indexing problems?
- Are you aware of low quality or thin pages on your domain?
- Is there a defined indexing publishing process for new content? What does it look like?
- Is any automated generated content knowingly free for indexation (e.g. search pages)?
- Are any automated linking scripts implemented and active?
- Who is responsible for the main navigation? Have any major changes been made recently?
- How many click levels should the domain have?
- Are you continually monitoring whether any orphan pages are in existence?
- Are any link mask techniques being used on the domain and if so, where?
- Are any of the URL slugs globally whitelisted and if so, which ones?
- Are there any global redirect rules and if so, which ones? Which site areas may be affected?
- Are there any redirect rules that handle the same situation differently depending on if the user is logged in or not?
- Are any status codes that change the rules being used actively (i.e. a 404 that goes into a 410)? If yes, in which circumstances?
- Are any user agent-specific rules implemented?
- Are different URLs being used for different product variations?
- What does the out of stock strategy usually look like?
- How is your pagination organized (e.g. sorting method, new items on page one)?
- Which elements are updated if a new URL is published?
- Are URL parameters consistently ordered?
- Are any crawler blocking mechanisms being used? Do we need to whitelist our crawler before we start crawling?
- What is the maximum amount of threads possible when the domain is being crawled? 3,5, or 10 URLs?
- How many URLs should the domain have approximately broken down by category and product?
- Please list the X most important URLs based on revenue.
- Are any crawl optimization techniques in use on the domain (PRG pattern etc.) and if so, where?
- Are techniques like cloaking or dynamic serving being used on the domain and if yes, where?
- Do you have a reverse DNS lookup setup?
- Are Google access logs analyzed internally and used for URL management?
- Do one or more XML sitemaps exist? If yes, how are they organized?
- Are sitemaps static or automatically generated? What is the updating frequency?
- Please prepare a list of known/used parameters and their meaning if possible.
- How many URLs are being generated per day/week/month?
- How many URLs are being deleted per day/week/month?
- Is there an international setup for the domain and if so, which countries/languages are served?
- Based on the preliminary question: How is the international setup solved? (different TLDs, gTLD with subdomains/subfolders)
- Does a hreflang setup exist? If yes, how is it implemented (HTML, sitemaps)?
- Are CDNs being used for hosting the website in different countries?
- Are there master countries/templates which are then rolled out to other markets downstream?
- Can you please provide a list of your tier 1-3 markets?
- Are there any known inventory differences between countries?
KPIs & Tools
- Which tools are being used internally for SEO?
- Which KPIs are reported and monitored to stakeholders like development, marketing, and management?
- How are the KPIs being reported (e.g. Excel, Data Studio, Tableau)?
- Is any ongoing monitoring in place (e.g. via SEMrush, Little Warden, Contentkingapp, Deepcrawl, Ryte, OnCrawl etc.)? Can you please provide access to them?
- Are you tracking desktop and mobile results separately?
- Is any additional information being measured via Analytics (e.g. scroll depth, Core Web Vital)?
- Are any kind of funnels within Analytics being set up and can you please provide an overview of the different views you may have created?
- What are the templates with the most integrated advertisements?
- Are interstitials used on the domain?
- Is the number of ad placements stable over time or are there days where more, additional placements are sold?
- Are any kind of advertorials or link placements being sold on the domain?
- Is any kind of content being sponsored or syndicated on the domain?
- Is your own published content also used for content syndication on other websites?
- Do you run an affiliate program or is anyone outside the company creating pages or advertising in your name?
- Who (team or person) is writing the onsite content?
- Is any industry content being used on the domain?
- Are there areas that are using UGC?
- Does the domain have a community area in general?
- Are snippets being auto-generated? Are snippet templates being used?
- Are other content formats being used on the domain (e.g. PDFs, words etc.)?
- How is content relevancy ensured?
- What is the mobile setup (responsive, m.-subdomain, dynamic serving)?
- Is the mobile setup valid for the entire domain (including subdomains) or are different setups being used on the (sub-)domain?
- At what point (breakpoints) does the domain switch from the desktop to the mobile view?
- Do AMP versions of URLs already exist or is this planned?
- Is there content parity between desktop/mobile or are there any known differences?
- Does a progressive web app (PWA) exist?
- Have you revised your keyword strategy from a mobile SERP point of view within the last six months?
- Are link building campaigns actively running and if so, can we have a list of links from the last 12 months?
- What are the most prioritized URLs from a link building perspective?
- Can a disavow file be provided, if it exists?
- Have there been any kind of link exchange programs active in the last 24 months?
- Can we have a link export from GSC if GSC access can’t be given?
So, that’s the list so far. Again: This is not a checklist and also not seen as a definite list. But, if you find it helpful, feel free to share it. Many thanks for both your time and your attention.
Google Doc sheet is here.