Editor’s note: “Ask an SEO” is a weekly column by technical SEO expert Jenny Halasz. Come up with your hardest SEO question and fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post! 
Welcome to another edition of Ask an SEO! Here’s today’s question:

What should I look for in a good SEO site audit?

Lots of agencies and consultants provide site audits, and they are expensive. If you’re like me, you also get 10 emails a week that offer to audit your site for free.
So what’s the difference, and what should you pay for?
Free SEO Audits
“Free” SEO audits are a gimmick.
An audit that actually provides any useful information is time-consuming and requires expertise.
If you are offered a free audit, you can take the person up on it, but take the resulting information with a grain of salt.
Usually, the “audit” that you get back will contain lots of shocking numbers about how bad your site is, and make you question whether your agency or in-house team knows what they are doing.
While it’s right to question your SEO practitioners, there are a lot of reasons an audit might look very scary but actually not mean anything or give you any new information.
Good Audits Need the Full Picture
If a free audit offer comes with a request for access to your analytics account or your website, run away. Do not give someone you are not under contract with access to any of these areas, even if it is read-only.
There is simply too much information they can impact or use against you. It’s surprisingly easy to falsify analytics data, and it does happen. Don’t make it easier by giving them access.
On the other hand, if an SEO offers to do an audit for you and doesn’t even ask for access to your analytics or your search console data, proceed cautiously.
It is possible to do a good audit without these accesses, but it should raise a red flag if they don’t ask.
Choosing a Good Auditor
If you’ve decided you need an audit done and you are willing to pay a reasonable price for it (often between $5,000 and $15,000, depending on your site), how do you know if your investment will be worth it?
Ask for a Sample Audit
Request that the auditor show you a sample audit.
It will most likely be heavily redacted, but you’re looking for a few key things.
Does the audit:
Provide a clear explanation and next steps for each issue?
Include screenshots or examples specific to the site?
Explain multiple ways of handling certain issues?
Consider online and offline issues (content and links)?
These are all good indicators that the audit has been done with your site specifically in mind, and that the auditor has put some thought into specific strategies you should take to improve.
For example, you might see in a tool that a site has 235 duplicate pages, but then when you look at the actual pages, they’re part of several different paginated series or controlled with canonicals or hreflang.
A bad audit will often have one or more of these characteristics. It might:
Contain inflammatory language, like “you have 17,456 duplicate pages and that is BAD” – with no explanation.
Only seem like it has charts that could have been pulled from a tool like SEMrush, Moz, or Google Search Console.
Have no explanations of why those charts are included.
Contain no follow-up items or addendum (most good audits include a spreadsheet or similar list of specifics).
Be delivered but not presented (there are exceptions to this, but most quality auditors want to walk you through what needs to be done or at least refer you to someone else so they can help you make choices about what to do next).
Avoid Paying Upfront
One final caveat: If you can avoid it, don’t pay for an entire audit up front.
Often quality auditors will require you to pay at least half of the cost up front because we’ve all been burned by a client that didn’t pay after delivery.
But unless the SEO auditor has lots of credibility or reputation, paying for the entire thing up front could leave you with a lighter wallet and no audit.
Google your prospective SEO auditor. Do they seem like they’re credible?
If they don’t show up on a search for their name or have some industry connection, they may just be one of the con-artists that give SEO a bad name.
SEO can sometimes seem like a black box, and it can be very intimidating for someone who is unfamiliar with it.
Hopefully, these tips will help you select a good auditor and find someone who’s willing to partner with you to help improve your business.
Have a question about SEO for Jenny? Fill out this form or use #AskAnSEO on social media.
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Image Credits
Featured Image: Image by Paulo BobitaScreenshots by author, November 2018

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