The SEO Audit Dilemma – Automated vs Manual SEO Audit | Pros & Cons

The SEO Audit Dilemma – Automated vs Manual SEO Audit | Pros & Cons
02 June 2023
Plugins, online software, advanced SEO auditing tools, and SEO Specialists - the choice is wide so take your pick. The only real difficulty is between determining which option suits your current business needs better: automated SEO audit or manual SEO audit? In a moment, I’ll paint you the full picture of both options, putting flesh on them by listing their pluses and minuses. I’ll also touch on the SEO audit report because it differs depending on the SEO audit you go for.

Before diving into the key distinctions between automated and manual SEO audits, which aims at helping you make the best pick for your website, let me draw a quick analogy first.

To me, doing an automated SEO audit with dedicated SEO tools is like diagnosing yourself using a smart scale. Automated SEO audit tools provide you with some basic metrics and insights into your website’s health, similar to how a smart scale gives you weight and body composition information. Some smart scales even print the readings out, giving you a kind of report including your BMI, body, and muscle fat percentage, and water weight. Undoubtedly, this information helps you get a general understanding of how your body is doing. SEO tools give you an SEO audit report too, which helps you understand how well your website is doing in terms of SEO.

However, when you need some more in-depth analysis, you arrange a visit to a sports medicine physician who offers personalized guidance and a comprehensive evaluation of your physical well-being. This is how manual SEO audit works as well. Conducted by experts, a manual SEO audit report provides you with deeper analysis, customized recommendations, and a thorough understanding of your website’s unique needs.

Even though you may know this and that how to do an SEO audit, having a specialist who can identify specific issues, recommend tailored strategies, and help you achieve peak performance in the digital world can be a real godsend.

However, do you always need to ask a specialist for help? Can’t you just run an SEO audit yourself, especially now when the range of online SEO audit tools is so wide? Let’s check which solution will be better for your online business. First, let’s take a look at…

What’s an SEO Audit?

Simply put, an SEO audit is the process of checking your website to see how well it follows the rules of SEO. The findings help you localize the areas of your site that are problematic, thus requiring improvement.

What does it mean that some areas are problematic? Basically, these are the issues that block your site from showing up at the top of the search results. This in turn effectively cuts you off from getting more visitors to your site. That’s one thing.

The other thing is that an SEO audit also helps you find new ways to make your website better and more user-friendly. Trust me, SEO and web design have a lot in common. They can complement each other surprisingly well, working to your advantage. Since this article is on SEO audit, I won’t delve into this subject too much, but direct you to a What Is SEO-Friendly Web Design? – be sure to read it as it clarifies the issue pretty well.

Furthermore, you – an online business owner – should think of an SEO audit as your personal SEO/business assistant. How so? Let me explain: A well-prepared and detailed SEO audit report uncovers the paths you should take to reach your online business goals faster. In other words, an SEO audit report tells you how to get more visibility, more traffic, more sales, and eventually more money.

By doing an SEO audit regularly, you can:

✅ make sure that the search engines can find, read and understand your website correctly

✅ check whether your web content is optimized for the right keywords

✅ spot the areas that require some technical improvement (e.g. you can check how fast your pages load, how well the website works on mobile devices, and how secure it is)

✅ make your site stay up-to-date and in line with current search engines’ requirements, consequently avoiding penalties that could hurt your ranking and traffic

All things considered, the insights provided by an SEO audit help you beat your competitors and get ahead in your niche.

cro seo audit

Now that you understand what an SEO audit is and why it’s important, let’s see which option seems to be more beneficial for you: a manual SEO audit or an automated SEO audit. Let’s start with the former.

What’s a Manual SEO Audit?

A manual SEO audit is when you* or an SEO Specialist look at your website to check how well it follows the best practices of search engine optimization. In other words, you need a human to run the analysis. Naturally, the very human makes use of advanced SEO tools, but s/he is the one who connects the dots and does the thinking.

What you may like most about a manual SEO audit is that it’s generally more thorough and fully customizable. While running the audit, you or the SEO Specialist you partner with, takes into account your industry, your specific business goals, your competitors, and your target audience.

