An SEO-er Did an SEO Audit for a Prospect, Assuming It Would Be a Client. But the Reality Told…


Did I Screw Up by Treating an SEO Audit as "Discovery" for Future Work?

TL;DR; I did an SEO Audit for a prospect, assuming it was "discover" for hourly work that would result. He's basically saying "why would I pay you to do these things on your list that I can do myself?" Basically gave him a free plan for SEO improvement.
I don't quote a lot of SEO work. Recently a local business contacted me to help with their SEO. They had previously paid someone on Fiverr to do an SEO audit. They contacted me because I am local and were looking for a second opinion. I spent the better part of a day building a report which I presented as a quote to make the recommended changes.
The prospective client essentially came back and said "why would I pay you do to these things I can do in a few minutes?"
Is this prospect just an asshole? Am I a fool? Or both?
I'm left feeling like treating the audit as "discovery" or as a "loss leader" to get the hourly work was a truly dumb idea. In the future I guess I need to treat the audit as the product.
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So free audits are a great tool for selling your service, as long as you aren't giving away all the details so they can do it themselves. In general, when we provide a free audit, the prospect only gets the summary of the audit. We generally only give away automated audits we can run with our tools like SEMrush or Raven.
If a prospect wants a full blown audit, they pay for it. They get the full blown SEMrush reporting in addition to a detailed audit based on Annie Cushing's audit template. If they want us to implement the changes, they get a credit towards a long term agreement.

breich ✍️
Thanks so much for this response. That gives me some ideas about how I can provide value without giving away too much of my time.
I'm searching for that template and I'm seeing a bunch of different places where it's for sale. Do you have an official link? I want to make sure if I buy it, I'm giving the right person my money :)

She has a free version as well as the paid version. Her official site is

I do what I call a scorecard, which is basically a dumbed-down version of an SEMrush Audit.
I give each of 10 categories a grade, and a bit of a note on what could be done to improve it, but no real direction.
I suppose that most people could do the work themselves, but who would want to when they can pay someone else? The average local business owner would love to pay someone to make more people show up to their website, without having to learn how to do things like edit their own WordPress.
On the other hand, it's ok to charge for an in-depth audit. I've done them for I've done them for as little as $50, and as much as $5,000. In a way, once they've given you that first dollar it's a lot easier to get the next $10,000.
Like, you paid me to find all the problems, now pay me to fix them for you.

Pretty much what u/nhradeuce said. You don't want to give away work for free but you have to allow them to understand what you are going to do.
I typically charge for SEO audits since they are time consuming. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in general is a big time investment. If a client doesn't want to pay for an SEO audit, they likely won't pay the monthly fee on time.

"why would I pay you do to these things I can do in a few minutes?"

You aren't just paying me to do these things, you're also paying me to identify them and build a strategy to address them. Anybody can score well on a test when they are given all the answers. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) isn't about one test though. It's about the long term strategy addressing a rapidly evolving environment. The answer you need today may not be the answer you need tomorrow.
You can either take this as a teachable moment and educate your client on the realities of the long term investment of SEO or you can cut him off as an idiot without a long term plan who is always going to try to nickel and dime you for a service he doesn't even remotely understand.

Is this prospect just an asshole? Am I a fool? Or both?

Lot of column A, little of column B. As a general rule, don't give away your work for free. This client sounds like a monster though.

I'm left feeling like treating the audit as "discovery" or as a "loss leader" to get the hourly work was a truly dumb idea. In the future I guess I need to treat the audit as the product.

It's fine to do a high level audit for free. You should never do an in depth discovery for free and you should ABSOLUTELY never give away your strategies for addressing what you've found. That kind of work demands pay.


It's about the long term strategy addressing a rapidly evolving environment.

I learned long ago that the guy who says "why should I pay you when I could just do it myself" is similar to the "if you can't make me rank then why am I paying you" person and are not worth having as a client.
Unless you know them personally, or you really need the gig, go ahead and drop people like this.


