17 Mar, 2020

What’s the point of a website audit?

Let’s be honest, building a website ain’t cheap, at least, building a good website isn’t anyway. It’s an investment, just like a high-end car or a quality new instrument and like new cars and new instruments, your website needs a little love and attention. Especially if you want to get the best performance out of it in the long run. New cars need regular services, instruments need regular cleaning and new websites need regular auditing. It is a case of “need” as well. Not “want”, not “could do with”, not “nice to have”.

So why do you need a website audit? 

Well first and foremost, you need a website audit because the digital market place is ALWAYS evolving. As a result, what worked well a few month’s ago, might not work as well today, and in some extreme cases what used to be a positive digital strategy can even crossover into a negative one (remember paid links?). This is where an audit can help. 

It essentially forces you to go back and look at your website in the cold light of day, in the context of the current state of search and in line with the latest best practices and design trends. By doing this on a regular basis, you can make sure your website is always properly optimised, up to date and fit for purpose.

These three factors: being properly optimised, up to date and fit for purpose are the three pillars that ultimately support your website in being successful – whatever success online looks like for your business.

One important barrier to success that an audit can also alleviate is something I am going to call “familiarity bias” (a term I am borrowing from psychology and adapting just a touch). In psychology, familiarity bias describes the phenomenon where when given a choice, people typically choose the more familiar option, even if that option results in less favourable outcomes than the unfamiliar alternatives. 

The way this concept applies to websites and website audits, is when a website owner, who is using their website day in day out and is therefore very “familiar” with how it works, fails to recognise the problems more unfamiliar users will encounter and therefore is unable to make effective decisions and improvements. A website audit can help resolve this by outsourcing the audit to a third party. That a can be as informal as asking a friend to look through your website for you, or as formal as bringing in a digital agency like us in to do it on your behalf. Either way, it avoids the blindness caused by over-familiarity. 


An audit is more than just data, it’s directions…

Different agencies and consultants tackle website audits in different ways, and frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no one size fits all approach. However, there are a few areas we would always recommend acknowledging in a website audit and these are: technical SEO, on-site engagement metrics, usability and keyword ranking positions. 

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is admittedly something of a broad term, but essentially, we’re taking about things like reviewing PageSpeed scores, navigation, site structure and links. The aim is to determine how effectively your website is being crawled and indexed by search engines and whether your website is maximising its potential to rank and rank well.

Engagement metrics

Engagement metrics include factors such as bounce rate, time on site and pages per session, as well as any additional click tracking events, form completions and other key on-site actions you may be measuring. If you’re reading this and thinking “we’re not measuring anything” you already have a problem. 

Every website, be it an ecommerce website or a simple brochure site has a purpose and that purpose should be measurable. For ecommerce it’s relatively easy, you’ll be measuring things like the number of transactions, revenue, average order value and so on. For brochure sites it may be a little less obvious, but things such as content downloads, form submissions or even minimum session durations for key content can all be valuable measures of success.

Engagement data gives the greatest indication of how successfully your marketing activities are being tailored and targeted to your audiences and how successfully your website is at meeting the needs of those audiences and supporting the end goals of your business.

Usability and user experience

Usability (or user experience (UX)) is an important aspect of a website’s performance in its own right, but it is also an important factor for search engine optimisation and conversion rate optimisation too. PageSpeed is a good example of a metric that straddles both SEO and UX in terms of where it has an impact. A review of your website’s usability should consider things like how well the website matches real-world conventions, errors with functionality and how well the website minimises users’ memory load. For an even more comprehensive list of usability considerations, please read Jakob Neilsen’s 10 General Principles for Interaction Design. 

Ranking positions

Keyword ranking positions are vital for understanding your business’s visibility on search engine results pages and therefore it’s capacity to drive traffic from organic search. It will also give an indication of how well optimised your website is from an on-page SEO or content point of view, which will complement technical SEO recommendations in order to create a robust overall strategy. 

The best bit: actions and recommendations

All that being said, everything we have discussed up to now is essentially just data that can be gathered if you have access to the right tools. What really makes an audit a truly valuable working document is a list of actions and recommendations drawn as a result of analysing all that data. This is also where the knowledge and expertise of the person doing your audit is really brought to bear and ultimately, this is what you’re paying for. Anyone can go on a data gathering exercise but only digital experts can turn that data into meaningful directions. This expertise and resulting actions and recommendations are the point of a website audit.