I see manual SEO audits as a comprehensive process that can be adjusted for each entrepreneur individually. Even though it may take a lot of time and effort, a well-performed manual SEO audit gives you a lot of value and guidelines.

example of seo audit table of content

An example of a table of contents in an audit done by Delante

Quick summary of a manual SEO audit:

✔️ thoroughness ❌ time-consuming
✔️ flexibility ❌ prone to human error

*If you aspire to check your website’s health on your own, you may want to learn the ropes first. I advise you to start by reading How to Conduct a Basic SEO Audit on Your Own as this article exhausts this subject pretty well. However, if you’d like to partner with an expert, be sure to check A Buyer’s Guide for Hiring the Best SEO Audit Company in 2023.

What’s an Automated SEO Audit?

An automated SEO audit is when you use a tool, plugin, or online software to check if your website follows the rules of SEO. Naturally, the SEO audit reports differ as they depend on the tool you use – each one analyzes various sets of metrics. That’s why, some website owners have a go at a few tools for automated SEO audits because this way they get a fuller understanding of how their website performs.

What you may like most about an automated SEO audit is that it’s way faster and cheaper than its manual counterpart. It’s mostly because the tools, plugins, and online software follow a set of predefined rules to check a website for various SEO metrics.

automated audit by Woorank

An example of automated audit by Woorank plugin

Ahrefs automated audit

An example of an automated site audit by Ahrefs

As you’ve probably just realized, there is little-to-zero room for customization in running an automatic SEO audit. On the same note, you won’t rather get your specific industry, goals or target audience factors included in the SEO audit report. Neither will an automatic SEO audit detect some subtle or complex issues that require human judgment or expertise.

Quick summary of an automated SEO audit:

✔️ super quick ❌ lack of customization
✔️ scalable ❌ potential inaccuracies

Human vs Machine – Differences Between Manual and Automated SEO Audits

Before you have a go at a manual or automated SEO audit, you need to understand the aspects that set both solutions apart. To help you wrap your head around those differences, I’ve prepared the below comparison table.

Manual SEO Audit Automatic SEO Audit
Level of detail In-depth analysis and fully customized recommendations General overview with standardized, often generic suggestions
Accuracy The accuracy depends on an SEO Specialist’s experience, who runs the audit Subject to limitations and potential errors
Time Time-consuming due to manual analysis, data gathering, localizing the issues, and coming up with the solutions Incredibly quick as it generally takes just a couple of minutes
Cost* Rather high as it requires hiring a professional who needs to be compensated not only for their time but also for the tools and the expertise Significantly lower as the automatic SEO audit tools are relatively cheap; the cost gets even lower if you already paid for access to an SEO tool that can be used for auditing
Flexibility Fully tailored to industry, target audience, and individual business goals Limited customization based on available features
Expertise required Requires advanced SEO knowledge and hands-on experience Requires some basic understanding of SEO concepts
Monitoring Requires doing regular check-ins Some tools and software provide automated monitoring; the SEO audit reports are sent regularly to the website owner’s email box

*If you feel like understanding the factors that influence SEO audit pricing, be sure to read How Much Does an SEO Audit Cost?

If I was to give you just a one-sentence summary of the above, it would be as this:

An automated SEO audit can be useful for a quick check of your website’s status, but it can’t replace a manual SEO audit that allows for customization and is supposed to provide you with more depth and accuracy.

💡 Now, let’s think:

Do you really need to choose between automated and manual SEO audits?

Perhaps there is a way to combine both solutions to leverage the strengths of each method. To answer this question, we need to analyze the strong and weak points of automated and manual SEO audits.

Advantages of Manual SEO Audit

The FIRST ADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: identification of unique issues. A manual SEO audit allows the Specialist to pinpoint specific problems that have a negative impact on your website’s ranking. This can be duplicate content, unclear website structure, or incorrect header tag use. Based on these findings, the Specialist creates a list of personalized recommendations, which brings us to…

The SECOND ADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: personalized recommendations. By analyzing numerous factors such as target audience, industry, competition, and business objectives, a Specialist is able to accommodate the right fixes to the website they run the audit for. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of coming up with custom-tailored SEO strategies that promote achieving your individual business goals.

The THIRD ADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: a comprehensive analysis. You can be pretty certain that an SEO Specialist running the SEO audit for you will analyze not only the on-page but also the off-page factors. This means the SEO audit report will include information about your backlinks, social signals, and your brand’s online reputation.

The FOURTH ADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: quality control & accuracy. Critical thinking brought by SEO experts is what makes this method superior to automatic SEO audits. Simply put, an experienced SEO Specialist promotes the accuracy and reliability of the SEO audit report, as they are able to spot false positives or negatives that the SEO tools and software often produce.

