So, you’ve finally decided that you need a helping hand with your Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? There are a lot of folks out there who will talk to the talk, but here are some things you might consider asking them to ensure they can also walk the walk.

How do you do what you say you can do?
If your SEO consultant would prefer to avoid this question or isn’t particularly forthcoming in explaining their strategies, “Danger, Will Robinson!” There are some fairly unethical ways out there being used to boost ratings and those are the ones you want to avoid. For one, they can come back to harm your business instead of help it. Not a good thing. Having an electrician install an outlet so you can plug in a light is something you could probably do yourself, only—if you’re like us—you’d prefer to have a professional do it. However, running a power cord from your neighbor’s house and turning your light on that way is bound to get some unwanted attention. Same thing here with SEO. You want the light, but you want to know how you’re getting the light. See?

Do I need to supply you with anything to ensure this is a success?
Absolutely. While your SEO consultant will be busy analyzing the current state of your business, you’ll need to know how many of your resources (time, money and manpower) will be necessary to determine whether or not it’s worth it. Know where you stand and what the commitment on your end will be.

What about site accounts? Will I control the access?
Make a point to. A huge complaint businesses have is that the folks who created a business profile on various sites (the major search engines, Yellow Pages, etc.) don’t always pass along the access you need in order to take control those accounts. Would you give management control of your business to someone else? Heck no, so you need to ensure you have and keep administrative control for anything created during the SEO process.

How are spammers getting away with it?
Nothing worthwhile is ever entirely easy. Sometimes, but not often. While some search engines expect you to jump through some hoops for them, solid high rankings can actually be achieved. But yes, there are some folks out there who sell SEO results that can pay off nicely in the short run, only these somewhat questionable and fairly grey area ways of doing business really aren’t recommended since they have the potential to backfire, something you don’t want. So, a little extra time and effort to learn and play by the rules is a whole lot safer for you and your business than the quick and easy route.

Let’s talk about your clients. What’s a typical ROI (Return on Investment) for one?
Have them put their money where their mouth is. It may be down and dirty, but a SEO consultant worth his/her salt should be able to give you some sort of usable metric to go by. And if you’re not entirely sure how it relates to your business, ask. Also, beware of very generic sounding answers like “it’ll double your traffic.” Oh? Tell me more. No, really. Tell me more.

How can I know what you did worked?
While you want them to answer this question, there are ways you’ll notice, too. Have you seen an increase in e-mail requests? Has the phone been ringing more often? Has your SEO provider given you statistics from your site that show more people are finding it and clicking on it? Let them tell you how what they did for you can be measured.

How do you report progress on my site to me?
Your SEO consultant or contact should be communicating with you on a regular basis and letting you know what they’ve done, what still needs to be done, and a timeline of when it will be done. It’s your business, your investment and you want to keep up on the latest developments.

Who do I deal with when I call? You? An Administrative Assistant? Or your voicemail?
Have a designated point of contact. It can help cut through the red tape.

How far in the doghouse am I if I stop working with you?
Is your SEO consultant buying links? They shouldn’t. If so, links to your site are often controlled by the person or company you’ve hired. It would be very easy for them to threaten the removal of those links unless you’re offering up some long-term job security with them or at least an alternate deal that will make it worth their while. It’s simply best to know where you both stand on the issue before signing a contract.

How about showing me some case studies?
A company is really only as successful as they’ve made their clients. Let them give you that warm feeling that only comes when they show you who they’ve helped, how they’ve helped and the ranking that’s been achieved. Do you really want to sign on with them if they can’t?

How about a couple of references?
Real people. Real voices. None of this constantly going to voicemail thing. It’s detrimental.

Have any customers parted ways with you? Why?
It’s a PC way of putting it, but it happens since not every business has a perfect record with every customer and not every customer has a perfect record with everyone they hire. And since it happens, why not talk about it and ask what the SEO consultant has learned from the experience; good, bad or indifferent? The business you hire should be professional enough about it to admit any shortcomings without blaming or sounding entirely snarky about the other party.

Why should I go with you instead of all the other SEO companies out there?
They’re there to make an improvement for your company, no ifs, ans or buts about it. Also remember that you get what you pay for. You may want that $9.99 oil change, but do you really want that too-good-to-be-true $199 a month SEO package? The only thing worse than knowing what you’ll get for it is not knowing what you won’t. Believe me, there’s a difference. You want to know why they deserve your business? Let them tell you.

We will.

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