Expert Roundup: Free vs Paid SEO Audits

Expert Roundup: Free vs Paid SEO Audits
Here’s a burning question that most SEO agencies ask: “Should we charge for our SEO audit? Or should we do it for free?”

Here’s a burning question that most SEO agencies ask: “Should we charge for our SEO audit? Or should we do it for free?” If you’ve been knocking your brains out trying to come up with an effective lead generation strategy for your SEO agency, then I’m guessing that you’ve asked yourself those very questions at one point. I don’t blame you. Considering how SEO audits are such potent tools for generating leads, it makes perfect sense for you to use it as a lead magnet. In addition to helping you generate leads, there are even several other ways that you can benefit from offering SEO audits:

  • You can use the SEO audits to establish trust with your audience.
  • It helps you develop the perfect SEO strategy for your would-be customers.
  • You can use the audits as a means to educate your prospective customers about how important your SEO services can be for their business.
  • SEO audits will give you a better perspective of the “health” of your audience’s website, therefore, helping you create a pitch that’s tailor-fitted to their needs.
  • You can use it as a means to engage your audience.
  • It helps you put more money in your audiences’ pockets. This, of course, can lead to them reciprocating by ordering from you.
  • You can justify pitching your SEO services since it helps your audience address the gaps shown on the SEO audit.
  • You can use the audit’s result as a reference point. After optimizing your client’s website, you can refer back to the SEO audit to show them how much value they’ve gotten from your SEO services.
  • Etc.

The good news is, the list of benefits that you can get from offering SEO audits is a lot longer than the points that I mentioned above. TL;DR SEO audits are great! If you’re still undecided on whether or not you should charge for your SEO audits (or if you should do them for free), then allow us to help shed some light on the matter. We’ve asked a good number of SEO consultants about the question (42 consultant to be exact) and they were more than happy to share their ideas. Let’s hop right in and hear from the experts.

Free audits are part of SEO but they do not come without issues. Nothing is worse than sinking your heart and soul into an audit only to have information taken from you by someone who was just fishing. As our company has grown, we have been really making sure we qualify the business before doing an audit. That way, we know if the prospect is serious. We did not have that luxury when we were a smaller company and just getting started. We were forced to roll the dice a lot more. Even in some cases we had to find people who would let us give them an audit. At the end of the day, SEO is a competitive industry so I certainly respect those who demonstrate their knowledge and strategic direction with a free audit. It is part of what we do. The main thing to watch is that you don't give away too much. John Lincoln, @johnelincoln,  CEO Ignite Visibility
I believe there should be a bit of both. As an agency, time is the the most valuable asset because that's what your fees are based on. Performing a full audit is an extremely time consuming task therefore you should be compensated for it. But there are definitely high level elements you can report on that aren’t as time consuming that can give enough insight to a prospect to determine if they need SEO.Adam Heitzman, @adamheitzman, Managing Partner HigherVisibility
SEO is often a mysterious topic to many clients and people in general. There’s a high probability that a past SEO provider might have over-promised results, or worse, hurt your website’s rankings through improper tactics. SEO audits are a way to break through the noise and provide massive value. I believe there is a place for both free and paid audits. Our website at Zadro Web provides a free SEO audit to help solve many basic technical needs. Then, each initial SEO intro-call with a client is another way to provide the value I mentioned by demonstrating expertise, for free, on some quick SEO fixes. A paid SEO audit that dives into all aspects of usability, accessibility, structure, meta analysis, link profile, competitive analysis, and much more is the next step in creating a partnership with the provider and client. Full SEO audits are typically custom to a website’s goals and take time. It’s the balance of both free and paid solutions that win.Dario Zadro, @DarioZadro, Founder Zadro Web
Why can't it be both? Here's the deal. In truth you almost always get what you pay for. Free is good, but a free website audit can never hold a candle to a full-fledged paid website audit. At best, the free audit will be worth a few hundred dollars (in terms of time required to put it together.) That could amount to a thousands of dollars worth of value. That's great. But think of how much more a paid audit will net you. An audit in which you spend $200, $500 or even several thousands dollars on will provide far more value. Not only will the auditor spend more time, but they'll also be more precise in the reporting. That can then translate to tens of thousands of dollars worth of value. Sure, get the fun free audit, just know that it's just a taste of the real thing.Stoney G deGeyter, @stoneyd, CEO & Project Manager Pole Position Marketing
