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SEO 5 min read January 10, 2020

Forensic SEO Investigation With
Pam Ann Aungst

how to perform a forensic seo analysis
Stacy Mine
Stacy Mine
Editor at Serpstat
I prepared this QA article in case you forgot to join our Twitter chat with Pam Ann Aungst - one of the top 10 Best Women in SEO by Serpstat and an expert in SEO and PPC. She is the owner of Pam Ann Marketing and Stealth Search and Analytics.
Q1:
How do you know that you need a forensic SEO analysis for your site?
Pam ann:
Whenever SEO traffic drops significantly, forensic SEO analysis is crucial. Identifying the correct reason (or reasons) for the drop is the best way to definitively lead your clients or team down the correct recovery path. Very often I find that there was more than one reason for the drop, so it's important to do thorough research and not jump to conclusions!
Q2:
Who can perform forensic SEO analysis?
pam ann:
It requires thorough knowledge of SEO, analytics, and ESPECIALLY critical thinking skills. It is so important to find the correct cause of the traffic drop, and not be too quick to jump to conclusions or submit to biases. I always tell people to collect enough evidence to the point where you'd feel confident defending your conclusion in a court of law. It's too quick/easy to blame an algo change when it could have been something else that happened around the same time.
Q3:
Which are the main stages of a forensic SEO investigation?
pam ann:
Stage 1 of 3: Interview the website owner and their development team. Ask them to tell you EVERYTHING they've changed on the site recently, even if it doesn't seem like it would be relevant. Very often clients and developers don't think that a certain site edit could possibly have affected their SEO traffic when it did.

Stage 2 of 3: Verify that there was an actual SEO issue. Sometimes people think their SEO traffic dropped when really it just returned to normal levels after an unusual spike, or GA tracking code got removed, or traffic dropped on ALL sources, not just SEO.

Stage 3 of 3: Find the cause. If you've verified that an SEO traffic drop really did occur, then it's time to find the cause. Easier said than done, of course, but I have more tips than this coming up.
Q4:
What should you start your forensic SEO investigation with?
pam ann:
I use a lot of different tools for this, but the core tools I can't live without are Google Analytics, Search Console, Screaming Frog, and the Wayback Machine.
Q5:
What should your forensic SEO audit check?
pam ann:
A LOT of things. I wrote a blog post to document the step-by-step checklist that I start with. In short...check EVERYTHING you can think of. Technical things, content things, link things… ALL THE THINGS! And DO NOT stop when you think you've found the answer. Still check everything else, because there's often more than 1 reason!
Q6:
How do you identify the difference between a penalty and a dampener?
pam ann:
Look in Search Console under "Manual Actions." If there's something there, it was a penalty. If not, it could have been a dampener, but it's important to fully investigate every possibility (esp. technical) before jumping to the conclusion that it was algorithmic.
Q7:
Which are the most common reasons for SEO traffic drops that you see in your forensic SEO investigations?
pam ann:
Technical issues, like the site being tagged with noindex, or disallow in robots.txt. Also lack of redirects and/or content changes during a redesign. Algo updates are actually the least common reason I find! And, like I said, there's almost always more than one contributing factor. Good to see I'm not the only one who rarely finds algo update as the reason. So many SEOs jump on the algo-blame-train so fast when it's really something else. Then the client never gets the real/right answer.
Interview With Bill Slawski: Implementing Structured Data For SEO
We hope that this chat was useful for you! Follow Pam Ann Aungst and Serpstat Twitter to stay in touch with all our updates and interesting projects :)

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