Last week, I wrote about the top 10 questions you should ask a web company before hiring them because your website is your public view to the world. It’s the place new customers visit before they walk in the door or call you. As part of that, I suggested that having a website is no longer good enough, you have to have search engine optimization (SEO) built into it. If you don’t, people won’t find it.

Your web company should know and understand SEO too, and you’ll probably pay a higher price (and you should!) for your website as a result because they’re putting the extra effort into building SEO in.

SEO Is Getting More Challenging

The actual process of “doing” SEO is really not that complicated. Google has taken away pretty much all the cheats that made it a “dark art”, and it’s now just a process that you or your SEO company can follow. Maybe you don’t have time or don’t want to do SEO, but one excellent place to start is an SEO class so you can understand the process. We’ve had business owners and web designers take our class, not to do it, but to understand it enough that they can manage someone else.

However, SEO is more challenging for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s work. You have to keep at the process, and it takes a long time to build up momentum
  2. More and more websites have good SEO built into them, so the bar has been raised enough that your job to rise above the competition is tougher
  3. Google is getting better at displaying personalized and meaningful search results despite your best SEO efforts. This is good for the searcher, but it makes it harder for you.

So how do we get there from here?

Hiring an SEO Company – Top 3 Questions  You Should Ask Them

First off, just remember that SEO is only one arrow in your online marketing quiver. There are at least 10 ways to get found online these days, and SEO is only one tool. But if the company you hire screws it up, you can suffer the consequences for a long time, especially if they try some nefarious (“black hat”) techniques to get your website to show up.

So how do you talk to a company about their services if you don’t understand what they’re doing? These are my top three questions you should ask (there are many more) that will help you find a reputable company.

1. What Is Your Process?

SEO is not a magic potion or secret sauce that someone puts into your website to make it show up higher. It’s a process. If the prospective company lays out their plan for getting you better results in clear language that you can understand, this is a good sign. If they make it sound like it’s something too technical to explain or throw a lot of jargon at you, think twice.

An example process that we use with our clients includes the following (and it’s not the only “right” process, it’s what we use):

  1. Find out what people are actually searching for (“keyword research”), and see what the competition is for those terms.
  2. Audit your website for problem areas, and to see where the content matches to those key search terms that are most important for the business. This includes an audit of Google Analytics and Google Search Console (if available). Establish a baseline of where the business is now for organic traffic.
  3. Fix any identified issues and apply SEO to each of the existing pages.
  4. Put in a process to add new, optimized pages of content to target specific key terms, and do this over time. It can be blog posts or static web pages or both.
  5. Put in KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to measure organic traffic and conversions (if possible) to sales or leads.
  6. Repeat.

We recommend a minimum of a six-month process but never lock them into a forced minimum amount. They can quit anytime they want to. If your SEO company insists on a one-year contract, think hard about that. If they’re not performing after six months or your business model or finances change, what recourse do you have?

By the way, if the prospective SEO company jumps right to “we’ll be doing link building for you”, run away. Google’s rule changes over the last few years have made link building pretty much a thing of the past, and it can get you into trouble causing a precipitous drop in your traffic.

2. What Do You Measure to Show Progress?

In other words, what are the KPIs that they’ll report back to you to show that progress is being made? If they say “ranking reports”, be wary. There’s no good solid way to measure “rank” anymore. It used to be that if you searched a term and you were in position #3 on Google’s results page, you had a rank of 3. Now, Google personalizes all search results to the individuals (you and I), so what you see in your search results will be different from everyone else. As I wrote back in 2013, there is no page one on Google anymore.

Some of the things they should be measuring (there are many more):

  1. Organic traffic for your target pages – is it increasing year over year? Compare a time period to last year’s to avoid confusion with seasonal trends. Make sure it’s measuring your target pages, not all pages, although the latter may be going up too. Traffic doesn’t translate into sales necessarily, so don’t get too excited about this metric.
  2. Keyword search traffic and average position for target phrases – this can be found in Google Search Console and should be compared over blocks of time. Google Search Console doesn’t necessarily have a lot of historical data, so this can sometimes be a challenge.
  3. Conversions – Are more people signing up for your lead magnet or converting to sales? This is the big one that you should pay a lot of attention to.

3. Do They Guarantee Results?

You’d think that the correct answer would be “Yes!” Unfortunately, it’s the opposite. If they guarantee their results, they’re lying. No one can guarantee results or that you’ll be position x or on page 1 of Google. Google changes the rules every day, and your results will vary from day to day even. A better answer might be, “We don’t guarantee results, but if we don’t see improvement over time, we’ll adjust what we’re doing to try to get better results.”

This is the crux of the process I spoke of earlier: Put changes in place, measure the results, adjust, repeat. Some people call it kaizen. There is no magic formula, it’s just a process that you have to do over time.

There are many more questions you should ask any SEO company. Tell us in the comments what you’d ask.