There are at least 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm (not to mention RankBrain), which means a thorough SEO audit could lead to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of SEO tasks. Few companies have the budget or resources to complete every potential SEO to-do item — and doing so would be an incredible waste of time and resources anyway. Some SEO tasks are critical and cannot be ignored; others just aren’t worth your time.
Prioritizing an SEO task list is crucial. Focus your resources on SEO work that is actually going to improve rankings, increase clicks and drive revenue. Most companies should focus on engagement SEO work, but technical tasks can’t be ignored completely — especially if you have major problems.
Critical technical SEO problems
Audit any website for technical SEO issues — even the world’s top-performing sites — and I promise you will find dozens, if not hundreds of things that “should” be done. The list of technical SEO work can go on endlessly, if you let it.
But what technical work will move the needle on organic rankings?
Recently, my team conducted 15 audits of different web properties for a large tech company. The client was concerned that some unknown technical change or issue was severely limiting their organic search growth. Though we found dozens of technical SEO issues, most of our recommendations were for engagement SEO tasks. None of the technical issues we discovered were critical, and resolving them wouldn’t have provided noteworthy results. However, this thorough audit was still meaningful for the company — they were able to move past their unfounded concerns to focus on expanding content and improving user experience (UX) to drive higher rankings.
Critical technical SEO issues are rare, but not nonexistent. No amount of engagement SEO work will be effective if a site has major technical issues, so it’s crucial to prioritize red-flag technical SEO issues above any engagement SEO tasks. Critical technical SEO issues include:
Always ask your SEO and technical teams to summarize the effort required for, and the anticipated impact of, SEO work. If the effort is quite large, and/or the anticipated impact is low — or it “may or may not actually help us” — then move on.
Critical mobile SEO issues
Mobile SEO is part technical and part engagement, and 100 percent critical. As Google prepares to roll out mobile-first indexing, optimizing your site for mobile is more important than ever. After resolving technical SEO issues, audit your site for major mobile red flags:
With critical technical and mobile tasks complete, your site’s framework will be set up for the tasks that will make the most meaningful impact over time: engagement SEO.
Critical engagement SEO issues
The most commonly recommended engagement SEO task is creating new, high-quality content. Adding quality content to your site is an important task, but when it comes to fixing a site’s SEO, optimizing existing content comes first.
Red flags to look for when auditing a site’s current engagement SEO include:
There are many important engagement SEO issues that should be high priority but are not necessarily critical. As an example, cleaning up duplicate content through redirects or the use of canonical tags should certainly be high priority, but it’s not necessarily critical, since there’s no ranking penalty associated with duplicate content.
Critical reporting issues
One commonly overlooked, yet critical, SEO task is ensuring analytics data is clean — and that it demonstrates impact on your company’s bottom line. Clean and meaningful analytics data allows you to gather crucial insights about your site’s performance in search, and to provide evidence of the ROI of your SEO efforts. In addition to rectifying critical engagement and technical SEO issues, take on the task of cleaning up your analytics reports:
Clean analytics data allows you to effectively track search results pages (SERPs), monitor bounce rates and measure click-through rates on important calls to action. Additionally, as you begin expanding your marketing initiatives to different channels, analytics will play an important role in highlighting what’s working, and what should be abandoned.
The future of the buyer’s digital experience
Technology is advancing rapidly, and buyer expectations and demands are evolving alongside these innovations. Today’s critical SEO priorities will be tomorrow’s outdated practices, because search engines are designed to cater to people, and people change.
To that end, the most critical task for any SEO is to pay attention.
Pay attention to your audience and their needs. Provide the information they’re looking for. Simplify their lives, and chase the monthly active user — repeat, loyal visitors — not just increased organic traffic.
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