This is tough and does require some groundwork on your part. Does the freelancer or agency have a good reputation and positive reviews? Do some digging, and don’t take things at face value. Who is the owner of the business? Who are the SEO consultants? Are they known and respected in the industry?
The following questions can provide a good starting point to generate a discussion with potential SEO companies. Certainly, understanding these questions and potential answers make you a more educated buyer and as such will help ensure your SEO company becomes a secret weapon rather than a wooden leg!
1. How will you improve our SEO?
This is purposely an open question. You are trying to get a feel for the strategy that the SEO company will follow. We would like to see mention of technical audits and fixes, on-page optimization, local SEO, page speed optimization, mobile optimization, content optimization, keyword research and most likely some form of link and authority building.
2. What type of SEO work do you specialize in?
SEO has many moving parts. Technical. Local. National. Organic. Content. Links and authority. Many smaller agencies focus only on small parts, so ask the question to be sure this agency is a good fit for your requirements.
3. What specific jobs will you work on each month?
We would expect the agency to detail an initial three-month process that involves technical audits and fixes, on-page optimization, content creation, content optimization and link building.
4. What strategies do you use to build links and authority for a site?
This is an important question. We are looking for an understanding of how the web and page rank works. We want natural links. Typically, we would want to see some form of content created (or promoted) to build links to a content piece. Some form of guest posts for exposure. Possibly some digital PR.
We don’t want to see mention of link farms, private blog network (PBN) sites, dropped domains and the like. We really want to ask the company if all links will comply with what Google considers acceptable (i.e., no link schemes).
5. Do you adhere to all of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines?
Leading on from link schemes, we can ask about Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Again, this shows you are an informed buyer, and many a low-quality company will run a mile when you ask this question (which is exactly what you want).
6. Can you provide case studies or examples of similar companies you have helped?
It is always good to get some examples of similar companies that the business has helped. You want an example of how the provider took someone (ideally in a similar industry) from the position you are in now to a position of strength.
7. What metrics do you measure to track progress?
You want to know which metrics the company will use to track success. Keyword rankings are the baseline here, but ideally, we want to see a more robust set of SEO KPIs. For small business SEO, you likely can’t expect too much, but I am fond of total organic search traffic — the total number of pages receiving organic search traffic.
8. Do you have contracts or a minimum term?
You certainly don’t want long contracts for unproven providers. If there are contracts, then you want a get-out clause after three months, when you will have a better measure of the company.
9. How & what will you report to us each month?
The quality of reporting will depend on the budget to some extent, but you will be wanting reports on the visibility of tracked keywords, improvements in results for tracked keywords, work completed (including all links) and work planned for next month.
10. How often do you review progress?
Here we want to know what will be reviewed, and when. After six months with a good provider, you will likely be in a far improved position. Hence, you want to know how the strategy will change. I would be looking for either three-monthly or six-monthly reviews here.
Certainly, there are some good resources out there if you want to have a go, and I recommend for all small business owners to at least have a look. Even if you only do the reading and don’t attempt to perform any SEO yourself, you’ll still be a better-educated buyer.
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