The Yard take on Google Lighthouse SEO Audits

6th February 2018 by Richard Falconer | Search

Automated SEO audits have been wasting everyone’s time for longer than I’ve been in SEO. From my experience, I can remember numerous times where automated audits have found their way into the hands of a client contact and I’ve had to spend time investigating all the false positives.

I’m a big fan of automation and the use of tools to make work more efficient but unfortunately, so far I haven’t come across one automated SEO audit that doesn’t, frankly, waste more time than it saves.

The traditional problems with automated SEO audits:

Typically they’ll identify out of date Google advice – such as ensuring you have 100 links or fewer on a page. Classic bad advice that the Moz audit tool used to flag for years after it was changed by Google.

Often automated audits are introduced to a client contact by an ambitious but naive client-side exec, or sometimes they’re used by the sales team of a competing digital agency where the outcome is usually a wasted morning for the client-side marketing team, agency and sales person and a loss of credibility for the agency.

My second problem with automated SEO audits is that they cause people to miss the bigger picture. The thinking becomes that SEO is simply about going through a checklist, finding the issues and fixing them. If a free, automated tool can do it, why would I pay a consultant? Or worse – can I sell myself as a consultant and get this tool to do the audits?

Putting aside the fact that so far automated audits haven’t been able to accurately audit websites, the larger piece of work comes after the audit is carried out. Identifying the best fix for a given tech stack and business scenario, prioritising work based on a cost/benefit analysis, overcoming political and other business hurdles and so on.

Aleyda Solis puts it better than I can:

Google Lighthouse SEO Audit:

This morning I heard about Google’s latest addition to their Lighthouse Chrome Extension: an SEO audit category.

Lighthouse is: “an open-source, automated auditing tool for improving the quality of web pages”. It already provides audits for performance, accessibility and progressive web apps compatibility, among other things, and now SEO is there too.

So what does it audit? According to Google, there is an initial list of things which will be expanded over time. These appear to be:

  • Whether legible font sizes are used
  • Whether the page has a <meta name=”viewport”> tag with width or initial-scale
  • Whether the page has a <title> element
  • Whether the page has a meta description
  • Whether the page has successful HTTP status code
  • Whether the links have descriptive text
  • Whether the page is blocked from indexing
  • Whether the page has a valid hreflang
  • Whether the page has a valid rel=canonical
  • Whether the page avoids plugins

While these are all useful things to know, they are limited to auditing a single page and tell you nothing about the status of each factor. Okay, it has a meta description, but is it a good one? Does it perform well? It has a valid canonical tag, but does it refer to the ideal page?

The fact that it doesn’t take into account other pages on the site is important – since to the untrained eye it appears to give audit information which relies on visibility of more than one page.

For example, hreflang. It identifies hreflang markup on a page, or rather it claims to, but actually on the first page I ‘audited’ it falsely claimed there was one there. However, even if it had identified it correctly, it wouldn’t provide enough information about the implementation to be confident that it will work. It might spot that you’ve used an incorrect two letter country code but it won’t spot that you missed out confirmation links (hreflang tag on corresponding pages).

The conclusion:

Potentially Lighthouse could be a useful, if limited, SEO tool and it does add to the legitimacy of SEO which is often harmed by poor practitioners.

On the other hand, like most automated audits, it only shows a small piece of the picture and saves little (if any) time. It doesn’t seem to be bad for false positives but unfortunately the opposite is true, it can give the impression that everything is okay when it might not be.

There’s not yet any better way of identifying SEO issues than with a proper hands-dirty dig around at the site. The sort of audit that Yard and other quality agencies have been doing for years. If you’d like more information, please get in touch.

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