Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can be a time-consuming and complex task, and many small business owners prefer to leave it with the hands of a professional. Before choosing a professional SEO consultant it is important to ask them the right questions to avoid being dazzled by sales speech or misguided into paying for an expertise that is not there. Protect yourself from SEO scammers and cowboys by asking the right questions.
What is your keyword selection process and criteria?
If you want your SEO investment to pay off, you want to choose an agency that understands the business reasons behind it. There are many ways of choosing keywords to focus your SEO strategy on, but the only one that will affect your outcome is by finding out which keywords are most likely to bring you traffic that converts. If an agency does not mention conversions but just goes on about first place in ‘Search Engine Result Pages’ (SERP) they may not be a good choice. A good agency will explain how they select keywords that match your niche and audience and how they will monitor conversions to make sure they work out. Suggestions of using PPC campaigns to test out the waters effectivity gets the agency extra cookie points.
What metrics do you use, and what goals do you have?
This question is closely related to the one about keyword selection process. A good SEO agency will be able to clearly explain the metrics they are using and how they are using them, and how they relate to your business goals. Decide what you want from your SEO campaign and look for an agency that can measure and provide that. Some agencies use metrics such as “first in Google for at least 10 keywords” that are useless if what you want is to promote your website. After all, being first on Google is useless if your potential audience does not search for those keywords. Look for SEO agencies who try to measure how much money they are making you.
Can you give me a sample report, and how often will I get them?
A sample report will help you to see if the agency is able to communicate with you in plain speech, instead of trying to dazzle you with a complicated vocabulary that says nothing. It will back up the answers to the question about what metrics they are using and allow you to negotiate a reporting frequency that allows you to be on top of the project.
Guarantees and expected time until you get results
SEO campaigns are generally a long-term investment, but you should be getting results within the first 3 months. Anybody claiming results in less than 2 weeks is probably either trying to scam you or being overly optimistic, but it is not a good idea to wait 6 months before firing your SEO consultant. Ask them about their money-back guarantees if any, and make sure they put in writing that they will never use any technique specifically banned by Google, such as spamming, cloaking or other Black Hat SEO techniques. This is important because if they use that kind of shady tactics Google will ban your website, not theirs.
Could I see what you did for a website similar to mine?
If your potential SEO consultants can show you examples of active websites they optimized more than 6 months ago it is a big bonus. It is even better if you can contact the business owner yourself to verify that he is satisfied about the work. The reason why you want to contact clients that have had their website optimized more than 6 months ago is that you will be able to see the long term effects of their SEO campaign and usually weed out any Black Hat SEO who would be found out by Google much sooner.
A good relationship with a SEO agency or SEO consultant is based on trust. You should feel free to ask as many questions as you want and get them answered to your satisfaction, and any hint of that not happening usually spells trouble as soon as money is exchanged. A real SEO professional will be able to give honest answers to all the above questions, without trying to make Search Engine Optimisation look like some kind of magic ritual, and clearly explaining why hiring him will make you money.