Many agencies without full service digital marketing departments choose to outsource any SEO work to a specialist. While I believe that the present focus on good content makes SEO easier, not harder for traditional agencies (especially PR) to handle in-house, many will continue outsourcing this critical service (or at least until I launch a “How To Do SEO At An Agency” seminar).
Meanwhile, finding an SEO partner is the modern day equivalent of securing someone to mine your gold claim while you go back home to Philadelphia. (feel free to insert your own Deadwood-style reference). Basically, SEO is the Wild West, with more Excel. There are no rules to speak of, very few “right” answers, and essentially no barrier to entry. There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of freelance and small firm SEO “experts,” some of whom know only slightly more than the traditional agency that hires them.
7 Critical Questions
To make sure you find a partner that understands SEO and where it’s headed, that can serve you and your clients competently, ask them these 7 questions.
1. How do you measure the success of your SEO campaigns?
You want a partner that uses metrics like leads, online sales, phone calls generated, etc. to measure success. Be wary of firms that tout their ability to get you “#1 Rankings”. Ultimately, being ranked #1 has zero direct revenue benefits. You also want to see regular reporting that focuses on those relevant metrics, not just your search position.
2. How do you determine which search terms to focus on?
Here, you’re looking for some sort of detailed search term analysis, combined with a thorough evaluation of the business model of the site to be optimized. Partners that mention testing terms to determine which will generate best results get extra credit.
3. How do you create content for search optimization?
At present, search-friendly content is the name of the game. Carefully crafting content that addresses key search terms and making sure that content is legitimately interesting to both real people and Google is the critical. Big bonus points for partners that create multi-modal content (photo galleries and videos) and partners that have dedicated search copywriters on staff. Make sure you ask for samples of their content creation.
4. How do you integrate search optimization efforts with other aspects of the marketing program?
Here, you’re looking for partners that recognize that good SEO isn’t done in a vacuum. Integrating SEO with public relations, making sure that search terms related to a new product or campaign are optimized. That’s what you want to see in this response.
5. What is your approach to getting more links?
Links are the coin of the realm in search. If you don’t have links from at least semi-popular Web sites pointing to your search-optimized content, it’s going to be an uphill battle (unless you’re emphasizing highly obscure search terms). Consequently, you want a partner that has a clearly defined process and proven expertise in finding quality links for their clients. Directories, blogs, one-to-one link requests, competitive analysis, etc. Ask to see samples of their link acquisition campaigns.
6. After the initial setup, what services do you provide month-to-month?
Some SEO firms will put real effort into getting the search program set up (pick terms, write copy, establish reports, get a few links) in the first 60 days, but then charge the client hundreds or thousands of dollars each month thereafter for essentially very little work. Find out precisely what they will do to improve the campaign on an ongoing basis. You want a partner that will create content on a regular basis, be garnering new links continuously, and be monitoring competitors.
7. What’s your best success story?
Ultimately, search optimization is about results. If a potential vendor can’t point to a series of clients for whom they dramatically increased sales, leads, etc. through measured SEO, stay away.
Any other tips you’d recommend? Reaction from the SEO community? Leave a comment.