1. What questions should a company ask their SEO Agency?
As organizations continue to see the value in SEO, many are using agencies or consultants to support those goals, due to lack of strong internal acumen, or simply the resource and time requirements to strategize and implement proper ongoing SEO program. I would split this answer into two categories, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask from each bucket. Of course many customized questions arise as related to the industry or particular situation. I will assume that the basics will be asked, in terms of SEO processes, focus areas between IT and marketing, and so-forth. Here are 3X3 questions to begin to separate the wheat from the chaff:
What to ask if you are hiring a new agency?
How much time will you allocate to strategy, research, and execution of SEO in relation to the project/account management side?
For some industries – especially those that are regulated or with retail situations where a lot of third party vendors and brands are involved, there is a greater project management time requirement. However you want a commitment to efficiency here in most cases, but should understand that it may take some ramp up time to get into a good groove.
How much experience do you have with our industry? Please cite examples and discuss some of the ways you creatively developed client relevance and authority.
Pretty cut and dry and will certainly expose true experience versus lack thereof. People in highly competitive markets that are considering using an agency for SEO should try to align with SEOs that have fought the similar battles – there really is no substitute for experience.
Have you ever had any clients banned or penalized by search engines?
Again depending on industry – disclosure of this type of “war scar” may not always be a bad thing. However the answer here should be a resounding “no” in most cases, perhaps coupled with a description of the ongoing volatile nature of organic rankings and how algorithm updates can and in some cases have caused temporary or permanent drops. This type of question I feel is a great trust builder, and is best asked in-person so that body language is evident.
What do you ask if you have an existing agency?
Could you share with me some ways that you are using our paid media results and/or how you are integrating RM, branding, or customer insight data we have shared?
SEO in a bottle will remain exactly that, from both human and search engines’ perspectives. Obviously, if you haven’t been sharing this data with your SEO, or you haven’t made your multiple agencies play nicely and brainstorm together, you cannot ask this question. If the SEO hasn’t asked you for it, it certainly is partially their fault as well.
How can you help us to identify what positive and negative user experiences may be happening with our organic traffic? How can you help improve this?
Any SEO worth their weight in salt these days has to understand that lead quality is important. 3-7 years ago, people just wanted traffic traffic traffic, and for some branding campaigns that still may be the case. However, more traffic without more conversions is the same as getting number one rankings for zero volume terms, and both can be the sign of not-ready-for-prime-time SEO in my opinion.
How is our site technical performance helping or hurting us today, and what can we do to improve?
If you have hired an SEO that fumbles around with this question, then you may have hired a “content marketer” or “link builder” or “social media expert,” thinking they were an SEO. I have long defended my own lack of being able to write full code, but I am also very aware of what goes on in Webmaster Tools and why.
2. What are the pros/cons of an agency versus a consultant?
To be clear I currently have worked and work in both an agency role and a consulting role for Search and Social Media. These are my personal opinions. In a nutshell, if your organization has the people that can be trained both on the IT and marketing sides, to implement and begin to draft their own strategies then a consultant is likely going to be the better value. However, many people overestimate their own teams’ capabilities, and often end up having to outsource additional work that a consultant may recommend, and that an agency would likely have resources to handle.
#1 Agency pro versus consultant: Agencies often have far superior ability to scale projects and take on additional pieces of the workflow, and often are able to leverage cross-industry and vertical experiences to bring highly customized strategies to the table. Of course, you never know how much work the agency is outsourcing…
#1 Consultant pro versus agency: With one person all the time is directly billable towards work performed on the strategy and brainstorming/iteration, hand holding, and quality assurance after implementation. Of course, you never know how much work the consultant is outsourcing…
3. What tools do you find indispensable (that aren’t proprietary) for SEO?
Obviously Webmaster Tools from Google and Bing are indispensable. The engines themselves and their advanced search refinements as well as other signals coming from suggest/auto-complete and “related searches,” coupled with a keen strategist’s mind, are remarkably useful. For enterprise level toolsets that combines many other tools, I have had great experiences working with the BrightEdge tool, and look forward to being able to work with Conductor Searchlight, Sycara, SearchMetrics, and Linkdex at some point in the future. As for more specialized tools – I like a few of the text browsers and I find URIValet to be an awesome “quick checker” for technical health issues.
What are your favorite wordpress plugins?
I haven’t used these much since not working with a ton of WordPress sites. However I do have client that is using the All in One SEO Pack and given the small size of the site it works fine for me. Based on what numerous friends have told/shown me, I really plan to take the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin for a drive on some upcoming projects.
How has on-site SEO changed in the last 3 years?
Gone is the ability to simply churn out semantically-connected content in a nice hierarchical manner on a Web site in order to drive expanded rankings for long tail and business-crucial keywords. The content-is-king purists will likely yell at this, but the authority signals are moving higher and higher on the totem pole in my broad opinion, and with increasingly complex algorithms that can tell real buzz from bullshit, the content will need real love to work!
What is the future of SEO?
The future of SEO in 20 years is that “baked in” by most developers, content authors/approvers, legal/compliance folks, and other relevant IT and marketing teams tasked with digital and integrated marketing. SEO continues to be affected by personalization, and the more that Google and Bing know about their searchers, the more likely that some sort of luck is going to be required to gain consistent exposure for top revenue- or lead-driving terms.
Planning for the future of SEO means keeping one thing in mind: is it user friendly? (aka: Do the people that I want to like it and talk about it to their friends/online communities since the content is actually appealing and shareable)
Last image courtesy of Lee Odden of Top Rank Marketing
Chris Boggs is a specialist with 10 years experience in search engine optimization and paid search advertising. Chris joined Brulant from Avenue A | Razorfish in 2007 as the Manager of the SEO team, and Rosetta acquired Brulant in 2008. His current role involves working across channels and verticals to promote cohesive strategies and synergies between campaigns and Best Practices.
Chris has worked in Search Engine Marketing since 2000, consulting, “in-house”, and for agencies, which gives him a unique perspective. Chris has worked with organizations ranging in size from small businesses to Fortune 100, within all major industries including extensively in Healthcare/Pharmaceutical, Financial Services, Consumer Products and Retail, and B2B.
Chris is actively involved in the SEM Community. Chris has served as the President of SEMPO the Search Engine Marketing Professional’s Organization, and been active on the board of advisors since 2006,
He is a regular speaker at major search marketing conferences, including Search Engine Strategies, Pubcon, and dozens of other industry related events.