We all love to study and learn – that’s why so many of us got into marketing and the quickly-changing SEO market in the first place. It would be great if you could handle every aspect of your business in-house, but the reality is that SEO efforts take a lot of planning and consistent effort. With the exception of fully-structured SEO and marketing agencies, most businesses will eventually need to reach out to the experts for guidance and help.
Before you do, you should have a strong understanding of how SEO works, what the agency or expert should be doing, and what red flags you need to be aware of. Here’s the catch: if you aren’t already in the business, you might not even know where to start or what to ask to get the info you need. That’s exactly what you’ll learn here today.
Listen to the SEO Firm’s Questions
No matter what you feel you need to ask the SEO firms you are considering, listen carefully not only to the answers the sales person gives you but to the questions they ask in return as well. A firm with a strong working knowledge of your industry will will know what questions to ask about specific things your business does. Firms that claim to work well with medical spas, for example, should have at least some familiarity with the injectables, lasers, and procedures most commonly marketed as well as ideas for how to shine in a very competitive market.
Don’t forget: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Run screaming from anyone who claims they can get you on the front page of Google for a keyword in 7 days (or, for that matter, even 30 days or 60 days). Unrealistic SEO goals will cost you money and the black-hat tactics often used to achieve them may even hurt your site.
Web Development Strategy
One of the first things you should ask a prospective SEO firm is what they will do to optimize your website. While no SEO expert is going to give you a full strategy for free, you should be able to get an idea of what necessary changes they plan to make.
Why is this so important? You may need a complete website overhaul, or you may only need updates to your meta tags and content. The difference in price can quite literally be several thousand dollars, making it much smarter to ask first.
Lastly, no matter how small or big the job, ask about mobile optimization. At this point, any SEO company who isn’t familiar with the differences between desktop and mobile optimization and design is behind the game.
Look for References and Reviews
Experience matters. Is the SEO firm pitching you brand new or have they been established for years with a proven track record? There is nothing wrong with working with a newer company as long as the principles actually have experience working with other firms, as proven by their resumes and references.
Beware of anything that seems to over-promise, yet has virtually no footprint on the web and online sphere. There are a lot of people who do a little Google research, build a website, and call themselves SEO experts and those are the people you really want to avoid.
Don’t be afraid to ask the SEO firms you are considering for the names and contact details of two or three clients they work with – and actually call them. Your online presence can make or break your business and it is your right to check their references just as you would any other employer or contractor you’d consider hiring for your business. Ask about their overall success ratio, starting and current or ending statistics, whether they deliver work on time, and whether or not they felt the advice they received was useful.
Be Cautious of Outsourced Services
Let’s start this section by being completely contradictory to the heading: there’s really nothing wrong with a company who works with foreign contractors. In fact, freelancers from India, China, and other poorer countries who work and study hard to become good at what they do can often bring a really fresh perspective to the table. Firms who lean on these experts vet them carefully and work to develop a good relationship with experts.
Unfortunately, some “firms” take advantage of desperate workers from poorer countries just to make a quick buck. They will immediately take the SEO job from you and outsource it to struggling foreign workers who lack experience or skills, yet will work for pennies because they are desperate for work. This is unethical and unfair to both you and the struggling, underpaid worker, and often leads to sub-par or risky results.
The general rule? Working with overseas freelancers shouldn’t be an automatic red flag, but you should ask more questions. How do they find their experts, and how long have they been working with them? If a long-standing relationship exists, it may be fine. Otherwise, look for companies who handle everything in-house.
Request an Audit
Audits are critical, yet they take a significant amount of time and effort. You can and should expect to pay for them from day one. Larger companies may have a couple of firms do audits for the sake of comparison, while a smaller company may ask the firm they’re already leaning towards for an audit before making a final commitment.
Note that you should establish baseline trust before approaching an audit. You’ll need to give the SEO firm in question restricted access to your Google analytics so that they can run reports and analyze the data, so vet them at least slightly before you reach this step. Once they’re in, they should be able to evaluate your site rankings, identify issues that are holding you back. Good agencies will then present you with action steps that will take you to the next level.
As for what your audit should include, think technical. Things to look for include an analysis of your site’s speed, code issues, internal link reports, and anything that might be slowing your site down or causing traffic to bounce.
Don’t expect the SEO firm to give you an outline detailed enough you could do the work on your own. It should be clear enough for you identify a sound plan of attack, though, including pricing and estimated costs for each phase of the project as well as ongoing maintenance.
Communication is Key
We’ve seen blanket pitch emails from fly-by-night SEO companies that claim completed audits, yet when you search for the “examples,” they come from abandoned or ignored sites not touched or changed in years. Others will pitch “domain audits” on URLs that don’t have anything actively published. Red flags galore.
Pay attention to the communications you are receiving from a company, starting with the very first pitch email or call. Are the things you are hearing inspiring you to take action? Do you feel like the SEO expert is communicating with you in a way that makes you comfortable enough to understand their job and what they’ll be doing for you? Moreover, do you feel like you understand the pitch in a way that makes sense?
An SEO expert needs to have the communication skills necessary not only to work with you, but with your IT department, marketing team, and even your sales teams. If they can’t even convince you and speak to you on your level in a marketing email, it isn’t likely to get any better on the other side.
Ask about Reporting
SEO firms need to be held accountable for what they do. Be sure to ask how they will report to you and show their progress. You should receive a monthly report outlining changes the company makes to your website, your SEO campaign, and your ranking or keywords at least once a month, if not more often. The work you see on your site in the first few months is usually more than in subsequent months, but you should always see some progress, even if it is just towards maintenance.
Don’t like what you’re seeing or hearing as you go through your interview process with the firm? Ask them to clarify or share your concerns. A good agency will be more than happy to explain or clarify, and to be fair, some things seem shady when they aren’t (such as asking for server access to FTP in for hard code changes to metadata). If you don’t feel comfortable, walk away – there are better options out there.
A decision to invest in SEO is a decision to trust the agency to handle some of your most sensitive information. You must be able to put complete trust in what they’re doing while feeling comfortable enough with the process to ask questions. You have a right to know where your money is going and what to expect. Don’t sign on the dotted line until you’re confident your new SEO firm choice will give you the results you’re looking for.
Did you stumble upon our article because you’re searching for SEO assistance yourself? We’d like to extend an invitation to get in touch with us here at Sachs Marketing Group. From handling everything in-house to our incredible, long-standing record of customer loyalty, there are so many great reasons to choose us.