12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an SEO Agency

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For many businesses, hiring an SEO agency represents the perfect balance between getting the necessary work done to ensure positive results with your company website and investing the time and energy needed to complete these tasks in-house.

However, although hiring an agency to carry out website optimization tasks might seem like a no-brainer, it’s important to be aware that not all SEO consultancies are created equally.  Before signing on the dotted line and committing your company to a long-term contract, be sure to ask potential providers the following questions:

1 – How long have you been in business?

Certainly, everyone needs to start somewhere – and there’s a chance the new consultant you hire will be able to obtain the same results you could achieve with a renowned SEO firm.  However, when it’s your hard-earned money that’s on the line, keep in mind that a long track record of successes demonstrates that the SEO provider you decide to work with isn’t just blowing smoke at you.

2 – How does your company stay up-to-date on industry changes?

Because things change so quickly in the SEO industry, it’s important that you hire an individual or firm that’s up-to-date on the latest algorithm adjustments.  To determine whether or not your chosen agency makes ongoing education a priority, look for things like whitepaper publication, guest articles contributed to industry websites and conference presentations.  Really, any credibility indicators that demonstrate that your chosen agency is respected for its knowledge and expertise will suffice to prove that its SEO professionals stay on top of the latest news and releases.

3 – Do you engage in any grey- or black-hat practices?

In you’re making the investment into hiring an agency to improve your website’s optimization, why risk blowing your money on consultants who use the grey- or black-hat practices that could eventually get your site penalized in the search rankings?  To avoid throwing your money down the toilet in this way, carefully question agency candidates on their ethics and the specific methods they use to promote their clients’ sites.

4 – How do you approach keyword research?

There are as many ways to approach keyword research as there are SEO consultants working today, so while there’s really no right or wrong answer to this question, it is important that the agency you select uses keyword research techniques that are in line with your company’s natural search placement goals.  Pay special attention to agencies that promise high SERPs rankings for extremely competitive keywords.  While the eventual payoff may be nice, you’ll see much better results with a keyword research plan that will allow your company to target

5 – How do you qualify traffic in your campaigns?

Simply getting more visitors to your website isn’t a good goal for an SEO campaign.  What you really want are highly-qualified visitors that convert well according to your company’s conversion rate optimization plan, so be sure to ask potential SEO agency candidates how they plan to filter visitors and build the right type of traffic for your site.

6 – How will the success of your campaign be measured?

Just as a simple increase in site visitors isn’t enough to justify campaign success, be sure to ask your chosen SEO agency how they determine if their efforts are working.  Be sure whatever metrics are used to measure success are ones that truly indicate success for your business.  As an example, simply increasing average time on site – a commonly-reported SEO metric – doesn’t matter if these changes aren’t tied to corresponding conversion rate increases.

7 – What types of reporting will you provide?

In order to protect proprietary SEO tactics, web optimization agencies may limit the scope of their reports to eliminate detail that could be used by competitors to recreate successful campaigns.  However, that doesn’t mean that you should be left in the dark about how things are progressing with your project.  Ask specifically about how frequently you’ll receive reports and what level of detail will be included to stay on top of your SEO campaigns.

8 – How available are you for client communication?

The wonders of digital communication mean that you aren’t limited to choosing from SEO agencies in your immediate geographic area.  But whether you decide to work with a remote provider or a consultant in your city, be very clear about the level of communication you can expect to receive as a client.  If anything goes wrong with your site, you’ll want to resolve these issues as quickly as possible – but to do that, you must have access to clear communication channels with your SEO agency.

9 – Do you have any long-term clients who are satisfied with your work?

SEO agencies are occasionally criticized for drawing out the length of their projects in order to increase their billable hours.  So for this reason, it’s important to gather feedback from past customers who have successfully completed long-term projects with your potential consultants.  If you hear from several companies that investing in a full-length project with your chosen SEO agency resulted in positive ROI, that’s a good indication that you’ve chosen who will put your website’s needs ahead of re-billing priorities.

10 – Can you provide contact information for references at these companies?

Of course, while gathering feedback from these valuable long-term customers, be sure to get the name and phone number of a representative at the client’s office who can speak with you about his company’s experiences with your chosen SEO agency.  Unfortunately, considering how easy it is to set up phony companies online and the number of unscrupulous scam artists out there, it pays to be extra cautious when reviewing references from past clients.

11 – Do you limit the number of clients you take on at once?

If you’re thinking of working with a major SEO agency that has a substantial in-house staff, ensuring that appropriate focus is given to your project may not be an issue.  On the other hand, if you decide to work with a small team or a solitary SEO consultant, ask if your chosen provider sets limits on the number of ongoing projects that can be taken on.  Because SEO campaigns require consistent effort to be successful, the last thing you want is for the provider you’ve contracted with to bump your project to the back-burner to handle a bigger customer’s request.

12 – Who will be doing the work on my campaign?

Depending on the SEO agency you retain to work on your business’s web optimization projects, you could have a highly-qualified SEO technician performing ongoing on-page and off-page SEO work – or, you could unknowingly have certain elements of your campaign shipped off overseas worker where quality controls may be much more lax.  Although you’ll likely pay more for the privilege, having a competent, US-based SEO professional working on your website may result in an overall cost savings compared to the long-term cost of shoddy workmanship from unqualified outsourcers.

Finally, given all the different variables involved in selecting the SEO agency that’s right for your company’s needs, consider starting with a short-term project to get a feel for the caliber of the organization’s work.  Starting with a three-month assignment should give the agency enough time to produce some meaningful improvement in your website’s results, as well as providing you with enough information about the agency’s work practices to decide if they’re the right fit for your SEO needs.

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