Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Company

Our small business owner’s guide to SEO on hiring an SEO company. Learn what questions to ask and what to look for before you hire an SEO company.

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In our previous article, we covered whether or not you really need an SEO company to assist you with your SEO efforts. If you decided that your business does need the help of a professional SEO company, your next step is to hire a good one. Finding a good SEO company really is crucial for the success of your website and you’ll need to weed out of the good ones from the bad. In this article, we’re going to cover what questions you should ask during the hiring phase so that you know what to look for in an SEO company.

Before You Hire…

Regardless of whether you’re looking to hire an individual SEO consultant (basically a freelancer) or a fully-fledged SEO company (typically an agency legally incorporated with a whole team of employees), you should understand that there are literally a bazillion good ones and a bazillion, gazillion bad ones. Okay, maybe not that many! But keep in mind, there are good ones and there are bad ones out there – and the bad ones will lie to you, often making false promises that sound very tempting for a small business owner. As the person responsible for hiring an SEO for your business, it’s your responsibility to do your research and hire a good one.

Important Questions to Ask a Prospective SEO

The following questions will help protect you from hiring the wrong SEOs and give you a good understanding of what to look for when hiring.

Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?

This is the very first question you should ask your prospective SEO. The Google Webmaster Guidelines are Google’s general guidelines for helping Google find, index, and rank your website. It’s also a good idea to read them yourself and be familiar with what it entails.

There’s a few SEO tactics you’ll see on there that are clearly marked as something to avoid. These are basically bad SEO tactics/practices commonly known as black hat SEO. You’ll want to make sure that your prospective SEO company strictly adheres to Google’s guidelines and does not use any black hat tactics. Other search engines (basically Bing) provide similar guidelines that are helpful to look through as well.

Can you tell me about your past clients and how you’ve helped them rank better?

This is another question you should ask. You’ll want to make sure that your prospective SEO is experienced and has actually helped their clients rank better. A reputable SEO company will be more than happy to share success stories. They may not reveal exact metrics, but reaching out to the clients they mentioned and asking if their SEO campaign was a success can confirm if the SEO company is indeed the real deal. Also be sure to check the website of your prospective SEO. Is the SEO company itself currently ranking on the first page of Google? And are they ranking for any challenging keyword phrases? Make sure both the SEO and its clients are ranking well and have a positive presence in the SERPs.

How will you improve my search engine rankings and in what time frame?

This is another important question you’ll want to ask. If your prospective SEO company claims they can guarantee you a #1 spot in search results or that you will see a fantastic increase in traffic over a short time – scratch that company off the list. The denizens of the Internet are fickle and not even the best of SEOs can guarantee a top search result. If any SEO company makes the claim of “instant guaranteed rankings”, they are just trying to make a sale. They might even use some black hat techniques which might make it possible to rank well very fast – but not for long. Using black hat techniques will get your site penalized and when the penalty hits, all their guarantees are useless.

There is an exception, however. SEO tools allow access to metrics for specific keywords. If you are targeting a keyword with little competition, they may be able to guarantee a high ranking. Even so, be wary of aggressive, short-term tactics. SEO is a slow burn and you should only see better results over time (typically 3 months or more). This also rolls into the next question…

What types of SEO work will you do?

As we mentioned in our Search Engine Optimization 101 article, SEO work is typically broken down into 2 parts – onsite and offsite. Ask your prospective SEO company what type of SEO work will they do? Will they only perform offsite work or will they also help you with onsite? Most SEOs will initially perform an audit of your site and work with you to correct any technical onsite optimizations – and then focus on offsite.

How often do you deliver reports on your work?

Having your SEO deliver timely reports to you on the work they’ve done is an important gauge of what you’re getting for your money. A good SEO should deliver monthly reports to you with a summary of all their work, the increase (or decrease) for each of your targeted keyword rankings, a percentage of the increase (or decrease) in overall organic search traffic, insightful recommendations for you to implement, and a plan of attack for the next month.

How and when can I expect to communicate with you?

As with any company, communication is key. Be it emails, a Skype video conference, or a simple telephone call, the prospective SEO must be available for you to contact. You’ll need to know what’s the best method of contact and what time you can reach them. Questions will arise and it’s important that you can reach them – especially if something goes wrong.

What will this cost?

If a company says they will do SEO for $100 a month – chances are, not only are they not following Google’s guidelines but they are actively involved in some kind of black hat SEO. They might just be buying 18,000 links for chump change on Fiverr!

An example of a cheap, black hat SEO tactic.

By “high quality,” what they really mean is a “I’m a scam and just give me your money”. These links are spam and will ultimately end up harming your website’s ranking and costing you a small fortunate and a lot of time to get the penalty removed.

This may not be what you want to hear, but a legitimate SEO company could cost anywhere between $1,000 and $7,500 per project, according to a 2011 Moz survey. Hourly prices ranged from $76 to $200, while a monthly retainer could be anywhere from under $500 to between $2,500 and $5,000. Prices have not changed much since then.

What are your payment terms & conditions?

This is another question you should ask after discussing the cost. You’ll need to know what payment methods your prospective SEO will accept, when they’re due, if there are any late fees or interest charges, and when you’re allowed to cancel or renew the contract with them. You may find yourself locked into for 3 months or more with some SEOs that work with a monthly retainer. If you’re business income is uncertain, you may want to reconsider being locked in a contract for a long period of time.

Conclusion

Asking the above questions will help you judge whether or not the SEO company can be trusted with the well-being of your website. Remember, a good SEO company cannot guarantee when or even if your website will rank. All they can do is optimize your site, ensure that it follows Google’s guidelines, and give it a better chance of ranking. It takes time and patience, but the rewards are well worth the wait.