Did you know that 46% of all Google searches are local?
With mobile internet connections becoming ubiquitous and faster, you can expect local searches to be through the roof.
These days, a local SEO strategy has a huge impact in driving people to your business – regardless of whether you are a standalone operation or a giant enterprise.
In terms of hiring an agency to handle your local strategy, the choice is not always black and white. There are a number of factors that come into play.
Many times, the process will require a great deal of shopping around to find a good fit. Keep in mind, SEO should be thought of as a long term investment. Therefore, you should choose the agency with the intention of sustaining an extensive relationship.
Finding the right fit is very similar to conducting a job interview. There are all sorts of questions you will need to ask, as well as look for the common red flags. When you are approaching potential partners to take your business forward, here are some of the main inquiries to keep in mind throughout your selection.
1. Can you explain your practice in laymen’s terms?
First and foremost, you need to gauge how the agency conducts their day-to-day. SEO involves many different techniques and approaches. Some tend to be more effective than others. A quality SEO agency will be 100% open about how they work to improve the local rankings of their clients. If they seem a little hesitant to tell you their methodology, this a cause for concern.
Even more, a good follow-up question to ask is how involved most clients are in the process. While the direct answer to this question will likely vary, the most important thing to pick up on is how open they are to collaboration with the client and how transparent they are throughout campaigns.
2. Can you tell me about your previous experiences with companies?
Similar to interviewing a potential employee, you need to know how well their skillset will transfer to meet your needs. For instance, let’s say your business sells camping equipment. An SEO agency that has had experience working with outdoor-focused companies is a good sign they are familiar with the market and the types of searches that equate to relevant traffic.
Be sure to ask for things like case studies, referrals, or even websites they have worked with in the past. If they seem uneasy about showing you any of these, it’s a good sign to keep shopping around.
3. Have you worked with any local businesses before for SEO?
If you want to grow your small business within a big city or metropolitan area, local SEO is vitally important. Obviously, you want to work with an agency that has some experience in your field. Ask them about their previous results with local SEO, as well as their approach to title tags, meta descriptions, and keyword research. They may not be able to come up with a full strategy for you right then, but they should be able to offer some ideas and strategies.
4. Can you show me some SEO-related documents?
While this may seem like an oddball question, seeing documents that relate to keyword mapping or even drafts of SEO-friendly web content can be great insight as to the kind of work they produce.
5. Are you familiar with my business?
This question will be one of the most valuable talking points throughout the process of finding an agency. Even if their body of work is thin in relation to your business, a good agency will have done the proper research and have plenty of meaningful strategies to learn and adapt to different industries.
6. How will your Local SEO team keep in touch with me?
For healthy, ongoing relationships, you need to know how the agency fosters collaboration. Ask for specifics in regards to how they plan to communicate their plan of attack, findings, and the next steps.
- Who will I be in contact with and how will you keep me updated?
- Who will I speak with on a regular basis?
- How will we communicate? How often?
If they give you hard answers and have a reliable task management system in place, this is a great sign the agency knows that they are doing.
7. What do you need to know about my business first?
Be sure to ask the specialists for the finer details about your part in the entire strategy and how you can make their job easier. Most agencies will have a set procedure in regards to collecting the appropriate information to get a campaign going.
8. What kind of results are you able to deliver to your clients?
Connecting with an SEO agency is a long term investment for your business, so you need to be sure that it will pay off as time goes on. Ask about the general ROI the agency’s clients see in within the first few months, or first year.
When the agency gives you answers, try get as granular as possible. For example, an answer like “25% increase traffic” can mean something as small as going from four unique visitors to five. Hard numbers in relation to traffic boosts will be far more beneficial for what you want an SEO agency to do for you.
9. How do you measure your strategy’s success?
While an SEO agency may promise grand results, ask them first to define how they measure the effectiveness of their strategies. Ask them questions like:
- What metrics define “success” for you?
- What metric(s) do you focus on the most?
- How do you measure the success of your SEO campaigns?
Defining their methodology for this will help you understand the types of results to expect. Chances are, at this early stage in the relationship, the agency’s answer might very well be: it depends.
The key is to try and get a feel for the general goals they shoot for with new clients and matching them with your own.
10. Do your clients need to meet any certain criteria?
Beware of agencies that take on any and all clients, as this could be a sign that they are not highly specialized and prefer quantity over quality. You want to work with an agency that pays attention to the small details of every client type. For example, SEO work for outdoor companies requires a much different approach than for educational institutions.
If the agency is keen to take on work with a minimal system in place with little-to-no criteria, this is a red flag that the end results could be mediocre.
Inquire into their process and ask if they have any requirements before they take on new clients. This is essentially to ensure it is a good match – for both parties.
11. What type of SEO tactics does your agency use to deliver results?
There are several approaches that agencies can take when it comes to local SEO. Some narrow in on the technical side with an emphasis on metrics like structure and website speed. Others take a more UX-focus on keyword optimization, navigation, and optimized content. Finally, some agencies prefer to work with off-page SEO which involves generating links beyond your website through tactics like content marketing.
