Bringing in an agency is a big step for a business. You are handing over control of a portion of your business operations, and in the case of an SEO agency, this is the portion that determines how your business looks online.
Giving this responsibility to an external agency requires mutual trust and a clear understanding of what will be done. An SEO agency worth their salt will look to build up a very detailed picture of your business and its activities before creating any strategies or making any suggestions. This is for the simple reason that SEO is not generic or formulaic. While there are techniques and strategies that will deliver results for most companies, their integration into a wider strategy with a maximum chance of success requires substantial information and insights.
So don't be put off if the initial conversation seems quite involved. This saves time and hassle down the line, fosters mutual trust, and lets the agency-client relationship get off on the right foot.
Here are some questions you can expect to hear, and the reasons they're helpful:
What do you do?
An understanding of your business, your products and services, and your industry is a vital underpinning for any future SEO campaign.
Who are your main competitors?
An understanding of your positioning in your niche and industry is important too. Your perceived competitors will be analysed and insights are drawn from their strategy: very useful in determining what is effective in your industry.
Competitor research may also reveal other competitors you were not aware of, either direct or who are making inroads into specific areas of your business. All of this information makes for a tighter strategy further down the line.
Who is your target audience?
Knowing who to tailor a strategy toward is another vital part of preliminary campaign research. Understanding your target audience, both in terms of demographics and geography, is vital in developing an effective organic strategy.
Again, supplementary research may also reveal audiences you are not currently targeting but who may present opportunities for your business.
Who is your current audience?
If you are not currently seeing success from your target audience, an agency will look to understand why. Their advice will be different if you have only just defined a new audience, for example, then if you have been trying for 5 years to target the same group with limited results.
Discrepancies between current and target audience are another good source of potential insights to refine future digital marketing efforts.
What is your current understanding of SEO?
This helps an agency to pitch their communications and avoid unhelpful jargon. It also lets them see whether your understanding is reasonable and up to date.
What are your expectations?
This ties strongly into the previous question: it is important to make clear from the outset that your expectations from an SEO agency are realistic and reasonable. If you want to see page 1 rankings across the board in a highly competitive niche one week after the campaign starts, expectations need to be managed.
Do you appreciate that SEO is a long-term investment?
Any agency promising immediate wins is selling snake oil. An agency should be transparent from the outset that SEO is a long game, and that results will be gradual and incremental if they are to be permanent. A prospective client needs to understand this and be on board for a functional working relationship to be possible.
What SEO has been done on your site already?
The more detail that can be given here, the better. Understanding what's been done already prevents the duplication of efforts, and also highlights areas that may need to be investigated. If previous SEO work led to movement in rankings and traffic, whether upward or downward, an incoming agency will look to understand all of this so the good can be built on and the bad can be remedied.
If you've worked with another SEO agency, why did this relationship end? Can we see any of their audits/reports, etc?
Understanding issues that led to the ending of previous relationships help an agency avoid repeating them. Sometimes businesses have specific needs or preferences that a generic SEO strategy will not address, so where this is the case, understanding early on prevents a repeat occurrence.
Examples of previous documentation are especially helpful as they provide deeper insight into activities that have been carried out, the time frame, and any impact on ongoing SEO performance.
This is also helpful in understanding whether the issue is with the agency or the client: agencies need to know that prospective clients are a good fit for them, too!
Are you aware of any penalties affecting your site?
Penalties can be awarded manually or can be the result of changes to search engine algorithms. If you are aware of penalties, telling an incoming agency allows them to rectify the penalty as part of their strategy. If you're not aware of a specific penalty but have seen a drop in traffic that is otherwise hard to explain, mention this to the agency so they can do some digging and see if a penalty is to blame.
What are your goals?
Without understanding your specific goals, it's hard to create a tailored SEO strategy. The more information you are able to give, the more targeted and bespoke a strategy can be, and the more likely it is to produce the desired results.
What are your objectives?
An agency will want to understand how you are going to measure success so that they can align their efforts accordingly. Will you be looking at traffic? Conversions? Reduction in bounce rate? Whatever your objectives, it is important that they are mutually agreed at the outset.
