7 Hard Hitting Questions to Ask Before Hiring an SEO Company

So you’ve just checked your websites monthly stats and it’s obvious you need help.

Traffic is dribbling along, sales and customer enquiries are at an all time low and you’re feeling like throwing yourself under a bus.

Before you do, consider your options.

  • Get squashed by a bus
  • Call an SEO company for help

Tough decision isn’t it?

Alright look, I know the thought of having to pick up the phone and call an SEO company is daunting – shit I work in this space and it scares me too. But unless you do something, chances are you’re going to be stuck back on page 12 of Google forever and feeling as though nobody loves you.

Just think about that for a minute. Page 12. It’s cold. It’s lonely, and it’s ever so depressing.

So before you throw yourself under a passing bus, hear me out, because I’m going to help you.

What I’ve done here is created a simple checklist you can follow over the phone (print it out and follow it) so that when you do call an SEO agency, you’ll know what to say, what to ask, and better still, have some idea if the person you’re speaking to is trying to help you or rip you off.

In other words, this little reference sheet that Ive put together is going to save your ass.

Click here to Download Save my Ass SEO
Company Questionaire Telephone Cheat Sheet

Feel free to send me some cookies as thanks in the mail.

Before you pick up the phone

Here’s what you should do before you even pick up the phone.

Go to Google and type in the name of the SEO professional or agency followed by “review”, or “reviews”, or just type in the actual business name and see what comes up.

Now the whole purpose of doing this is to see if there are pages and pages of unhappy customers and bad reviews for the company you’re thinking about working with. Having said that, you need to be mindful that a lot of SEO agencies will create FAKE negative reviews about their competitors also. So you’ll need to be smart in your approach.

Of course if there are pages and pages of bad reviews with discussions happening on public forums, then it might be best to avoid.

Always spend a few minutes searching online and doing some research before you pick up the phone. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted and time, money and heartache.

Be clear about your objectives

Again, before you pick up the phone, make sure you are absolutely clear about what it is you’re trying to achieve.

If you’re about to jump on a call with intentions of saying “We want to be number 1 in Google”, you’re going to get absolutely pounded and left crying in your cornflakes.

That’s just the type of shit that SEO agencies love, because it demonstrates you’re totally clueless about SEO, and you’re willing to pay good money for fanciful outcomes.

It’s like pulling into a mechanics workshop in a 1997 Hyundai Excel and saying “I want to win Bathurst”.

They’re going to see you coming a mile away.

Do not, ever tell an SEO agency that your goal is to be “first page in Google”, unless of course you want to sound like a dummy and get ripped off.

Why?

Because that’s not a goal, it’s nonsense.

Look I understand that rankings are important, but I’ve worked with hundreds of clients that have worked with SEO agencies that have ranked them “first page in Google” and it’s made absolute no difference to their bottom line.

This happens because a lot of SEO agencies will rank you for useless terms.

Then when you question it, they’ll say “Hey we told you we would rank you for at least 75% of the keyowrds you wanted to rank for within 12 months and we’ve done that, so get lost”

But what they fail to tell you is that the terms they’ve ranked you for are garbage.

So what the hell do I say?

You’ve got to think deeper, and put some damn thought behind WHY you’re engaging with an SEO professional in the first place.

It should be obvious –

  • To increase visibility in search, duh
  • To increase organic search traffic
  • To increase customer enquiries, sales and revenue

Read that last point again.

To increase customer enquiries, sales and revenue.

It should be about making money.

That’s it.

That’s the whole point of the exercise, not rankings.

Sure, rankings play a part of it, that much is obvious, but it shouldn’t be the SOLE FOCUS.

This is why it’s vital to work with an SEO professional that asks the right questions, and actually gives a shit about your business and how it works.

Being prepared for the call

Any reputable SEO agency is going to follow a script when you call, so it makes sense for you to do likewise.

It might be tricky, but at some point of the call you’ll need to ask “Would you mind if I asked a few questions quickly?”

You’ll want to do this, so you can refer to the cheat sheet that I have provided you with.

Of course, if they get all weird on you, then that’s the first red flag to avoid.

