Ask the wrong questions and you'll get the wrong answers.
Most business owners don't know a thing about SEO. Heck, the SEO world changes so much that many people who work in the industry fail to keep up with the latest changes. Looking for a quality agency to handle your search engine optimization can be like buying a used car, approached with skepticism at best. If you're a business owner, you've been solicited several times by “reputable” SEO companies that cold call you and spam your email inbox relentlessly. Buyer beware.
When you set out to find a person or agency to handle your SEO campaign, you should have a general understanding how SEO works and what questions you should be asking. If you're not prepared, you could get yourself in trouble. Here are a few questions you should not ask as well as some suggestions on what you should ask.
How many links per month do I get?
As many as you like sir. The thing is, links come in various types and of varying quality. You could be promised a 1,000 links a month. They would be the lowest quality spam links you've ever seen, mostly from countries far far away, but they would still be 1,000 links. You could also be promised somewhere between 3-5 links per month, but from legitimate websites that are highly related to your industry. These links over time would start to give you some good authority in the eyes of the search engines. See the flaw in this question?
A better questions to ask is, “When it comes to link building, can you describe your process in acquiring links and give me some examples of the kind of links you will get for my website?” Make sure that they use best industry practices and can demonstrate that they will not do anything that could damage both your website and your brand. Let them give examples of the kind of links they earn for their clients and examples of types of links they will get for you.
Can you guarantee a top place ranking in the search engines?
I can guarantee you a top place ranking as much as a stock broker can guarantee you a stock he sells you will rise in value. In the end, the only one who has control over the ranking of a website are the search engines. Anyone that tells you otherwise is lying. What an agency offering SEO can do is use their experience and best industry practices to put your website in the best possible position to rank high in the search engines. This involves an understanding of the Technical aspects of your website, Link building and content creation both on and off your website (TLC).
You also have to understand that ranking is done on a per keyword basis and there are potentially thousands of keywords/terms that could generate leads for your business. Unless a single search term delivers a bonanza of traffic each month, it will unlikely to generate enough business for you in the long term. A proper SEO strategy involves building rankings for a variety of search terms and building the overall authority of your website.
A better question to ask is, “From your experience, what kind of results do you think we can get given our budget and competition?”. There are no guarantees, but a good agency (after some research) can give you a reasonable estimate of what your chances are for ranking in the search engine results.
Can you rank me #1 for (1-2 word money keyword)
Everyone business owner wants to rank for their (perceived) money keyword. The lawyer wants to be #1 for “your city+Lawyer”, the contractor wants to be #1 for “your city+Contractor”. The reality is that there are probably 10,000+ ways someone can search for what you have to offer and you're focusing everything on only one of them. 1-2 word money terms are easy to wrap your head around, that's why most people use them. They are also very competitive and expensive to rank and going for a key term like this really depends on your competition, your budget and the current state of your website/rankings. In reality, the people that are most likely to contact you will search using much more specific search terms, one's you most likely aren't thinking about. For a lawyer in Charlotte an example might be “lawyer in south charlotte that does family law”. If you specialize in family law and practice in Charlotte, this term is much more likely to convert than “charlotte lawyer”.
A better question to ask is, “What strategy will you use to increase rankings for my important search terms?” In reality, you probably don't know your important search terms, that's what a good SEO agency will help you discover. An ideal SEO campaign will get you ranking for a variety of “long tail” search terms in addition to a few select money terms. A good campaign will also work on building the overall authority of your website in the eyes of the search engines.
Can we setup a pay for performance model?
No. The ramp up period for an SEO campaign involves a lot of time and work and there are too many variables involved to put forth the work with a possibility of not getting paid for it. A good SEO campaign involves not only the agency you hired, but the business that employs them as well. It's a team effort and both parties need to play their “A” game if they really want to succeed at this. There are too many things that an agency could execute as planned on their part but the business owner fails to deliver on their part and vice/versa. I've had experiences where we needed key information in a timely manner from a business owner in order to deliver on time, yet they dragged their feet for weeks. For this reason, I am very upfront with clients as to what they will be expected to deliver in order for me to do my job correctly. In the end, you're still responsible for your business and marketing and need to be a part of the process.
You have to make some sort of leap of faith when it comes to hiring an agency for your SEO. SEO takes time and if you're not willing to give it, at a minimum, 6 months then don't bother getting started. Do Pay Per Click instead.
A better question to ask is, “What will be used to measure success for the campaign and how will this be communicated to me?” Work together to work out what success looks like and then hold each other accountable for moving towards it.
How much does SEO cost?
It's like asking, “How much does a car cost?”. It depends. Want to rank high for your small town or the entire state? The work and complexity involved and the costs are much different. Are you a lawyer specializing in class action lawsuits? That will be a “little” more expensive than trying to rank your personal organizing services. Cookie cutter SEO packages like “$300 a month for 20 links and 2 search terms” are a bunch of garbage. Every industry, market and business is different…….it's not a one size fits all type of service. Only after there is an understanding of your business, industry and competition can you get a reasonable estimate on what an SEO campaign will cost. Paying $300 a month for an SEO campaign that has no chance of working is more expensive than paying $1000 a month for a campaign that generates quality leads for your business month after month.
A better question to ask is, “For my industry and in this market, what would you estimate the costs to be to run a successful SEO campaign?” From this point you can probably get a good price range to wrap your head around and more accurate pricing after some analysis. In the end, it really depends on competition. If your competitors have been building their website rankings for several years and you're just starting out, you obviously have a lot of work cut out for you.
Do you homework and ask the right questions
Before you even consider talking to someone about an SEO campaign, take some time to understand what SEO actually is and how it works. Ask the right questions and don't be pressured into anything you're not comfortable with. The best starting point is to look for a referral from someone you trust or at least spend some time researching online to make sure the person or agency you hire has a good reputation.
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