January 27, 2020

You’ve got questions before hiring an SEO agency? We’ve got answers

There are a lot of “what questions to ask before…” blogs posts that have been written over the years. Most of them are very geared toward the way the authoring agency wants to sell you on their services. Some of them manage to do that while actually being helpful. The post that Seer published recently is one of them.

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There are a lot of “what questions to ask before…” blogs posts that have been written over the years. Most of them are very geared toward the way the authoring agency wants to sell you on their services. Some of them manage to do that while actually being helpful. The post that Seer published recently is one of them.

I liked it so much that I wanted to write about it and answer their questions. I think this serves as a nice overview for how we do business. And while we line up with Seer’s philosophy on many areas, the ones where we don’t make for some interesting discussion.

So here we go! Credit to Seer for all the questions.

Question 1: “What is your process for creating goals for an SEO engagement?”

The ultimate goal always has to be what is driving your business forward and/or what is going to make you more money. Otherwise, why spend money on our services? We try to go to great lengths to tie our effort to your success. If we’re measuring leads coming in from your site, we want to know if they’re good quality, if they’re closing, if the close rate or revenue varies from other sources. We also want to know which of those leads are coming from non-branded search traffic. Rankings are fun and stuff like that is useful to know if directionally things are working, but we never want to brag about that if you’re seeing revenue declines.

Question 2: “Tell me about the team that will work on my account.”

You only work with our most senior level people. The ones who are building and implementing the search strategy. You may have additional people on the account based on the effort required or type of tasks we’re handling, but that expert will always be your main point of contact.

Question 3: “Explain how communication will work between our teams.

How does it work for your company? Some clients exclusively email. Some exclusively call. Some Skype. Yes, we’ll establish regular meetings to review reports and status of projects, but there’s no one perfect way to communicate. There’s no set frequency or anything you’re forced into. Heck, I have a Calendly link in my email signature in case anyone wants to schedule a meeting whenever they want.

Question 4: “How is pricing structured?”

Almost always a flat monthly retainer based on time and resources required. We like doing 6-12 month contracts so we can spread out some of the up-front costs. But we’ll do agreements that just go month-to-month with a 30 day notice as well. In those cases, we have some sort of setup fee since we can’t trust we’ll recoup up-front time and expense.

Question 5: “Explain your approach to SEO.”

SEO is and always has been about answering questions and solving problems via your website and ensuring bots can crawl and understand it along the way. Despite all the random hype and panic over changes, the real big evolution has been Google’s continued improvement at keeping people on google.com (eg quick answers and the like in search results).

The way you turn that into a client-specific strategy (and a profitable one, at that)  is going to be a little different based on the industry and how evolved your SEO efforts are, but the overall goal goal doesn’t change.

Question 6: “What do you consider important ranking factors, and how do you keep up with search engine algorithm and industry updates?”

How completely does your content address a topic? How does your site’s internal structure (links/navigation) combine with external influences (links, social, etc) to prioritize that topic among all your other content? How easy is your site to view and use? Do bots see it the same way?

Those four questions cover a ton of ground. The nitty-gritty of the answer changes as web technology evolves.

How do we keep up with Google’s updates? How does anyone? Google tells us. We see big jumps in data for multiple clients. Bloggers and tweeters and other agencies see stuff. It’s like asking your investment advisor how they keep up with the markets.

The part in their answer about an established history of innovation and thought leadership is a little amusing. I respect Seer and acknowledge they are big enough to where thought leadership can be part of the  P&L. But that’s not the case for a lot of agencies. Some agencies get a lot of ideas out into the universe because they are big enough to invest in that. Some don’t because they have nothing useful to say. Some don’t because they are too busy with client work and can’t (yet) afford. Gotta go with your own assessment of the situation.

Question 7: “Explain how you analyze and interpret the organic competitive landscape.”

We always look at who you view as competitors and who the search engines see as your competitors and mash it all together. It’s totally normal for clients to have one set of competitors for a segment of their business and completely different ones for another. It’s our job to sort that out and keep tabs on those strong competitors.

Question 8: “What is your approach to SEO keyword optimization?”

We use keywords as a means of tracking/presenting some of our results. Our optimization process revolves around the broader topics that keywords are tied to and how we can sufficiently address those topics through content and technical optimization.

That’s vague – so the one thing I’ll add is for every set of optimizations we do, we show our work. That includes our research and the suggested changes we want to make. No mysteries. No wondering if we’re actually working or just saying we are.

Question 9: “What is your approach to content optimization?”

This almost entirely overlaps with question 8. But the one addendum I’ll make is we do not write for SEO. Almost entirely we’ll write something (or have a copywriter on our end or yours) write something and review it for SEO afterwards. Your site is the first exposure a lot of people have to your business. If it’s filled with a bunch of language that looks like a computer auto-generated it, that’s bad for everyone.

Question 10: “Explain how you use paid search to influence organic strategy.”

We do paid search here and it’s great when we have a client that is with us for both that and SEO. Sometimes when a client has someone else doing paid search, they’ll be open to sharing information. That’s great too. You can get a lot of great insights into how effective keywords/landing pages combinations are at driving revenue. You can use conversion and competitive data to validate your research around the intent of a search. You can look at search query reports to find long tail questions. There’s gobs of super useful information.

Question 11: “What is your approach to UX?”

We try to use our understanding of UX to judge trust factors of your site that may hurt you in the eyes of Google and/or scare off users.

Same goes for prioritizing important content above the fold, being able to navigate easily and that sort of thing.

Beyond that, we’ve got lots of experience working with UX experts to find a balance of priorities and help make your site easier to use.

Question 12: “What is your approach to video optimization and YouTube?”

A simple way to answer this is we track whenever videos appear in search results for a keyword we’re targeting and think about whether your business has or logically should have a video on the topic. YouTube optimization can range from video topic suggestions to transcript/description writing. While video views are nice, we try to look at completion rate and even moreso, visits to your site from the links in the video.

Question 13: “Explain your approach to link building.”

Link-building is one of a ton of ranking factors. Some ranking factors are super easy to control. Some you have no control over. Building external links in a sustainable fashion lands closer to the latter end of that. The amount of effort required vs the return you get rarely makes sense. That doesn’t mean we never do it, we just don’t make it a primary focus of what we do and don’t sell it as a standalone service. We focus a ton on internal links. We help you navigate external partnerships that can lead to links. We look for opportunities like industry websites or people talking about your brand specifically. We’ve cleaned up enough link-building manual actions caused by others to where we don’t like to play games here.

Question 14: “Which platforms and tools do you use?”

  • Asana – project management & collaboration
  • Slack – Internal (sometimes external) communication
  • SEMRush – keyword & competitor research
  • AHREFs – keyword & competitor research
  • SEOMonitor – Rank tracking
  • OnCrawl – Technical auditing/tracking
  • Screaming Frog – Technical auditing/tracking
  • InLinks – Semantic optimization
  • Adalysis – Paid Search optimization
  • Instapage – Landing page testing
  • Google Data Studio – Reporting
  • Google Analytics – Reporting and Data Analysis
  • Google Search Search Console – Reporting and Data Analysis

That’s (at least most of) the stuff we use. We also use client tools all the time, like basecamp, confluence, brightedge, etc.

We’re happy to talk about the pros/cons of everything we use and why we made specific choices. But our overall approach is “What is the best tool for the job and for our workflow?”.

What do you think?

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