How your business chooses an SEO agency is important.
But it can be pretty tricky.
Modern business demands a credible online presence.
Yet, shysters seem to lurk behind every web page, just waiting to pounce.
This post is for any business owner that knows they need SEO but is wary of getting scammed.
The truth is:
Entrepreneurs are smart to be skeptical.
If you don’t understand our industry, your local “SEO expert” might just take you for a ride.
Or worse yet, some shady overseas “SEO agency” may just reel you in with an irrefutable offer and then ruin your domain name forever.
That’s not to say that all one-man SEOs or foreign agencies lack search optimization skills and need to get over on people.
However, plenty of them do.
If you aren’t careful, your website, brand, and business may be forfeit.
At the end of the day, you have to talk to your SEO agency, ask questions, and hash out a customized plan that makes sense.
But before you start throwing questions their way, make sure you’re actually prepared for the answers you might receive.
Make sure you start with a little introspection.
Few business owners actually understand how search engine optimization works.
So even if you’re looking for an SEO agency, the technicalities are not where you should focus.
Instead, entrepreneurs should concentrate on running their business and completing goals.
To this end, their several questions any business owner should answer about their own business before they even consider selecting a digital marketing company.
What is our value proposition?
A strong value proposition sends important signals about your business.
It’s crucial that any online marketing you do is centered by a value proposition that sets you apart.
What does the ideal online sales cycle look like for us?
Your focal point might be an online store, generating phone calls, growing an email list, or something else.
Your particular combination will be based on your brand and industry.
How much is each new customer worth to us over their lifetime?
Customer acquisition is the name of the game in Internet marketing.
A real understanding of what new customers are worth helps you answer related questions regarding the budget.
What level of success have we had with online marketing so far?
Your brand’s online history is an important part of the SEO equation.
Age is a big deal to the search engines as well as users.
That’s why this question helps establish perspective.
What are our (short and long-term) goals?
Never forget that good SEO is a long-term strategy.
Balance your goal timeline and always keep perspective on what is most important.
Quick hit SEO is not the way to go.
The power in understanding these aspects of your business is two-fold:
First, any good SEO consultant or company is going to ask these questions, so be prepared to provide answers.
Indeed, the presence of a well-designed Discovery Page indicates that a company designs custom campaigns for their clients.
Second, knowing these answers will give context to the questions you’ll be asking during the interview process.
But before we get around to putting these questions to prospective agencies, let’s go ahead and eliminate as many unfit candidates as possible.
There’s no reason to talk to an SEO who you don’t trust or already know isn’t the right fit.
So, doing research up front will save you time (and headache) down the road.
If you’re researching Internet marketing companies, it only makes sense to use the Web to screen them.
Luckily, the modern Net is quick to volunteer information on businesses and brands.
We say your first three filters should be Rankings, Reviews, and Reaction.
Not every good SEO company will focus on all three, but if they can’t do any of these right for themselves, it’s hard to imagine they could get them right for your brand.
The place to start though is quite logical.
It’s all about proof.
The most obvious way to prove that you can help a business rank for their keywords is to rank for your own.
If you’re looking for local results, you can search by your industry, ie. “dental marketing Atlanta”, “SEO for lawyers Atlanta”, etc. and see who turns up on the first page.
These “showcase keywords” are one of the primary ways search marketing companies jockey for position in front of potential clients.
However, this requires ample resources.
Many SEO choose not to fight that battle.
And they don’t have to when their client’s rankings are enough.
For the last few years, Internet reviews have had the power to make or break businesses.
But now, online reviews are even factored into search algorithms.
Which means that online reputation management now falls into the realm of SEO.
So when you’re looking through reviews of potential agencies, you’re also performing a basic component of the modern web presence audit.
Realize that great testimonials are the ultimate marketing tool.
For SEO, look for them on Google My Business, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
But be on the lookout for fake ones.
Many companies see the value and pay for reviews from places like fiverr.com.
It can be hard to pick out the genuine article unless you know what to look for.
That’s partly where the next filter comes in.
One of the main things you want to do when you seek out SEO companies is to analyze their marketing at an emotional level.
