1. “Show me a link you built”
For most web companies, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of those feature checkboxes. The problem is that this term is confusing and most often misunderstood (by both users and web designers).
There are two critical components of SEO: on-page and off-page.
On-page SEO consists of the things you can control on your site. It includes optimizing headers, copy, title tags, meta descriptions, images, and so on. It’s the foundation.
Off-page SEO is just that; it’s not on your site. This is where most of the hard work and expertise comes in. Off-page SEO consists of outreach, link building, and more. Google is a link-based search engine, and these high quality, authoritative links help your website perform better in search results.
We have done audits on client sites who have been doing “SEO” with others for years and literally had ZERO links. Worse yet, some had spammy links that could have penalized them.
Your best best bet is to ask them for a sample of what they have done for others. Then visit those sites and see if those links are relevant to the client. If you see links built on foreign sites and / or completely irrelevant sites, that tells you their link building is spammy and dangerous.
2. “Show me your SEO team”
As mentioned above, most companies say they do SEO but really don’t. SEO is very, very time consuming. We actually have over 6 people on our team that are dedicated to just this.
If a company “does” SEO, they should have dedicated resources. SEO is also one of those things that gets outsourced. This never used to be a huge problem, but with the major penalties Google is handing out to big brands for low quality SEO, you don’t want to take chances. SEO has become all about quality instead of quantity.
Having a dedicated SEO team means you can control quality, which will improve your site’s visibility and mitigate risk.
3. “How have you changed your SEO strategy in the last 1-2 years?”
In the last couple years, SEO has seen the most radical change in its 15 year history. This changed the rules of the game, and the company you work with should have adjusted accordingly. You probably won’t know the intricacies of these changes, but if you hear “nothing really has changed” – buyer beware.
4. “How do you integrate SEO into other areas of my business?”
Great SEO is not something you do once in a while. It is a constant that integrates into every aspect of a business.
Great SEO takes advantage of things like events, sponsorships, new product launches, and marketing strategy. If the company you’re talking to or working with is not asking questions about every aspect of your business, be worried.
This might feel a bit over the top, but we have seen far too many examples of disingenuous companies claiming to do things they don’t.
For example, we frequently encounter companies that do “on-page” optimization when they build sites, yet fail to do even the simplest, most basic things. And for those companies who claim to do “off-page” optimization, we frequently see their clients tank in the search results. When we audit their link profiles, we discover hundreds or thousands of spammy links pointing to their site.
These four questions will give you a good guideline of what to ask for, without being a specialist. Most importantly, use your gut when asking these questions. You’re going to intuitively know if the company you’re talking to can walk the walk.