You know your website needs an SEO audit, and there are quite a few sites offering free SEO audit tools, as well as digital marketing agencies offering website audits as a sort of free sample. It sounds great, of course, but there can be many downsides that negate any benefit from saving money on an audit. A free SEO audit, much like free plastic surgery, could cost a lot in the long run and should probably be avoided.
The Problem with Free
Out of necessity, companies can’t afford to invest a great deal of time or money into products or services that are given away for free. So a free SEO audit simply can’t be as robust as a paid audit.
What’s often left out of free audits?
- Historical context: many of these audits offer a snapshot of current performance but not much else
- Valuable insights: a lot of free audit reports consist of mostly boilerplate text, including long explanations of what “SEO” means
- Next steps: just as historical context is often missing, so are recommendations for what to do next (unless the next step is “hire us”)
What does a free SEO audit often include?
- Incomplete information: gaps in information could fuel decisions that harm the visibility, authority, quality, and profitability of the website
- Misleading information: if the audit is mostly boilerplate text, the information in it might not target your company, as it could be left over from the original template or the previous audit
- Sales-oriented recommendations: because the audit is free, it’s often used as a sales tool, so recommendations will lean toward engagements with the agency providing the audit
The danger of these three ingredients is that they can trigger harmful decisions due to a lack of info, the wrong info, or info designed to steer you in a predetermined direction. Not only would you have to deal with the financial fallout of an uninformed decision, you’d also have to bear the cost of fixing it.
What You Get for Free
A client noted the detail of our SEO audit and showed us two free audits their company had received for comparison. The two were quite different: one was streamlined and very simple, though some of its information was useful, while the other was very long but contained little insight.
The longer audit suffered not only from boilerplate text, but from misspelled and grammatically incorrect boilerplate text. For each of the five areas the longer audit evaluated, between 85% and 94% of the text was clearly copy-pasted from a previous audit, and in one case, it included the name of a previously-audited company.
In both cases, the free audits did a reasonable job identifying areas of concern, but stopped short of making recommendations for addressing those concerns. They could potentially serve as a starting point for a thorough site audit, but don’t have much value on their own.
What to Expect from a Paid SEO Audit
By comparison, a paid SEO audit should more than justify its cost and ideally serve as a standalone document for your own team or a different agency to work through.
- Thoroughness: Our paid website audit evaluates 237 items across eight areas, from technical SEO audit topics to online identity, mobile performance, and tracking/analytics. Expect no less from an audit you’ve invested in.
- Quantitative and qualitative information: Because well-trained experts are looking through your site, expect to see both quantitative scoring and informed insights about every single item on the website SEO audit.
- Prescriptions, not just descriptions: A good SEO site audit doesn’t just describe the present situation, it delivers recommendations that go beyond “improve content” or “check sitemap” to form a comprehensive roadmap for site improvements.
- Length from lots of insight, not lots of words: A quality website audit shouldn’t read like an essay that’s trying to make a word count. Instead, every part should contain useful information about your site in particular, not leftover copy from the last audit.
- Discussion and feedback: Audit results aren’t just delivered as a PDF attached to an email; in fact, the PDF of the results should be for future reference only. The best way to deliver audit findings is through a conference call (or, if possible, in person) that goes through a detailed but not over-long presentation (sample slide shown here). And a crucial part of the audit process is answering any questions you might have about the website SEO audit to ensure you have a firm grasp of what to do next.
Why Paying for an SEO Audit Is Worth It
When a free audit is done as a “loss leader” or a complete giveaway, it’s limited in its scope, purpose, and strategic value. A paid SEO audit should:
- Go deep into your marketing data to determine the meaning and implications of SEO performance aspects
- Evaluate your website based on your company’s unique needs, focuses, and desired conversions
- Present a comprehensive picture of how SEO affects overall marketing and business goals, so the audit delivers many times the value of your investment in revenue-driving conclusions
- Provide a prescriptive list of prioritized recommendations that any team can implement
- Do all of this from the standpoint of delivering value on its own, not as a sales tool for a long engagement with the agency