What is your goal ROI?
Your agency wants you to see a return on your investment, and understanding what level of return you are looking for is another way to determine expectations.
How involved would you like to be in the process?
Some clients like to see a report at the end of the month and nothing else, while others like to be involved with every decision that's made. While neither is right or wrong, it's really important that both sides understand the level of involvement from the outset.
Your agency needs to know that their suggestions and recommendations are going to be taken on board, and what level of back and forth will be required to get to this point. If expectations are not fixed, it can cause delays or leave either side in the lurch.
What is your budget for SEO?
The golden question. An agency will look to understand your planned spend before they begin to create a strategy, as it sets the limits for what they can propose. A larger budget equates to more deliverable hours, more resource, and theoretically better - or faster - results.
Agencies will usually have a minimum spend, below which there is no way to achieve meaningful SEO results. If you plan to spend less than this, they may refer you elsewhere or give you options for a one-off piece of work rather than an ongoing retainer.
What other marketing are you doing?
Getting a clear picture of the marketing mix, and the planned contribution of SEO to wider marketing goals and strategies fosters consistency between different efforts. It also reduces the risk of treading on the toes of other departments, or even other agencies.
Are you currently working with any other agencies?
If you're working with other agencies, an SEO agency will need to understand what they are doing, how they are doing it, and whether there is an opportunity to align efforts. The worst-case scenario and the one this question is designed to avoid is two agencies who are afraid the other is going to dethrone them, and who are secretive about the work they are doing as a result.
Do you have an in-house developer or a ring-fenced development budget?
Some SEO recommendations will require web development time and specialist expertise, so it is useful to know whether you have access to this resource in-house. Access to expertise and resource broadens the type of content that can be created and can save a lot of time in its creation, as well as in changes to the structure and functionality of a website.
Who else are you talking to?
Understanding how far you are along the process of finding an SEO agency is useful because the level of pitch required can be tailored. If you are talking to ten companies and only looking for a few slides to make the decision on a shortlist, this represents much less investment of time than a fully comprehensive SEO strategy.
What CMS is your site built on?
An agency needs to ensure they have the relevant internal expertise to make meaningful changes to your website. If it's a common CMS, happy days. If it's heavily bespoke, it may be the case that you aren't a good fit.
Each CMS has different inbuilt limitations, too. Understanding whether this is the case for your website allows an agency to create the most relevant strategy.
Do you have any plans for a redesign?
Giving a prospective agency a heads-up on any impending website overhaul has two benefits. Firstly, they can advise on maximising SEO performance of the redesigned site. Secondly, they can leave out making recommendations to the current site, saving you time and money.
Will you be happy to give us access to your website, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console?
Understanding the level of access a client is willing to give is useful for a few reasons. Firstly, it determines the scope of research that can inform the creation of a strategy. Secondly, it highlights any restrictions on the type of recommendations that can be made. Finally, it is helpful to know which metrics they will have access to for monitoring and reporting purposes.
If a client is completely against giving any level of access to their website or services, this may be too restrictive.
Do you have a tone of voice or brand guidelines?
If an SEO agency is to advise on content creation, or create content on your behalf, they need to work within an established tone of voice and brand guidelines. This protects everyone involved: you get content which is on-brand, and everyone saves time making edits that could have been avoided.
Will we be able to work alongside your in-house team?
Similar to the question about other agencies, it is useful to know whether anyone in-house will be working on SEO or related tasks. If you have a content team, for example, understanding the process for briefing them will save time and energy when it comes to content creation.
What level of sign-off will we need before implementing recommendations?
Part of SEO is being responsive and agile, monitoring things in real time, and making frequent changes. If there is to be a long sign-off process, especially involving back and forth between various departments, this needs to be understood and factored in so that no one is put out down the line.
Then, hopefully, you'll be invited to ask any questions you've not yet had answered. As we said at the beginning, trust and understanding need to be mutual. An agency needs to respect the fact that you are investing time and trust in their abilities.
If you've got any other questions for us, get in touch today!