Totally agree with what NHRADeuce said, but at the same time the prospect is a bit of a shortsighted asshole. Shortsighted because I personally already know how to do pretty much everything my company's SEO agency does. My job as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) though is to move resources from places of low yield to places of high yield. It would be idiotic for me to waste me or my people's time on something someone else can do better for a reasonable price. The person is an asshole because they admitted that they got value from your hard work, but want to screw you over on it.
I wouldn't sweat it. You sound like a good person. Keep paying it forward and pretty soon you'll be busy enough that these people will be easily forgettable.

Unfortunately most small business owners don't see it that way. Rather than thinking of it as lost revenue they could be generating they see it as a dollar saved when they do it themselves. Probably one of the reasons most businesses fail.

It's a sales objection. You should be able to explain to him why the work you would be doing isn't something he could simply do in a few minutes. Even if you have the best service in the world and are amazing, people are still going to give you sales objections as shit tests to see how you respond.
How much information did you include in your free audit? In any audit I do, I definitely identify problems and tell them the basic ways to fix it, but you can't go into too much detail. I've also told tons of people "Advice is always free, I just charge when we do the work" which is pretty much telling them they are more than welcome to do it themselves in the nicest way possible.
I have not done a free audit in over 10 years. My proposals are also fairly vague. I'll answer questions if they ask them. I don't try to hide anything.
When I used to do audits for free and detailed proposals, 90% of the time the prospect would take it to their friend's uncle's co-worker who had a son with a college roommate that "kind of knew about this SEO thing" and ask them to implement my plan for cheaper.
Then 6 months later they would come back yelling at me because my plan didn't work. Like it was my fault they went looking for the lowest bidder and that person had no idea how to implement by blueprint.
If they want an audit, charge for it.

Just wrote the same thing. That's been my experience as well and I stopped giving free audits away years ago as well.

Don't do audits. Do assessments. It boils down to this:
β€’ Is there SEO work to be done? Provides a very high level overview.
β€’ what kind of value would they see out of the above work: where do they rank now, what is the potential after work
A full blown audit then because state one of the scope of work.
You are not the first. Of course they are being fools but I am going to bet that was a low paying client anyway. Personally I don't do SEO audits anymore for free (not even automated ones) unless they are Generic.
Titles need to be fixed
Your H1 tags are not properly optimized
Your page relevance score is low
earlier on in my SEO career I got a few customers and one particular jerk in Florida like that and realized with the jerk that the real business man doesn't want more detail because he has no intention of doing it himself. Close rates are the same as they had been when I did free audits PLUS
I now use the paid audits as a closing technique and filter.
A client might stall when the first work you do for him is going to be a thousand dollars plus but at $150-$300 audit is less (50-99 on a small client) you get paid to watm up the relationship.
For the free generic audits like listed above I get a closing situation. They ask
"how would you fix the title"
I answer : make it more relevant
the y come back with "how?"
I answer "once you secure our services then we analyze the keywords and rewrite it for optimal effect. we can do that within 48 hours"
if at this point they start pressing for details as to what to rewrite to they've given themselves away as looking to get info over hiring us. So no go. I've even told customers consultation is a SEO users business so I obviously can't give my business away for free so they an secure our services or get an paid in depth audit.
IF a client walks for that then they were never going to be any good to work with. Nothing is set ins tone though. I fI sense the company is big enough and solid enough not to pull the "we'll do it ourselves" routine I might go beyond that but it has to be a good paying gig. Not some sub $,1500 a month job.
Over the last year I've done close to 100 audits. I began by giving my audits away for free in exchange for the business owner letting me post the review of said audit via video to YouTube. Yes, not all audits are going to win the client but, if you don't have any clients, giving them away is the best chance you'll get to show people what you're capable of. Once you get more work, then you charge for your audits.
First, yes that prospect is an asshole.
Second, if this happens again tell them an SEO audit involves outlining the key elements missing on the site to rank better however when you jump on board we do an indepth analysis which would provide higher Search Engine Result Page (SERP) boost. Tell the difference between basic audit for layman and advanced audit for SEO pros.
Third, don't stop doing this as you are on the right track.


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