SEO audits are very important for SEO campaigns. Before setting goals for the campaign, the first thing to do is to ensure that the client's website is in good standing and the best way to do this is by performing an SEO Audit. Should audits be free or paid? Paid but at a reasonable cost. A good audit takes time and needs a lot of work besides the technical SEO analysis. If you give it for free, you won't give it the attention it deserves. Clients can use the findings of the Audit to understand what's wrong with their websites and they can either try to fix it themselves or hire an SEO to do the work.Alex Chris, @reliablesoftnet, Digital Marketing Manager
Free site audits aren't something we see as an effective tool as anyone can run a tool and send you errors on your site. When we look at a lead who would benefit from a site audit, we'll call out 2-3 major items and also detail the impact of not fixing those items prior to working on any major investment in an audit. By focusing on the bottom line impact and the user experience fail it could be causing, we find that's the best route for getting leads to sign on for a site audit as an initial offering. Adam Melson, @adammelson, Senior Team Lead Seer Interactive
I think selling SEO audits is a valuable way to generate revenue for agencies but it should be considered a "door opener". There's nothing sketchy about that. When you really think about it, it makes sense.  First, an initial SEO audit often leads to more things that have to be audited, like backlinks, internationalization, and content. Covering those three fields together with technical SEO in one huge audit is often not helpful because it's not focused and results in many recommendations not being implemented. Second, it's very valuable to conduct a follow-up SEO audit to assess how well the recommendations were implemented and their impact. Third, clients often need ongoing support in implementing recommendations because you talk to SEO or marketing managers and not the devs themselves. A monthly retainer is a good solution to provide constant support and do "hand-holding". I advise some smaller SEO agencies to do SEO audits and send half of the audit to a prospect for free. That's a way to generate clients because they see the quality of your work. This is a very successful tactic that has been proven over and over again.Kevin Indig, @Kevin_Indig, Reverse engineer, Mentor, Consultant, Speaker, Writer
Here at Volume 9, we believe that the best SEO analysis is done by a real person who can understand the business goals of our client and weigh that against the development cost of an SEO recommendation. There are plenty of online tools that will find hundreds, if not thousands of things that would make SEO a little bit better, however, a true SEO Audit report should help educate our client about the opportunity, estimate the effort involved in fixing a particular issue, and provide insights into the impact it will have on the business objectives. This type of consultative, comprehensive analysis can only be provided through a standalone service and that is why we choose to provide SEO Audits as one of our core paid services. Chuck Aikens, @chuckaikens, CEO Volume Nine
I believe that you're asking me to choose between two completely opposite approaches when it comes to providing SEO services. Basically, one company might have enough resources to provide basic free SEO audits to their prospects in order to convert them into clients. However, this doesn't necessarily mean the audit will involve information outside of what can be found by setting up a campaign in any tool that allows you to check your domain's health. I've never heard of SEO agencies selling standard SEO audits without at least offering consultancy services. From my perspective, if your agency can afford a proper inbound marketing strategy, you should definitely generate leads with the help of these standard SEO audits. It makes less sense for one with less need for a large number of leads — it would be a waste of time and money since leads can be quite difficult to convert into paid customers.Alexandra Tachalova, @alextachalova, Digital Marketer & Founder
I believe if you are trying to sell SEO services, the only way to use SEO Audits would be as a lead generator by offering it as a free service. There are already so many tools out there that do top-level SEO analysis for free, and a professional deep-dive SEO audit should not take very long.Adam Knox, @theadamknox, Community Liaison New Valley Media
More often than not, agencies should not charge prospects for a SEO audit, as long as the audit stays fairly high-level. An agency should charge a prospect for an audit if it is more thorough and focused on providing actionable next steps since they (most likely) spent a considerable amount of time and effort on it. However, a free SEO audit should be used to show the prospect the value of the agency and how the partnership will work together to get the best results. Kevin Cotch, @KCotch, SEO Analyst TopRank® Marketing
