SEO agencies are seemingly everywhere, but there are so many unqualified, not-so-great agencies out there that they make it difficult for potential clients to find the ones that are actually good at what they do. And then sometimes even the best agencies won’t be a great fit for a certain client based on the client’s needs or their specific experience or specialty.
For clients, this is stressful. SEO services can be expensive, and since you’ll only hire one agency at a time, investing into the wrong one will cost you too much for an expensive retainer and cost you the potential traffic and sales that another agency could have gotten for you.
When you’re deciding what agency is right for you, it’s important to ask questions to help you make that decision with as much information as possible. We want to help you do that– whether it means you end up hiring us or not!– so that you can find the absolute best agency for your needs. Certain questions can help you root out frauds who don’t know what they’re doing, but they can also help you assess whether an agency is a good fit for your needs (even if they’re wonderful).
In our experience, these 11 questions to ask your SEO agency will help you assess whether they’re right for you.
1. How Specifically Will You Improve Our Rankings?
All agencies boast getting you the best rankings possible, but not every agency wants to be transparent about how exactly they’ll do this. If the agency doesn’t want to discuss specific strategies, bolt and run.
Some agencies offer services like content optimization, keyword research, competitive research, and others offered around optimizing the text on your page. Others might offer technical SEO services, which can use more tech-savvy strategies like submitting optimized sitemaps to Google for indexing. Others still will focus on link building strategies to help drive traffic your way and build up your domain authority.
Understand what specific services the agency at hand can help you with. Ideally, choosing one that can offer the best of all three worlds is the way to go.
2. How Will You Help Me Get Backlinks?
Backlinks are often an important part of SEO strategies (as they should be), because they’re one of the fastest and most effective ways to increase your domain authority and thus your ranking potential.
Not all backlink strategies are created equal, however. Avoid agencies who talk about private blogging systems, which are essentially link building scams that Google will quickly root out and can even penalize you for.
3. How Have These Strategies Worked for Past Clients?
The proof is in the pudding, as they say, right? It makes sense that before you hire someone for what they say they can do that you’d want to see some evidence that they can actually do it.
Ask for case studies that the agency has written about they’ve done. Some may sign NDAs that don’t allow them to do this, though a lot of agencies will at least typically have some testimonials or reviews somewhere that are clearly verifiable and easy to assess.
4. What Specific Types of Results Can You Get Me?
Some brands want to get first place rankings for the keywords they’re targeting, others want more traffic, others want an elevated ranking compared to where they are. Ask the agency what specific results they’ll be aiming for and what sort of growth you can hope to expect.
I actually saw an SEO agency once that promised to deliver first-slot SERP ranking for every keyword they targeted… but then proceeded to target the most ridiculous, long-tail keywords that no one else was trying to rank for because they weren’t valuable in any way. They sort of delivered on their promise, but definitely not in a real way.
One red flag to watch for: anyone who guarantees that they’ll get you in the top five of Google for high-volume, high-competition keywords is typically full of it. No one can promise that, because there are so many factors outside of our control. Saying they’ll shoot for it and promising certainty are two different things.
5. How Long It Will Take to See Results?
There will be some agencies that will happily drag along clients for as long as possible, saying “soon” to try to milk a contract for all its worth.
Your agency should try to set goals and timelines, like “we believe these strategies could increase traffic/ranking positions by 15% over the next three months, and then up to a 45% increase within five months.”
These are goals, not guarantees (and in many cases, their contract will specify this), but they should be able to tell you about how long a strategy will take before you can start to see some results and traction.
6. How Will I Know About Changes Being Made?
Many SEO agencies will work directly on your site for you, whether they’re focusing on content or technical SEO or both. Some agencies will do this automatically, so it’s important to understand how you’ll know what’s happening.
if you want to give approval first, you can ask for it. This may be particularly important for restricted industries that are bound legally or ethically to be accurate in their claims; a site for a medication, for example, shouldn’t have its text changed just because the keywords could perform a little higher.
You can also ask for a detailed log of any changes that are made after the fact so that you can review them and keep careful track of what’s actually happening.
7. How Will Reporting Work?
SEO agencies are hired to get you results, and you want to know what they are. Discuss reporting with the agency. Ask what metrics they’ll be watching, what sort of reports you can expect to receive, and how often you’ll give them.
8. What Does the Collaboration Process Look Like?
How often will your internal team need to be involved, and to what extent? How many meetings will you have with the team, and how much industry information will they need from you?
Understand what will be needed from you and to what extent. Some agencies will require more hands-on engagement from their clients, while others handle more of the work themselves.
9. How Do You Handle Google Penalties?
If your site has any penalties from Google, it’s important to make sure that the agency has experience and a system in place for getting those penalties resolved and overturned so they aren’t holding you back any longer.
Make sure that they’ll handle this for you, and ask what their process looks like and how long it may take.
10. How Do Payments and Contracts Work?
If you’ve made it all the way here, that’s a good sign, because it’s time to talk money.
Make sure you’re clear about what a contract with this agency entails. Is it a one-time fee and a month-to-month agreement? Is it a retainer that requires a set time commitment? Do you need to pay for a single month up front? Six months up front? How do you pay?
If you get to the stage where you get a contract, review it carefully. Take it to your business’s lawyer and have them review it so that you can make sure that it works in your favor and isn’t just benefiting the agency. So many rogue agencies try to sneak in clauses that protect them and could actually hurt their clients, so it’s something to be careful of.
11. Is There An Out Clause?
Let’s say you’re three months into the contract, and there are absolutely zero changes in ranking or traffic.
Is there an out clause?
If so, what does it entail? Do you have to have a lack of results? Do you have to cancel within a set time period, like needing to wait four months into a six-month contract?
Be clear on this, and make sure that you’re comfortable with whatever the company’s policy is. You don’t want to be stuck with an agency whose strategies aren’t working for you any longer than it takes you to make the realization.
Finding the right SEO agency will be imperative to your online success, and with so much traffic still being dictated by search engines like Google, you don’t want to put your ranking potential in the wrong hands. The first step when asking questions is to look for any glaring red flags that the so-called experts might be anything but, and the second step is to find out if those fully-qualified-and-legitimately-expert agencies are a good fit for your needs and your business.
This is an important decision– you want to get it right. Take the time to ask these 11 questions, and you can be more confident that the agencies at hand can give you the results they promise.
What do you think? What questions do you ask to help you find an outstanding SEO agency? Which answers are sure to drive you away? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!