At least once every six months for high-traffic websites and once a year for most other websites, I recommend you perform a search engine optimization audit.
During an SEO audit, it's important to leave no stone unturned, and review all aspects and potential search engine ranking factors related to your website. Using SEMrush as a part of the data gathering phase of an SEO audit is key. Here is how to use SEMrush to gather the essential data you need in order to do the proper analysis during an SEO audit.
There are essentially three major phases during an SEO audit. The first phase is the data gathering phase, where you get all the data you can and put that data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I usually use one tab for each of the reports or sets of data that I gather. I start with SEMrush, then move on to export reports and data from Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools and a few other online tools, as well as some in-house tools I've customized.
When it comes to SEMrush, though, there are several reports I deem to be the most essential ones to export and save to my main Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, and then analyze them. Below is a list of the most essential reports from SEMrush, along with some notes about what to look for during an SEO audit of your site.
Traffic Report. The first report I looked at was the traffic report. Look at an overview of the site's traffic. Were there any major changes in traffic to the site from 2008 to 2013? If there were major spikes in traffic, you might want to investigate the reasons for those spikes. Maybe the site was doing something right in order to get that traffic — but, more importantly, why did the site's traffic go down after the spike?
In the case of my site's traffic, there was a huge spike for a period of time because of some news I broke a while back. But that subsided over time. What's also important to look for is a spike or significant drop in traffic, and when that happened. If there was a big sudden drop in traffic, it could be due to a Google Panda or Google Penguin issue.
In the case of my site (my blog), you can see that I was not affected by any algorithm changes. The whole point here is to look for large traffic spikes or drops in traffic. Traffic should be about the same or be going up, there shouldn't really be any unexplained traffic jumps or drops.
Organic Keywords. The next report I looked at was the organic keywords report. Overall, you'll want to look at the topic of the keywords that the site is ranking for. In my case, there were various news articles/blog posts I've written in the past about certain companies. Lately, the site had been ranking for those company names, but also ranking for some SEO-related keyword phrases, as well. What you should look for is an overall topic shift that doesn't describe the topic of the site. If the site is about X, and the site is ranking for phrases related to Y, then there would be a problem you'd need to investigate.
You can also look at the keywords and potential traffic for those keywords to see if there are any opportunities. For example, if the site is ranking on the bottom of page one or on page two of the search results but still getting traffic, you might consider recommending the topic be "built out" more, adding more pages of content around those keywords or topic. That would then bring in more potential traffic and boost rankings.
While viewing the organic keywords report, you can specifically look for proof of traffic: the site is ranking for a keyword, and there is traffic and searches for that keyword. So, if the site is not ranking in the top three for that keyword phrase and it's getting traffic, expand the content and links to that content. I would also spend some time "talking up" that topic on the social sites, as well.
Competitors in Organic Search. This report is the key to doing competitive research. Spend some time making note of all of the sites that are showing up on this list. See what they're ranking for, make notes of their keywords bringing traffic, and consider those keywords as you go forward with adding content on the site. Use this list of competitors to look at the competitor's backlinks. Use this report as a starting point for your competitive analysis during your SEO Audit. See what their successes appear to be, and use those for ideas and recommendations.
Ad-related reports. When it comes to the advertising reports offered by SEMrush, you can use those, too, if the competitors or site you're analyzing for the SEO audit is running ads. I generally separate the ad-related reports into a separate PPC audit or Advertising Audit of the site, but you can use these reports to gain some insight into organic search engine rankings. See which ads are performing better than others, and look at the topic of the keywords to see if there are any keywords that have traffic you're not targeting on the site. If the site is advertising and paying for traffic on certain keywords but the site isn't ranking for those keywords organically, then perhaps there is no content on the site targeting those keywords.
SEMrush is a key starting point for all SEO audits that I do for clients. I use the data as part of my analysis, and use certain reports to generate content ideas for the site. By looking at the data in these reports in certain ways, you can gain insights into what a website is doing right, what the site is doing wrong and what needs to be fixed. After all, that's what an SEO audit is all about.
Bill Hartzer is the Director of Search Engine Optimization at Standing Dog, a full service digital agency located in Dallas, Texas. He is a successful internet marketing expert, having practiced search engine optimization and website marketing since 1996. You can visit his website here, and read his last article for SEMrush, "How to Use SEMrush to Help Your Newsjacking Efforts."