Make sure you listen closely to their responses. If they seem to fumble their way through it’s probably a good sign they really don’t know what they’re doing, and it might be best to simply avoid. Alternatively, if you get someone on the phone and their response is to simply answer with “Sorry I’m just the sales guy, I’m not quite sure what the tech guys do”, then ask to speak with the tech guys, or whoever it is that you need to speak with.

You’re entitled to.

In other words, get the answers to the questions below.

If they get weird at any point, ditch.

Questions

Alright, enough nonsense, let’s get into it.

1. What’s your pricing, how much do you charge?

Pricing is always awkward when it comes to SEO.

Some places charge $199 a month, while others charge $5,000 a month.

Regardless, you need to ask, but be sure you ask the right way.

Don’t simply make it a focal point during the call, otherwise chances are they wont take you seriously and think youre just price shopping.

When it comes to pricing, I’m a big believer in SEO services being charged at an hourly rate.

It works across almost every industry, (mechanics, furniture removalists, electricians, photographers) so why not SEO too? I work at an hourly rate, and so do all my colleagues in the industry. Honestly it amazes me when I hear people paying $300 a month for SEO and when asked how many hours they’re getting, they’ll reply with “I don’t know”, or “No idea, I think they just do certain things each month”.

That’s absolute rubbish.

If you’re paying a monthly fee, you’ll want to know how that money is being spent, how much work is being done, and at what rate.

Reputable agencies, freelancers and consultants all work at an hourly rate because its quantifiable. It can be measured. They’re not just charging you a fixed amount, doing 3 minutes of work per month and billing you for it.

This is exactly what a lot of agencies do, especially those with hundreds or thousands of clients. They can’t adequately service all of their clients, so they’ll break down their monthly service into bullshit deliverables, such as 3 blog comments, 5 profile links, and 1 SEO article.

They do this because it allows them to do the smallest amount of work possible, so that they can move onto the next client.

It’s ridiculous and it’s wrong.

Here’s a few questions you need to ask when it comes to pricing.

Questions you should probably ask

  • What are your rates?
  • How many hours per month do I get for that?
  • Will I receive itemised billing for the work done?

Deal breakers

  • “We don’t work at an hourly rate, we just do set tasks each month”
  • “Our prices are fixed, not hourly”
  • “We don’t charge hourly because that would work out too expensive”
  • “We charge monthly”
  • “What do you mean, hourly rate?”

If they respond with anything like that it would probably be best to say “Thanks but no thanks”. Hang up the phone and just call me instead, right?

2. Can you guarantee results?

I’m not sure how many time’s Ive touched on this, but seriously, any SEO dimwit that’s offering “guaranteed rankings” is blowing smoke up your ass.

Even GOOGLE have said to avoid SEO agencies offering guarantees, because it’s nothing more than a sleazy attempt to win you over.

They say …

“Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.”

No one knows the algorithm but Google. Suggesting otherwise is like saying “I’ll go outside and do a funny dance and I guarantee it will rain”.

Questions you should probably ask

  • Are you stupid enough to offer me some wanky guarantee?

Deal breakers

  • “Yes we guarantee rankings”
  • “We guarantee rankings or you don’t pay”
  • “We play table tennis with Matt Cutts every Thursday night – rankings guaranteed”

The only guarantee you’re likely to get from clowns like this is a guarantee to lose all your money.

Avoid.

3. Who will be my point of contact?

The answer to this question is going to vary big time depending upon who you end up working with – either a freelancer or an agency.

Both have their pros and cons.

Large agencies are more than likely to pass you around to a different person each and every time you call, whereas a freelancer will probably be the only person you’ll speak to.

On the other hand, if your freelancer is in bed sick with the flu, chances are you won’t be able to get in touch at all. With an agency, they should have enough staff to at least put someone on the phone.

In any case, what matters is having a dedicated point of contact. Someone you can call if you need any help or assistance, or have any questions.

You don’t want to be paying monthly fees and finding your calls aren’t being answered or you’re being ignored completely.

Questions you should probably ask

  • Will I have someone dedicated to assist me?
  • Can I call the office if I need assistance or have a question?
  • What’s the most suitable channel? Email, phone?
  • How often can I get in touch?

