What good is a great business idea or newly-launched website if it’s not getting noticed by the right people? Or, perhaps, no one at all?
To begin with, any company specialising in search engine optimisation may promise to bring in traffic, but it can be from all the wrong sources. For instance, if a Perth-based brand only delivers locally, then it does not make sense to attract a clientele from other places around the country or the world.
That said, SEO agencies that exploit a trending keyword and pump out irrelevant content with no real value throng the digital marketing industry. Soon enough, such practices can rack up a bad reputation for your company with authorities or among audiences. And while word-of-mouth may not be effective in getting your brand noticed, it can indeed ruin reputations with a single bad review.
But there’s no reason to panic – take a look at this guide that circles all the right questions to ask during the hiring process. Hopefully, an SEO company will provide all the right answers, and gradually take the brand to the top of search engines and you to the top of your game.
SEO Agency Questions: What To Ask Before Hiring
1. How Will Hiring SEO Services Improve Rankings On Search Results?
Perhaps the most fundamental question of all – when you ask an SEO agency about what they offer, they should come up with a well-thought-out strategy rather than promises.
An SEO consultant that gives vague answers and is unsure of its SEO processes is a serious red flag. At the same time, be wary of any response that revolves around getting the highest number of backlinks (external links) and similar shortcuts. After all, quantity does not always mean quality, especially with backlinks.
In fact, scores of dubious SEO companies sell hundreds of low-quality backlinks for a small price. Needless to say, these don’t bring in organic traffic or any real value in the long run, even though you may see more hits on your site.
At the same time, backlinks do add value and bring in potential clients, as long as they are from high-quality websites. A reliable SEO agency will most probably provide a strategy to make use of backlinks, after conducting an SEO audit and following up with keyword research.
2. How Many Years Of Experience Should The Agency Have With SEO?
Any SEO company with more than five years of proven experience is possibly a reliable candidate worth hiring. That said, don’t forget to ask for work samples with past clients and any other evidence to back their experiences, such as reviews and testimonials.
And while you shouldn’t expect any potential SEO service to give away the names of all their past clients, their portfolio should include a few reputable names at the top of the list.
Some agencies may even be able to provide detailed case studies that explain how they applied their strategy to achieve results for other clients. While this is a great way to find out the effectiveness of their tactics, you can also decide whether the practices are aligned with your company’s methods.
Nevertheless, if the agency has a history of return clients or if it has been in long-term partnerships with any business, it is a possible sign of quality content and good SEO efforts. A long-lasting stint with any client could translate to an SEO strategy not based on achieving fast results, but rather on consistent growth over a period of months and years.
Past experience with long-term clients also holds value as it is a precursor of an SEO agency that does not focus solely on generating massive traffic through unethical means. Considering how services with agencies are sometimes halted due to lack of delivery or because the SEO company ends up becoming unresponsive after a few months.
3. What SEO Tools Will The Agency Use?
Once you get a general idea of the SEO company, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.
Start by asking what kind of SEO tools the SEO agency usually employs to achieve results. Genuinely effective SEO does not only rely on one single application, such as link building tools, which help generate lots of links in a short span.
That said, think twice before you hire an SEO company whose sole purpose is to generate automated messages that flood the comments of random blogs and websites. In fact, a good SEO strategy should simultaneously involve several techniques for optimal results.
These include reporting and research tools which calculate trending searches, measure analytics and other relevant information. While free tools, such as Google Trends, can be used for searching trending keywords, simply following these won’t bring in traffic.
Not to mention how an intelligent strategy would be to invest in technical SEO tools that can comb through a site for underlying technical issues, such as redirect problems and 404 pages. Although the work of these tools could be done manually, it will probably take hours upon hours which seep into company time.
At this point, don’t hesitate to delve deeper into the details. After all, an SEO agency can provide the names of applications they use and not know how to use them for legitimate research.
How will the company use the tool for reporting activities? Can they use these tools to evade penalties? These are essential questions to ask before hiring.
4. Do They Have Any Past Writing Samples?
While tools help, quality content will keep your clients coming back for more.
That said, hiring an SEO agency that also offers content-related services is worth considering. Start by asking for a past writing sample before hiring an SEO company, so you can check the style adopted by the content and copywriting team. If, in fact, they offer content writing services, the agency should be able to provide you with some of their best work.
As you go through the writing sample, keep an eye out for the overuse of keywords or mediocre content with no real value. However, to rank higher on search engine result pages, some businesses may prefer writers to produce keyword-rich blogs for their website – but that is hardly ever a good strategy.
After all, no prospective client would be willing to read overly repetitive articles that seem to go nowhere.
