Whether you are planning to work with an SEO agency, sign a contract with an Internet marketing freelancer, or hire an in-house online marketer, you should be sure that you will be getting the quality service you are (about to be) paying for. Even without much insight into the vast world of SEO, you can find out what you need by asking a few strategic questions.
1. What is your process?
While you don’t have to understand what each component of the campaign does, you should have an understanding of what the general course of the campaign will be. Also be sure to listen for the research component and whether the SEO consultant will be fixing errors on your site. Research will greatly affect a campaign’s content development and keyword list, and fixing website errors is a critical first step in any SEO campaign. If a site isn’t cleaned up early on in the campaign, errors can cause major roadblocks down the line.
2. What have you changed about your process since Panda/Penguin hit?
If an SEO agency has been around for at least the past 2-3 years, they will have an answer to this question. While the Google Panda and Penguin updates are no longer new, it’s important to understand how the SEO agency adjusted to changes in the Google algorithm, which will indicate how they respond to changes in the industry in general (which occur frequently). Answers should point to a greater emphasis on content, more in-depth content, reduced or more discerning link building practices, etc.
3. How do you weigh content against link building?
This question goes hand-in-hand with how their process has changed since Panda/Penguin. Link building practices (especially involving directories) are being steadily devalued, so there should be a stronger emphasis on content. However, how much will vary by price point. Content development is a lengthy process, and it will cost you. For this reason, budget SEO plans will incorporate more link building than content development, but they should still analyze the website and webpage content to identify errors or roadblocks.
4. How do you develop content?
Like understanding the overall process, it’s important to understand the content development process, especially content that will be published directly to your website. An SEO consultant should understand your target audience and find ways of incorporating keyword themes with topics relevant to your audience and brand. Whether or not you approve the topics beforehand, you should definitely see the final draft before it’s posted to your site in case you need to make changes.
5. What are your content goals?
The goals you currently have for your content may not be the same goals that an SEO consultant will be designing content for, and you should know the difference before you are surprised by it. Goals will generally be oriented toward education rather than product promotion. It’s not enough to say that content will promote the rankings for a designated keyword, though. Content should be written with the target demographic firmly in mind so that the blog, white paper, infographic, etc. will be easily sharable and appealing to a broader audience than you are currently attracting.
6. What do you consider high-quality content?
SEO content should be error-free, engaging, and strongly focused on a certain theme (while avoiding obvious plays at keyword stuffing). Above all, the guiding principle behind any piece of content should be that it adds value to the site (and the wider online community). This happens when you write on topics users care about, provide thorough information, and offer a unique perspective for the given topic.
7. How do you measure success?
Most SEO consultants will start out with rankings, but they’d better not stop there! Rankings are an indication that SEO efforts are having an impact, but rankings alone will not impact a company’s revenue stream. SEO consultants should also be measuring traffic and conversions (which anyone with access to your Google Analytics account should be able to track). Make sure you define what you consider a conversion, however. How to measure SEO success is talked about at length on the web. Here is a post we wrote that goes into greater depth on the subject.
8. When will we see results?
Generally, an SEO campaign will start seeing growth at around 2-3 months, but the impact has a progressively greater effect the deeper into the campaign you move. By the 6th month, you should be able to see clear movement in rankings, traffic, and conversions. (Although, new sites may have less dramatic results than older sites.) If you suddenly halt all online marketing activity after that point, you should still continue to see results for a few months afterward, especially if there was strong content development (opposed to linkbuilding). If there were major errors on your website that were cleaned up and you have otherwise solid brand signals, you will likely see some improvement shortly after those are made, too. Every respectable SEO company will tell you that campaigns take time so watch out for salesmen who say they can deliver immediate results.
PPC campaigns will generally deliver faster results, but not necessarily overnight. Companies with brand new PPC accounts may have to wait a month to see definite trends in clicks and conversions (useful information for developing a more streamlined ad campaign later on). However, new websites often benefit from combining PPC and SEO campaigns. It can be costly for young businesses to wait around for their websites to gain online authority, so PPC can be a good way of supplementing organic traffic.
9. What phrases will you target?
Before you start a campaign, you should be given a keyword list to approve. Client input is invaluable at this point. An SEO consultant can look at your site and provide a keyword list to cover all your bases, but if you want to focus on growing specific areas of your business, that’s where the focus of the campaign should be as well. It’s also important to gain an understanding of how the phrases will be determined. Consultants should be looking at what phrases you already rank for (and could rank better for), what your competitors rank for, what new opportunities can be easily obtained, and what keywords you can work up to.
10. How will we communicate?
Some SEO consultants will only be available by email after the campaign starts. Some may charge extra consulting time for conference calls. Some will send monthly reports. Some may want to hold periodic meetings. There isn’t a right form of communication in the SEO business, but make sure you understand how communication will work from the outset and how you will be able to keep track of your SEO campaign’s progress.
11. How involved will I (or my team) be?
Highly. SEO is not a set-it-and-forget-it game. In Eyeflow’s campaigns, we involve clients in every step from our initial research to final reporting. A campaign simply will not go well if clients are not involved. For example, content approval hinges on a client’s ability to quickly review and approve (or suggest changes for) the content we create, and delays at that stage can hold up the entire campaign. Receiving client feedback on topic ideas and keywords is also critical. This means that we’re in contact with our clients at the very least once a month, but often more.
12. What do you offer that others don’t?
Any SEO agency or new hire should be very excited about this question. Whether it’s a particular expertise, an unusual service feature, use of certain tools, etc., this is a good way to measure a company’s enthusiasm and commitment to their core principles. You should also look for an answer that’s specific to your needs.
What questions would you ask a prospective SEO agency?
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