In an effort to drive a business forward, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) always comes into play. But SEO is much more than finding the right keywords and building backlinks; it is a practice always in evolution that is only efficient when it becomes part of a greater marketing strategy.
While managing SEO in-house could have been possible in the past, it has become increasingly more challenging to create measurable results with this strategy. So, outsourcing the services of a professional SEO agency is a necessary investment – especially as you need to dedicate your time to managing your business’s operations and driving its growth.
This is not to say that any SEO company will do. Just like each business is unique, an SEO strategy should be tailored to an organization’s vision and goals, respecting its budget and focusing on a specific objective.
Additionally, a mistake in the process of finding your SEO consultant can lead to penalties and catastrophic results that can take years to be recovered.
At the same time, just like in any relationship, the fault never lies on just one side, and knowing what to ask for and what to expect is just as crucial as identifying a respectable SEO agency.
We know that, as the market for NJ SEO agencies expands, it can become increasingly challenging for businesses to find the perfect match. So, how can you make sure that you have found a long-term partner that will execute the perfect SEO strategy and deliver the results you want?
Knowing your company and setting expectations
Below, you will find the questions to ask your prospects once you have a list of viable SEO agencies to interview. But don’t forget that it all starts with your business, brand traits, and goals.
An SEO company might rank well on Google, have all the certifications you need, and tick all the boxes. However, it might just not be the right partner for the goals that you want to achieve. So, before trying to find your way in the maze of SEO companies, experts, and consultants, it is important to be clear on your objectives, desired outcomes, and expectations.
Who is my buyer persona?
SEO is an irreplaceable piece of the digital marketing puzzle. However, no marketing strategy will be effective if it is not specifically tailored to a specific target market and demographic.
At the same time, nobody understands your business and its goals better than you do. So, you should expect your SEO agency to ask you about your target audience when trying to generate the right traffic and target certain users.
If you have run a marketing campaign or conducted marketing research, the chances are that you have started to get to know your audience.
Creating a buyer persona is an excellent way to deepen this relationship and better understand who is receiving your marketing campaign’s message.
You can create a buyer persona from information such as:
- Your sale’s team feedback
- Forms and surveys on your website
- Data and trends that can be drawn from your contact database
When mapping this data, you can find out more about your customer’s personal job, income, age, family, and personality traits – which will reflect those of your target audience.
What type of SEO services do I need?
If you have any experience working with SEO agencies, you know that each of them offers different services (and many of the same). Indeed, some will specialize in one or more of the following fields:
- On-site or On-page SEO
- Local SEO
- eCommerce SEO
- Technical SEO
- Link Building
- SEO-friendly content marketing
- Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
- Amazon SEO
- App Store Optimization
The services you need depend on the communication channels you use, your audience, the nature of your business, and your goals.
For example, suppose you are a small florist in NJ committed to serving the local community. In this case, practices such as Local SEO can help you be more visible and discoverable by potential customers in the area who are actively looking for the services you offer. However, if you are a large eCommerce store with an international reach, eCommerce SEO might be better strategies to put into place.
What role will SEO play in my marketing strategy?
SEO is only a slice of a holistic marketing strategy that you should be working on. However, this set of practices plays a crucial role in making your business increasingly visible and discoverable on Google’s search engines.
For example, you might have a winning email marketing campaign that is producing sales. However, how can you increase your contact list without new users discovering your website?
SEO does that. It allows your website to rank higher on search engines for the products and services you sell, making it more mobile-friendly, improving the User Experience (UX), and establishing brand awareness. Thus driving more users to your site, and if you have a clear call-to-action (CTA) promoting your email opt-in, you can increase your email list.
Of course, the point of employing the services of an SEO agency is that they will know about SEO techniques in depth. However, understanding what SEO is, provides a great way for you to develop realistic expectations about the results you can achieve through it.
What results should i expect to see from the SEO efforts?
Once you understand what SEO does, it is important to know what results you wish to obtain from it. Because SEO has many branches, you might be wasting budget and time on aspects that might not help you achieve your goals. Therefore, before engaging an SEO agency, be clear on what your company needs to achieve. Any reputable SEO company in New Jersey (or anywhere for that matter) will be asking you that!
