10 tips for hiring an SEO company

Ian Lurie

Every day, I talk to potential clients. Smart people. Most of them, though, have no idea how to hire an SEO agency.

So they ask standard questions, like:

  1. Have you ever worked in the guppy sales industry before?
  2. How big is your company?
  3. How much will you charge me?

A nice start. But it’s not going to help you make a good decision. If I’m honest, I’ll tell you no, I’ve never sold rubber grommets online before. So you’ll hire the guy who lies.

Instead, print these 10 tips and put ’em next to the phone throughout your search process:

  1. Ask: “Tell me your SEO process in less than 60 seconds.” If they can do it, and it makes sense to you, they get a prize. If they talk until your ear goes flat, forget it. If they make no sense, ask for an explanation.
  2. Ask: How long have you been doing SEO? If they answer anything more than 16 years, they’re lying. If they answer less than 2 years, ask them how they learned.
  3. Ask: “How do you acquire links?” If they answer, “It’s a secret” then you answer “Good luck with that” and move on.
  4. Ask: “How do you measure success?” If they answer, “Rankings” and nothing else, run. If they include stuff like “Traffic” or “Sales”, that’s better.
  5. Read their blog. If you come away feeling like you just spent three hours trying to learn Klingon, think carefully about your choice of firm. SEO is 75% communications skills. If they can’t write on their own blog…
  6. Look at the title tag on their home page. That’s the text in the top bar in your browser. If they don’t rank in the top 10 for that phrase, zowie. Ask them what’s up. If I run an SEO company, I’d at least have the brains to change my title tag to a phrase for which I rank.
  7. Ask them to set goals. It’s a great first test. Ask the agencies you talk to to give you, in their proposal, 2-3 goals by which they want to be judged. Make it clear that, if they set unreasonable goals, they’ll be held to them. See what comes back. Set your BS detector on high.
  8. Ask each firm to describe, step-by-step, how they’ll do SEO for you. Have ’em write it down, with pricing. That’s their proposal.
  9. When you get the proposal, read it. You’re going to pay these guys thousands, tens of thousands, or who-know-how-many-thousands of dollars. I sometimes get the feeling that I could send 95 pages of cat pictures, and no one would know. You can learn a lot from a well-written proposal. And from a lousy one.
  10. Throw out the low bidder if their scope of work matches the others, but they’re >20% cheaper than the next-highest bid.

And yes, there’s a lot more. But the main thing is: Go with your gut. SEO’s are not supposed to be smarmy. We’re not supposed to be incomprehensible. The SEO you hire should be trustworthy, a good teacher, and someone you can work with.

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  1. Best thing is to have a clear relationship with your SEO, if they are not being upfront about their techniques and process and are not willing to explain than you really need to ask, do you want to go into business with them.

  2. Hey Ian,
    Agree with all points except one:
    #6: Being ranked highly for your homepage title tag
    Reason being, some firms, like mine, just launched a brand new web presence with a new domain name and no carryover whatsoever from our past domain as we were in stealth mode working with our first batch of clients for case studies, testimonials and refinement of our processes and systems.
    Therefore, I tell our potential clients to look at our TRACK record, and the rankings we achieved for our clients, NOT to look at our rankings.
    In the end that matters more — see what we’ve done for others and how we did it.
    For us the website is more of a business card / showpiece because most of our business is word of mouth and referrals, so we don’t need/try to rank for our own keyword phrases except in the broadest sense.
    What we instead focus on, aside from the other 9 items in your list which I wholeheartedly agree with, is to rank our clients and help them with the only metrics that really matter: leads, conversions and sales.

  3. Among my top 10 tips would have to include:
    Ask for the names of 3-5 long term clients who I can speak to and who will recommend their services.
    This usually reduces the short-list to a low single digit number.

  4. Personally I like #5. If you can’t write in your own blog about topics in the SEO space how are you supposed to execute anything for your clients? Good stuff all around.

  5. Thank you so much for this information. Since I have a small business I think it’s super important that I choose the company that will make my small business big in the SEO world.

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