Questions To Ask When Hiring An SEO Company

Hiring an SEO company is a scary task. Search Engine Optimization is the ultimate “black box”. It is difficult to hold agencies accountable, and there are many unscrupulous agencies that promise big things and lock their customers into long-term, unproductive contracts.

image of rankings graph for SEO

I’ve heard my share of horror stories.

Thankfully, the bad companies are being pushed out by aggressive young SEO consultants with stellar track records.

If you want to improve search engine rankings, you’ll need to hire an SEO company.

Inevitably during the course of a conversation with a new client, they will ask me “what questions should I be asking?”

Frankly, I think this — meta as it is — is a clever question. Our answer to it demonstrates whether we understand the decision-making process required to hire an SEO company.

After onboarding nearly 100 clients, I feel like this is a great time to create an “SEO buying guide”.

What questions should you ask your SEO specialist?

What Is Your Experience In SEO?

This question is basic, but it gives you a basic starting point.

A company should be able to point to its past successes and a proven track record.

There is no college degree for search engine optimization. Most employees will have moved into this career through an organic process.

Someone who went into SEO only to “escape their day job”, may not be as organized as someone who came into SEO after working for a large corporation.

This question is a good icebreaker that helps you understand the origin story of the company you are working with.

What is Your Search Engine Optimization Strategy?

This is a broad question that helps you begin to get a feel for their view on Google’s algorithm. Generally, you want the company to have a holistic strategy that they are very confident in.

No agency is going to break down their strategy into a mini-course — and you wouldn’t want that, anyhow.

However, they should be able to provide a 10,000-foot overview of what they feel their best practices are and paint a picture of what their game plan for your site looks like.

Generally, an SEO strategy will contain elements of

  • Content: A blank page is difficult for Google to understand. Content is the foundation of all other work. Furthermore, there are specific search penalties for having too little content. Will your SEO specialist expect you to generate the content, or can they handle it?
  • Trust: Trust is multi-faceted. This can encompass everything from your online reviews to your social media profiles and your brand mentions around the web. In a sense, SEO requires a certain amount of online reputation management. Building a brand new site from no trust to highly trusted is the key to improving rankings.
  • On-page optimization: The nitty-gritty of SEO revolves around getting each page optimized with the right keywords. We’re seeing more of a shift away from keywords and towards “entities” in a nod to the rapidly-developing artificial intelligence software. Headings, Images and Keywords can all play a role.
  • Technical SEO: An on-site technical SEO audit will pick up things like broken links, orphaned pages and excessive click depth. Fixing these elements can have a dramatic impact on SEO.
  • UX/UI: A page that is unhelpful can cause users to bounce off of it will have a negative impact on the search engine rankings. Conversion Rate Optimization and a user-friendly layout can help solve some of these problems.

You should be listening for these elements to pop up in your conversation about strategy.

What Deliverables (And Reporting) Can I Expect?

SEO campaigns take time, and for too long, SEO companies have used this time as an excuse for sluggish action.

While the SEO results may take time, the actions taken should be aggressive and clear from the start. There should be an urgency to getting your campaign off of the ground.

Where most agencies fail is in the reporting. They promise something like “a keyword rank tracker that you can log in to.” Or a “custom dashboard for tracking progress.”

These systems can work very well.

However, if it is day 20 of the campaign and you haven’t seen any progress inside your “custom dashboard”, who will you reach out to?

At Vectis, we’ve done the custom dashboard thing. But what we found got better results was proactive communications.

By reaching out to our customers and updating them on their progress, we uncover new opportunities and unexpected synergies.

Ask to see a sample report that your SEO company has prepared for one of their customers. This can give you a good idea of what your experience will be like.

What Role Should SEO Play In A Cohesive Marketing Strategy?

SEO should never be a complete digital marketing strategy.

One of the first companies we worked with was a small power washing startup. They needed new business desperately and were investing heavily in SEO to earn their share of a large market.

