Automated SEO Audits - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I’ll shoot straight with you – depending solely on automated machine-made website audits is cheap, dirty and unsatisfying. An automated website audit is the 99¢ drive-thru cheeseburger stuffed in a cheap paper bag, next to the salty fries that mysteriously never age. Why settle for this when you could have a nice, quality SEO steak dinner audit? Mmmm steak.

Machine website audits are both a blessing and a bane to SEO. They can be useful for finding hidden broken links and other technical issues, but you should never base high-level decision making on the raw results of a website test. You need an experienced SEO professional and/or website developer to evaluate audit results, understand the findings and decide if any actions are needed.

Unfortunately the raw test results can look scary and impressive. Don’t let a fancy report full of big numbers scare you. Without proper interpretation the test results have little meaning and can even be harmful if they create unreasonable concern. Read on to learn why.

The Good SEO

Automated website audits can help identify problems, which should then be used by a web professional to correct errors if necessary.  Things a website audit tool can identify include:

  • Broken page links.
  • Missing or poor page title tags.
  • Missing or poor page description meta tags.
  • Missing or poor page content.
  • Missing image “ALT” alternate text attributes (used to describe a photo, logo or graphics with text on them).
  • Duplicate page content (two or more pages with substantially similar text).
  • Search engine exclusions (robots.txt, noindex, nofollow).
  • Search engine inclusions (sitemap XML files).

The Bad

Automated website audits can be inaccurate or misleading. Software can sometimes provide incorrect findings. Or, things may be identified as a problem but actually are not.  Examples include:

  • Missing image “ALT” alternate text tags. Not all images should have an ALT text attribute assigned to it. In fact commonly used images such as stylistic spacers, placeholders, dividing bars and backgrounds should NOT have an ALT text.
  • Broken links in scripts or style sheets. Complex JavaScript and CSS coding may be interpreted incorrectly by website audit tools as a broken link. Doh!
  • Inadequate number of keywords appearing on a page. Are you freakin’ kidding me?? The days of keyword stuffing to gain search rankings are long dead. Now it’s all about content quality, meaningfulness and relevancy.
  • Page content analysis. An automated tool can report the number of words in a page but can it analyze content quality? Information structure, accessibility, content visibility or user experience? Only an experienced professional can provide you with useful information based on modern SEO best practices.

The Ugly

Making poor decisions based on misinformation. One day you receive an automated SEO audit (like the one shown below) and Gasp! Look at those big scary numbers! What in hell is going on here and what can we do about it? Do you seek advice from your trusted web professionals, or do you run out into the streets and find someone, anyone that will say the right answers you want to hear?

Unfortunately this is not just a dramatization. Bad, misleading or incomplete information often results in bad decision making. It behooves us to pay attention to what is truly important and NOT get hung up with unimportant things. Maintain proper perspective, focus on what is truly important.

So what exactly is “truly important” for SEO?

Google cares about quality of content and the user experience. How do visitors see the site, is page content readily visible “above the fold”? Is the content engaging and useful? And can a mobile user see and use the website on their handheld device?

It is paramount to follow Google’s SEO guidelines. There is no great mystery about search optimization; in fact Google wants you to do well and they go out of their way to provide this information for you.  Here are two guides from Google to help you get started.


 

Below are typical “raw” results from a big scary automated website audit report:

Big Scary Numbers

In the fight for solid SEO results, are you going to let big scary numbers and outdated SEO practices win the day, or will better sensibilities and established best practices prevail?

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