The answer to your question, based on my experience, is both. For 17 years, Anvil has provided free baseline SEO audits for prospective clients. Enough to show we have an understanding of the prospect’s business as well as SEO. It’s a balance, however, as sometimes prospects go fishing for free advice. We’ve also charged a nominal fee for a more expanded basic offering for small businesses & startups, separate from our standard full-service SEO audits, plans, implementation and ongoing management. That way, we can address the needs and expectations of prospective clients, but also monetize our experience, knowledge and value.Kent Lewis, @kentlewis, President & Founder AnvilMedia
As with anything SEO or digital marketing, there are many different levels to a question like this.  If we have a small business contact us regarding our SEO services then we may well conduct a brief SEO audit using a range of tools. This allows us to get an understanding of their current situation and marketplace so we can ensure that A) we can help and B) give them an idea of what that help may look like. We have worked long and hard reviewing what affordable SEO packages look like but to do our job and advise on the best solution for any given situation we need the basic intelligence that a high-level SEO audit gives us. The other kind of customer here will get in touch with a specific problem. A drop in traffic. An inability to rank. We had an enquiry a few weeks back from a site with 500,000 pages that was hit by the Google Fred update. The site did not really fit the template of the kind of sites hit by Fred and was in need of a redesign so it seemed a good time to really get an SEO battle plan together. In these situations, we have a far more comprehensive SEO audit process that can take a number of day to complete. Where this is also being used to feed into a specific need like a site redesign then this can be a weeks work. This kind of audit could never be free. And then we have the middle ground. Sites that are doing okay but need some analysis to see where improvements could be made. An SEO audit can be an SEO SWOT analysis. Providing input on the strengths and weaknesses so efforts can be focused where needed. So... as tempting as it is to try and come up with a generic answer to this kind of question, the real answer is always - it depends.Marcus Miller, @marcusbowlerhat, SEO & PPC Consultant Bowler Hat
This is an excellent question. At our company we offer two separate options: The first is a 24 point on-page inspection that is non-invasive and doesn't require any access to their credentials. We can do this report on any website at any time. It is a good "rough estimate" yet still something we can stand behind. The other option is a paid SEO audit. Pricing for this depends on the number of pages analyzed. After all, you can't charge to audit 100,000 pages the same way you would 10 pages, right? There are definitely companies out there that do it both ways, and none of them are really wrong. This is a huge part of our current business model. SEO reports help show prospective clients information about their websites that they might not know about. We take SEO very seriously and maintain one of the largest knowledge bases about on-page SEO on the web. Our paid audits sometimes take a week to complete, depending on the size of the website. We also need access to Google Analytics, hosting (cPanel or SSH), CMS / eCommerce access, in order to get a proper analysis of the website.Patrick Coombe, @pmkoom, Founder Elite Strategies
I am always in favor of having a paid SEO Audit as a standalone service as this way the client get the detailed report of with actionable items of what to fix on the website and how it will help them increase their rankings, traffic and conversions in SEPRs. Moreover, Free SEO Audits are usually used for sales pitches and making clients (who don’t know about SEO and Web design/development) interest in the service. Most free audit reports I gone through are very basic and do not discuss the details of the website and above all you never know what change can possibly impact what kind of results. With paid SEO audit, you get the detailed report but actionable items that you can perform and make the website rock in search engines from the targeted key phrases.Moosa Hemani, @mmhemani, SEO Specialist Thrive Internet Marketing
This is a great question because I’m sure there are valid arguments on both sides. We currently charge for our SEO audit services so our philosophy is that SEO agencies should charge for that service. Here is my reasoning for that and one important caveat. For agencies that are offering a robust and comprehensive SEO audit, it’s not just about the person-hours that are put into preparing a deliverable like that. You also have to consider what that information is worth to the person receiving it. At the end of the day, it’s the same as a consultant offering their services to a business or individual. A consultant is being paid for their knowledge and their expert opinion on how a business should proceed with a particular situation. A good SEO audit is the same thing. Even if a company does not move forward with long-term SEO services, they still have valuable data about what they should be doing to improve their rankings. That being said, I don’t think it’s a bad idea for agencies just starting out or perhaps trying to land a very large client to offer an audit at a reduced price or even free in some cases. Agencies should proceed with caution however. Any time you offer something for free or low-cost, you run the risk of devaluing your brand. If someone is willing to do something for free, that kind of diminishes the value of the service in the eyes of the buyer.Chris Dreyer, @rankingsio, CEO & Founder
