Are You Asking These 13 SEO Program Questions of Your SEO Agency or Consultant?
Five years ago this week I was in Italy working with one of the largest auto manufacturers. I was asked to develop a corporate SEO program for them. There were lots of moving parts and many others I was working with who all made up this digital marketing operation on the ground in Torino.
During any initial phase of work with a client. I like to get to know the entire team and understand how they all operate together. What processes they might already have in place, and what other agencies they work with.
They were a bit all over the map. They worked with a small local agency who owned their SEO, but that agency never coordinated with their social media or their paid search programs. This agency also seemed to miss out on those other necessary pieces... like the nine other brands in seven different European countries.
When I had time to interview this agency I was fully prepared to get into all their reporting and strategy. This meeting was held in this agency's office, and all the team members were present. I asked about some history - when did they start work, what the performance indicators were for this client, and what tactical steps they took to get all this work accomplished.
I heard things like ... "we built a few private blog networks for them. Simply writing articles and spinning them through all these sites and linking them back to the manufacturers site."
I sat there shocked. Seriously? This is what you call an SEO program for one of the largest Italian auto manufacturers in the world?
I was dumbfounded. So... let me get this straight. You performed maybe one audit of the site about a year or so ago, then you decided using a private blog network (PBN) would get them links, and you call that an SEO program?
Ok, so naturally I'm now thinking. They don't want to hand over all their day to day, secret sauce to me. Who was I anyway?
I was asked by the client to essentially interrogate this agency.
You see, the client wasn't thrilled with what they got, or didn't get, as the case may be. They wanted me to have that conversation with the agency. Maybe they were getting value but maybe it was over their head and they weren't necessarily speaking the same language.
There were a lot of things missing. One of the biggest was when this client was about to debut one of their signature cars for the first time in Italy. It was the premier flagship car and it was plastered all over the city.
The target audience immediately was Italy.
The problem was they had the new product page setup in a sub domain off a .com, like this "carname.manufacturer.com" .. this is great if you're trying to target a North American audience, but the target was Italy.
Also, that sub domain was fairly new, and not much if any engagement existed there.
The best was that they had a bounce rate of 87%!
I've never witnessed a bounce rate that high on any very large client site... ever. One of the immediate things we did was establish a permanent redirect from that sub domain to their .it site, moving that car into its own sub folder off the root.
That was it. Just by doing that alone, we reduced the bounce rate by 43%. It just made logical sense, not only for the Google.it search engine, but also for the Italians who were navigating to that page.
I'm not entirely sure what this client was paying for that local search agency each year, but whatever it was did not prove to be very valuable.
Over the years and since that time, I've seen so many clients spin their wheels working with one SEO agency or consultant or freelancer and getting really very little to show for it.
Just a little over a year ago, I was working with another client to audit their SEO program. They were paying $33,000 a month for a 12 month contract, led by a very junior SEO. They got no strategy, no understanding as to how their competitive industry was directly impacting their performance.
When the quarterly business review came up, the junior SEO was lost. He had no way of knowing how to speak to the CMO who asked what the plan was moving forward.
If you're working with an SEO agency or consultant and you have yet to see any real results come from that effort and it's been at least 6 -9 months, this is for you.
We audit our utilities, the office supplies we get, and any vendors we work with, but rarely do we audit our digital marketing programs.
Rarer still... we just about never audit our SEO program.
This is really simple to do.
How Can You Audit Your Own SEO Agency?
Here's how you can do it, if you don't decide to hire an outside consultant to do the auditing for you.
I'll provide you with the types of questions or considerations that you'd need to conduct a preliminary audit of your program.
If you decided to have a consultant come in and actually conduct a more in-depth auditing of your program, you're welcome to book a time with me here, and I'd be more than happy to meet and discuss that with you.
When considering your current SEO program there's a few things you already know without even speaking with the team lead.
Ask yourself the following questions. Or ask your internal SEO team lead
SEO PERFORMANCE RELATED QUESTIONS
- 1Are you getting monthly executive reporting from your agency?
- 2If you do, are you getting performance analysis, and does it include any predictive analysis?
- 3How is your performance being measured (are they using your data to make future strategy decisions?)
- 4Where is your competition and how are your product pages stacking up against those?
- 5When was the last time your site underwent a page speed performance and user experience analysis?
- 6Are you actually seeing a return on your investment? (i.e. how much acquisition are you getting from organic search to your product/services pages - take a look at this calculator (which you can find over here at Brightedge)
Certainly makes sense to input the data you have from your Google Search Console - and take this all with a grain of salt. Test it out and see how it stacks up.
Even in this scenario, if I assume this client gets 1,000 non branded US organic search traffic, and the estimated conversion rate is 1.5%, with a profit of $15,000 you can see how much profit opportunity exists there.
