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SEO

9 Key Questions to Ask an SEO Company Before Hiring It -- or Firing It

Here are the questions to ask your SEO company to will give you a better understanding of its strategy before hiring it (or considering tossing it to the curb).
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Your business is your baby. Whether you own the company or are a marketer tasked with growing the business, organic traffic from Google is crucial to drive more leads and sales to keep your sales funnel full.

Hiring an SEO company can be one of the biggest marketing decisions for your business. If you find the right firm, over time, it can catapult you onto the first page of Google, which will drive some of the most profitable traffic to your site. The reason I mentioned "profitable traffic" is because when you earn top placement on Google, you don't have to pay for this traffic since it is "earned" so your profit margins are fantastic.

If you hire the wrong SEO company it can set you back and do more harm than good. I've personally worked with a lot of companies that left their SEO company because they weren't seeing results or dropped off of Google. After doing an audit, I was able to realize there were low quality links being built to the site, which resulted in a penalty, or there was no strategy or implementation yielding results.

Whether you want to hire an SEO company or are second guessing your current SEO company, use the questions below to make sure it is on the right track.

1. How long will it take to rank on Google?

This is a trick question. Any SEO company that responds with, "We'll be able to get your business to rank within one to two months" is full of crap.

I apologize for being so blunt. It is these types of SEO companies that give a bad name to the entire industry.

Sure, there are on-site adjustments that can be made to a site that already has a solid domain authority and backlink profile that can move a website onto the first page of Google. There is no guarantee though and nobody should be able to give you a response to this question without doing some research.

A confident and established SEO company will research your company and provide an estimate based on competitiveness and strategy but will not guarantee first page results in a certain amount of time.

Related: To Create an SEO Strategy, You'll Have to Be Patient

2. What is the strategy for backlinks?

It amazes me how many businesses don't have a backlink strategy. 

Backlinks are the foundation to Google's algorithm. If you don't have quality backlinks to your site, it'll be tough to increase your rank on Google. You'll want to measure your domain authority versus your competitors, which is a great indicator to see how well you'll rank on Google and also how far you need to go for that top placement. You can also view "recently discovered links" on Moz to see the links that are pointing to your site.

If you don't have any new links pointing to your site, this likely means there is no proactive measure taking place in this area.

If the SEO company says it is building backlinks to your site, ask them for the backlink profile so you can see all of the links to make sure they are legitimate.

Related: How to Build SEO Backlinks: A Beginners Guide

3. Is there on-site optimization that will take place?

The user experience of your website is an important factor for Google. Are people staying on your site for a long time and having a good experience? Or is there a high bounce rate? Our digital agency loves looking at Google Analytics at the 100 most visited pages of your site and discovering which pages have the highest bounce rate. We will help to figure out ways to fix these pages (or redirect them to more relevant pages, if they serve no purpose).

When looking for a solid SEO company, make sure it is always looking for ways to improve the pages throughout your website. Like I've mentioned, SEO is an ongoing process, so these types of projects should be continuous.

Related: How Long Does it Take to Become a Top Ranked Result on Google? (Infographic)

4. What is the local SEO strategy?

What percentage of your business takes place in your local market? If you get a good chunk of your clients or services in your local market, your website should be optimized within this local market. Ask the following questions:

Related: The Complete Guide to Dominating Local Search Optimization in 2018

5. How will reporting be presented to showcase progress?

Moz is a great software for SEO beginners which will track your keyword rankings on Google.

Before starting with an SEO company, make sure there is a list of relevant keywords compiled. This initial keyword list will be the benchmark for the progress made over time. If you start in the No. 40 position on Google for "Cleveland dentist," obviously, over time you will want to see progress made as you try and climb onto the first page.

Make sure this keyword list isn't overly complicated. I feel this is a major issue a lot of SEO companies make. They make the reporting so confusing that no business owner will actually understand what the metrics mean. We like to compile a list of the "20 most relevant keywords" for the business owner or marketer to keep tabs on.

Related: 10 Fundamentals to Understanding SEO

6. How much time will you spend understanding our business?

In order for SEO to be successful, you need to truly understand the business you are working with, otherwise Google won't understand it.

We worked with a law firm that had previously worked with a PPC company that was allocating 80 percent of its advertising budget to "workers compensation law" yet workers compensation only accounted for 15 percent of the law firms revenue. If your SEO company doesn't understand which markets, services and products are driving revenue, your entire strategy can be misaligned.

I recommend every SEO agency and the company it works with meet for at least 90 minutes before talking about SEO to just go over the business principles.

Related: Your SEO Checklist: 4 Steps to Optimizing Your Website

7. Is there keyword research taking place?

Our agency is located in Columbus, Ohio. There is nearly four times as much search volume for the term, "Columbus digital marketing agency" versus "Columbus digital marketing company."

Your SEO agency should be able to present the most popular keyword variations for your homepage and interior pages that can drive more traffic to your site.

Quick tip: If you do a Google search and scroll to the bottom of the first page, there are "related search terms" that Google will find. These are great keyword variations to include on your site. Ask your SEO company whether it is using this free method or a free tool like SEM Rush to find relevant keywords that can convert for your business.

Related: SEO 2018: 15 Rules for Dominating Online Search Results

8. What's the blog strategy?

While a lot of SEO companies can write generic blogs, you need to ask yourself this key questions: "What relevance are these blogs serving on my site and for my business?"

We hear from business owners all the time, "I heard blogging is important to Google." Yes, blogs are helpful -- if the content is driving relevant traffic for your business that can result in new business or just better informing your audience. For your blog, you should focus on questions that your customers might have that wouldn't be covered on your site elsewhere.

While a lot of SEO companies compete for the term "SEO company," there is less competition for the term, "question to ask your SEO company before hiring them. Even though readers might be earlier in the sales cycle when searching for this longer tailed query, their intent is still high. Additionally, you have the opportunity to rank not just in your local market but nationwide for search terms that don't get as much volume.

Don't blog just to say you blog. Make sure it has a relevant purpose for your business.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Your Blog Sucks

9. Do you have three references I can reach out to?

Any SEO company will have a reference it can provide you with. A more established SEO company will have at least three references that can talk about the success their company had working with the firm.

Also, don't forget to conduct a simple Google search to see if the SEO company you are about to work with ranks in its local market. If not, ask why it doesn't practice what it preaches.

Related: The 7 Most Common Concerns of SEO Newcomers

SEO is a giant puzzle.

A good SEO company will help put all of the pieces together for your SEO puzzle, which can make a big difference in terms of where you rank on Google. It will also help you understand what is taking place with your SEO strategy because it isn't that confusing (although many SEO companies try and make it sound more complex than it is). Now you have nine questions to ask your SEO company (perspective or current) that will give you a better understanding of its strategy before hiring it (or considering tossing it to the curb).