The most important thing to understand is that SEO is only the beginning of your Company’s overall web marketing strategy. Organic Search Engine Optimization 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).
There has been a significant change to the way Google lists your site in a feature they call “Google Places.” They are business listings that will show up in organic search engine results (see below for an example). There are special SEO tactics that need to be employed to make sure that not only does your site show up in Google organic rankings, but also Google Places.
Below are links to additional resources on Google Places and the Warning Signs of a Bad SEO Company:
How will the SEO firm determine which keywords will be 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.
Will the optimization program include an analysis of your site's 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 site that either affects search engine placement or the site visitor's experience (graphical design). Site design (layout and graphics) has no bearing on proper search engine optimization, but site coding, content, and incoming/outgoing links do.
Will they also analyze your competitors' sites to determine what sites 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.
Will the SEO firm be writing your content or will they work with existing content?
If the firm does not have someone who specializes in SEO copy-writing, look elsewhere.
Does the SEO vendor have a link strategy for your site and the ability to promote your site through content on appropriate third-party sites (i.e., article directories, blogs, video, images)?
This should be a given. If they do not have a link strategy, then they won’t be any good. They also need to learn how to employ white hat search techniques and NOT black howat search techniques that could get you banned by Google.
Ask prospective SEO firms to scope out how they would optimize your site. What on-page and off-page tactics will they be using? The reality is they can’t know this until they have done the proper analysis. If they have a detailed plan before they have strategized with you and conducted their research, then there is a reasonable likelihood they won’t target the right keywords. They company to know about your business before a keyword discussion can even begin. The most appropriate answer to this question is that this plan is built after the initial strategy session.