The FIFTH ADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: in-depth competitor analysis. When running an SEO audit, an SEO Specialist also analyzes your competitors’ websites. This means they check what keywords your rivals use on their websites or what online publishers mention your rivals on their websites (check: competitor link gap). Having those insights, you’re able to adjust your SEO strategy to gain a competitive edge in search engine rankings.

The SIXTH ADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: future-proofing. Algorithms and SEO best practices constantly change, right? SEO Specialists know that as well, and therefore they keep their hand on the pulse. This way you’re provided with recommendations aligned with the latest industry and SEO guidelines. Tools and software may fail to include those changes in their report.

When Running a Manual SEO Audit Makes the Most Sense

👍 Large and complex websites, e.g. e-commerce websites with thousands of product pages and multiple categories

👍 Websites with specific needs, e.g. a local service business that targets a specific geographic area

👍 Penalized websites or websites that noted a sudden ranking drop

seo audit list of tasks

Example of task list summary list after SEO audit performed by Delante

Advantages of Automated SEO Audit

The FIRST ADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: speed and efficiency. No doubt, automated SEO audits are way faster to execute when compared to manual audits. With just a few clicks, an SEO tool or software quickly scans and analyzes a website, providing you with feedback and a general overview of its health.

The SECOND ADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: accessibility. Automated SEO audit tools are usually easy to use and navigate, no matter the technical background of a user. Most of them provide general instructions on how to interpret the results, which happens to be useful to those who aren’t familiar with most SEO-related terms.

The THIRD ADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: cost-effective. Since you can run an automated SEO audit yourself, you don’t need to bear the cost of hiring a professional. This quality of automated SEO audits is especially beneficial – sometimes or even a life-saver – for small business owners with limited budgets.

The FOURTH ADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: continuous monitoring. Some automated SEO audit tools allow you to schedule regular scans to monitor your website’s performance. By receiving periodic reports, you stay informed about any issues affecting your SEO.

The FIFTH ADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: scalability. Automated SEO audits are suitable for websites of all sizes.

When Running an Automated SEO Audit Makes the Most Sense

👍 Small websites with a limited number of pages and basic structures, e.g. a personal blog

👍 Websites with basic needs, e.g. a local business website with a tight budget

Disadvantages of Manual SEO Audit

The FIRST DISADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: time-consuming. Undoubtedly, running a manual SEO audit takes time. This process gets longer with every page that needs to be checked for SEO. Manual reviewing of each page, analyzing various web elements, and providing personalized recommendations are what a human auditor needs to go through – and all of these need time to be done correctly.

The SECOND DISADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: potential for human error. Any process relying on human analysis and judgment may involve some human errors. The same applies to manual SEO audits, of course. Overlooking certain aspects may happen, however, the more experienced an SEO Specialist is, the fewer-to-none mistakes should occur.

The THIRD DISADVANTAGE of manual SEO audit: costly investment. Hiring experienced SEO professionals or agencies to perform a thorough manual SEO audit can incur higher costs. Those amounts may happen to be a bit too high for smaller businesses or individuals with limited budgets. Naturally, the cost of this service depends on the number of pages that have to be reviewed.

When a Manual SEO Audit May Not Be the Best Option

👎 Large websites with tight deadlines, e.g. an e-commerce platform that needs its thousand product pages reviewed for tomorrow

👎 Websites that publish timely content, e.g. a news website that needs to quickly identify indexing issues

Disadvantages of Automated SEO Audit

The FIRST DISADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: complete lack of or limited customization. Automated SEO audit tools, plugins, and online software generally provide highly standardized reports and recommendations. Based on predefined algorithms, those automatic reviewers are likely to fail to consider your business’s unique characteristics, goals, or specific needs of your website.

The SECOND DISADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: potential inaccuracies. This one is connected with the previous point. Since automated SEO audit tools follow predefined rules, they may not accurately assess complex SEO aspects. Simply put, they may miss some nuanced and site-specific issues. They are also unlikely to correctly interpret the context in which a website operates. As a consequence, you may be provided with inaccurate or even misleading recommendations.

The THIRD DISADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: limited scope. What you can expect from an automated SEO audit tool or software is to focus on the technical aspects of your website. This means you will get a report on broken links or page loading time, to name just two. While these elements are important, the thorough SEO audit goes beyond technical SEO, including content quality, user experience, and social media integration.

