One of the most common questions I get in sales call as my role as an SEO and web site auditor is,

“Why should I pay you just so you can tell me what is wrong with my web site and what it will cost to fix it? After all, you don’t pay your mechanic to diagnose your car and provide a quote, do you?

Web site audits should be free

A much more pleasant version of that mechanic analogy was used in an email I received recently from a prospect who I have been in a number of discussions with in regards to helping her improve site visibility and site conversions for the charity she represents. She happens to be very engaged in the car industry which explains the analogy. Since I have to reply to her anyway I thought I would spend a little time to create an article I can show to StepForth’s valued readers and future prospects.

First, Some Insight into What a Web Site Audit Should Include

I can only speak for our own services but whenever we pitch a web site audit to a prospect/client we  explain they are paying for a service that will:

  1. Examine all online and offsite factors (i.e. links to the site, and/or social media usage, and/or online reputation) that can have an impact on the web site’s search engine rankings and (optionally but preferably) its ability to convert browsers into buyers; or for the charities we support the ability to convert browsers into donors.
  2. Provide in-depth results complete with detailed appendices as applicable; some of the overly in-depth data is often placed here in case the client wishes to review it.
  3. The final report will include all of the issues found in priority of importance and we often include instructions to implement each recommendation.
  4. We include a 30 min to 1 hour (depending on size of audit) conference call to review the results with them and answer any questions.

In short, we provide the roadmap to improving their web site’s opportunities for increased rankings and we do so using clear and concise language. This service takes between 6 and 15 hours for small-to-medium sized sites between the research, analysis and writing of the final report plus the final meeting. Larger websites with long (and sometimes turbulent) histories of online marketing can take upwards of 24-30 hours to audit.

Considering the above information, would you offer this service for free? More appropriately, could any business afford to offer this much work for free? If you don’t find that convincing then consider our comparison of the mechanic analogy.

The Mechanic Analogy

Mechanic with student in repairshop running diagnostics on a car

When a mechanic diagnoses a problem with your vehicle and doesn’t charge you for that time (which doesn’t always happen) it is often because the issue was  identifiable through their visual examination of the car and/or the use of computer diagnostic equipment. This can take perhaps 20-30 minutes at most and when you decide to utilize their services you can bet the business owner has factored in the cost of those quotations into the mechanic’s wages. Factored-in costs aside let’s assume the business offers diagnosis and quotations without any expectation for reimbursement.

With that in mind look at the comparable scenario below:

The Mechanic

The Issue: You go to your mechanic and say your engine light is on and you don’t know why.

Questions and Answers:  He/she also asks a few questions about the history of the car (if it isn’t already known in the service book) and then says he will contact the client with a quote soon and/or email one.

The Free Service: The mechanic plugs in diagnostic equipment and determines mileage has dropped significantly over the past 30 days and it upon quick review of the innards it is noted the car has an oil leak. From the history of the car he/she also notes the timing belt is long past due replacing.

The Quote: In short order the mechanic notes the issues and provides a quote.

The Paid Service: You approve the quote and the mechanic goes to work fixing the issues noted. During that work the mechanic finds other issues and notes them in the final bill in order of their importance for future servicing (at least this is what happens with my old Toyota 4Runner).

The End Result: Your vehicle’s check engine light is no longer on and you now know what work you need to do soon or at a later date to keep your vehicle running smoothly.

The Web Site Auditor

The Issue: You speak with the web site auditor (AKA vendor) and share your concerns about your website and its lack of ability to competitively rank in Google. You are also frustrated because your web site is not converting visitors into buyers and you need some outside advice on how to improve it.

Questions and Answers: Your prospective vendor responds by asking a series of questions to get a better idea of your web site’s history in terms of marketing (such as just how good the past rankings were) and if there have been any negative repercussions in the past. The web site auditor then asks if the client has any suspicion of the cause of the decreased rankings and any applicable information.

The Free Service: The marketer checks the site while this discussion proceeds, looking for any clear smoking guns that could have caused a ranking issue. Typically (at least at StepForth) at this time a few suggestions and recommendations are made to improve the site on a whole as the discussion winds up.

The Process Can End Here: If a smoking gun is found the marketer will report it and it will be up to the you (the client) at that point if there should be additional review or you may just decided to fix the issue and wait and see if the ranking issues are resolved. Also, if it appears the you are quite savvy then it may make sense just to take away the actionable items from the discussion and only come back if you need additional help or if you feel an audit is worthwhile.

