Just got an inquiry from the millionth small business who had wasted a nice chunk of their budget on an offshore SEO agency that did a grand total of nothing except worthless spammy link building. Here’s an example.
I am not going to bitch about snake-oil salesmen, ethics, how many good SEOs there are, etc. Instead I am going to ask every small biz out there who is reading this to sit up straight, stop mumbling, look me in the eye and pay attention. It’s time to wise up.
Now I know you are no search marketing expert. That’s why you’re looking for help with your SEO right? So I thought it might be useful to put together this list of questions for the next time you take a pitch from your friendly local SEO consultant:
Can you tell me exactlyhow you do what you do? Local SEO is not magic. There is a long list of techniques that are known to work. Some work better than others. While how a SEO campaign is executed can have some proprietary aspects to it, in general a good SEO consultant should have no problem telling you how that are going to go about improving your rankings. In particular you want to make sure they are not using any spammy techniques that could potentially harm your business. If they avoid the question or they don’t seem particularly transparent about their methodology, hang up the phone. It’s not particularly hard to switch out a toilet, but most people would prefer to hire an expert so it gets done right. Your plumber doesn’t have any secrets (at least I think he doesn’t) so why should your SEO consultant?
What are you going to need from me to be successful? While it typically takes some time to analyze the state of a business’ SEO, the consultant likely has a list of tactics they will deploy which they know from the start. Some of these will require input from the client. It’s important for you to understand up front how much of commitment will be required. Knowing how much time, money and human resources you will need to spend will help you determine how profitable this effort will be.
Do I control access to all accounts? Typically local SEO engagements require updating your business’ profiles on a number of sites: Google, Bing, Yahoo, yellow pages sites, etc. I hear from businesses all of the time who can no longer get into their Google Place Page account because their old SEO agency or a former employee created it for them. It is critical that you control admin access to the account for any profile or page created for you by a third party. This can save you a lot of headaches if you part company in the future.
How are the spammers doing it? Most SEOs I know typically work inside of the various search engines’ guidelines to achieve great rankings for their clients. It can be tedious, not-very-glamorous work, but in the long run it pays off. That said, there are a whole host of successful SEOs that use less-than-kosher techniques that can pay off fast and drive a ton of new customers to their clients. While these techniques can be risky, the short term ROI on them can be stellar. I would never recommend that a client go this route, but as I watch the same spammy fake address listing rank #1 for a valuable local query for the third month in a row, I would be hard-pressed to tell a client that it is not worth doing. If you are going to play in this game, you need to know both how to play by the rules and how to break them. If the consultant doesn’t know about these techniques, how are they going to know how to beat them?
What is a typical return on investment for one of your clients? This is always a great question. Depending on the client’s business, a good search marketing consultant should be able to come up with some kind of tangible ROI metric that you can relate to your own business. Instead of “increased traffic 50%” I like stuff like “generated five breast augmentation customers at $1,500 a pop and twenty qualified leads in sixty days.” That one always starts a good conversation with the prospect. :)
How do you measure your effectiveness? Pretty simple question. How are you going to prove to me you did what you did and that it worked? Typical answers include: increase in rankings for targeted terms, increased qualified traffic to your site, increased inbound email and phone calls (via a tracking phone number usually), and ultimately increased business.
How do you communicate your effectiveness to me? The consultant should have a system that regularly communicates what they have done, what is going to be done and when.
Who’s my point of contact? You or a 22-year-old? Enough said.
If we part ways, will you remove all your work from my website and the links you have secured? This is why it’s important to understand the consultant’s methodology from the get-go. SEO consultants often rely on networks of sites they control to get links to your site. Then they hold you hostage by threatening to remove those links if you don’t renew a deal. Make sure you understand up front that this is not the case.
Can you show me some representative results? If they can’t show you a company that they have successfully ranked #1 for a variety of competitive terms and give you an idea of how they did it, then say sayonara.
Can you give me some references?
Why do customers leave you? I doubt there is any agency out there that has a perfect record when it comes to performance and customer retention. Customers change their strategies. Consultants don’t hit home runs every time. An honest discussion about challenges the consultant has had with customers and how they are improving things is always a good thing. A good consultant should almost be proud of their mistakes. I like to tell my clients that when I started doing SEO I lost a lot of traffic and learned enough so that you don’t have to.
What sets you apart from other SEO companies? The answer here shouldn’t be “we get you ranked #1.” What you really want to know is why they think they deserve your business vs. the thousands of other guys out there?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.