This is what your SEO team should be assisting you with. If you pay several thousand dollars each month, it must be tied into your return in some way.
SEO MANAGEMENT QUESTIONS TO ASK
There is actually a lot more to a full functioning SEO program than what you're asked by some low level freelancer i.e. "what keywords to you want to rank #1 for?"
That should NEVER be what your SEO strategy is based on. If so, be prepared to throw away that $300 a month fee you pay them.
Here's why SEO actually DOES cost several thousands of dollars each month.
What you need is a plan, a strategy that aligns with all your other digital marketing activities. SEO is not a commodity. In order to see it done the right way, you must make sure there's some level of management particularly as it relates to incorporating any/all of your recommendations.
- 1Will your team implement those recommendations or will mine?
- 2How often will you present an executive summary of all the work performed including, performance indicators against those identified as how I'll realize success in my program? ( see below for further description )
- 3What deliverables will you share with me each month?
- 4If my site should go through a site redesign or major change of any kind, do you have the experience to support those changes as they relate to SEO?
- 5What is the process you go through to determine what priority order my recommendations should be implemented within?
- 6Will you provide any project management as part of your services?
- 7Do you offer any guarantees with your program?
I will now provide some further explanation and rationale behind each of those questions, and the kind of response you should be getting from that SEO professional.
#1 The Implementation: One of the MOST critical aspects of any SEO program is WHO will be making sure those recommendations you paid for (assuming of course you actually get a set of prescriptive and specific recommendations for your site, which you should). These should be handled by someone who has access to the back end of your website and has the skill set to actually access your server or other technical elements in the site. Without any regular implementation, you are 100% assured to fail in your organic search program. That is an SEO guarantee I can make for any of my clients.
#2 Show Monthly Performance and Progress - Without any idea or measurement of how your program is progressing along, you would be hard pressed to tell what your SEO team is actually doing for you. This is also a must. You must see a detailed reporting of everything that was delivered to you, implemented, in review by you, and action steps your agency is planning for the next month.
#3 What do they Actually Deliver to you? - This one amazes me. You get a set of "SEO rules" which shows things like "Title Tags must have a length between 55 and 65 characters with spaces" That is NOT an SEO deliverable. It is a best practice, and you could just Google that. That should be provided along WITH a set of all the pages in your site that should have new title tags. I like to provide my clients with a spreadsheet listing all the URLs that need new title tags and meta descriptions. I'll have a column that shows, "OLD" and "NEW" they should MAKE the bloody recommendation for you, NOT tell you what the rules are. If you do pay $300 a month, then you get what you pay for, and nothing more.
#4 Anytime Your Site Experiences a Redesign, Migration or Replatform Change - SEO Must be part of that - Why? Because without that you will lose traffic, rankings and anything else your site has ever built up over the years. When you skip SEO you risk links being broken, redirects not input correctly or at all and a serious loss of traffic if not managed by and SEO with that level of experience.
#5 There Should Always Be a Priority to Your Recommendations - Without knowing what is MOST impactful and requires least amount of effort to implement, should be done first. They should provide you with a priority order to all your recommendations. That way, you and your team can efficiently schedule those in, every month. You should make sure to dedicate at least two to three days each month when those recommendations are implemented. Stick to that schedule. Without a priority, the team could be making changes to things like Alternate Text in your images this week instead of correcting those broken links from your home page to your main product pages.
#6 Project Management is Very Important to SEO - Without the ability to manage your program through some form of project management style (preferably Agile), you risk wasting weeks, and months and before you know it, you paid your fee and got nothing in return. Project management can be simple or elaborate as you need. The most important thing needed is not a project management professional, but a simple tracking sheet that shows what activities have been completed, what are in the queue, and what are approved/not approved, and what the plans are for the next month? It should be kept and maintained by your SEO consultant.
#7 There Are No SEO Guarantees... Except for Providing Best Practices - Please do NOT ask "can you rank me on the fist page for some-random- bogus-keyword that has nothing to do with conversions in my business?" That should not be the guarantee you seek. It should be that they guarantee they are professional, ethical, and only practice white hat best practices and adhere to Google's quality raters guidelines. That's the guarantee. Why? Because there are bazillions of variables including, but not limited to, the Google ranking algorithm, your searchers behavior, your competition, how frequently you implement recommendations, and on and on. Keep in mind, SEO is NOT magic, it take work, experience, and lots of testing and seeing what resonates with your ideal audience. Be patient.
This should provide you with a good basis to start the conversation with your current SEO professional.
It is NOT a complete list, but will serve as a good place to start. You'll find many of those SEOs you speak with might not have the right answers to these questions - then my advice is it's time to look for someone who can.
I not only developed this list for you, but I've developed other questions for interviewing in-house SEOs, and provide regular audits of client's SEO programs.
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