Deal breakers

  • “You’ll have whoever is available at the time”
  • “We try to limit the amount of interaction we have with clients because we’re really busy”
  • “You get one call a month, piss off”
  • “You should get Gary, our CEO unless he’s out driving around town picking up girls in his new Porsche”

3. Do you use lock in contracts?

I don’t use lock in contracts within my business simply because I see it as being an unfair advantage played against the client.

I’ve lost count at the amount of times I’ve heard –

  • “I wanted to cancel as I wasn’t happy with their service, but they wouldn’t let me”
  • “I told them to get lost, but they kept taking my money”
  • “I’ve had to keep paying $900 a month and gotten nothing in return”

Signing a contract only favours the service provider – especially if they’re lazy or not doing a good job. Of course if everything is going well, then it’s not a problem.

In terms of contracts, I prefer to let my clients pay month to month – and during that time I work my ass off to ensure the jobs done right, I’m getting results and the client is happy.

Having said that, it really doesn’t pay to sign a contract with someone you’ve never worked with before.

I would advise against entering into an agreement where its compulsory to sign a lock in contact. Agencies only do this to ensure positive cash flow. They’re doing it to protect their businesses, at your expense.

I guess it’s entirely up to you, but at the very least I would ask the following questions…

Questions you should probably ask

  • Do you use lock in contracts?
  • What if I want to cancel out, what happens? Can I?
  • Can I pause my campaign if I want to?

Deal breakers

  • “Yes you have to sign a lock in contract”
  • “We will continue to take payments should you cancel or become unresponsive”
  • “You cant cancel”
  • “We own your soul”

4. What will you be doing in terms of offpage optimisation?

This is definitely a question you need to ask, and quite honestly it’s one of the most important.

Offpage optimisation is the process of course where you’re working towards acquiring high quality links from external websites in an effort to improve search positioning. How this is done, greatly impacts the performance of your site. High end services will perform tasks like content promotion, outreach, link reclamation, cleaning up bad links and so forth.

Shitty providers will probably just outsource this part of your campaign overseas and simply blast anything at your site.

For Gods sake, avoid any site promoting this sort of crap-

  • Bookmarking
  • Web 2.0 properties
  • SEO optimised articles
  • Blog commenting
  • RSS feeds
  • Profile links
  • Spun articles

This stuff is absolute bullshit and should be avoided at ALL COSTS.

Questions you should probably ask

  • Where will you be getting links?
  • Can you give me an example of some high quality links you’ve built for other clients?
  • Is the work done inhouse or do you have a team overseas?

Deal breakers

  • “We have our own private network of sites”
  • “We can’t give you that information as it’s proprietary”
  • “We don’t show you the links we build due to privacy reasons”
  • “We do (any of that shit above) and it’s wonderful!”
  • “We build x number of links per month”
  • “It would simply take too to explain”
  • “I’m not sure, I’d have to ask the tech guys”

Any reputable SEO professional should be performing tasks as mentioned above. Targeted outreach, content, content promotion, reverse engineering competitors, identifying high quality link building opportunities, disavowing low quality or toxic links, converting mentions, link reclamation and more.

5. How do you measure performance?

This is a vital question to ask, because it gives you immediate insights towards where the service provider is aiming, as opposed to you.

If you’re thinking about increasing sales revenue, and they’re talking about ranking you for “fluffy bunnies” then its just not going to work.

Listen, shitty SEO companies don’t give a rats. They’ll shove you a meaningless report and say “Look at the wonderful job were doing, you’re now ranked for these keywords”, and yet, you haven’t had a sale or customer enquiry in weeks.

You simply MUST ensure you’re both on the same page.

Questions you should probably ask

  • How is performance of the campaign measured?
  • Will you be tracking customer enquiries and or sales?
  • Will I receive something that outlines conversions within my reports?
  • How will I know if I’m getting a positive ROI?

Deal breakers

  • “Rankings, bro”
  • “x number of keywords ranked by x months”
  • “What do you mean?”

Any decent SEO provider will be talking about measuring performance via –

  • Organic traffic – They should be monitoring organic traffic trends, visitors from SEO
  • Goal completions – They should be talking about measuring monthly goal completions.
  • Revenue – Any reputable SEO should be working closely with you and monitoring site revenue. If they don’t ask about the value of a sale, or what a customers worth to you then you’re done for.
  • Conversion rates – Absolutely critical. Anyone that works with me, knows that I always work hard towards increasing conversion rates because in most cases, site owners don’t need more traffic, they need to use the traffic they already have – but better.