I used to hate the idea of free audits because years of experience shouldn't be free. Then I learned the art of lightening them down to were you're just pretty much providing them public knowledge and they loved it. So know we always start our engagements with free SEO audits, and then we go into deeper ones once the client is sold. That way we make our money back anyway and the audit is always partially done.Jordan Kasteler, @JordanKasteler, Digital Marketing Consultant / SEO Director
We need to talk about the difference between a quick SEO glance for the purposes of putting together a proposal, and an in-depth technical SEO audit that the client should pay for. Some sites, such as my own, will use a free auditor tool that spits out a basic SEO report. This can be a great lead generator and help someone with zero SEO knowledge understand at a quick glance that they have some things to work on. Then let's talk about the work you should do before closing a new client. Personally, I don't work for free. I'll take 30min to quickly review a site from a technical SEO perspective, check out their links, look at their content, and run a quick Screaming Frog crawl to see if I can make a difference. I'll also run some queries to see if they are ranking. Beyond that, if they want a detailed list of recommendations and things to fix on their site and a study on the upside that'll get them in terms of traffic, that is all paid. In this day and age, I do not think people should be working for free, especially freelancers who are chronically underpaid as it is.John Doherty, @dohertyjf, Denver SEO Consultant, Entrepreneur, Agency Coach
As a consultancy, we've struggled with the idea of free audits as a cost of business, and have invested quite a bit of our resources into providing them over the years. The challenge actually goes beyond the cost, since leads will want to implement your suggestions before you ever get an opportunity to talk with them, thereby dragging out the sales cycle longer than necessary.  Our process has evolved to providing a free 30-minute consultation in exchange for having the opportunity to pitch who we are and share some recent success stories. During the call, we'll ask qualifying questions and provide some high-level advice. Okay, there are a few times during that initial consult that we try to help solve any immediate problems, but the focus is to show our expertise and earn the lead's trust. Hey, if they're giving us their valuable time, the least we can do is giving something back in return. We do still offer an "SEO Review" that includes 18 of the 80 factors we audit in a technical SEO strategy, but only to smaller businesses that don't really fit our target audience. The hope here is to earn some business reviews and be top of mind when the small business grows and is ready for an enterprise consultancy to come in and drive their holistic search strategy. In most cases, a free audit has not a viable way to get new clients, but a great way to give away expertise and extend the sales cycle longer than necessary.Steve Wiideman, @wiideman, Co-Founder Wiideman Consulting Group
If you're pitching for serious, grown-up work, then you need to understand the business well enough to recommend the right services at the right price. It's hard to do that without understanding the business, the market, and the website. Increasingly, I think that audits are becoming quite commoditized; the valuable bit is how SEO consultants help businesses to fix the things and get stuff done. So, it'd be silly to spend weeks doing free work, but definitely don't be afraid of looking under the hood before you start asking for signatures on contracts!Jono Alderson, @jonoalderson, Principal Consultant Distilled
I think paid audits go a long way to giving you the tips and advice you need to move forward with the website. Anyone can do a free website audit and come up with, you have some missing meta data, duplicate content etc. There are multiple paid tools that dig so much deeper and because these tools are paid for, the audits that you pay for are likely to use better tools and provide more insights into your website and in a lot of cases flagging up any potential technical issues. Free audits tend to be churned through software and sent out without any manual checks and research done, which offers no real value. So in terms of value for money paid audits are often more detailed using better tools and offer much more value.Craig Campbell, @craigcampbell03, Marketing Specialist Craig Campbell SEO
I do believe that basic SEO audit can be done for free, with a goal to convert a prospect into a customer. There are quite a few great tools that will crawl a website and give you a good looking report with all possible SEO issues, without you having to do anything but click a "create report" button. These tools are not free of course, but the resulting price of a single automated report is extremely low compared to the value of getting a new customer. So in case there's no human input required, I would totally advocate doing these audits for free. With a canned explanations of what each graph/metric means. If your prospect becomes interested, you can charge them for a consultation based on this report. And from there you can convert them into a long-term customer.Tim Soulo, @timsoulo, Head of Marketing Ahrefs