During our monthly call, we uncovered that the client had expected to reach page one within 90 days, and was at risk of running out of startup runway.

We pivoted the bulk of their spending from SEO to pay-per-click ads and generated immediate calls to keep their crews running.

Once the crisis was averted, we continued with the hybrid model and improved their search rankings until the organic traffic overtook the ad-generated traffic.

SEO companies are often so anxious to close the deal, that they don’t take time to understand a company’s existing revenue streams, what is funding the SEO push, and where SEO fits into the overall marketing stream.

Depending on the niche, clients may not convert on the first visit and may need retargeting and email marketing to truly build an effective campaign.

Modern SEO should seek to enhance every other marketing channel.

Both you and your prospective SEO agency should be seeking an understanding of how the whole campaign will fit together.

What Happens If We Terminate The Contract?

There is a shift in the industry towards cheap agencies that lock in with long contracts.

It doesn’t matter if the $200 per month plan doesn’t produce results, you are locked in.

Of course, there is a bigger fear of larger plans. What happens if you have a credit crunch in your company? Will you be penalized for canceling your SEO services?

Furthermore, do remove any of the SEO optimizations when a campaign ends? For example, it used to be popular to undo the link-building efforts when a campaign ended.

While some link attrition is natural, you don’t want an agency that purposefully try to damage past clients.

The permanency of results should be discussed.

What Keywords Should We Rank For?

This is generally a short, but vital, discussion that will take on a deeper meaning once you are a client.

Search Engines revolve around keywords and keyword intent. What keywords are your potential clients using? Which keywords do your clients type in right before they make a purchase? How difficult are those keywords to rank for?

Keyword selection is going to guide your campaign. Most businesses can identify their primary keywords, but a good SEO agency will do additional research to suggest longtail keywords along the sales funnel to deliver faster results across multiple terms.

A good agency should be excited by keyword research and ready to discuss competitor analysis, content gap, search difficulty and search traffic.

What Type Of Content Will You Be Creating For Us?

Content is king, especially on page 1 of Google.

Your content not only helps you rank but also demonstrates thought leadership and should, ultimately, improve conversions.

We have some small clients that get content added to their site every other month. We have other large sites that need 8,000 words per month.

A lot of this is determined by the niche your specific site is in and the customer acquisition goals you have.

The content strategy goes hand-in-hand with the keyword research section discussed above. In some cases, the content will be used to attract more traffic to a website. Other pages — like this article you are reading — exists mostly to help potential customers get a better feel for the company.

Discuss the content strategy, how much input you will want to have, and how much oversight the agency will allow you to have. In most cases, I’ve found agencies to be very flexible in meeting their client’s needs.

How Will You Be Promoting Our Site?

Link Building has long been an important part of search engines. The original “Page Rank” that Larry Page invented was the gold standard for crawling and ranking the web.

However, as SEO consultants began gaming the system, search engines adapter their algorithms to compete.

Today, link-building, while necessary, has become a dirty word. When done wrong, it can hurt a brand more than it will help it.

In fact, this is one reason that we became a YEXT certified partner. We want only the best brand placements for our clients. With quality, we can beat out a massive amount of quantity, delivering faster results that last longer.

Press Releases tend to be one of the most popular techniques our competitors use. While these sound attractive, we’ve noticed that they tend to provide diminishing terms. Additionally, they are removed after 90 days of publication.

Instead, we try to create partnerships that let us show thought leadership on the topic, build semantic relevance for your brand, and receive a permanent brand mention in exchange for the content and value we’ve provided.

Today, backlinking requires high-quality content, a bit of PR skills, and an unrelenting hunt for the right partners.

It is these strategic partnerships that help our clients stand out.

Talk to your SEO agency about how they plan to promote your site. One of the best follow-up questions you can ask is “will you provide a list of sites we’ve been mentioned on?”.

Companies that are transparent tend to be more trustworthy.

