This post was originally published in 2015 and was updated in August 2020 with new info, resources, and current best practices.
You may have decided that you want to hire out SEO services in order to get your site in the best possible shape for organic search. So, how do you find the right person or agency? What questions should you ask, and what answers should you be wary of?
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT SEO SERVICES
Search engine optimization is only the beginning of your company’s overall web marketing strategy, and it is not "one size fits all." It needs to be tailored to your specific industry and needs. It is important to understand that just because your site is optimized for search engines, it doesn’t mean it will attract visitors. Once visitors can make it to your site, it doesn’t mean you will get conversions (sales or leads).
Here are some questions you should ask a web marketing company you are engaging for SEO services to make sure you get the best ROI.
HOW WILL THE SEO EXPERT DETERMINE THE TARGET OF YOUR OPTIMIZATION EFFORTS?
Research is an important element to SEO success. If they don't have a research program, your project likely will not be successful. You need to understand how they plan and if it is reasonable.
SEOs have a different, more user- and search engine-focused approach to websites than business owners often do. Therefore, their suggestions and recommendations may not align with exactly what you want to do. A common example is the business that wants to target a broad, highly competitive keyword on a national level. A good SEO will suggest researching long-tail keywords and optimizing for those as a long-term strategy because the business is more likely to make an impact that way.
Keep an open mind, but go with your gut -- if their ideas radically differ from your aims or your company's vision, it's okay to look elsewhere.
WILL THE OPTIMIZATION STRATEGY INCLUDE AN ANALYSIS OF WEBSITE DESIGN, NAVIGATION, CODING, CONTENT, AND INCOMING LINKS?
A good SEO firm will be able to provide you with recommendations on improving other areas of your website that either affect search engine placement or the site visitor's user experience. Site coding, content, and incoming/outgoing links all affect your search engine optimization.
Technical SEO is an important part of your strategy, and the SEO you choose should have an understanding of and an ability to assess that area.
WILL THEY ANALYZE COMPETITORS' SITES TO DETERMINE WHAT WEBSITES IN YOUR INDUSTRY ARE PERFORMING WELL AND WHY?
If there is no competitive analysis, then how will they know how to target your competitors online? A website should be part of your overall business strategy. If your SEO company doesn't understand the difference between your online and offline competitors, then they probably won’t understand how to target them.
Additionally, it can be helpful to use a company that has experience in your industry. However, that doesn't always have to be a dealbreaker. Many marketing and SEO agencies are pros at learning the landscape of any industry and will take the time to learn about your company, your competitors, and your industry as a whole. If they don't have any interest in doing the work to learn, however, that should be a red flag.
WILL AN SEO BE WRITING NEW CONTENT OR WORK WITH EXISTING CONTENT?
Both are fine strategies and depend a lot on the content you have already. However, you should find an SEO company that sees the importance of both and can optimize the content you've got in addition to creating more based on their research.
If the firm does not have someone who specializes in SEO copywriting, look elsewhere.
ASK PROSPECTIVE SEO COMPANIES TO SCOPE OUT HOW THEY WOULD OPTIMIZE YOUR SITE. WHAT ON-PAGE AND OFF-PAGE TACTICS WILL THEY BE USING?
While no SEO company will give away all the secrets of how they do the work, they should be transparent about their tactics, their goals, and the specifics around what needs to be done. For example, they might suggest updating content, optimizing titles, headings, and metadata, or they may recommend a new navigation structure and compressing images.
The key is that the suggestions they make should be based on your site, your goals, and the data they can gather about your site's performance. As we've said, there's no one-size-fits-all approach, and that should be evident in the recommendations they make.
THINGS TO ASK YOUR SEO COMPANY:
How will your site be monitored and maintained over time, and what reports will you receive to measure your progress? Remember, SEO is not a one-time event!
What strategies beyond SEO does the firm engage in? What offerings do they have in traffic generation or conversion rate optimization?
You can also read through this list of questions to ask a potential SEO company, direct from Google. Notably, Google suggests that the company you choose should be familiar with Google Webmaster Guidelines, and offers some examples of common "shady" tactics you should be sure to avoid.
COMMON MISTAKES WHEN CHOOSING AN SEO COMPANY
Here are some common mistakes and popular "black hat" tactics that some SEO agencies employ.
Corey Smith is the founder of Tribute Media and serves as the Digital Marketing Strategist. He is also the author of "Do It Right: A CEO's Guide to Web Strategy" and "Tweet It Right: A CEO's Guide to Twitter."
There's no doubt you have many choices when it comes to web design and web marketing services. Your middle schooler probably knows his way around CSS and HTML and every college kid is a blogger. The problem is, a site that looks hot but doesn't have well-thought out strategy, is like a certain reality show family we can't name for legal reasons: pretty, but worthless.
The difference between a web site and a web strategy is something that the experts at Tribute Media have mastered. Put us to work and we'll create a web strategy that will help you generate leads and grow your business.