In fact, ever since Google’s algorithm began uses latent semantic indexing, writers can now exercise more creativity and they don’t have to be fettered by set keywords. According to this new technique, words with the same meanings or those that are used in the same context will be ranked equally.
The bottom line is, the brand should be able to produce well-researched organic content in order to garner organic traffic.
5. How To Avoid Getting Penalised By Algorithm Changes?
It comes as no secret that Google releases updates regularly; on average, there may be as many as 500 algorithm changes in a year.
That said, the SEO agency you plan to hire must be knowledgeable about the quality guidelines, general guidelines, and content violations as per Google’s standards. Although nobody can really predict when an update change is launched or how an algorithm could be triggered, there are a few ways to maintain the best practices to avoid getting penalised.
For starters, the Google algorithms under the code name “Panda and Penguin” seemingly penalise low-quality websites that take up the top spots in search engine rankings. Ideally, the engineers of these algorithms want those prominent spaces to be taken up by organic search results.
So, in response to the skyrocketing instances of manipulating search engine rankings through black hat techniques, Google began to penalise websites guilty of these tactics.
Apart from unethical link building tactics, other black hat spamming techniques, such as comment spams, duplicate content, and reciprocal links may trigger the algorithms. As a result, your site will cease to show up on organic search results, which will inadvertently hurt your chances to snag clients.
The process of recovering a penalised site could prove to be a challenge, even with a good SEO agency to back you up. That said, a suitable follow-up question to ask would be how the agency plans to recover the website, in case it does meet with a penalty.
6. What Kind Of SEO Services Does The Agency Specialise In?
As mentioned earlier, any good SEO agency should be able to provide a strategy, and then only could you discuss the process details. However, this question may have already come up if the agency provided case studies, testimonials, samples and so on.
That said, some SEO consultants could advertise themselves as digital marketing companies that offer SEO services, in addition to content marketing services. Or perhaps, the agency focuses only on technical SEO or off-page optimisation.
To understand it better, SEO companies that deal with the technical aspects of SEO will focus on running audits and rooting out any underlying technical SEO issues. These include internal 404 pages, missing sitemap data, websites that are down, slow speeds, robot.txt flaws, error codes, and so on.
With the help of SEO tools, these problems are sourced and fixed before they trigger Google algorithms and result in your website getting penalised. However, it is worth noting that most reliable agencies should nevertheless run a general audit before working on their niche.
On the other hand, agencies dealing with on-page aspects primarily focus on the content within the website. Simply put, their goal is to provide optimised content with relevant keywords for an enhanced user experience.
Those specialising in off-page elements deal with links from external sources, which may be natural or reciprocal links. Anyhow, a successful SEO agency will be able to link your site to authoritative websites that are often regarded as reliable sources.
7. How Often Will Can One Expect Communication?
Hiring an SEO company involves a lot of trust. After all, you may have to hand over partial or even full access of your website to them.
As an added tip, you may hire a separate in-house team to make changes according to the advice of the SEO consultant. While this adds a step to the whole process, you may choose to cut your losses. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be left with a broken website in case something goes wrong and the SEO agency decides to cut off all contact.
Needless to say, all these factors provide even more reason to know the right questions to ask before hiring. In fact, both parties should decide on a specific frequency or fixed date each month or week. On the set date, correspondence could take place and the agency can share a detailed report.
Anyhow, all contact lines should be kept open throughout the month so that the SEO agency can work with transparency and update you about all the changes made on the site. That said, it’s incredibly crucial that you are made aware of the work being done on a day-to-day basis to avoid being caught off-guard in case some in-site issue arises.
However, this does not necessarily call for daily updates if the SEO agency efficiently keeps track of their work in the form of detailed end-of-the-month reports or case studies. To be on the safer side, both parties should have an open mode and line of communication. That said, there must be a guarantee that one team can reach the other in case of emergencies.
8. How Can It Contribute To Marketing Success?
With SEO becoming a large part of online marketing, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many companies have started warming up to the idea of setting up an in-house SEO team. Usually, they could also be part of a more extensive department that may simultaneously take care of SEO campaign responsibilities and other aspects of marketing.
That said, an SEO company may branch out or reinvent itself as a digital marketing agency. Apart from SEO efforts, other services rendered include inbound marketing. In other words, these companies focus on keyword research and quality content generation to pave the path for organic links and traffic.
At the same time, you may ask follow-up questions about whether they deal in other valuable aspects of marketing, such as social media. If they do provide such services, you may ask for in-depth details regarding their social media strategy and the platforms they recommend for your specific brand and audience.