Some of the results you might be aiming for include:
- Ranking your website higher on search engine
- Ranking some pages higher for specific keywords
- Get better or more qualified leads.
- Increase organic traffic
- Increase sales
How do I determine what services/strategies I need for my business?
When partnering with an SEO expert, you will want your strategy to be comprehensive and holistic. There are three main aspects to consider:
- Technical SEO – aims to improve your website’s structure, code, speed, mobile-friendliness, and navigation. Technical SEO is extremely important in optimizing your website for crawling and indexing. Some practices will include reviewing 404 errors, redirects, canonical URLs, and SSL and HTTPS.
- User experience (UX) – this aspect aims to optimize your users’ experience on the website by improving content, reactiveness, quality, mobile-friendliness, and customer journey. These elements, as well as visuals and design, are part of on-page SEO.
- Off-page SEO – this aspect focuses on increasing the authority of your domain and pages. It does so through strong link-building strategies, earning links, and improving the quality and relevance of content and mentions on third party sites.
While your company might focus on one of these aspects, they should all be present in a comprehensive strategy. In fact, while it is important to have a website that provides valid information, you should also consider international trends – such as the fact that over half of users use their phones for research and purchases.
How do I set goals specific to my business?
If this is your first time partnering with an SEO agency, you might struggle to identify what realistic goals you want to see out of these efforts. For example, you might work towards generally increasing sales or visibility.
However, based on your business and marketing objectives, a respectable SEO agency will help you gain clear expectations about the SEO campaign results.
Some ways in which they might do so include:
- Breaking down your goals into milestones
- Using KPIs (key performance indicator) to measure results efficiently
- Creating a detailed roadmap based on tested processes
- Helping you set the right expectations for each stage
How much should I expect to pay for a NJ SEO agency?
Each digital marketing agency will set different prices and might use different payment structures. For budgeting purposes, the best thing to do is look into industry standards and payment options. Keep in mind some agencies focus on small businesses and others focus on enterprise businesses. Prices will vary greatly across these different focus areas. For example we rarely engage in SEO projects under $5k/month.
A 2019 survey conducted by Ahref.com shows that over 40% of SEO agencies offer a variety of pricing options. At the same time, most small business SEO companies will stick with one pricing model, which can be one of the following:
- Monthly retainers – the average fee is between $500 -$1,000, but it depends on the company’s size and the type of SEO work done. It almost never exceeds $5,000.
- Hourly pricing – average hourly prices are between $100-$150, but almost 20% of rates are below $100. Hourly fees don’t often exceed $150 per hour
- Per-project pricing – the average cost of an SEO project falls between $500 -$1,000, but larger projects can cost as much as $25,000.
Other important statistics to keep in mind include the fact that SEO experts serving a local community charge less than those who work remotely and have international reach. When picking the best SEO agency for your needs, it is always recommended to shop around. But don’t forget that if the cost is too low, the SEO agency might be inexperienced or using black-hat techniques.
What type of contractual commitment should I expect?
The type of contractual commitment an SEO company can offer you might impact whether that’s the right one for you. As we have seen, almost half of the SEO companies will have different pricing models to choose from, so you can pick a long-term project or just a quick fix for issues or guidance.
Nonetheless, fixed-cost packages might not always be the right choice for your needs. They might be more budget-friendly and can make it easier to budget for this expenditure, but they can lack the flexibility you need to benefit from an agile SEO strategy.
At the same time, keep in mind that it can take time for SEO results to start showing, and a short contract might not offer you the ROI you wanted. So, you might want to consider 6-12 months-long contracts with the right agency.
What am I expected to know?
If you are hiring an SEO company for their expertise, you can sit back, relax, and let them do the job, right? Well, that’s not always the case. Indeed, in the process of finding and hiring an SEO agency, there are some red flags to keep in mind. Here are some of the crucial ones:
- Find out whether they follow Google’s best practices. You can ask that directly to your point of contact. Be prepared at your meeting by finding an overlook here.
- Beware of SEO experts claiming to know the Google algorithm. With 160 billion in revenue, and the value of its technology, Google won’t rush to give away its algorithm, period. While expert agencies might have tremendous experience and know-how, they do not know the algorithm.
