Picture this. You just get hired as a content marketing strategist and you’re tasked with doing all of the SEO research for your website. You’re new to SEO (and you have enough on your plate), but your team knows you need to bring aboard help and blesses the addition of an outside SEO consultant.
So you lean on your network of awesome content marketing colleagues to come up with a list of candidates, but then you have to answer a big question: how do you know if an SEO consultant really knows what he or she is talking about?
Start here, with these 15 questions that will allow you to find out if your SEO consultant really knows their stuff.
The Big Questions
What services do you provide?
The answer will most likely be different between consultants, but before even asking the question, you need to decide what services you need them to perform. Do you want them to run down the list of SEO essentials and do everything from keyword research to page optimization and link building, or will you or somebody in your company take ownership of some of these items? Once that’s clear, find out what their level of expertise is in those services. More on that in a moment.
What’s the first thing you’ll do if we were to hire you?
Good SEO consultants should start by doing an audit to see what your website is doing currently to achieve your marketing goals. What’s working and what’s not working? This is essential to get a benchmark for the task at hand. You don’t want them to fix what ain’t broke, and you don’t want them to break what’s been drawing traffic, even if it takes some time to get this up and running. If they can share an SEO guide with you to explain their methods, so much the better.
Have you worked with a company in our industry before?
It’s not to say that if an SEO consultant hasn’t worked with a company in your industry they’re not the person (or company) for the job. What’s more important is if they haven’t worked with your industry is that they can demonstrate a proficiency with many different industries, or show you they can quickly get up to speed on yours.
Which brings us to…
Can you give me a few clients you’ve worked with, what services you provided, and what the results were?
Any SEO consultant worth their weight in salt (or gold, your preference) should have a portfolio of case studies showing the “before” and “after” of their clients’ SEO well-being. Of course, you can spin just about anything in your favor, so ask for references of the companies they share information about. If that makes them cringe, then they may be hiding something, or they may not have any references to share.
How long do your relationships with clients usually last?
If they tell you, “We’re very efficient, so we generally work with clients for just 6-8 weeks and then we wrap up our engagement,” that’s a bad answer! Optimizing your SEO takes time. There is a lot of trial and error and constant monitoring before you find the sweet spot. And even then, the sweet spot is a moving target, which means you need monitoring down the line
Most businesses who really want to make an impact with SEO will hang onto their consultant for as long as their budget allows unless they decide to bring it in-house or they’re not seeing results. So, if they say anywhere from one year or more, you’re probably on the right track.
What will you do to improve our search engine rankings?
“We’ll make sure you’re ranking in the number one spot in your industry within four weeks.” Again, bad answer! If you hear that, there’s only one thing to do: run.
Any SEO consultant can tell you how to get found online, but none of them can promise you instant results. There are too many variables at hand. Google’s algorithms are always changing, your competition’s websites are always changing, new competitors will come in to play, or someone could write a scathing review about your company and regardless of how stellar your SEO is, people may avoid you like the plague.
What they should say is something else entirely. “After we do your audit, we’ll do some keyword research and determine what keywords you should target your website and content marketing efforts around based on the competition and your overall marketing strategy.” Or something like that.
What about backlinks? How will you ensure backlinks will bring more traffic to our site?
Again, no assurance can be made, but what they should tell you, is after doing their research they have a good sense of where those backlinks should be placed and who you should be linking to. All backlinks are not created equal, so to place them willy-nilly will not serve you and may even work against you in the eyes of Google. Your consultant should be willing to work with you directly to determine valuable backlinks and avoid costly mistakes.
Which SEO tools do you use?
This is subjective, but if an SEO consultant is using all free tools, then he or she probably doesn’t have access to the best possible information to provide a well-rounded assessment and reporting. You would think that if this is how someone makes a living, then they’re going to want to invest in some good SEO tools to get the job done.
They should have, at a minimum, tools for SEO research, link building, technical analysis, and reporting. Again, all of these are not created equal. A quick Google search (or our blog post) will give you a hint of which tools are robust and which are just a bust!
What type of reporting can we expect from you and how often?
If they slap down a sample report that rivals the length of a copy of War and Peace than they’re not the consultant for you. Sure, they may be the Einstein of SEO, but if you can’t pick up what they’re puttin’ down, it’s useless. You’re the client, after all, so you need to be able to understand the information, monitor what’s working and what’s not, and be able to defend all of it to your boss like a boss. Make sure you see sample reports to get a feel of how they conduct business, and ask how often they conduct SEO audits if you plan on working with them long-term.
Generally, providing a report monthly is standard, though quarterly reports are not outside of the norm. It allows them to capture enough information to see which needles are moving and in which direction, but won’t be so often as to be meaningless, as a weekly report can be. Their reports should include a summary of the SEO tactics they’ve implemented, hopefully, an increase in search traffic, where you rank with the keywords you’ve decided upon, and the rate of conversion of a visitor from one step of the sales funnel to the next.
How do we gauge the success of your efforts?
As any marketer knows, you need to set SMART goals for any project. Goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. You won’t be able to establish these at the first meeting, but the SEO consultant should be able to give you a sense of what type of goals were set for other companies based on the outcome they were looking for. If it’s mutually agreeable then there will be no confusion. Either you hit the numbers or you don’t. And if you don’t, you better have an answer on why and what your plan is to fix it. A good consultant may also push back on your goals a bit if they’re unrealistic or, in rare cases, too modest.
Will you need administrative privileges to our website, and if so, what for?
Before you give away the keys to the castle, find out why they need them, and what they’re going to do with them. This is critical. It’s not unheard of for an SEO consultant to get their hands on your website so they can do some testing and work on page optimization, but if you feel more comfortable having someone in your company executing the plan, then just make sure they’re clear about what needs to be done.
How do you keep up-to-date with Google’s (and Bing’s) changes to their algorithms?
If they say, “I read a lot of SEO stuff online,” have them be more specific. Have them give you sites, conferences, and experts in the field they follow so you can follow-up on that before you hire them. In an ever-changing landscape, a consultant’s knowledge of SEO should be ever-changing as well. Stagnancy is not an option.
How do you price your services, and what payment options are available?
Good SEO comes at a cost. But if you do your research, you’ll quickly determine what’s reasonable and what’s off the charts. Some consultants have a project based fee, others may have an ala carte structure pricing out each individual service, and freelancers may charge hourly.
You might get hit with a big bill in the beginning, but once the bulk of the work is done, find out what they would charge as a retainer to keep them on board as needed and what that actually means. Some consultants might take your retainer money and run, so you want to have it spelled out before you sign on the dotted line so everybody knows what’s expected.
What is the process for terminating the contract if we decide we no longer need your services or we’re not getting the results we wanted?
This is a tough question to ask, but a necessary one as well. It’s important to make it clear from the beginning so neither side is blind-sided.
What are the next steps?
If you’re feeling good about the initial meeting, you might want to ask for a detailed quote including all of the things mentioned above as well as a timeline to get it done. If you’re still deciding who you want to hire, just let them know you’re interviewing a few different candidates and when you’ll be able to give them an answer.
Overall, the more research you do to understand what’s involved in SEO optimization, the easier it will be to ask the right questions and hire the best SEO consultant for your project. Good luck, and if you’re looking for our help with SEO, contact us!