The word “audit” may have one of the worst reputations in the entirety of the English language. It’s a word that we’ve come to associate with something being terribly wrong—if you’re auditing something, it is with the implied expectation of finding an illegal or detrimental error. So, except for a few gung-ho IRS employees, we cringe and shudder and avoid the word wherever possible.
In many ways, this continues to be the case for marketers when it comes to conducting an SEO audit. It’s an arduous process, and one that promises tedious tweaks (who doesn’t love going back to optimize months of blog posts?) or large-scale website restructuring. But it remains a necessity regardless, and marketers must find themselves buried in reams of web content or the depths of Google’s Webmaster Tools.
But what if an SEO audit could be just as powerful a tool for brand storytelling as the videos, blogs, and experiences regularly used as a part of your brand’s messaging?
Some elements of SEO review are unavoidable. There is a cold calculation to search bans or penalties, unresponsive design, long load times, and a whole host of other technical metrics that doesn’t leave much (if any) room for neglect. As a result of this, it can be easy to treat SEO auditing with the same demeanor. But throughout the audit process, there are places for both technological improvement and creative expression. The question for marketers shouldn’t ever just be, “How can I improve my site’s performance,” but rather, “how can I improve my site’s ability to tell our story?” The answers to this question will frequently come to 301 and 302 redirects or site speed.
But just as frequently, it can bring marketers to a more creative approach to content, organization, and presentation. How does the flow of your website mimic your brand’s voice? Are your keywords intended to drive visibility or promote an aesthetic (or both)? What if your meta content had a personality all on its own?
Get rid of the idea that SEO audits have to be entirely technical. Optimizing can—and should be—creative.
Keyword research is one of the clearest places where creativity can enter into your SEO process, if you allow yourself to think about the process slightly backward. Typically, after identifying the keywords they’re hoping to capture, marketers can either choose to 1.) create content on a topic surrounding that keyword or 2.) find creative ways of making those keywords fit the topics they are already creating content for. As result, when reevaluating keyword research, it’s not uncommon to find oneself going through page by page to tweak what keywords you’re hitting.
While a tried and true method, this frequently results in a highly narrow focus in targeting. This is typically good for high-ranking SERPS, but tends to limit both what sort of keywords you use, and by extension the sort of content your brand puts out.
If your only goal with keywords is to drive conversions through landing pages, your brand’s ability to tell a story will only ever go as far as the sale—a realization that even the most financially-savvy brands have begun to figure out. There is a place for this sort of content, typically in spaces where you can capture a lot of traffic at low cost, but this shouldn’t be the whole of your brand’s story. High-competition, high-cost keywords that are normally ignored can actually present a great place to aim for authentic content: While other brands are using these keywords to try and sell, your brand can be taking advantage of them to earn trust or present a little vulnerability. Likewise, low-traffic, low-cost words might indicate a space where you can create a unique niche for your brand—a safe space to be more experimental and exploratory in the sort of conversations your brand has.
Once you’ve developed content to cover each quadrant of the matrix, you can begin thinking about how to organize your site in such a way that the user experience mimics the sort of conversation your user first engaged with. Do users who are brought in by personal, authentic content find themselves dumped onto a landing page just a couple clicks later, or is there other content put in front of them that allows them to continue the experience? Or alternatively (and perhaps more powerfully) how can you make every page the user sees—whether informative, onboarding, or otherwise—fit the tone you welcomed them in with? It is in this combination of SEO organization and human-oriented content that brands will find their most engaging sweet spot.
And of course, once you’re set up, you can use content auditing and standard technical SEO auditing to measure how your new content has affected your page’s visibility and engagement, and then adjust from there.
Audit is a horrible word. It so effectively strips away all of our confidence in work already done, while implying a technical sterility of process that is, understandably, unappealing for many marketers. But this doesn’t have to be the case for your brand. SEO review (see, that sounds so much better) can be a vital place to find creative opportunities for your brand that engage users on a personal level, rather than just winning them over with brute visibility. With a crowd of Internet users who are growing savvier to the tricks of marketers every day, this will continue to be a growing need for marketers who want to actually engage, rather than just be seen.
Interested in other ways to make your website tell your story? Brush up on your Webmaster Tools skills with this free eBook.