Most shitty providers will just focus on rankings and keywords. This again isn’t going to help your bottom line.

6. How will I be kept up to date with what’s going on?

It’s really important that you know whats going on.

Certainly not all the time – there’s no benefit for anyone in micro managing an SEO campaign, but at the very least, you should be given an update monthly. Infact, at the end of each month, I provide all of my clients with an end of month strategy call where we go over –

  • What works been done
  • What work is coming up
  • And of course answer any questions they might have

This type of communication is vital to the success of any SEO campaign.

It amazes me just how many SEO companies don’t bother doing anything like this. Infact, this is pretty much the norm in this industry. At the very least you’ll get a confusing report emailed to you once a month and that will be it.

Questions you should probably ask

  • How will I know what work is being completed?
  • How often will I hear from someone?

Deal breakers

  • “We just provide you with the report”
  • “No we don’t do one on one monthly calls”
  • “Just call us”
  • “Just log into our system and look”

If you’re paying  just a few hundred dollars a month, chances are you’re not going to hear from anyone. But if you’re paying good money, then you should expect monthly strategy calls.

7. What’s included in your reports?

You’ll want to get a bit of a look at their reports before you sign up, just to get some idea of what to expect. This might be a bit tricky because I know I’ve been asked and had to just send “demos” rather than actual reports, to protect the privacy of my clients.

But it’s definitely worth asking.

Questions you should probably ask

  • Can you send me an example?
  • Will it show what work has been completed for the month?
  • Will it show conversions? (customer enquiries or sales) – this is important
  • Will someone explain the reports to me if asked?

Deal breakers

  • “We cant show you”
  • “It’s just a PDF document with a bunch of squiggly lines on it – enough to confuse you and make us look good”
  • “I’ll send you something but you probably won’t understand it”

Questions or comments you should probably avoid

Before wrapping this up, I just wanted to touch on a few things, you should probably not ask or mention on the call.

Here are just a few –

Can I pay once I see results?

If you’re on a call to a quality service provider, this is going to be insulting. It’s like walking into a haidressers and saying “Cut and style my hair, and if I like it, Ill pay you”. Don’t ask that.

Do you give refunds?

Again, asking about refunds before you’ve even engaged witht he provider can be a little insulting. Ive been operating in this space a long time and I don’t know of anyone that offers refunds. If you get someone offering “free work” as a means of keeping you onhboard, then it would probably be best to avoid them.

Can I get a list of referrals?

There’s really no point in asking this, because it’s just too easy to send a list of fake clients over. Shitty SEO providers will send you the contact details of their friends and family and say “Hey, call these guys, they love me!”

Pointless really.

All you SEO people are con artists

I had someone say this to me once on a call and they turned out to be one of the worst clients I’ve ever had. They questioned and objected to EVERY recommendation I made and it was incredibly frustrating.

There’s really no point in insulting the person you’re about to do business with. Have some respect, because some of us do good work and actually care about our clients.

I’ve worked with 15 SEO agencies and they all sucked!

This is always a red flag for me because often its not the SEO agency that’s difficult, its the client. If Im on a call with someone and they tell me theyve bounced between dozens of different agencies then that tells me theyre more than likely a problem client. Sure, a few agencies may have sucked – but all of them???

Unlikely.

I know quite a lot about SEO

Don’t ever say this. You’ll sound like a total knob.

If you knew so much about SEO then you wouldn’t be calling for help.

Conclusion

I know I’ve probably upset and offended a few people with this post, but I always tell it like it is because I actually give a shit about people and don’t want to see them ripped off.

You’ve got to be cautious for sure. I mean lets face it, the SEO industry is a total mess with business owners getting ripped off left, right and centre.

Do your due diligence, be smart, take your time and make sure you hire the right person for you.

I want to hear what you’ve got to say.

Have you been ripped off? Have you worked with an agency that made your life miserable?

I want to hear your thoughts, so post them up below and I’ll respond.

I’m off, have a good weekend.

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