Chances are, if you operate a business online, that you’ve heard the term ‘SEO’ or ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ – and may have been approached by an SEO agency or consultant before. The SEO industry on the whole is a crowded one, with a plethora of agencies all claiming to be able to get you to that golden place – the number 1 spot on Google (or other major search engines) for primary keywords related to your business.

But this then leaves many businesses owner in a bit of a predicament. With so many varying options of agencies to choose between how do you as a business owner separate the wheat from the chaff? Here we’ll take a look at questions you should ask a prospect agency to really delve into their SEO services background and capabilities. Depending on their answers to these questions, you should be able to find an agency that is suited to your particular needs and budgets.

But wait, what exactly is SEO?

Before we look into the questions that are best placed to see whether an agency is suitable for your campaign, let’s look at what exactly SEO is.

SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation) is fundamentally the process of getting your online content more prominence on major search engines such as Google and Bing. The SEO process involves a wide-range of different tactics and techniques, but in the interest of keeping things simple, there’s two key things that any SEO will work on – on-site optimisation (physical changes to your website to make it more ‘search engine friendly as well as developing content) and off-site optimisation (also known as link building, guest blogging, content marketing etc).

When a site is launched, many business owners expect immediate traffic and this is rarely (if ever) the case. SEO is a process of getting traffic by increasing your rankings for a multitude of keywords for your business that people will use to find you. The higher your position, the more likely you are to receive traffic and in turn – boost revenue, enquiries etc.

So what questions are best to ask a prospect SEO agency?

Now you know what SEO is (albeit very briefly), what questions should you ask an agency to make sure that you know they’re right for you?

Here are some excellent questions you should ask:

What case studies do you have for me to see?

This one is an absolute must-ask before hiring any SEO agency – you want to know about their experience, their triumphs and successes. Any seasoned SEO agency will have an arsenal of clients and case studies to reference in order to show you where they’ve been successful for other clients.

Ask to see examples, send over reports and various other supporting documents so that you know and feel confident that the SEO agency in question have indeed been previously successful on other campaigns. This will give you immediate peace of mind.

Do they have any experience in your industry?

It makes sense to ask an agency if they’ve ever worked in your particular industry and if they have, who was it and what was the successes/failures? Most SEO agencies work with a varying group businesses from a wide range of different sectors and the chances are, they’ve probably worked either in your industry or an industry that’s similar. This of course is a fantastic question to ask because if an SEO agency has proven success in your market, the chances are they could replicate that success – armed with the prior knowledge of your industry.

Will I have an account manager? How often will they contact me?

A good SEO relationship is one where there is complete transparency and open lines of communication between the business owner and the agency. You want to make sure that you’ll be receiving regular updates, monthly plans and progress reports – everything you need to ensure that you know what your campaign is doing at all times.

Ask as prospective SEO agency how much contact you will have, how frequent reporting will be, ask for sample SEO reports so that you know what to expect and ask if you get a fixed phone call each month for a campaign catch up. Communication is absolutely pivotal to any SEO campaigns success.

Ask the SEO agency what THEY need from you

What will your SEO agency need from you? This can sound a little off-putting to you as you’re about to pay this agency to deal with you SEO, but many SEO’s require some form of information from you. Ask the agency what they’ll need to best carry out their duties – this could involve you regularly updating your blog or passing over any old SEO / marketing reports / analytics reports.

Will the work be done in-house or outsourced?

There are hundreds of agencies that work a lot with outsourced freelancers to carry out activities on their projects – some agencies even outsource all their work. Ask the SEO agency how much work will be done in-house – remember, if a lot of the work is going to be outsourced it’s easy for the agency to lose control of the project – and this is never good news.

What results do you expect and how long will it take?

This question is actually a trick question in order for you to weed out ‘rogue’ SEO companies or ‘over-promisers’. The truth is, no SEO can guarantee positions on major search engines and the reason for this is simple – search engines like Google’s algorithm is changing all the time and as such, relative positioning can be altered. No SEO agency has a crystal ball! This being said, estimates can be acceptable on timescales – however, do not treat estimates as fact – because the chances are that the estimate could be way off.

Do you have any other digital marketing experience?

SEO, although a fantastic digital marketing medium, is not the be-all-and-end-all strategy. There is a monolithic amount of varying marketing tactics that could be invaluable for your business. Find out what other services the agency offers and how they could potentially help you – this can help create a more rounded digital marketing strategy housed under one roof.

In Summary

SEO can reap dividends if the strategy is carried out by a professional agency that has some serious experience. Don’t be afraid to quiz an SEO agency on every single iota to ensure that you feel comfortable proceeding with them. Wrong decisions on SEO agencies can cost thousands, so just by asking the right questions can save time, money, disappointment and most importantly, your business. For more information on SEO – click here for Google’s starter guide.