Author Note: In such situations we find the client will not request an audit in the future but will request consulting on an as-needed basis to assist them with the kind of technical/advanced issues that came up in the first conversation. Typically, however, the discussion will end with a promise to send a quote for a web site audit even if a smoking gun is found since such paramount mistakes are often only the tip of the iceberg.

The Quote:  A web site audit is recommended to dig deeper into the nuts and bolts of the website and determine all aspects of the site that need updating to bring it up to top search engine optimization standards. Additionally, the vendor may indicate a full vetting of the incoming links (from outside websites) is necessary to ensure your web site is not being (or will not in the future) algorithmically penalized for using unsavory or cheap link building tactics. The details of the recommended audit are typically identical to those provided in the example prior to this scenario comparison.

The Paid Service: Should you wish to proceed the vendor will complete the audit and provide the report – in detail and to the specifications of the proposal/contract.

The End Result: You are provided with a web site audit that is obviously very thorough and is laid out logically for easy-as-possible digestion; it should be broken into a detailed segment for those who want to wade in on the process and a straight-forward and actionable summary for those who just want the answers. You find the Summary is exactly what you need because it lays out all of the issues in priority of recommended implementation along with suggested methods for implementation. Essentially you can see this web site audit is detailed enough you or your webmaster could implement the recommendations without hiring the vendor if you wished.

Author Note: We prefer to provide the full audit and recommendations without any suggestions for further services but offer our clients to let us know if they would like us to bid on the implementation process or suggest other ways to market/improve their web sites for greater visibility. In 99% of cases the client asks us to provide such a quotation.

Final Thoughts on the Heart of this Scenario Comparison

The mechanic provided a free quote based on a review of the vehicle (a basic audit if you will) and then found additional work to do which is quoted in the end without any suggestions how to fix the issues yourself or offers to assist you while you did it yourself.

Conversely, the web site auditor not only gave some brief recommendations during the initial discovery session (“Questions and Answers”) but also provided a final web site audit that outlined all of the issues with the site AND how to fix them yourself. He/she even left open the option to assist you with the implementation or handle the implementations entirely.

Quality Web Site Audits Should Not and Can Not be Free

In short the final result of a properly created web site audit is something you can take away and implement yourself and it is based on the insight of a knowledgeable SEO with significant web site auditing experience and the ability to back up his/her findings. If you still feel (assuming you ever did) that is a service which should be provided for free then I am sorry I failed to explain myself well enough. That said perhaps consider these alternate analogies I could counter with:

  • Does a home inspector spend time finding every problem within your home for free?
  • Do you ask a business consultant to tell you everything that is wrong with your business and then how much it will take to fix it – all for free?
  • If you go to your Doctor do you get a free diagnosis and only pay for the treatment? (applies to USA)
  • If you go to your Lawyer… do you get anything free? 😉

A Cautionary Note on Inferior Web Site Audits

There are web site audits that can be had for cheap or even for free. I am not one to judge in absolutes but I believe it is fair to say that 99% of such audits under serve the customer by only providing recommendations on boiler-plate surface issues; assuming the audits provided are even correct. Please make sure you do your homework if you are going to use a free or cheap audit solution. You have to be 100% clear on the pitfalls of such services; such as outdated advice, incorrect advice (be it from ignorance or automated auditing errors), advice based on the effects of a deeper more significant issue, etc.

Also consider that not all web site audits are created equal. I briefly mentioned above how important it is your web site auditor has significant experience in SEO and the entire spectrum of auditing a web site but in reality I can’t stress this enough. The fact is you can’t put a price on hiring a reputable and experienced professional to conduct your audit. At StepForth our two auditors are myself, Ross Dunn (16 years of SEO & site auditing experience) and Scott Van Achte (11+ years of SEO & site auditing experience); you might not find even a tenth of such experience in the auditors you find from many companies. I firmly believe the more experience the more likely the professional will provide insightful advice and recommendations beyond the norm, and such advice is worth the time it takes to find and vet such a person. This is especially true if the efficacy and health of your entire business rests on the success of your website’s ability to rank well and ultimately make sales.


PS… I hear IRS audits are free.

Stock photography provided by our favourite stock site for its affordability and quality: Fotolia