When you first met your significant other, you probably knew quite a lot about each other before going official. You wanted to make sure you were on the right page, had things in common, and, most importantly, didn't have fundamentally opposing views on the world.
Deciding to partner your business with an SEO agency should involve the same level of due diligence.
You're entrusting a large chunk of the future performance of your web presence on another company, in an industry that's evolving day-by-day. An SEO strategy can be built around any combination of hundreds of activities and can be tailored toward just as many goals.
Making sure from the outset that your visions are aligned is a vital part of a healthy relationship - as true for an SEO agency as for a life partner.
20 questions to ask when hiring an SEO company
We've written before about the questions a good SEO agency will ask you during initial conversations. This blog post will equip you with 20 questions for you to ask them.
Bring these to the table at your initial set-up conversations, and you'll be well on the way to making sure each side has all the information they need to make an informed decision.
So if you're wondering what to ask an SEO agency, read on…
What do you think of our SEO currently?
An uncontroversial opening gambit that lets you gauge a few things. Firstly, whether they've looked at your site yet. Secondly, how knowledgeable and professional they sound. And thirdly, what changes you could be making, whether you decide to work with them or not.
How will you improve our search engine rankings?
The answer should instil confidence in their expertise and competence. Listen out for general methods - link building, content optimisation, technical SEO, etc - as well as specific challenges your site faces.
Are there any quick wins we can make from an SEO perspective?
In the same vein as the previous two questions, this lets you gleam their expertise and get some pointers on work you could be doing.
How do you choose which keywords to base a campaign around?
Effective SEO requires good keyword knowledge, so this answer should be solid. Choose the wrong keywords, and you attract the wrong traffic, meaning fewer conversions and a lower ROI.
Can you guarantee us top-spot for [generic keyword]?
This question is a trick. If a prospective agency says yes, show them the door. No SEO agency can guarantee top-spot rankings for anything: What they can do, is aim to increase rankings across the board over time.
Which SEO metrics do you track and report on?
Effective SEO campaigns need to be measured, for two main reasons. Firstly, you need to know their work is achieving results. And second, they need results and insights to make refinements to ongoing SEO efforts.
How frequently do you report on campaign progress?
Some companies report quarterly, others fortnightly. The industry norm is monthly. You need to make sure your prospective agency will keep you updated according to your preferences.
Which SEO tools do you use?
You might not be familiar with SEO tools, so some names to listen out for are AHrefs, Moz, SEMrush, HubSpot, and Google Search Console. These are industry-leading tools that agencies should be familiar with.
Do you conform to Google's best practices?
Another trick question. Any SEO company knowingly flouting Google's best practices are either incompetent or deliberately cow-boyish. Their techniques will most likely harm your site, so again, you can show them the door.
Can you explain to us the difference between black hat and white hat SEO?
White hat techniques align with Google's best practice, while black hat aims to subvert them. If an agency can't explain the distinction, it's a red flag.
Which industries and sectors are your specialities?
SEO varies between sectors. Some techniques that work wonders in particular niches achieve next to nothing in others. It's best to work with an agency who have a demonstrable understanding of your industry at the very least, and ideally with some previous client experience.
Have you ever worked with a business like mine before?
This question lets you gleam what they understand about your business and how they perceive it. A good answer is one that looks at your goals and challenges, rather than just superficial similarities. Look to understand perceived similarities, differences, and how they'll factor each into their strategy.
What type of results have you delivered for past clients?
Understanding what results an agency is proud of gives an idea of what they've achieved. Results that impact their clients' bottom line are more noteworthy than traffic numbers or rankings given without any context.
Do you have any example reports?
Don't be offended if they say no as they will usually be confidential, but some agencies may have example documents that let you see the level of depth you can expect.
How will you optimise our content?
Many SEO agencies will look to refine existing content on your site, as well as creating new stuff. Understanding which changes they'd like to make, and to which content, can be a good indicator of intent and priorities.
Will you want to make changes directly to our website?
Depending on the relationship, an agency may have access to your site to make changes directly. Establishing expectations early on prevents misunderstandings later. Also, ask how they will keep track of any changes made.
What data protection and security processes to you use?
If you do grant access to your site and associated accounts, you'll want to make sure they're not storing your passwords unencrypted on somebody's desktop.
What skills do you have in-house?
Learning a bit about their team is helpful. Some agencies have trained specialists; others have a few generalists. The former is usually preferable, as specialists possess greater expertise.
Do you outsource any parts of the SEO process?
Some agencies outsource specific tasks to freelancers when capacity or expertise doesn't exist in-house. There's nothing wrong with them answering yes, but honesty and clarity are essential at the outset.
How much can we expect this to cost?
Perhaps the most crucial piece of information for many business owners, especially as SEO has a reputation for being expensive. An answer which explains that the ultimate price will depend on project scope, goals, and deadlines is a good one. An out-of-the-box price tag given before they've looked at your site is a big red flag.
Now you're ready
Those 20 questions to ask your prospective SEO provider should put you in good stead to tell whether they're a good fit for your business. You'll have an understanding of their experience, expertise, and the types of results you can expect.
And, more importantly, you'll be able to tell whether there's rapport or not. Being able to have good, constructive conversation with your agency is an incredibly important part of a healthy relationship.