Can You Trust an Unsolicited SEO Audit?
By Blayne Fielder, Senior Director, Digital Marketing
Does this email look familiar?
Dear <insert marketing team member title and name>,
Your website has 1,000 pages with the same page title and 2,000 pages with missing or duplicate meta descriptions. This is damaging your SEO. Please see our free, no-obligation SEO audit attached.
Receiving an email like that can really suck the breath out of a marketing team. What does that mean? Didn’t we just pay thousands of dollars for a new website? Our SEO partner must have really screwed up!
At first glance, it may seem that way. But 99 times out of 100, the data you’re being fed is out of context and off-strategy. In the hands of a team member with little to no SEO training, an unsolicited audit can set off a chain reaction of panic and finger-pointing.
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The problem with unsolicited SEO audits
A hospital site may have thousands of pages, most of which should have unique titles, urls and descriptions. However, there are many cases where it’s perfectly okay to have duplicate on-page seo elements, such as search results pages for classes & event, find a doctor, or latest news. These pages with query parameters may have no metadata, or may have duplicate metadata and page titles. That’s because they aren’t really content pages — they’re more like entry points to get into your content.
Take physician search results, for example. If you click through 10 pages of search results listings in your site under the physician search, each of those pages will have the same or a very similar page title and meta description. For example, each of the 10 pages of results under Find a Doctor search likely have the same title, such as “Find a Provider Search Results.”
Take classes & events search results, for example. If you select upcoming maternity events, you may get a list of 100+ upcoming classes, shown 10 per page. Clicking to page two and beyond in the search results will produce the same page title and meta description, “Event Search Results”. It’s exactly these types of pages that show up in that so-called SEO audit.
If your site is set up properly, pages with query parameters will be marked “no index.” That means your SEO partner has flagged these pages not to show up in search engine results. In other words, they have zero effect on your site’s SEO.
There are a number of free tools available to crawl a site and spit out some numbers. Anyone can use this type of software, but not everyone knows how to interpret the data properly. Agencies that understand this basic SEO principle won’t send unsolicited audits that incorporate junk data like this. However, some vendors bank on the notion that your team will hit the panic button when they see those big numbers, and the vendors send audits anyway.
What to do if you receive an unsolicited SEO audit
First, get on the same page with your internal team. Nothing shakes a marketing or web team like the sinking feeling that precious budget dollars have been spent ineffectively. Someone may take the fall for misinterpreted data, and that could be internal team members or your current SEO partner. If your team has internal SEO specialists, work with them to validate or invalidate the findings before emotions take hold.
Next, get on the same page with your SEO partner. In spring 2017, one of our clients received an unsolicited SEO audit. They were alarmed that they had 2,500 pages with missing meta descriptions. Our client did the right thing and took the audit first to their web director, who understood what was going on. Then they came to us to ask clarifying questions and explain why these pages were configured that way: They were search results pages with no way and no need to create unique page titles and meta descriptions for each.
Some unsolicited SEO audits are delivered as digital stacks of unintelligible data. That’s a big red flag that something is wrong. If no explanation accompanies the data, you can bet that it’s simply a spat-out list of URLs from a crawling tool and nothing more.
But what if you receive an audit that looks legit? What if it includes examples of pages that should have unique page titles or completed meta descriptions? This can be tricky for clients to navigate.
Remember, your site may have thousands of pages. It’s likely that one or two were overlooked during your redesign and content refresh. And it’s easy for vendors to cherry-pick those pages. If the audit presents a small pool of examples (think five to 10 out of thousands), that’s not enough to warrant a witch hunt.
If the vendor presents 50 or more pages (aside from search parameter pages, of course) and has a solid solution to improve it, it could be legitimate. However, it’s a good idea to run a similar scan on your own or with the help of your SEO partner and validate their findings yourself. There could be a strategic reason why those pages were set up that way.
Two key takeaways
Site-scraping tools can be used by any vendor, but not every vendor (1) knows how to interpret the data or (2) will use it ethically.
As mentioned, professional SEO agencies won’t send unsolicited SEO audits to try to win your business. Doing so sets the agency up for failure and potential tarnishing of reputation for not knowing their industry well enough to sell it properly. And they definitely won’t want to risk having internal team members face consequences for misleading data — it should be a partnership, not a battle.
If you receive an unsolicited SEO audit, put it in the hands of someone who knows how to interpret the data before emotions arise. Go to a trusted adviser internally first, then speak with your current SEO partner. If you don’t have internal experts or a trusted SEO partner, reach out to a professional services agency like MedTouch for a nonbiased conversation.
Digital strategies evolve constantly. What worked for effective SEO and business tactics 10 years ago is vastly different from effective strategies today. Forge a partnership with a professional services agency that specializes in SEO strategy, not data regurgitation. Remember — if the vendor doesn’t or can’t explain their findings, it’s likely they aren’t the experts they claim to be.
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