Another thing to ask before hiring is how well their team is equipped to take on the challenge of digital marketing. For instance, you may ask whether you can expect the company to provide social media managers, frequent posts on platforms, comments moderation, and so on.
9. How Do They Plan On Tapping Into This Specific Industry?
With small or local businesses, opting for SEO services can be a hit or a miss. However, companies that hire an SEO agency that is based in the same area may increase their chances of success.
For starters, a local SEO agency will already be aware of all the latest trends in a specific locality – that may or may not be taken into account by computerised tools. Apart from the team’s existing knowledge regarding the customs and current trends, familiarity with the local lingo may provide them with an advantage during the keyword research process.
At the same time, partnering with a local agency may give you access to their address book and other business associates in the area. Additionally, face-to-face consultations may lead to building an organic partnership and increasingly productive meetings.
Here, the bottom line is that a local business may benefit more from the SEO efforts of a local SEO company.
Similarly, industry-specific questions to ask any remote SEO agency will revolve around their knowledge about the relevant trends and target audience. That said, it is possible for a non-local agency that practices good SEO strategies to help build your business.
10. What Kind Of Results Can One Expect?
No SEO agency can give a 100% guarantee of success when it comes to holding the top position ranking in Google search engines. And they shouldn’t make such false promises either.
After all, the algorithm Google uses remains top-secret, and many analysers continue to predict what they mean – with a margin or error, of course. At the same time, agencies may be able to help you increase your website search traffic over time, especially if the keyword you’re seeking to target is a relatively mainstream one.
That said, before hiring an SEO agency, be sure to exclusively state what you expect of them and what kind of results they can guarantee. For the most part, an agency will calculate success rates based on these factors:
A. Search Engine Rankings
Perhaps considered to be the clearest indicator of progress, bagging the number one spot on Google search engines is probably the best thing any business could ask for. While the agency might not guarantee to take your business to such heights, it can track your growth in the form of reports.
Usually, the report will contain the keyword rankings, or the number of times your target keyword appeared on main pages.
B. Search Traffic
Whether through external links, keyword searches, or other SEO tools, considerable growth in incoming traffic may indicate success. However, bear in mind that search traffic that grows consistently is better than a huge spike triggered by black hat SEO tactics.
Generally, after a stipulated period, the agency will submit a report containing stats that show the percentage of growth from the previous month, quarter, year, and so on.
C. Conversions/On-Page Metrics
Although an agency’s answer may solely focus on rankings and traffic growth, these don’t add organic value to a business if the website hit does not get converted into the next step. In other words, a visitor must spend time on the site, use applications within the website, or make in-site purchases for the hit to bring a return on investment.
That said, other questions to ask your SEO agency candidate are whether they can promise growth, and produce reports in this area. If, in fact, they answer in the affirmative, expect to receive a report containing stats regarding conversions, transaction values, customer retention or time spent on the website, and so on.
11. What About The Fees?
You get what you pay for – this stands true, especially when you are talking about hiring an SEO company.
For instance, you may choose to buy links from a dodgy website, which are priced at a rate that is too good to be true. And indeed, you will probably be able to obtain hundreds of backlinks, but at what cost? Apart from spam comments that ruin your brand reputation, your website may get flagged or penalised by Google algorithms – sometimes, irreversibly.
At the same time, some agencies may quote a high number even for the most basic applications. Needless to say, shelling out thousands of dollars does not guarantee a spike in organic traffic or returns on investment.
Additional Tip: Before hiring an SEO company, don’t forget to ask about their policy regarding early termination of the contract. Some companies charge hidden fees that may hurt your financial situation, especially if you broke the contract after losing revenue due to bad SEO.
Finding Your SEO Agency
In the digital age, getting ahead in any industry begins with an excellent online presence – even if your niche is unrelated to digital marketing.
At the same time, digital marketing and SEO have almost become synonymous. After all, they both work towards the same end goal – that is, to build your business with trends and the target audience in mind.
Likewise, effective SEO comes from the synergy of various factors at play. These include thorough keyword research, high-quality backlinks, meaningful content, regular technical audits, and so on. And while these processes aim to bring in more traffic and improve search engine rankings, only a well-thought-out website will capture the attention of the relevant audience.
That said, building a good SEO strategy is a long term process – right from the time when you sit down to hire a suitable SEO agency. In fact, it takes a considerable amount of time even to find out whether the tools and tactics employed have worked in your favour.
However, now that you know what questions to ask before hiring– you can begin your search for the best search engine optimisation specialist to optimise content.
Danny is head of web design at sitecentre and uses user-behaviour metrics to improve UX/UI and accelerate conversions. Using his unique combination of skills, Danny is able to deliver award-winning websites to SMB’s quicker whilst delivering better results.