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When Is an SEO Audit Necessary?

Figure out your SEO plan

After losing roughly 25 percent of its search visibility on Google, Expedia's CEO Dara Khosrowshahi stated the importance of knowing what's going on when it comes to SEO practices.

In a conference call, Khosrowshahi explained, "We look at all of our practices in Google, our SEM practices. We make sure that the content on from our side is great, our SEO practices, et cetera, and we're constantly auditing them and making sure that our practices are industry leaders. So really, that's the only comment I'll make. Google's a big partner. We continue to grow with them. And from a long-term basis, we look to continue to grow with them going forward."

Expedia has recaptured much of the lost traffic since the Google penalty, which was allegedly due to paying for links and other questionable practices in order to boost their rankings in the Google search results. This recovery has been largely fueled by audits to identify and determine what inbound links were acquired against Google's webmaster guidelines, then remove those links.

Does my site need an audit?

When a site loses a high percentage of its traffic due to a search engine penalty, like Expedia, an audit is absolutely necessary; in fact, it's the first step to recovery. It's the only way to identify what's wrong, and that information will allow you to resolve it.

But what about sites that haven't been penalized? Is an audit necessary as well? Most experts will tell you yes, mostly because of negative SEO. Through misguided efforts in the past, old strategies, competition activities and algorithmic changes, any existing inbound links that might be considered unnatural could get your website penalized, whether you had anything to do with them or not. If a competitor built them to your site, this is considered negative SEO.

Discussing negative SEO in a post for Forbes, staff writer Denis Pinsky spelled it out by saying, "Negative SEO is a very real and present threat to many companies online. But this threat often comes from your own past marketing efforts. Lack of transparency and ignorance to perform link audits and risk management can kill your business overnight, or at best reduce your website's traffic by double-digits."

Performing an SEO audit

Whether your website has been penalized and needs help, or you're just performing an audit to prevent a possible penalty in the future, there are two options for performing an audit.

The first is to perform the SEO audit in-house. This usually requires the work of someone in the marketing department and someone on the web team.

Organizations that choose this route can find a number of checklists, guides and walkthroughs that will help them not only audit their website, but help get a website back online after changes have been made. The benefits of an in-house audit are mostly cost savings, but there are risks involved, too. Most organizations don't have an in-house expert with experience performing link audits. And when it comes to recovering a site from a search engine penalty, you don't want your staff learning on the job.

The second option is to hire a professional or a firm to conduct the audit. Employing experts can be expensive, but you're much more likely to get a quality finished product that results in successful recovery or prevention of a future penalty.

Conclusion
If you've never had a link audit performed, it's a good idea to do so. And if you find yourself mired by a search engine penalty, it's the first step toward recovery. Link audits are a relatively new requirement to the online marketing spectrum, but they're a necessary tool in every marketer's toolkit.

More Stories By Drew Hendricks

Drew Hendricks is a writer, as well as a tech, social media and environmental enthusiast, living in San Francisco. He is a contributing writer at Forbes, Technorati and The Huffington Post.