“Audit” is a scary word. It conjures images of legal action. It facilitates urgency. Usually, feeling of anger and fear follow. The consequences tend to be severe.
Thankfully, when it comes to dealer sites, audits aren’t as scary as they sound. While being compliant is important, most audits focus on subjective items instead and there’s no real penalty in most cases (other than perhaps a score from the OEM).
But inevitably the audits will come, especially if you’re at a Toyota store. Let’s unpack these audits a bit and review some items you should look out for.
Types of Website Audits
Before we go too far, it’s worth pointing out there are several types of audits that all range in severity. Basically, an audit that comes from the manufacturer will typically have more power than one that comes from an independent marketing firm. Both may have useful things to say, certainly, but there’s an order of priority when it comes to making site changes. Here are some audits you may come across:
Website OEM Compliance Audit
Typically, these are created when a dealership’s site is submitted for pre-approval and do not count against the dealership. Instead, a list of items is provided that should be corrected on a dealership’s site for the website provider and dealer to resolve. As long as the items are corrected, there is no penalty. It’s fair to say these audits are the most urgent as they’re tied to the dealership’s ability to receive OEM funds. It’s critical that compliance items are handled as quickly as possible.
OEM Best Practice Audits
Assuming your site is compliant, live, and has no major technical flaws, you can take a deep breath. OEM audits may again seem scary, but it’s important to note that many items are subjective or not defined clearly. You’ll obviously want to stay in good graces with the OEM and try to incorporate their feedback into the site, but it’s worth noting that sometimes there are changes you won’t want to make. We’ll discuss this in a bit.
You may sometimes get audits from your existing marketing company or as a sales pitch from other firms. These may indeed contain useful information, but they certainly wield less authority than the other types of audits. These are probably the trickiest to navigate because they’re typically used as an offensive strategy from a marketing firm to pitch new products or place doubt on an existing strategy. We’ll look more at some things you’ll want to consider if you run into these shortly.
So, What’s the Point?
Putting together an audit is not a simple process, and while some OEMs used automated tools to scan sites, even these still have blind spots.
With all the effort countless people are exhausting putting these together, it’s worth asking why this is how they’d prioritize their time. The goals naturally change depending on who is creating the audit, but here are some common reasons:
- Enforce brand authority and ensure compliance
- Encourage best practices when it comes to SEO and SEM
- Segment Tier 1 advertising and Tier 3 advertising to mitigate overlap
- Highlight gaps in existing marketing strategy
- Open conversations on new forms of marketing
- Challenge current product functionality
You’ll notice these are essentially sales tactics to varying degrees. And while there isn’t anything inherently malevolent about audits (they can be very powerful tools), a lot of subjective items and warped data can create a skewed picture of what needs to be updated and what shouldn’t.
With this in mind, let’s look at some things to consider when you get different types of audits.
Common Audit Items
Here’s a list of some things that come up in audits fairly often. Even if you aren’t currently dealing with an audit, it’s good to know some of this terminology and if these items are particularly worth addressing.
For OEM Audits
Requiring a dealer to show up for a very specific search can be a huge challenge for some dealers. OEMs will often use one exact search they’re expecting a dealer to rank for, and while it’s not typically an issue for most dealers, there are some circumstances where it becomes impossible.
For instance, I’ve worked with a dealer located in Richmond, KY. They were audited for not being the first result for a “Richmond” search – without the Kentucky piece in the keyword, search engines default to the much larger city of Richmond, VA.
A good SEO strategy moves contrary to this, instead working with more specific searches called long-tail searches. If you’re showing up for terms that include a make, model, and city, you’re going to benefit a lot more from that than trying to make your site rank for something broad.
It’s true that model landing pages are an important part of an ongoing strategy. Most automotive website vendors provide packages with a few pages per month which provides a good pace for content creation. However, an OEM audit might highlight the fact some models do not have pages created yet – and this creates a false sense of urgency for dealers.
OEMs will also perform searches with very specific cities included, and this can directly conflict with a dealer’s interests. Dealers in suburban areas tend to target larger cities with their landing pages since that provides a higher degree of traffic and aligns with customer search behavior. However, OEMs want these pages focused specifically in the cities the dealers are located in.
Most landing page packages provide two or three pages per month so creating multiple pages on the same model but with multiple cities will inherently be a slow process where the dealer is locked out of covering any breaking models. It’s always better to focus your limited SEO resources based around strategic business objectives.
Shoppers definitely don’t want to wait long for your site to load, and site speed is a hot topic in the world of SEO these days. However, site speed tests vary in how they measure speed and running your site through different types of tests will likely show widely-varied results.