Agencies can't simply offer free SEO Audit as it engage their human resources. Additionally is good to remember that a professional SEO audit is a big task to execute and deliver. From the other side a Free SEO audit can be performed by various tools available online. Finally some agencies offer to charge for initial audit and then deduct price of that audit from first payment if client decide to stay with agency. I believe that may works in many cases.Lukasz Zelezny, @LukaszZelezny, SEO / Social Media Speaker
I know people who use free audits as an effective lead generation tool. However, I've had mixed results. When I tested free audits I was able to generate a lot of extra leads, but most of them were unqualified. Our agency has a minimum monthly retainer of $3k+. So, this eliminated a lot of potential work from smaller projects. That said, businesses working with lower ticket project around $1,000/mo. will probably have more success with this approach. I personally do not offer free audits anymore. Instead, I offer a standalone "deep dive" package for clients. This is a concept known as the Monkey Paw (a tactic I learned in Sandler Sales Training). Basically, we don't do any unpaid consulting. Clients pay us to perform a comprehensive analysis of their online presence, competitors and industry, and we deliver a customized strategic roadmap for ongoing SEO and content strategy to help them achieve their stated business goals. Upon completion, they can then decide if they want to shop out the execution, handle it internally, or contract my agency to execute. Regardless, the client gets a valuable deliverable, and we get paid for time and knowledge. This has been a game changer for my business. I spend next to no time working on projects unless I get paid for my time. I know this is not necessarily the best approach in all businesses, but it works for me :)Robbie Richards, @RobbieRichMktg, Blogger
Topic of SEO is always seen as a ‘Black Magic’ for end users and it has also become complex as the technology evolved with Social, Video and GPS integrated technologies. I am a great believer in transparency to our clients and therefore reputable agencies should be forth coming in producing an industry specific SEO analysis with case studies and they should be made available as a ‘free of charge’ to prospects.Logan Nathan, @logannathan, Digital Transformation Specialist solomoIT
For our agency, we do the both. We provide a basic SEO analysis for free to the prospects and we pitch them a full fledged website audit along with recommendations and charge for it. Providing something valuable for free strikes a chord with the prospects and give them a confidence that we know our stuff and can help them get the results. Gursharan Singh, @Gursharanbagga, Co Founder WebSpero Solutions
As the Joker says in The Dark Knight: "If you're good at something, never do it for free." I see many agencies providing what they call 'SEO audits' as part of their initial pitch to a client. Let me tell you, those are not audits. At best you'll get a white label report from an SEO tool with the agency's brand slapped on it, with little to no analysis put in to it. That is not an audit, and to call it that is an affront to the SEO industry. SEO audits are a paid service for a very good reason. A real audit takes a lot of effort, analysis, expertise, and critical thinking. It's not something you can churn out at a dime a dozen and throw in to client pitches for free. Real SEO audits are done by SEO professionals who are experienced and knowledgeable (and therefore expensive) and require deep-dives in to client sites (which is time consuming). That sort of service is too costly to provide for free. Yes, by all means, have a bit of a poke around on a prospect's website and identify some low-hanging fruit to prove you know your stuff. But don't ever dare call that an SEO audit. When you see an agency provide an SEO audit for free, you're not getting an SEO audit, and the agency is lying to you. Walk away.Barry Adams, @badams, Founder Polemic Digital
Giving prospects an inside perspective of what an SEO strategy would look like is necessary in order to highlight an agency’s expertise and why they should select that respective team to boost their visibility in search. If a prospective client is seeking SEO services, providing them with a basic SEO audit is simply part of the sales process and not a standalone service (in most cases). More often than not, the ROI from the resources utilized when putting together a cohesive audit is worthwhile when the prospect eventually becomes a loyal client. At our digital agency, Blue Fountain Media, search engine optimization is one of our most sought after digital marketing services. During the sales process, when we meet with prospective clients to address their needs and understand more about their business, we will consult with our internal SEO experts. From there, we’ll conduct an analysis of their current search visibility online to better gauge what they’re doing correctly, and where there may be areas for improvement. At our agency, there is no direct cost associated with this during the sales process and is simply one of our ways to show value to qualified leads.  Gabriel Shaoolian, @BFMweb, Managing Director Blue Fountain Media
