9 Questions to Ask SEO Companies Before Hiring

By Blue Star Design / 04 Dec 2017


You’ve downloaded our eBook on the fundamentals of search engine optimization (SEO) and you’ve read all 4,705 words. 

After letting it all sink in for a minute, your first thought is, “Wow, we can’t do all that ourselves.”

And your second thought is, “We need to hire an SEO expert.”

You could hire a full-time employee who has a gold-plated SEO resume, but what if you don’t need 40 hours of SEO work done every week? And what if the person you hire doesn’t know everything you need to know?

The “what-ifs” lead a lot of companies to hire agencies that have multiple SEO experts on staff. Some agencies are pure-play SEO specialists, while others are digital marketers like Blue Star Design that offer SEO as one dish from a buffet of content marketing capabilities.

In the bad old days of SEO, it was fairly easy to shovel piles of digital drivel online to game Google’s algorithms. But Google upped its game a few years back and forced a major shift toward high-quality content that people actually want to see.

That forced content marketing agencies to get better at SEO and SEO agencies to wise up on content. Today, content agencies like Blue Star offer more SEO services, and many SEO agencies provide additional content services.

If you’re doing content marketing, you have to practice SEO because Google indexes pretty much everything you post online. If you don’t tweak your content to improve its position in search rankings, you’re leaving money on the table that’s apt to be going to your competitors.

When the time comes to start shopping for an SEO partner for your content-marketing initiatives, make sure you ask these nine questions:

1. What does your SEO strategy look like?

The best SEO experts know from experience that success flows from sound strategy and effective tactics. Top-quality SEOs should have:

  • A formal strategy for analyzing a company website and suggesting improvements
  • Proven tactics including a site audit, technical improvements to the site’s structure, and on-page optimization where it will do the most good
  • Deep expertise in keyword research
  • A track record for integrating SEO into overall content and digital marketing strategies

These factors often trip up people who are less experienced with SEO, so asking deep questions about strategy and tactics can be a huge help.

2. What’s your approach to link building?

Low-quality SEO providers may offer to sell vast quantities of backlinks for trivial amounts of money: avoid them. They’re more likely to attract a Google penalty than to improve your search rankings.  

Having said that, quality backlinks can be a huge boon to your search rankings. The challenge is that you can’t control who chooses to link to your copy. Producing high-quality articles or videos that inspire lots of social shares can yield valuable inbound links. The question is whether your SEO expert knows how to enable and encourage that process.

The good SEO experts do — but they can’t do it at bargain-basement rates. So, make sure your SEO provider has a full understanding of backlinks and doesn’t try to use sneaky tricks to outsmart Google’s algorithms. The lesson of SEO history is that Google gets wise and tricksters get walloped.  

3. How do you report your SEO results?

A qualified SEO provider has a formal plan to issue reports outlining their accomplishments. They can arrive every week, month, quarter, or year, depending on the need.

Ask for sample reports and walk through them item by item to make sure you understand everything they track. Sample reports also will show you the data points they value the most.

Each agency has different priorities because their people are really good at some things and not so great at others. Make sure your goals align with their best capabilities.  

SEO Tools

4. How will you keep me up to date on changes to my website?

You have to give your SEO agency access to your website so they can make hands-on adjustments and add copy. But you don’t want to grant them full authority to publish without your approval.

An experienced SEO provider understands you need a formal process for approving website changes, and that these approvals might require several layers, including your IT staff.

Look for an SEO professional who has an established workflow of phone calls, emails, conference calls, or other collaboration techniques to make sure you never end up with nasty surprises on your website.

5. What do you consider quality content?

You and your SEO team need to agree on what constitutes quality content. If you don't, every encounter with the team will feel like riding a bike into a strong headwind.

Depending on your business, your customers, and your competition, you may be able to get along fine with a few short blog posts per month supporting an eBook. But if your business is highly technical and you need to build trust by educating your audience, then you might need to invest in more high-end content like long-form blog posts, white papers, and webinars.

An SEO expert who has succeeded with a wide variety of marketing collateral for a diverse group of clients understands that “quality” has to be placed in the context of your business. Great content for one enterprise can be worthless for another.

6. Which tools do you prefer — and why?

SEO tools got a bad rap from so-called “black-hat” operators who used them to ratchet up short-term rankings. However, the best SEO experts use a wealth of tools for reporting, in-depth keyword research, and backlink monitoring.

The key here is realizing that just as you wouldn’t judge carpenters by their choice of circular saw, you shouldn’t just ask prospective SEO teams which tools they use. You should ask them how they use the tools, which results they produce, and how each tool works better than an alternative.

7. How do you stay abreast of Google algorithm changes?

Google’s perpetual adjustments to its search algorithm can make life miserable for SEO teams and their clients who aren’t paying close attention.

The best approach is to monitor all the news from Google and the many SEO-related websites like Moz.com and Search Engine Land. Make sure your SEO team has a plan to ensure these changes do not come as unhappy surprises — and that they have a track record for helping adapt to the changes.

8. How much time does my in-house marketing team have to set aside?

A fair amount of SEO is technical enough that you don’t have to be directly involved with a lot of your SEO team’s work, except for day-to-day approvals.

However, your SEO provider will have to sit in on meetings covering strategy and tactics. They will know from experience approximately how much time they need to collaborate with your team.

Knowing about these time commitments in advance can streamline your SEO process and prevent unwelcome surprises.

9. How will you adapt your strategy to my industry?

Look for an SEO partner who has proven experience in your industry. An SEO partner who knows the common search terms and everyday search habits of your market niche has a long head start over the competition.

Ask your potential SEO agency what they have accomplished in your industry, and how they've done it. If they have an impressive track record in other industries but less experience in yours, probe them on how they would match their strategy and tactics to your unique requirements.

Never settle for a one-size-fits-all SEO partner.

The Blue Star advantage in SEO

Blue Star started out as a branding and graphic design agency, but over time we’ve added more content marketing and SEO to our quiver of capabilities. Today, we have in-depth experience with SEO strategy, keyword research, Google AdWords, and more across multiple industries.

We can answer these nine questions (and many more) to your satisfaction. And we can show you how we combined content marketing and SEO to help a local manufacturer reach a global audience for their products.

Call us today to set up a consultation.

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