All three of these approaches are valid and effective, and some agencies are able to combine aspects of multiple strategies. Be sure to ask about an agency’s typical approach by posing questions like:
- What are some of the recent strategies and tactics you have seen working well for a business like mine?
- What are a few of the local SEO challenges you commonly face in my industry?
Any reputable SEO agency will be able to explain their tactics clearly to you. If an agent offers vague answers or is not able to define them, it is a sign that they may be dealing with some questionable practices or have limited experience.
12. Do you have a strategy that is specific for our brand or niche?
Not every approach will be highly effective for every business, but a skilled SEO expert will understand the best tactics to use for your industry. You don’t want to be just another name or number to an agency; finding a company that really understands your brand and niche will help create a more successful strategy that brings results.
A good agency will do the research into your industry or niche to come up with an effective game plan rather than slapping on a one-size-fits-all approach.
13. What’s a realistic timeframe before I see results?
While you do need to be realistic when it comes to results, most SEO companies will have a rough timeline until you are able to measure the effectiveness of their strategy.
Phrasing questions like this is a good way to get a clear picture:
- How long does SEO usually take to start working after someone begins working with you, and what level of effort is required?
- What can I expect in terms of ROI month after month?
Keep in mind, the answers you get will not be black and white. Generally speaking, if an agency gives you hard answers to these questions without asking any of their own follow-up questions, this is a red flag. Much of this depends on how much you are willing to invest right off the bat. While nothing is a guarantee in digital marketing, with enough information, the agency should be able to give you an estimate of what to expect.
14. How can you optimize my business’s SEO approach for mobile?
As the number of searches on smartphones increases year over year, SEO agencies, at this point, should have a slew of tactics and strategies to keep up with the changes. As so many local searches these days have “Near me” in them, mobile optimization is vital to the success of any local SEO strategy. Be sure to inquire about the agency’s approach in this matter.
15. What is your approach for link-building?
Effective links are not built haphazardly; they require strategic planning and tracking in order to measure those results. Ask about their approach to link-building, both on your website and through other sources.
- Do they use tactics like influencer marketing to increase off-site links?
- Do they do a lot of guest blogging?
- What sites do they typically target?
- What are their priorities when it comes to creating organic traffic through links?
Make sure they are knowledgeable about various link building strategies from industry-to-industry and have the experience to back it up.
16. How much do your services cost?
Obviously, pricing is an important discussion to have with an agency before you sign on with them. Be prepared for some stick shock; many agencies charge thousands of dollars for long-term contracts along with premiums. Always inquire about any fees, payment terms, and pricing plans that an agency offers to prevent surprises down the road. Some agencies charge hourly or by project, so discuss any payment options that are available.
Be clear about your business’s budget, but also make sure that your expectations align with your spending. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch or cheap SEO.
17. Are there project length requirements?
This question relates to the timeline of your agreement with an agency. It takes time before you can see results from SEO strategies – some companies require year minimums. If you are hesitant to sign a long-term agreement with an agency, see if you can negotiate trial terms rather than one set period.
18. What do we do when the contract ends?
As many agreements with SEO companies are for set periods of time, you’ll want to ask about what happens when your businesses part ways. Ask if you are able to keep any information or resources after your contract ends or will they erase the content they have created for your business?
Breakups are awkward, even if they are strictly professional. It is better to clarify the process beforehand, especially if you need to terminate an agreement early if standards are not met.
19. How often can I expect to see reports?
How will you be able to know whether or not your standards are being met? A good SEO agency will offer regular reporting that show clear results from their work. Ask for them to show you examples of their reports so you can clear up any questions beforehand and make sure that you understand their system.
20. Can you take my business to #1 on all major search engines?
There is no ethical SEO agency out there that can promise number-one ranking results. If you hear claims like this, it is a sure sign of a shady company.
An agency should set reasonable and attainable outcomes that are achievable through legal practices. But, don’t let an agency under-promise you either. You are looking for a company that can promise and deliver on local searches, so they should be able to discuss realistic milestones.
21. Does your agency follow the Webmaster Guidelines?
Asking about an agency’s adherence to legal guidelines will help you weed out any illicit or illegal practices. The Webmaster Guidelines are a standard set of rules for SEO practices that ethical agencies must abide by.
If any of these rules are broken, your website could possibly be pushed down the search engine ranks and could even be banned altogether. Make sure that the agency you partner with is more than just familiar with these guidelines and ask if they can offer proof of adherence.
22. Are there other services your agency offers?
If your business needs help in other areas than local SEO, it never hurts to ask an agency if they offer those services as well. Services like social media, PPC, or influencer marketing may be services they offer in a package deal or by another department. Rather than coordinating with multiple companies, it can be quite useful to find a place that does it all in-house.
If an agency offers these additional services, ask how exactly this is done. A truly integrated system means the various departments are able to clearly communicate with one another to coordinate a unified strategy.
Choosing an SEO agency is a major decision that could have a great effect on the success of your local business. Don’t be afraid to come in with a long list of questions to qualify your partnership beforehand. Not only will it show that you are serious about your decision, but it can also save you from an expensive and detrimental mistake.