How Soon Can We Expect To See Results?

All SEO agencies hate this question.

After all, even Google has said that it takes 90 days to begin seeing results.

No one wants to tell a prospective client that they are starting a campaign with a minimum run time of 90 days and a future, indeterminate end date.

That said, I’ve found that experienced agencies don’t mind this question. They’ve worked with Google enough to know what campaigns will get results right away, and which ones will need more time.

And they can convey that information.

For example, a brand new site in any niche can receive a ranking boost in the first 30 days. (Virtually any client that we take on can enjoy some sort of position increase immediately.)

However, the traffic increase tends to come only to sites that are in the top 4 spots of Google.

Furthermore, some niches are easier, while some — like lawyers and chiropractic — tend to take more time.

I love this question because expert SEOs will set a realistic timeframe based on your specific campaign.

Does Your SEO Agency Have Any Case Studies We Can Look At?

When I was starting out, it was popular among new agencies to say “We protect the privacy of our clients and don’t share active campaigns.”

While this sounds great, it can also be a cover for small agencies without results.

Frankly, we don’t give out client contact information. However, we do share some of the brands we have worked with and enough case studies for prospective clients to get an idea of the kinds of results they can expect.

Every good SEO company should have several case studies published on their site. Take some time and look up those companies and see how they are doing today.

What Tools Do You Use?

Small agencies may bristle at this question. The best SEO tools are an insider secret, right?

Frankly, all companies will use similar tools. It isn’t so important as to what tools they use as it is their decision process behind those tools.

A new SEO tool is born every day. SAAS is a booking business and the recurring revenue is enviable.

Any agency that has been in business for more than 3 years will have picked its favorite tools for getting the most results. They should be able to give you some idea of why they have chosen those tools.

You are just seeking to vet your agency’s authority in the marketplace, not their tool stack. Some followup questions could be:

  • How do tools work into your keyword research strategy?
  • What tools do you use to look for toxic backlinks?
  • Which tools do you use for on-page optimization?

These are more granular questions that can help scare away small agencies that are just after a quick buck.

What Access Will You Need To Work On The Site?

Most business owners and SEO agencies prefer to set up a login for the SEO agency. This allows the SEO company to make the optimization changes they need with little fuss.

However, if you are a larger company with an existing web team, you may wish for the agency to act in more of a consultant role. SEO consultants should have regular meetings with your web team and deliverables to find and coordinate fixes.

Much of SEO is testing. So these changes should be logged, tested, and then rolled back if they do not produce the desired effect.

This question helps you get a good idea of what your working relationship will be, and well how organized the SEO company is.

What Backups Do You Use?

SEO is generally performed on a live site. This can lead to “cowboy coding” where mistakes are set live in real-time.

A discussion of backups and sandboxing (when needed) are important.

In WordPress, we insist on installing a backup plugin. Where backups are not available, we save original copies of content in our client’s Google drive to preserve it, on the chance something needs to be rolled back.

How Do You Stay Up-To-Date On The Latest Changes In Google?

Search engine algorithms receive hundreds of changes per month. This creates a slow, barely perceptible shift in tactics.

SEO Conference 2019

Like the proverbial frog in hot water, should an SEO agency not keep up with the latest trends, they will be left behind.

Google Webmaster Tools provides a constant flow of new content. However, much of their information obfuscates the true nature of search engines.

Most agencies will be connected to regular paid training or will attend conferences such as Brighton SEO to keep their skills sharp with the latest techniques.

How Do You Approach Mobile?

Google has moved to Mobile-first indexing, and all SEO consultants should have experience ranking in mobile search.

With the shift to voice search, there are some new optimization techniques that can be deployed to help improve the positioning for those terms.

Additionally, agencies will have a strong opinion on the effectiveness of AMP, and whether they will expect you to deploy it on your site.

How We Can Help

If you are ready to be on page 1, give us a call, and try out these interview questions on us.

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