How does it make you feel?
Emotion plays a big role in marketing.
Remember that the company you choose will be creating marketing campaigns that represent your brand.
If you don’t feel they’ll help you connect with your audience, you’ll want to choose someone else.
Many of the best SEO agencies create authoritative content designed to inform their audience and establish trust in their industry.
For example This post.
In theory, they’ll be responsible for doing the same thing for your brand.
This filter is all about trust.
It’s no guarantee, but it is a good start.
You still have to get the marketing consultant on the phone and:
The questions you should ask should have less to do with SEO strategy and more to do with legitimacy and fit.
You could almost say we’re still screening here.
Some questions you’ll ask to weed out shady companies and don’t listen to SEO myths.
Many of these are tests.
You’re looking for specific answers and if you don’t get them, you know that the company you’re interviewing doesn’t practice top-tier search engine optimization.
This is where you separate the real SEO from the SEO salesmen.
Are your services cheap?
Start here because there is no such thing as “good, cheap SEO” anymore.
Today, this is the first tell-tale sign that an agency doesn’t prioritize sustainability.
Turn tail and run.
Can you guarantee we get to the number one spot for our best keyword?
Guarantees in SEO are sketchy.
The fact is, no one knows exactly how Google’s algorithms work on any given day.
So promising the top spot is always risky business.
How fast will you get us ranked?
Mentioning “easy wins” is one thing.
But legit SEO timetables are a really difficult thing to come by.
Predictability in SEO is at an all-time low.
Beware those that say otherwise.
How many backlinks are you going to build me?
In this case, you’re looking for shysters to betray themselves with answers like “100s” or “1000s”.
That type of answer reflects an outdated and limited understanding of SEO.
How do you handle communication and reporting?
It’s important that you know your contact person within the company you’ll be working with.
On top of that, legitimate agencies provide periodic reporting on rankings and other info.
Do you always follow Google’s best practices?
This is huge.
If you encounter an SEO with blatant disregard for what the search giant has to say, run the other way.
They are begging for penalties.
And so are their clients.
Why should we hire you?
With this one, you’re looking for unrealistic claims not otherwise listed.
Here, the SEO salesmen hit you with unrefusable offers.
Open the door and see their true colors.
If they can make it through this batch of questions without raising any alarms, it’s time to move on to the real interview.
Just because they are legit doesn’t mean their business is a match for yours.
You want to make sure that they can represent your brand the way it should be.
So you need to ask questions that pertain to your business.
But the conversation should be open on both ends.
This is where you can expect those questions you answered about your own business to come up.
And if they don’t, you should consider that the last “red flag”.
As you’ll notice, this last set of questions requires they know a bit about your business.
What kind of SEO work do you do?
Modern SEO is an expansive topic.
Effective optimization plans are based on the business they are designed for.
Some agencies specialize in one area of SEO, others do it all.
Can we see samples of work for similar clients?
If you’ve properly prescreened your list of potential SEO, you might already have all the examples you need.
Either way, try to find someone with experience in your industry.
How will your work tie into our other marketing efforts/industry?
Any SEO firm that you choose to work with will need to mold their tactics and strategies to fit your business.
Focus on how well the consultant integrates your vision into the answer.
How do you typically determine success?
Your marketing consultant should be looking to build on the ideas you have for your brand online.
So when it comes to goals, you want an SEO that lines theirs up with yours.
Depending on your business and the plan your chosen expert has in mind, there may be more specific questions you should ask.
Don’t be afraid to be creative with your inquiry.
Just try not to journey too deep down the rabbit hole of search ranking theory.
If you use this post as a blueprint, you’ll be able to select an SEO with confidence.
What you want is a tough decision between several great agencies.
If you’ve gone through the entire process and can’t decide, return to the “Reaction” phase of the prescreening process and go with your gut.
As long as you’ve focused on finding legitimate digital consultants whose marketing strategies and expertise are compatible with your brand, you’ve done your due diligence.
Also, if you’ve found this post helpful, please share it on your social media network to help others make smart digital marketing decisions. Or, if you have a question or another excellent question to ask prospective agencies, please comment below!