Taking the plunge and hiring an SEO agency is a big decision (and one of the smartest, I should add). Search Engine Optimization is easily one of the most efficient marketing strategies for a business to boost online exposure and drive traffic to its site… but only if they’re doing it right. Therefore, you can never be too careful when going through the process of hiring an SEO agency.
Because SEO is a long-term marketing strategy, you should be prepared to enter into a long-term relationship with your agency. Don’t fall for those SEO firms that take risky shortcuts to temporarily boost your rankings. Chances are, these tactics will only hurt your site in the long-run. Your relationship with your SEO agency should be mutually beneficial. So, make the hiring process easier on yourself and ask these five questions to weed out those tactless SEO salespersons from the real SEO strategists.
What processes will you use to improve my search engine rankings?
If you’re talking to a digital marketing agency and they can’t answer this question, it’s time to cut the interview short and start from square one. This is Red Flag #1. SEO is just like any other business endeavor in that you won’t get meaningful results if you don’t have tried-and-true processes and strategies in place.
Every proven SEO professional has a process and unless they’re lying, should have no problem explaining it to you. They should clearly explain the procedures and tools they will use to boost your site’s search ranking as well as provide business owners with a realistic time estimate of how long it will take for you to reach your SEO goals. By identifying strong entry points for an SEO campaign, based on low hanging fruit opportunities, you have a much better chance of hitting your intended SEO goals. You should leave the meeting with a clear understanding of the agency’s processes and feel confident that they will accommodate your SEO objectives.
What areas of SEO will you do?
There are four primary areas of SEO – technical SEO, on-page, off-page, and content. Don’t leave the meeting without knowing exactly what type of SEO services you are signing up for. Here’s a quick rundown of the four focal points of SEO in case you need a little refresher (or introduction):
- Technical SEO: Pertains to how well search engine spiders can crawl your site and index your content. Think 404 Errors, duplicate URLs, and missing page titles.
- Off-Page SEO: This is primarily focused on inbound links from other websites pointing to your site. This is where the union between SEO and PR comes into play.
- On-Page SEO: Involves optimizing the content on the site for relevant keywords and whether the site provides a good user experience
- Content: This is concerned with ensuring that all of the content on your site, from landing pages to blog posts, are high-quality, authoritative, and original. If these three criteria aren’t met, your site may not be as SEO-friendly as you thought.
Upon hiring an SEO agency, there should always be some sort of basic technical SEO audit performed to get a feel for the overall health of your site and provide the SEO with a starting point for their general strategy. If the SEO agency you hired doesn’t conduct one, this is a pretty good sign that they aren’t SEO experts… aka Red Flag #2.
What are some of your biggest SEO wins or successes?
In other words… show me the reviews, testimonials, and accolades from past or current clients. Ask them for case studies and look for the hard data that proves that their processes actually work. Don’t hesitate to ask them to take the time to explain it to you either. We don’t all have general knowledge regarding anchor text and Google’s latest algorithm update.
This takes us to a critical follow-up question: “Who is your longest active client?” This is what you ask to differentiate the shady SEO companies who use short-term tactics to boost your rankings and those serious about SEO. Use this as a good rule of thumb: if an SEO agency has been around for a while and its longest active client has been with them for under a year, that is Red Flag #3.
Can you guarantee that my site will rank #1 for a popular search term?
If the answer is yes, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. This is Red Flag #4, and easily the most telling sign that the SEO agency is a scam. Why? Because nobody, and I mean nobody, can ensure a number one search ranking unless maybe you’re Sundar Pichai (the CEO of Google), and I guarantee he has other more pressing matters to attend to. An SEO expert can boost your online presence and search traffic over time, but regardless of how talented, they cannot guarantee specific keyword rankings, especially #1 on a major keyword.
How often will we be in communication and what can I expect regarding reporting?
This is a highly important question to ask to set clear expectations from the start and avoid tension in the future. Since you are the one paying the big bucks, your SEO company should accommodate reporting periods based on your preferences. Typically, clients want a weekly update and others who may prefer to get the SEO low-down once a month. Make sure both you and your SEO agency leave the meeting with a clear understanding of how often you expect updates or reports.
When it comes to reporting, consistency is key! Don’t hire a fair-weather SEO agency that only shows you the good stuff. Sure, your traffic might be up, but if your conversions are down, you need to be aware of that to make any necessary changes. Your reports should contain the same information every time, whether that be good or bad results.
Among other things, an SEO report should have (1) a summary of activities, (2) search traffic, (3) search rankings, and most importantly (4) conversions. If you’re given reports that don’t contain these four things, consider it Red Flag #5.The better the company can tie their efforts to your results in Google Analytics the better the SEO company is.
I just skimmed the water here. Of course, there are many more questions you can ask an SEO agency before hiring them, but these are the big five. Asking these questions should give you a good idea of whether you should keep talking or run for the hills.