In the event that an audit shows your site is particularly slow, one of the simplest things to do is pull it up on a phone that is not connected to a wifi network. If it seems to load well and you’re not getting customer complaints, you’re probably in the clear.
The audit may also show specific ways to improve site speed and it’s best to discuss the specifics with your website provider before making accusations – many of Google’s standards for site speed benchmarks are based off sites that are still functional in a pure text format (Google’s variant is called AMP and it removes most of the active background code to speed sites up on mobile).
Dealer sites rely heavily on modules to work – inventory and even OEM-mandated slideshows all limit site speed to some degree. There may be things your provider can do to speed up the site, but more than often it’ll come down to removing third-party widgets.
Google My Business and Online Listings
Your website provider may or may not have access to your Google My Business page, and it’s important to keep this in mind if something comes up in an audit.
Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the dealership to maintain the integrity of information on online listings (hours, phone numbers, address) but it’s typically pretty simple to update this information when needed. Your site provider can help as well, if they have access.
For Other Audits
Meta information is possibly one of the most misunderstood pieces of modern SEO. Previously, using a couple keywords in your site’s meta was enough to gain top positions organically – and many people still believe this is possible today.
You’ll certainly want to make sure your site’s pages have meta titles and meta descriptions for search visibility, but you should factor in that certain pages, namely inventory, may not abide by best practices. It’s okay if the vehicles contain some duplicate metadata as it’s rare one would ever show in search.
One area of metadata you can safely ignore is the use of meta keywords. Schema is a preferable way to tell search engines about your site in a standardized way.
Normally, you’ll want to make sure your pages can all be indexed. However, there are certain pages that interface with servers, contain duplicate content, or simply shouldn’t show up in search results. Forms are a common example – if a form is supposed to dynamically pull vehicle data, it won’t function correctly if someone landed on it without any other context. You’ll want to review the specific flagged urls first to determine if a fix is needed or not.
You do have the ability to exclude pages from search through Google Search Console as well if reason were to arise.
Alt-text is a non-negotiable item when it comes to SEO best practices, if not simply for ADA compliance purposes. Search engines can’t scan images (just yet) and having some sort of accompanying text label gives search engines data on exactly what is shown (or, at least the function of what clicking the image will accomplish). Tools that read the site aloud will also read the alt-text.
Alt-text is also a great way to get more visibility to your content – meaningful, unique tags that match long-tail searches can net you a decent amount of traffic and provide another entry point to your site through image searches.
Redirects aren’t inherently bad – in fact, 301 redirects are pretty common. At their core, redirects simply re-route one url to another. These are critical when switching site providers, but they’re also good to set up when a page url changes or is removed completely to prevent visitors from hitting a 404 page. Redirects will also work to maintain SEO, so they’re usually beneficial.
The main issue you might run into with redirects is redirect loops. This is when one redirect goes to another (and so on, depending on the setup). The worst consequence of this tends to be on site speed.
The name says it all – broken links are links on your site that ultimately go to 404 pages. As long as pages are redirected as described as above, this typically isn’t a huge issue. However, there might just be an instance of forgetfulness when taking a page down. Or, maybe it’s an external site that shut down. You’ll want to keep your site up-to-date.
However, unless the broken links are on fundamental, high-traffic pages of the site, you don’t need to be afraid. Nearly every site will have a number of broken links at some point and fixing them is pretty simple as well.
We’ve written several posts about the complexities of organic rankings. Suffice to say, this topic is pretty nuanced and an audit alone doesn’t tell much. Unless you have an effective, ongoing SEO strategy with proper keyword research, you’re not going to rank for very many terms.
Also, many tools that measure keyword position are restricted by data sampling as a means of privacy protection – so if you find that you’re showing in position 128 for “used Subara forester”, know that’s likely not a number that is consistently accurate.
If your site isn’t showing up for a high assortment of terms, it’s likely not an inherent problem with the site itself. However, if you are involved in a content creation strategy, make sure you ask questions and provide constructive feedback to your provider.
When all is said and done, audits are most simply collections of data. They might be accompanied by interpretations as well, but they’re typically not authoritative. Not every audit requires action, and many won’t require immediate remedies. Audits tend to contain elements of truth and elements of marketing to create urgency.
The list we’ve reviewed isn’t all-inclusive, but it does tackle many common items you’ll find in audits. Undeniably, some of these items are critical and you’ll want to ensure they’re in place. However, the other parts are less urgent and others can even be ignore altogether.
In short, audits don’t need to be scary when you understand some of the inner workings of websites and SEO. You may never get a perfect score on an audit, but that shouldn’t undermine that your site could still perform very well. However, if you do have questions of SEO best practices or audit items not listed here, we’d love to talk!