December 28, 2011: With search engine optimization being one of the most effective tactics for the B2B marketer, budgeting for SEO will certainly remain available in 2012. That said, with almost no barrier to entry and a limited industry standards, choosing an SEO vendor can be a precarious proposition.
While it does not surprise us to find a lack of quality information about SEO when meeting new prospects, this certainly becomes troubling when that organization has been burned by a bad SEO relationship in the past. Misconceptions and SEO fraud hurt the industry in general, evidenced recently in a few mainstream examples.
If your organization is looking for the right SEO partner, or you know of one that is, here is a list of questions to consider when interviewing the prospective vendor. Hopefully this will help your organization avoid SEO fraud and build a foundation for an effective SEO partnership moving forward.
- Does the SEO vendor ask questions about your business?
How interested is the SEO in your business model and sales process? Good search marketers will tie SEO strategy to business objectives and overall marketing initiatives; not just keyword rankings and search traffic.
- How does the SEO vendor explain their SEO process?
While it should not be expected for an SEO vendor to give away all of their experience, basic philosophies about SEO and practical tactics should be explained and they relate to broader business goals and have been applied to previous client example.
- What benchmarks does the SEO vendor typically recommend for measuring performance?
While an organization may have its own KPI’s in place already, they will also turn to the SEO vendor for recommendations on performance measurement. In most circumstances, benchmarks should include a mix of business performance and production-specific SEO measurements.
- Does the SEO vendor have demonstrable client achievements?
Keyword rankings are only part of the puzzle. The SEO vendor should come prepared with case studies (comparable ones if possible) illustrating background, challenges, and results.
- For larger SEO vendors, define the experience of the individuals and team.
In larger agencies, it is unlikely the SEO professional on the business development side will work day to day on the SEO program. Make sure to obtain the credentials of the team that will work on the program on a regular basis as well as at the strategic level.
- How does the SEO vendor manage client projects?
Project management is an underrated skill in executing SEO strategy or SEO campaigns. How the SEO professional will collaborate and deliver client communication is important to establish and agree upon at the start.
- How does the prospective SEO vendor keep pace with industry innovation?
What publications, blogs, and resources does the SEO vendor trust or have at their disposal? While the search space can change rapidly, there are several fundamental best practices as well. It is not practical to expect an SEO professional to know “everything” but they should have access to resources (or people) for reference.
- How active is the SEO/SEO company in the industry?
Do members of the SEO team write or contribute to industry publications, blogs, or communities? What type of social presence to members of the SEO team have in places like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook? Being active in the industry can be a sign that the team as a whole keeps pace with trends and advancements in the space.
- What memberships and organizations is the SEO/SEO vendor part of?
While it is debatable how valuable membership in a search-related organization might be, member affiliation can be a sign of overall industry involvement. Just keep in mind if there are any requirements (outside of a financial commitment) in being a member. For example, becoming an AdWords Certified Partner requires explicit qualifications.
- Will (can) the SEO vendor provide references?
Once the SEO passes all tests and interviews, it is still important to get client and/or partner references. These references may also help validate some of the questions asked above as well.
Hopefully these questions provide greater depth to your organizations’ interview process when selecting an SEO vendor. Good luck in your explorations for the right SEO partner and best wishes for internet marketing success in the new year!