6 Tough Questions To Ask An SEO Agency

Considering an SEO agency to improve your rank? Here are 6 crucial questions to ask, and the answers you should get.
August 12, 2011

Are you searching for someone to handle your search engine optimization? Search engine optimization services can cost as little as $200 or as much as $2 million. How much you need to spend depends on how competitive your sector is and how complex your offerings are.

If you have the resources to do most of your SEO work yourself, consider spending a couple of hours on the phone with an expert who can give you advice. Expect to spend around $200 per hour on this, according to Ian Lurie, president of Portent Interactive, a Seattle internet marketing agency. A serious monthly engagement may cost at least $2,000 per month.

"There are lots of less expensive and less involved ways to work with an SEO agency," Lurie says.

To make sure you get your money's worth, ask any search marketing agency these questions.

Can you guarantee getting my product and or service on the first page of Google's search results in one week?

Wrong answer: Sure, if your budget is big enough.

Right answer: No. While some agencies may make this claim, they're likely using "black hat" tactics that can get your site bumped way down, according to James Davidson, vice president of digital and community strategy for digital agency 7Summits.

"Search engine optimization is an investment in time and content," Davidson says. You first need to look at your content. SEO is matching what people are searching on with the products and services in your business. There is not a set time frame in which you can become No. 1. As your relevancy increase, so will your search engine rank."

Tell me how you approach SEO. What will you do for me if I hire you?

Wrong answer: It's a secret, we can't tell you.

Right answer: It's a multifaceted offering.

Says Lurie, "An agency should first look at your site and see if there are any problems, and then help you fix them or tell you how to fix them." Next, the agency should evaluate your content and make recommendations for where you might need more content and what kind you might need. Finally, it should analyze your inbound links and determine strategies for building more links naturally.

If Google's algorithms are constantly changing and you don't know what its rules for ranking are, how do you do your job?

Wrong answer: We know someone at Google.

Right answer: A sharp SEO agency will constantly try out new tactics, but not on your website, according to Billy Canoe, co-founder of SEOhaus.

"We have our own 'garage' websites that we use to test different techniques," Canoe says. "We're always trying different things to see what the search engines' reactions are."

Participation in industry conferences is another important way search marketers stay on top of their game, so ask what events the agency attends, or, even better, presents at.

What is the difference in traffic between the top three spots in Google search results?

Wrong answer: You have to rank first.

Right answer: The first three to five search results on a page typically garner 80 percent of the clicks, according to Canoe. "You want to get an SEO company that can get you into the top five," he says. "That's where the visibility is."

How often will you deliver reports and can I see a sample report?

Wrong answer: Here are the Google Analytics printouts.

Right answer: An SEO agency's reports should not only tell you how your site ranked, it should also have recommendations, Canoe says. For example, a report might note that you are getting a lot of traffic from a specific keyword and recommend an action to take advantage of this, such as changing a title tag.

"You should be able to read it and get good information from it," Canoe says. "You are trying to find out whether the agency can actually communicate with you as a client."

Are there any free tools I can use to do my own SEO research?

Wrong answer: Only our proprietary analytics tools will provide adequate insights.

Right answer: A good SEO agency not only will be familiar with the many good—and free—tools available, it will gladly provide the information to you, according to Davidson, knowing that the value the agency can provide goes far beyond a list of keywords.

Here are the ones 7Summits recommends: