Many people wonder if it’s worth paying for website audits since there are many free audit and reporting tools within their reach. Not to mention free scripts, that can check the condition of one’s website in terms of SEO. Some of these tools need only 90 seconds to examine the website, which seems like a great result when taking into account time-efficiency. Especially given the amount of time required by an SEO agency to conduct a detailed audit. Is time really that crucial in this case, though? Is there any difference between free and paid audits?
What is an SEO audit and why should you perform one?
SEO auditis a website analysis, which aims to check how well-optimized the website is, and whether there are any issues or possible improvements that will essentially increase the visibility of the site in search engines. It’s a fundamental service performed by many SEO agencies, mostly because it shows the client what changes are planned to be implemented within the site (and where do they stem from). Audits make it easier for the client to understand how exactly the agency is going to improve the website in terms of SEO and, at the same time, serve as a checklist that the agency can follow. The audit is more of a diagnosis, whereas the actions taken on the basis of it lead to the increase in both the visibility of the website in search engines, as well as the readability of its code to Googlebot.An audit is usually performed at the beginning of the cooperation with an SEO agency. Contrary to a free audit, though, the report is carefully prepared by a specialist, who starts the task from getting to know the industry in order to draw better conclusions from the available data. Actual experience and devoted time are what makes the paid audit more detailed and insightful than the free report. Basically, an SEO specialist takes advantage of his or her knowledge, skills, and advanced tools to examine the website. Free audit, on the other hand, is generated automatically and doesn’t involve any specialist, nor his or her perspective on the matter. You will get the full report almost immediately after you hit the right button, but is automation a good thing in this case?
What are the characteristics of a free audit?
It doesn’t take into account the specific industry. The lack of human involvement and complete automation means no actual knowledge of your business. The SEO agency, on the other hand, gets familiar with your industry and competitors to gain more insights and recommend better solutions tailored to your site.
It doesn’t consider the limitations that a website has. These limitations might stem from technology that the site is built with, or the CMS that it’s based on.
It often analyses the homepage, not the whole website. It means that it doesn’t check, for example, how the subpages and categories are arranged, or what their meta tags and descriptions are.
It lacks proper explanations and comments. Clients are not always familiar with SEO process , and that’s perfectly fine. However, that’s precisely why there’s a need for involving a specialist that can explain it in details and answer potential questions or doubts. In fact, a free audit can leave the website owners with even more questions than answers. This is when a lack of an SEO specialist is the most problematic. An audit should serve as a roadmap, not to cause confusion.
It doesn’t focus on details. There’s no analysis per se - the tools are only checking if some elements are in place (such as a sitemap or robots.txt file). It can also make a mistake if, for example, a particular CMS has the sitemap under a different address than a standard /sitemap.xml.
It doesn’t show the correlation between the issues, which means it doesn’t really present consistent findings. It’s a specialist’s job to gather relevant data from different tools and analyse them carefully to have a comprehensive view. In fact, such a specialist doesn’t only have to be familiar with website SEO, but other areas related to it as well.
It might point out some errors even when the site condition is good overall, i.e. when judging the “size” and complexity of the website. These, however, depend on the industry. If it’s a website full of pictures being analysed, it will be heavier than a site with text only. Still, it’s not necessarily an error, but rather its specificity. It would make no sense if, for example, a photographer was asked to erase some of the photos in order to have a better performing website. Yet, a specialist would most likely have identified the issue and recommended a better solution, such as image compression.
It doesn’t offer a competitive analysis. Even when the client knows who the competitors are, there’s no possibility to analyse the competitive sites carefully and find out how well they're performing in terms of SEO. This information, however, can easily be obtained from an SEO agency that conducts such an audit. A person responsible for it would then analyse the competitors and their sites in order to recommend what can be done to match or even outperform them.
It doesn’t prioritise the issues - an SEO specialist can easily decide what findings of the audit should be addressed immediately and what doesn’t necessarily have to be tackled as fast. He or she will also take into account how long you would have to wait for the results of specific actions until you get the expected outcome.
It’s based on generalisations or patterns, that might not even apply in your case. Basically, an audit is just a report - in order for it to be useful, it has to match the specificity of your website and be analysed carefully. Plus, there’s often no information on what tools were used to perform the audit and what were the criteria. For example, one free audit can show that the site is slow and requires optimization:
Whereas another one classifies it as a fast one:
Additionally, not every script meant for free website audits copes with the basic tasks, such as finding a sitemap. The same website as above was examined with different scripts, and sometimes the sitemap was identified, while other times it wasn’t.
A free audit can show basic findings to those who want to optimize the website by themselves, but even then it would be better to use proper SEO tools, such as Screaming Frog. It scans more than one page - actually, the free version makes it possible to examine 500 subpages, which gives more insights into a website. Still, if you’re thinking of hiring a SEO agency, such an audit would definitely not replace an SEO specialist, who has to check everything almost manually - starting from meta descriptions, up to the quality of backlinks. Paid audits are not meant to identify errors just for the sake of it, but rather to show what’s crucial for the visibility of the website in search engines and how it can be improved.
It does cost some money because it simply requires significant time and effort from an SEO specialist, as well as the access to relevant tools. In this case, automation should not be desired. Simply checking the basic data to find some errors should not be good enough. Apart from checking if there are any issues, an SEO specialist will advise on how to fix them, taking your business and the specific industry into account.
Free audits are a useful tool when it comes to improving some parts of the website on your own, provided that you’re already familiar with SEO to some extent. Still, such audits let you gather general insights from different tools, which might be beneficial for those who don’t have lots of experience in the field. It can also help if you don’t know where to draw insights from, and you don’t want to pay for tools that you won’t be using much in the future.
There are many SEO companies that share free website analysis tools, but it’s often just a sneak peek to the complete audits they perform. Immediately after conducting the free audit yourself, you’ll most likely see a pop up that will encourage you to contact the company for the full website analysis. That’s precisely how free audits should be treated - as a sales tool or a set of simple guidelines, rather than a full analysis of how well your website is optimized and what can be improved.
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