How to hire an SEO company, 2012 edition
I’ve written other posts about hiring SEO firms: How to hire good ones. How to hire bad ones. But an update’s in order:
Questionnaire for an SEO agency
Start each agency you interview with 10 points. Add or subtract as indicated.
- Ask yourself: How did this firm get in touch with you?
- They cold-called or e-mailed you.
- They answered your ad.
Sorry, but good SEOs don’t spend their days scouring the internet want ads. Ads are good for comic relief, not smart hiring. -5
- You found them.
Good. That’s a good start. +1
- Can you give me some references?
Well, duh. Don’t hire them. -1
- Yes, but can we wait until we’re closer to signing a deal?
Excellent! They’re nice to their clients and don’t want to bug them. +1
- Sure (immediately sends you 20 references, all suspiciously located on the same block of downtown Somewhereville).
Research carefully. These may be friends, not clients. +0
- What kind of work will you do on my site?
- None! We don’t have to touch your site.
Show them the door. They’re clueless. -1
- We’ll need to check your site for technical issues, and we’ll have recommendations around title tags and content.
Not bad! +0
- We’ll need to check your site for technical issues, make recommendations around existing content, and start a content strategy.
Kiss them. Try not to weep for joy. And for God’s sake, hire them. +1
- What kind of reporting do you provide?
Ask them how life’s going in 1999. And don’t hire them. -999
- Site traffic from organic search, conversions from organic search and some health metrics. And yes, we track rankings as a diagnostic.
- Everything from answer b, plus time on site, visit quality, and stuff like keyword diversity.
- Do you guarantee results?
- Yes! We’ll get you number one ranking on the Googles!
Don’t even show them the door. They can undoubtedly teleport back to their office. They’re full of crap. -99999
- No. I’d love to, but no one can do that, because the algorithms change all the time.
Good. They’re honest, or smart enough to pretend they’re honest. Either way, +1
- No. Answer b, plus it’s not totally up to us. We’re your partner in this, but we need your help.
They rock. +2
- Can I pay you by the link?
- Sure! $10/link.
Does it seem OK to you that they could get 900 godawful, penalty-generating links and charge you for them? Fail. -5
- You can, but I’ll charge you based on link quality as determined by…
Ehhhh, OK. At least they’re trying. Still seems awfully hard to measure, since organically-acquired links may not appear for weeks or months. Which either means they have a link network (bad), or they’re really naive. +0
- Sorry, no, and here’s why (reasonable explanation).
- Will you optimize my meta tags?
- Yes, keyword and description meta tags.
GONG. The keywords meta tag is worthless. The description tag doesn’t impact rankings, although it’s worth optimizing for clickthru. Still, they lose a point. -1
- Nope, that’s silly.
A little simplistic, but at least they read occasionally. +0
- We’ll remove the keywords tag, and refine the description tag for better clickthru.
- Will you put keywords in my URLs?
- Definitely! Keyword-rich URLs are the ticket to a high ranking!
Mor. Ons. -1
- We can. It can help with clickthru. But barring an exact-match domain, it may not help much with rankings.
Give them a hug and tell them it’s from Ian. +1
- Do you need my server log files?
- Uh, what’s that?
Never hire a doctor that can’t take your temperature. Don’t hire an SEO who can’t analyze a log file. -5
- I may need it if there are problems.
A good answer. +1
- Yes, we want to check for crawl issues right away.
Sniff. My hero. +2
- Can I see a sample recommendations report you give to clients?
- I’m sorry, it’s part of our sekrit process.
OK. Enjoy that. Without me. -1
- Yes (and they give you something totally general, or totally incomprehensible.
If they can’t explain it, they can’t do it. -1
- Yes (and they give you something that makes sense).
Niiice. Hire them. +2
- How do you build links?
- We use our Link Optimizer Replication Energization System to get you thousands of links every month!
Buh-bye now! -10
- We only do 100% pure, white-hat, content-based link acquisition.
Perfectly good. +1
- We do a mix of stuff: Content marketing, social media curation, legitimate directory submission and some nice, useful commenting.
They get an A! +2
- Can you contact someone at Google for me?
- Sure! We have a former Google employee working with us, actually.
Congrats, you hired Google’s ex-chef. Which has nothing to do with SEO. -10
- We can try through a re-inclusion request. Or I can whine until Matt Cutts answers.
Not a good idea, but honest. +0
- That’s really only a last resort if you’re in deep poo poo.
I like them. +1
21+: Nice! They’re a keeper.
15-20: Solid. Go for it unless you have a 21+.
10-14: OK, but keep an eye on them.
0-10: Any port in a storm…?
It’s your call
This is, of course, a partial list. And it’s (partly) tongue-in-cheek. Bottom line: You have to use common sense. Behind every SEO disaster is a firm or consultant that should have screamed ‘fraud’ to any non-SEO type. Use your brain: SEO is marketing, which means it takes time, and it’s hard work. Hire accordingly.