Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most effective, long-term marketing strategies available to a business. Okay, we’re slightly biased, but we truly believe that anyone from independent businesses to global empires can benefit their business by hiring an SEO agency.

Getting on board with an SEO agency is a big decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Of course, there’s always going to be the cost to consider, but business owners and decision makers also need to be aware that hiring a bad, dysfunctional, or dishonest SEO agency can have an irreversible and detrimental effect on your business’s online presence – not to mention negatively impact sales, revenue, brand reputation, and visibility.

If you’re going to be spending money on hiring an SEO agency, it pays to know what questions you need to ask in order to help you generate the greatest return on investment (ROI).

1. How do you “do SEO”?

SEO is broken down into three core areas: on-page, off-page, and technical.

By asking your favoured SEO agency how they do SEO, you should be on the listen for the above phrases. Any mention of natural link building, outreach strategy, and content marketing are also terms that a good SEO agency will throw around in conversation.

Hearing phrases such as “number one position in Google”, “paid links”, or “keyword stuffing”? These are all signs that your agency in question is practising poor SEO and your best bet is to avoid hiring them at all costs.

2. When will I see results?

One of the biggest concerns for any business owner is seeing a positive ROI. So it’s only natural that wanting to see results is at the forefront of your mind.

SEO is a long game. Results may appear within the first three months alongside fluctuations, but solid results can take anywhere from six months to a year to come to fruition. And this is also dependant on the current landscape of your website. For example, if there’s a mountain of Google penalties and technical SEO work for the agency to navigate, results will take longer to produce.

Have a conversation with your SEO agency about timeframes. A respectable SEO will be able to give you some estimates for results, but also communicate that there are many variables to consider when optimizing a website for organic search.

3. How do you define success?

Any SEO agency worth their salt will tell you that the definition of success is dependable on the goals a business has. For example, the goals of an independent business will be different to those of a global brand. Here are a few common goals that the brands we work alongside often ask for help with:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase revenue
  • Increase leads and customer acquisition
  • Increase traffic
  • Reputation management

Note that we haven’t included “increase rankings” on our list of common SEO goals. Why? Because SEO is more than getting higher rankings in Google, Bing, or a different search engine.

When rankings do increase, this is often indicative of achieving a deeper, more richer goal, for example increasing brand awareness, generating leads, or obtaining higher revenue. Think of rankings as part of the bigger picture.

It’s also worth mentioning that you could rank in the first position in Google for as many terms as you like, but unless they relate to your business offering and audience search intent, you’re not going to see much return on that ranking.

A reputable SEO agency will focus on your business goals as their definition of success and almost certainly draw the conversation away from rankings and securing the number one spot on Google.

4. What tools do you use?

A leak has sprung in your kitchen. You call a plumber and he turns up with some paper towels, a half-empty tube of superglue, and an invoice for $2,000. You’d run a mile, right?

Having the right tools for the job is one of the most important parts of SEO and any professional SEO agency will be able to name a generous handful of tools that help them. Listen out for a few common names such as Stat, Moz, SEMRush, Ahrefs, Agency Analytics, Screaming Frog, Majestic, and SEOQuake.

5. How do you report on progress?

A good SEO company should be ready to inform on progress at any point and be ready to give you detailed insight into a lot more than your rankings. An SEO report or conversation should touch upon the number of links gained and lost, updates on deliverables, and information on how SEO tangibly affects your business goals (revenue, awareness, leads etc).

A SEO agency that knows their stuff should turn this question back to you (not in a mean way) and ask “how often do you want to be informed of progress?” Some business owners like a scheduled, weekly phone call or Skype conversation; others benefit from an in-person meeting once a month.

6. Do you guarantee results in search engines?

Full disclaimer: This is a trick question. By asking “do you guarantee results in search engines?”, you’re actually looking for the SEO agency to answer “no”.

Why?

Because there are no guarantees in SEO.

If an SEO agency answers “yes”, this is a huge red flag that corrupt or ‘black hat’ SEO practices are being used and these techniques are to be avoided at all costs. This is because in the long term, black hat SEO can seriously damage your business and you’ll subsequently need to spend even more money to fix the mess you’re in. And it doesn’t matter about the size of your business – Google will punish you no matter what.

7. Can you show me your past work?

Would you hire a lawyer without looking at their win to lose ratio? Probably not. SEO is exactly the same, you’re looking for specific examples of success with previous clients.

Keep in mind that not every client will have the same goals as you. Some may be looking to improve traffic, others focussing purely on lead generation, therefore the results you’re being shown might not relate directly to your particular business.

Ultimately, asking to see examples of previous work will give the SEO agency an opportunity to highlight key businesses they’ve worked with, lets them showcase examples of work undertaken, and talk you through results that were produced. If an agency has limited (or even zero) previous work to show, this is a major red flag on your hunt to hire an SEO agency.

When you’re making any investment to further your business goals – whether they’re centred on growth, acquisition, or straight-up sales – it’s imperative to do your research and shop around to explore not who can give you the best deal, but which agency has the true knowledge and expertise to succeed in achieving SEO success.  

Method and Metric provide startups, independent businesses, and global brands with professional optimization services. Get in touch to find out how we can help you grow your operation.

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