SEO audits are an important part of the lead qualification process; they show prospects you know what you're talking about and help you gauge whether or not you'll be a good fit together. But you don't need to give everything away upfront. At Louder, we've had good results doing free minor SEO audits as part of the proposal process and including more detailed ones in the engagement.Aaron Agius, @IAmAaronAgius, Managing Director and Co-Founder Louder.Online
We think that preliminary quick audit is a must for preparation of custom offer for SEO services. Therefore, we already do provide a kind of free SEO audit before a customer decides to order a regular one. However, this is only summary of a quick SEO analysis. Regular (paid) audit is something completely different and provides more value for the customer including detailed info on implementation for developers. SEO audit should be furthermore complemented with SEO strategy including link building to bring added value for customer.Daniel Duris, Lead Consultant Pizza SEO
We find a lot of value in conducting a small-scale SEO analysis prior to meeting with prospects. This allows us to gain a better understanding of the potential client’s unique SEO situation, which helps us provide accurate recommendations and a customized SEO strategy. We also offer paid SEO audits, which are comprehensive and thorough, utilizing various tools and resources. Our in-depth SEO audits often require access to client accounts, such as Google Search Console, which is one of the reasons why we also utilize paid SEO audits after a client has already signed a contract. Brady Rebhuhn, Digital Marketing Analyst Blue Compass
Free SEO audits can be beneficial to get a quick and cursory view into your website's performance in terms of organic visibility. The problem with a lot of these free SEO audits is the fact they do not take into account a business's audience, products, differentiators or competitive landscape. A paid, in-depth or full SEO audit, analysis and recommended action-items based on priority and impact are much more beneficial not only to the client but also for the agency or SEO provider, since website performance (especially conversions) is dependant on numerous factors and variables, many of which cannot be evaluated using an automated tool. Here at Pure Visibility, a prerequisite for any SEO engagement is our Visibility Audit. It's a process we've honed over the years which proves to be beneficial to our clients. It helps uncover any underlying issues with the site, manages expectations as well as helps to lay a foundation to build upon when we move into content creation and outreach for link building. Tarun Gehani, @freshtight, SEO Lead Strategist
Disqualify Bad Prospects With A Paid Audit. Marketing and sales is a disqualification process. By having a paid audit, you'll disqualify a lot of bad agency prospects who cost you time and profit -- and attract better-paying, higher quality clients. Having a paid audit will give your team the time and budget you need to actually do an in-depth SEO audit to uncover what work actually needs to be done so you can provide more value and results to solve your client's business problems. In the end, a paid audit delivers more value to the client.Jack Jostes, @jackjostes, President + CEO Ramblin Jackson, Inc.
At Overflow we offer a free SEO report, but charge for our comprehensive SEO Opportunity Audit. The free report is automated, while our paid audit takes hours of research. A free audit can make for a better lead generation tool, but if your audit will take a ton of time you should charge for it, or your client may undervalue your services going forward. To determine which is best, I ask myself: What is the most efficient effort we can put forth to make sure a potential client understands the value in paying for SEO?Martin L. Smith, @iwantoverflow, Founder Overflow
I believe that SEO Audits should be a stand-alone paid service simply because while it's not that difficult to audit a website, it's realy all about what you do with the audit and the process you're going to take to fix things..  Not only that but depending on the scope of the audit and the experience the person doing the audit has, it can be extremely time consuming. And that's what people would be paying for - a service that helps them free up time to focus on other aspects.Andrew M. Warner, @CopyWarner, Founder Content Ranked
At Trinity Insight, we typically charge clients for 45 hours of work for a standard SEO audit, which includes diagnostics of technical and on-page elements, analysis of off-site portfolio, and social media profiles. However, we never truly know how many problems we'll uncover or just how complicated they can get until we've started the work. I have delivered audit presentations for clients where upwards of 120 hours were spent (at no added cost) untangling puzzling issues that limited their rankings and organic visibility. You simply cannot expect that kind of dedication or problem-solving when the "expert" is delivering your solution at no cost. If you want to DIY your website's SEO, a free audit can give you an idea of some standard issues to address. If your SEO work is being done in-house, armed with a list of technical issues and on-page opportunities, you could be kept busy for a couple of months - perhaps even a year. However, the fixes illuminated by a free audit will likely only get you so far; and often, solutions will be provided out of context. "Best practices" are often good guidelines to follow, but every platform behaves differently; every brand is treated differently by search engines; and every website is used differently by searchers. For webmasters who want to compete in the organic space, a paid audit is undoubtedly the smarter move.Jess Herbine, @jessherbs, SEO Manager, eCommerce Strategist + Creative Content Lead Trinity Insight
