While your mother may have taught you not to judge a book by its cover, she probably wasn’t an SEO. Mother’s logic is still pretty good to live by, but for as complex as SEO is or may seem, it’s pretty amazing what you can learn about a website’s SEO quality in 60 seconds or less.
Okay, you aren’t going to fully understand the intricate details and you’d obviously spend far, far more time (closer to hours than seconds) on a true site audit, but I’d venture that 60 seconds is enough for a good gut check and for identifying areas that need deep exploration. What may make this most interesting is to compare results that your “team” gets from this exercise since we all have our own approaches, hot buttons, etc.
Ultimately, I’d recommend all SEO practitioners go through this exercise, even randomly on any old site, at least once or twice a week. I say this because like most skills, true mastery comes when it transcends thought…it becomes instinctive and our minds take in and process more naturally without conscious thought.
Of course, every one of these 60-second site audits will also be different based on initial perceptions and where the path leads us. Some elements we identify will be revealing in and of themselves, while others will merely be stepping-stones to other elements or footnotes toward criteria for our eventual recommendations.
Here is just a quick list of the things that I might look for in undertaking a 60-second SEO audit:
- Canonicalization (www vs. non-www)
- Title tag formatting pattern
- Title tag duplication (quicker via search engine with a “site:domain.com” search at 100 results per page)
- Indexation (via the “site:” search in Google and appending &filter=0&num=990 to the URL string from the initial results page)
- URL insight: construction parameters, keyword usage, length, tracking parameter usage, etc. (via site navigation as well as site: search)
- Meta description usage and duplication (via site: search)
- Heading usage (navigating site with Outline Headings and Show Element Names When Outlining via the Web Developer Toolbar)
- Nofollow usage (via SearchStatus plugin with highlighting while navigating site)
- Pagination, guided  / faceted navigation  constructs, sorting constructs
- Site structure (via sitemap)
- Robots.txt file and XML sitemap  usage
- Server platform (Apache, IIS, WebSphere, etc.)
- 404 Handling
That’s just a sampling, but a very powerful sampling that can provide a considerable amount of insight into a site. What you might have found surprising is the amount of information learned about a site without even looking at the site, but through the search engine results pages. For the daring souls, try this exercise without even looking at the site itself — how much can you learn just through analyzing SERPs?
And this isn’t just for work. Feel free to amaze your friends and family at your next party — then again, perhaps reserve that for parties with other SEOs.
So, what cues would you look for in your 60-second audits?