Startups: 6 Questions to Ask When Seeking to Partner With an SEO Agency

Interested in working with an SEO agency? Tread lightly …

So, you’ve started a business.

You’re making money. You have a website. You have all your social accounts set up.

Only one problem: Google has no idea who you are.

When you go type search terms you’re trying to rank for into the search engine bar, you can’t find your website. It’s buried pages and pages back, behind pages like a blog post for some tiny company based out of Wichita and an Amazon listing.

You need an SEO agency.

But you don’t know where to start. Your expertise is in fashion, athletics, or logistics. You’re not a search engine wizard or a Google guru (though it’s not hard to brush up on basics).

To get anywhere, you’re going to have to ask the right questions. You’ll need to find a firm that fits your needs — not anyone else’s. And you’re going to have to make sure they know what they’re talking about.

Here’s where you start …

Before you even pick up the phone or send a single email, you need to have some goals in mind. Figure out what purpose your SEO is going to serve — what types of search terms do you want to rank for? How much growth are you aiming for? (Be realistic!)

Then generate a list of three to five firms that appeal to you — they can be recommendations from friends, someone you found through a search or someone you found on social media. Make sure they at least pass the eye test.

Once you’ve made preliminary contact and expressed interest, ask them in for a sit-down.

Here are the areas you need to focus on:

1) What Process Are You Going to Use to Accomplish Our Goals?

Rand Fishkin of the well-known SEO platform Moz has this as one of his favorite questions up front. If the company you’re sitting down with has spent the time and done the homework, they should have a good idea of:

  • What your business is.
  • Who your competitors are.
  • What search terms you can rank for.
  • Which search terms aren’t worth spending resources on.
  • What content you could use to invite backlinks.
  • Other avenues that you can use to build backlinks for your website — social shares, and what Neil Patel calls “second-tier link building.”

If they can give you specifics on how they’re going to accomplish your goals, you’re in good shape.

2) How Much Will We Have to Commit In Terms of Resources?

This is absolutely key.

Imagine: you go through the whole conversation. They explain all the details. They give you references, stories of other work they’ve done, possibilities for how you can move forward. You’re wowed and ready to go.

Then you say “OK, what do I need to commit to get this done?”

And you realize you need to hire a whole team of content writers and back-end web developers and spend more money than you make in sales on SEO. It’s a dead end, and you’ve just wasted a good deal of both your time and theirs on something that obviously won’t work.

Make sure you take care of this early in the conversation. If you can’t devote the resources they’re looking for, explain what you can commit. See if they can adjust, and if they can’t, go another direction.

3) Tell Me About Some of Your Success Stories.

According to Josh Steimle, founder of MWI, this is one of the biggest keys for finding the right SEO firm:

“A good SEO firm executes tactically. A great SEO firm does that, but is highly creative as well, and creative people tell good stories,” says Steimle.

“Ask the SEO firm how they were founded, what their best client experience was, what their worst client experience was and how they handled it, and how they’ve improved over the years. Even if you have made up your mind after following the first three tips, as you listen to stories you may completely change your opinion.”

Marketing guru Seth Godin’s famous axiom is that “all marketers tell stories”, and search engine optimization is still marketing. SEO isn’t just for Google — it’s for people too. A firm that understands that is an agency you can do business with.

4) Do You Have Some References I Can Call?

This is a no-brainer. You’d do this for any company you work with, particularly one you’ll work with as closely as your SEO agency. Call the references.

Ask questions: How were they to work with? What was communication like? Were they flexible? Did they overrun budget? What sort of results have you seen?

Good reference checking can save you a boatload of hurt later.

Don’t shortchange this step.

5) What’s Your Reporting and Communication Process?

Figure out up front what the company will be tracking.

Are they going to send you regular reports, or is there a dashboard you can access? What do the numbers mean? What’s a reasonable expectation for growth in each metric?

Make sure your communications expectations are clearly set out up front. That will keep you safe from misunderstandings on the back end and help your working relationship.

6) What Sort of Timetable Can We Expect?

This is crucial.

If your SEO agency promises immediate results, run. SEO isn’t a speedy process — it’s likely to take four months to a year before you actually see the results of the work you’ve been putting in.

Hyperbolic claims about how fast you’ll see changes in key metrics are a sure sign they’re trying to sell you on something, and that’s not a road you want to go down.

Once you’ve gone through all these questions, made sure your expectations are set, and figured out what sort of resources you can commit, you’re ready for the next step: picking an agency.

You’ll be well-armed with all the information you need to make sure you’re choosing a quality SEO consultant that fits the qualifications your business needs. So go forth and conquer Google.

Better search results await.