At VisualFizz, we nearly always perform a light audit with every prospective client that shows interest in working with us. We do this so we can recommend the best possible marketing strategy and channels for the client. The key word there is "light", however, as these audits can require a sizable time commitment. A full audit that helps set benchmarks, timelines, goals is something we generally do in the first month of working with a client. Marissa Ryan, @marissaryan25, co-Founder VisualFizz
I think that agencies would love to charge for every task that they perform, client or prospect. Unfortunately, I've never been able to charge for a prospect for an SEO audit whether they were a new prospect or an existing client that didn't do SEO with my agency. Interestingly enough, I've been able to charge for SEM audits. I think the main reason is the chance to see immediate results with SEM vs SEO. The proliferation of free and freemium tools makes it virtually impossible to charge for an SEO audit. You can use Raven Tools or Screaming Frog and scrape the prospects website for technical issues and SpyFu to quickly do competitor and keyword research to find holes in their current SEO strategy.Mike Flanagan, @ETWDigital, Senior Digital Executive ETW Digital
I think offering a free basic SEO analysis for potential clients is not only a great lead generator but also a way to educate potential clients as to the scale of work that SEO can involve. I've found that many business owners don't know what they don't know. They may not know all of the elements that go into SEO work or questions to ask. So even a basic analysis upfront can be a great way to show your agencies value up-front. For a more comprehensive analysis that might take 1-2 hours to pull together, I absolutely think agencies should charge for that service. Remember, it's not just the time it takes, it's also the years of training and research that goes into an in-depth report for any business. As soon as we undervalue what we do, so will our clients. Danielle Isbell, @odddogmedia, Digital Marketer Odd Dog Media
I’ve never been a fan of free SEO analysis as those tends to create a false expectation from the prospect, as being throughout, and on the other side, the provider needs to cut cost to a bare minimum either by using automated methods or outsource the work to a low-wage country or very junior employees. For both, it usually ends up as a loss-loss situation. As for free SEO reports, if they have marketed as automated report or assessment, then I think it makes sense to support a business owner who wants to get started and do some SEO fixes on his own. For agencies, it is best to use automated solutions for this either in-house solution or tools such as Raven, Moz, Website Grader or Woorank to various degree of efficiency.Samuel Lavoie, @sammyQc, Inbound Marketing & SEO Consultant
Since the beginning of my business I have given SEO audits both free and paid. Sometimes a free audit can be used as a sales tool in order to capture a client and to show the client how your agency can help them fix problematic aspects when it comes to on-page and off-page factors. Free works when it’s a small website, when the audit requires less than 2-3 hours to be completed, it becomes harder to offer free SEO audits for large complex websites unless the audit is provided for only a portion of the website or for only certain aspects of the website. I generally charge a fee for a full audit and that charge gets applied to the first month of SEO services if the client signs on with us. I think it is a fair approach and it allows my team to generate audits without rushing. Anthony Neal Macri, @AnthonyMacriSEO, Founder
In my experience on both the SEO Agency and DIY SEO market, Agencies are better off using basic, Free SEO Audits as a way to obtain leads, whether it’s embedding an actual tool on their website and asking for an email and/or phone number in order to generate the audit, or offering a commitment-free one when a potential client e-mails them to inquire about services. Many potential customers know they can get a Free SEO audit online and might feel like they are paying for an audit they could easily get elsewhere. By offering a free, basic audit, you can convince them of your value and how you can help them not only fix the issues in their free audit, but uncover even more things to fix and optimize with your help. Wences Garcia, @wencesg, CEO and Co-Founder MarketGoo

What’s next?

What do you think about the insights shared by the SEO consultants? Did you find their tips helpful? At this point, I hope you’ve managed to figure out whether or not you’ll offer your SEO audits for free or if you’ll charge for it. If there’s anything that you’d like to share with the community about SEO audits, then please share your ideas in the comments section below. Cheers!