What To Look For When Hiring for SEO

Updated: July 24th, 2020

Note: This article was updated in July of 2020. Since the original publish date was February of 2015, we wanted to include more up-to-date information based on changes within the SEO industry. 


Many businesses think an SEO expert is a jack of all trades. There are actually many different skills required to succeed in SEO. When you are in the market for a new SEO company, it’s hard to know what to ask and be aware of what to look for if you’re not an SEO expert. We’ll guide you through the process of picking the right SEO company based on your business needs.

To start, let’s look at the different areas of SEO (see bulleted list below).

  • Local SEO
  • On-Site SEO
  • Link Building
  • Blogging
  • Technical SEO
  • SEO Penalty Recovery
  • Reporting, Client Communication & Strategy

WHY SEO IS SO IMPORTANT

Appearing in a prominent position in the organic listings on Google, Yahoo and Bing have become so essential for businesses that finding a good partnership with an SEO Company can make a huge difference in generating more business. Based on a study on Google by Slingshot SEO, the #1 (1st) position receives 18% of organic clicks followed by 10% for the #2 (2nd) position, and 7% going to the #3 (3rd) position. Yet 91% of all pages never get any organic traffic from Google, mostly due to the fact they don’t have backlinks [source].

The beauty of SEO is you don’t have to pay-per-click. When you populate in a prominent position organically, you’ve earned this placement, meaning the clicks are free. This is why there’s such competition amongst businesses to rank on the first page of Google. There’s a lot of business to be won on the first page of Google.

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IMPORTANCE OF STRATEGY

Search engine optimization not only requires flawless execution, the proper strategy must be developed. If you don’t have the right strategy, there can be a lot of time, energy and focus spent on the wrong SEO items.

For example, it could be that your site was hit with a penalty for thin content from your past blog posts, which need to be further enhanced [listen to our podcast on thin content]. If an SEO company didn’t do its due diligence, they could recommend more blog content writing, which wouldn’t be the right strategy. It would be more advantageous to improve past thin content. Otherwise, you wouldn’t fully recover from a past penalty and it would be hard for your SEO keyword rankings to improve.

When you are looking to hire an SEO company, make sure they are asking the right questions about your business. In the discovery process, they should get an understanding of your products/services along with profitability and revenue per city and state. They should also be doing a deep dive into your SEO history to get a better understanding of the following:

  • Backlink Audit 
    • Were there low-quality links that were built to your site that could be a determinate from an SEO perspective?
  • Content Audit 
    • Is there a lot of thin content on the website that could be holding your site back? Often times, there are blog posts from years ago that have 200-300 words, which can be deemed thin content. It’s important to audit this for future improvement.
  • Duplicate Content 
    • Is there duplicate content on the website? For example, are there a lot of similar pages to improve rank in specific suburbs? (more on this below)
  • Past Google Penalties
    • Were there past penalties based on SEO efforts from a past agency or someone working in-house? Learning more about past history is important.

STRATEGY EXAMPLES

An example I like to share is a roofing client that wanted to build hundred of suburb level pages on their site. We deemed this strategy too risky because it would be too hard to write unique content for 50+ suburb pages.  Even if the content was unique on each suburb page, Google could see this as “spun content.” Additionally, there is hardly any search volume at the suburb level for roofing company-related searches. The risk outweighed the reward in this situation. We decided to focus on enhancing their primary city-level pages with rich content along with improving past blog posts. This is why strategy is so important. The wrong strategy can result in a penalty and set you back years.

Another one of our clients is a real estate development company focusing on apartment communities. We realized that there was 3X the amount of conversions at a lower cost per acquisition going after keywords at the suburb level compared to the city level. We were able to see this data within our PPC campaign and we carried this strategy over to our SEO efforts. If this suburb focused strategy were not devised, the entire campaign would have been a waste of time and money.

UNDERSTANDING SKILL-SET

There are many skills required in finding the right SEO company. Below are some questions pertaining to skill-set that will help you find the right SEO company. You’ll notice we list out questions pertaining to on-site, off-site, local SEO, backlink building and more.

  • Do you have development resources in-house?
  • Does your development team work hand-in-hand with your SEO strategists?
  • Will we have a content specialist to help write new content?
    • Will they focus on blog content or will they be optimizing core pages on our website?
    • Are your content specialists in-house or is this outsourced?
  • Do you have someone with a focus on local SEO?
  • Will you build citations for my business for local SEO?
  • Will you have someone building backlinks for our company?
  • Who will be dictating the overall strategy?
  • What’s the core skill-set of your agency when it comes to SEO?
  • What’s the core skill-set of my account manager?

INTERVIEW DIFFERENT SEO FIRMS

Take the time to interview various firms or individuals that specialize in this service until you find one that you feel matches closely with your needs. While you’re looking at SEO companies, learn more about what makes someone an SEO expert.

According to Russell Reynolds Associates, a CEO and Board advisory service, having multiple views on the possible outcomes of any action makes for a decision-making process that is more likely to take into account the various risks, consequences and implications of possible actions.

You will learn more about the SEO process when you interview multiple companies. There will also be questions and ideas that come up from speaking with other companies that will help with the decision making process. Remember that an SEO company should also be asking you interview questions to uncover more information about your business to best devise a customized plan to improve your Google rank.

ASK FOR REFERENCES 

Ask the SEO company for a list of previous clients they´ve done work for. When other businesses endorse an SEO company by allowing their names to be used as a reference, you can be confident that the SEO Company in question has done a great job in the past and will do a great job for you in the future.

You should also ask for a document highlighting past SEO “Success Stories.” It is one thing to speak with a reference. It is another to see how they devised a strategy for one of the most competitive keywords and helped an underdog catapult past the competition for numerous keywords.

ASK ABOUT THEIR OWN SEO

If you are looking to hire an SEO company in Orlando, does this company rank well in the local pack and on the first page of Google for “Orlando SEO Company?” Do they have a blog on their site that’s ranking well at a national level for long-tailed keywords? Are they being proactive with their own SEO by updating their blog with great content? It’s good to work with a company that practices what they preach.

ASK ABOUT REPORTING/COMMUNICATION

How will the SEO company track your keywords versus your competitors? Our agency, for example, uses SEMRush. It’s good to know the technology platforms they’ll be investing in for your business. It’s important to know whether they’ll charge an extra fee for the technology integration or if it’s included within the agency fee.

Will you have phone calls weekly, bi-weekly or monthly? How will the strategy for your business be documented for SEO? It’s important to have an understanding of tracking and communication, as this is important with any SEO strategy.

ASK ABOUT THE CONTRACT

Is there a 30-day or 45-day opt-out included within the agreement? While an SEO company should never guarantee results, if they aren’t delivering after a certain amount of time, you shouldn’t be locked into a long-term agreement. When you ask for multiple proposals and interview numerous firms, you should see the agreements you are more comfortable in moving forward with. There’s nothing wrong with asking for certain parts of an agreement to be modified.