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Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Agency

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Asking the right questions before hiring an SEO agency is key to finding a partner that will give you the highest return on your investment. In choosing an SEO firm, you will be looking for three main characteristics:

  • Comprehensiveness: You want technical SEO + keyword research + content
  • Critical Thinking: Keywords must map to appropriate page types, and those pages must be written with expertise, targeted-ness, and respect for the reader’s time
  • Results-Orientation: The focus must be on metrics, KPIs, and goals

In this guide, we’ll tell you which questions to ask an SEO agency to evaluate them on each of these characteristics, and what to look for in their answers.

3 Critical Questions to Ask an SEO Agency Before Hiring Them

The table below shows the three most critical questions to ask before hiring an SEO agency. It includes the ideal answer to listen for in an agency’s response. It also lists answers to watch out for, as they can be a sign the agency won’t provide the SEO expertise to produce results. We’ve also included follow-up questions to ask if their initial answer is satisfactory.

Untitled Design (22)QuestionUntitled Design (20)Ideal AnswerUntitled Design (24)Red FlagsUntitled Design (26)Follow-up Questions
What services do you provide?Emphasis on thought leadership content marketing, beginning with technical SEO, keyword research, and strategic SEO planning“We only do technical SEO”

“We do initial keyword research and write a few blog articles each month”

“What are your core services?” 

“What does your agency specialize in?”

How do you create content?Team of specialists, including an SME, graphic designer, conversion optimizer, and analytics specialist“We have a team of on-staff copywriters who write for all of our clients.”“How involved will my team’s experts be in the content creation process?”

“How do you create and organize your content plan?”

How do you measure results?Main KPI is either marketing qualified leads (MQLs) or new revenue; secondary KPIs are rankings for commercially valuable keywords and traffic-to-lead conversion rate “We measure success based on search ranking positions and organic traffic.”“What kind of customer acquisition cost (CAC) do you aim for in our industry?”

“How do you attribute marketing results among SEO and other marketing activities?”

We’ll now look more closely at those questions and why you need answers that align with the ideal responses listed above.

SEO Agency Question #1: What Services Do You Provide?

Copy Of UntitledSEO is a buzzword in the marketing and internet space, so it’s important to understand exactly what SEO means to an agency before hiring them. Many agencies concentrate on the technical side of SEO—things like page speed, mobile optimization, and site health. These are important prerequisites for rankings, but they are not going to produce higher search positions on their own. The same is true of ancillary services, such as:

  • Web development
  • SEO audits
  • PPC/social media advertising
  • Email marketing

Instead, the top agencies provide a host of deliverables that go way beyond the technical SEO and ancillary services mentioned. These agencies complete the technical fixes at the start and provide the other services throughout the campaign, but they devote the majority of their time and attention to the consistent publication of thought leadership content.

Thought leadership content is vital to generating leads for your business through SEO because Google’s algorithm rewards the best piece of content on the internet with top-ranking positions. To achieve this, your agency must be doing more than providing basic content marketing services like selecting keywords, looking through the first page of search results, and creating a piece of content that models what the first-page articles are already doing. True thought leadership is the result of original and nuanced thinking combined with the highest quality writing. Thought leadership has to be the core competency for an agency to do it right.[mk_blockquote font_family=”none”]“A piece of thought leadership content is written to be far and away the best piece on the internet for the keyword it is targeting.”[/mk_blockquote]Asking follow-up questions like “What are your core services?” and “What does your agency specialize in?” will allow you to learn where thought leadership truly fits in an agency’s expertise and priorities. Having determined that, you are ready to ask about how the content is produced, giving you more indication of the agency’s expertise in thought leadership.

SEO Agency Question #2: How Do You Produce Content?

While what we’re doing is not, as the old saying goes—brain surgery—permit me to use a medical analogy: If you’re having an operation, would you want a general practice doctor or a trained surgical specialist?

Many SEO agencies rely on generalist writers to produce content for you. This can create a number of problems, chief among them: accuracy. Especially in highly technical industries, producing accurate content takes special care and special knowledge. If it’s not done properly, beware. It can fall on you, the client, to make corrections. That adds to your time commitment and could produce doubts in your mind about the agency’s competence. And, if somehow that inaccurate content is published, there could be considerable reputational backlash from readers.

Another problem with generalists, particularly in technical B2B industries, is lack of nuance. A generalist writer is only able to write with a level of authority that isn’t high enough to satisfy the audience and the search intent of a keyword. Thus, the piece won’t rank highly in Google.

To publish the most effective thought leadership content, you need it produced with a subject matter expert (SME). When evaluating SEO agencies, be sure you understand how the agency leverages SMEs and where those SMEs come from. Two points to keep in mind are:

  • Sometimes, the SME and the agency’s writer are the same person, but in most cases, they are two separate people
  • The best SME may be someone from within your own organization who is willing to meet with your SEO agency’s team once a month to provide insight into upcoming topics

An editorial calendar and robust planning process are also essential to the best content production, and these should be completed with a team of specialists at the helm. The SEO  agency should schedule weekly calls to review upcoming content plans and align on the expertise needed to write for your company. To make the most of your time, they should create a plan to align all content needs upfront, including interviews, graphic elements, and a high-level outline of the piece.

Once you’ve established that a prospective SEO agency specializes in thought leadership and produces SME-level content, it’s time to move on to the final critical question: How do you measure results?

SEO Agency Question #3: How Do You Measure Results?

While many SEO agencies point to increased search rankings and organic traffic increases to measure their results, the real impact of an SEO campaign can be measured by how many MQLs it produces. Understanding how an SEO agency sets goals, tracks metrics, and generates reports is fundamental to establishing a successful partnership.

Consider these points when evaluating an agency’s approach to measuring results:

  • Client goals should be agreed upon before the contract is signed
  • Systems for measuring success should be developed during the onboarding phase of your campaign
  • Reporting should be built into the contractual deliverables. At our agency, we report on precursor metrics, such as organic traffic, search ranking positions, and user engagement, on a monthly basis. We provide robust reports detailing conversations and MQLs quarterly

Your SEO agency should be responsible for increasing organic MQLs. It’s your job to turn those into revenue, which is why measuring results is often a joint effort.

Ask the Right Questions to Choose the Best SEO Agency

Having an open dialogue with any partner leads to the best results. We’ve touched on a few of the critical questions to ask an SEO agency here; there are many more:

  • Ask about successes and failures (We’ve had both: celebrating the former and learning from the latter) 
  • Ask for case studies to see how an agency has performed with a similar target audience
  • Ask for references

I believe that when you’re looking to hire an SEO agency, you should use the same criteria you would for any long-term relationship: a partnership. To inquire about our agency’s services, contact us here.

Evan Bailyn

Evan Bailyn is a best-selling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.