The FOURTH DISADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: lack of human judgment. It can be denied, automated SEO audits lack the critical thinking and judgment skills of human SEO Specialists. Unlike real people, online software isn’t able to interpret complex data, assess the relevance of keywords, or distinguish between high-quality and low-quality backlinks.

The FIFTH DISADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: difficulty in keeping up with changes. I’m sure you’ll agree that algorithms and SEO best practices continuously evolve. The updates to search engines or changes made to SEO guidelines may render some online software and automated SEO audit tools a bit outdated, if not less effective.

The SIXTH DISADVANTAGE of automated SEO audit: lack of or limited competitor analysis. An automated SEO audit’s prime goal is to identify the on-page issues. Since there is no room for analyzing off-page, the automated SEO audit report simply doesn’t include competitor analysis. This means you don’t get valuable insights concerning your rivals’ keyword targeting, backlink profiles, and social media presence.

automated audit semrush

Summary of automated site audit by SEMRush tool

automateed audit semrush issue

An example of list of issues from SEMRush site audit

When an Automatic SEO Audit May Not Be the Best Option

👎 Complex and large websites with dynamic content, e.g. an e-commerce site with a vast product catalog, advanced filtering, and personalized user experience

👎 Websites with unique business requirements, e.g. a niche B2B software company with a complex buyer journey

👎 Websites featuring advanced technical solutions, e.g. a multinational website with geolocation-based content delivery and vast language variations

👎 Websites aiming at long-term success; e.g. a startup launching a new website aiming to establish a strong online presence

Finding Your SEO Audit Fit – Automatic vs Manual SEO Audit Summary

The choice between automatic and manual SEO audits depends on the specific needs, goals, and resources of a website or company. If I were to give you a general piece of advice, it would be as follows:

An automatic SEO audit is usually more suitable for small to medium-sized websites with basic needs. It’s also better for small businesses with limited budgets. An automated SEO audit can be useful for a quick check of your website’s status, but it can’t replace a manual SEO audit that provides you with more depth, accuracy, and customization.

A manual SEO audit is usually more suitable for all types of websites, including complex and unique ones. Basically, it offers nothing but benefits for businesses of all sizes. A manual SEO audit can be more time-consuming and costly, but it provides you with more value and results for your website.

Just like literally everything, both options have their pros and cons, depending on your situation and objectives. Ideally, you should use both methods to complement each other and ensure your website is optimized for search engines and users.

That being said, if you’re ready to unlock the full potential of your website’s SEO performance, you should absolutely use the benefits of an SEO audit. It’s an invaluable step towards improving your online visibility and staying ahead in the digital landscape.

If you’re looking for expert guidance and a comprehensive SEO audit, don’t hesitate to reach out to our experienced SEO team.

Wojciech Urban

SEO R&D Specialist

R&D specialist in SEO and web analytics. He feels most comfortable in the area of technical SEO, and his main task is to ensure that websites are optimized for search engines and achieve high rankings in search results.

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When should I go for an automated SEO audit?

An automatic SEO audit is usually more suitable for small to medium-sized websites with basic needs. It’s also better for small businesses with limited budgets. An automated SEO audit can be useful for a quick check of your website’s status, but it can’t replace a manual SEO audit that provides you with more depth, accuracy, and customization.

When should I go for a manual SEO audit?

manual SEO audit is usually more suitable for all types of websites, including complex and unique ones. Basically, it offers nothing but benefits for businesses of all sizes. A manual SEO audit can be more time-consuming and costly, but it provides you with more value and results for your website.

What are the pros and cons of an automated SEO audit?

Pros of an automated SEO audit include:

  • speed and efficiency
  • accessibility
  • cost-effectiveness
  • continuous monitoring
  • scalability

Cons of an automated SEO audit include:

  • complete lack of or limited customization
  • potential inaccuracies
  • limited scope
  • lack of human judgment
  • difficulty in keeping up with algorithms updates
  • lack of or limited competitor analysis

What are the pros and cons of a manual SEO audit?

Pros of a manual SEO audit include:

  • identification of unique website issues
  • personalized recommendations
  • comprehensive analyses
  • quality control & accuracy
  • in-depth competitor analysis
  • future-proofing

Cons of a manual SEO audit include:

  •  time-consuming
  • potential human error
  • costly investment

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