- SEO experts claiming to know how the algorithm will change. There are hundreds of algorithm changes per year, and it is impossible to foresee the major ones. You can learn about the ones that brought major changes here.
It is also important to investigate the techniques they will use to make sure that no penalties will come your way!
Finding the Right SEO Company
Once you are clear on your SEO goals and know what’s expected of you, it is time to search for the perfect SEO company. Below, you will find how to find and qualify the SEO companies you have found, so you can prepare for your discovery meetings.
How do I find SEO agencies to consider?
Unless you personally know an SEO agency that you can trust, the best way to find one is by searching on Google “SEO NJ” (or any other geographical location. However, it is extremely important to keep in mind what you have learned about SEO.
An SEO company that shows at the top of the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) is not necessarily the best one for your needs. It might have gotten there through black hat techniques or spamming. So, before hiring it just because it ranks higher, make sure you complete all the background research.
Do they offer a free consultation?
Once you have found a valid SEO company that you feel like you could partner with, you should ask whether they offer a free consultation. This is a precious opportunity to get to know the company and speak to the team. Even if a free consultation is not advertised on their website, they might still be open to speak to you – take advantage of this opportunity!
What’s their portfolio like?
Checking the company’s SEO portfolio is a great way to know what to expect from them, especially as SEO results can take months to roll in. Checking the company’s results for other clients can help you choose whether that’s what you want for your own company.
Companies that have a restricted portfolio are not necessarily bad choices, but they might be less experienced. Or, the organization might be the new brainchild of experienced SEO professionals. In this case, checking the profile of the owners can help you understand more of the company.
What’s their website like?
This might sound obvious, but does their website look professional and up-to-date? After all, a competent SEO company should use the industry’s best practices on its own website first! Spend some time on their website to check their content, pricing options, services, and testimonials.
Is it easy to find the people behind the brand?
SEO can truly make a difference in how successful an organization will be. Because of this, it is crucial that you pick a company that you have an affinity with and resonates with your values. If you cannot find any face or name behind the brand, it can be challenging to feel this affinity. Instead, if it is easy to find the owner, founder, or team, you are already on the right path.
What’s the team like?
SEO is not a static set of rules that one person can implement following a simple template. Instead, it is a dynamic practice that requires the expertise and continuous input of several SEO professionals. Another sign that you have found the right company is a varied team of SEO experts who can put their knowledge at your disposal.
That is because trustworthy and capable SEO agencies would not think twice about proudly showing their team of professionals.
Secondly, a diverse team that includes professionals from various backgrounds indicates that no aspect of an SEO strategy will be left to chance, and you can leverage up-to-date expertise.
How do I check references, and what should I ask?
If you have found an internet marketing company that ticks all the boxes, you should ask them to provide references. This means speaking to current or previous clients that they have done work for.
Before entering into a contract that you can’t break for several months, it is necessary to make sure that the SEO agency has, in fact, executed several successful projects, ideally similar to your proposed project.
Some ways to check these references include:
- Social proof, such as feedback or testimonials on their website
- Case studies
- Asking them directly
Bear in mind that a trustworthy company that has tried to implement innovative strategies won’t be ashamed to say that they needed a little readjustment if that’s what happened!
When examining a company’s previous work experience, make sure you pick examples close to your industry, target audience, or business nature.
Hiring the Right SEO Company: What do I ask to qualify the SEO companies?
Now that you know what to expect from the right company, let’s find out what questions you should ask upon hiring them. In fact, during your free consultation – if there is one, you should arrive prepared and ready to put the SEO company on the spot. If they are as trustworthy and capable as they claim to say, they won’t have trouble answering these questions. Start with the ones below.
How do you know this strategy will work for me?
In SEO, like in business, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and an expert agency will know that. Asking them this question is a great way to find out more about planning to approach your project.
When listening to their answer, see if you can point out specific information or detail about your brand, goals, or project. If the company you have picked is serious, they would have analyzed your situation and created a strategy based on specific research and market analysis.
Oppositely, if their pitch seems generic and a bit sales-y, they might have just been using the same answer for every customer!
Additionally, SEO experts understand that this field is always evolving, and what worked yesterday might not be as effective today. A company that can confidently speak about tested strategies and new ones that are being implemented gives you the peace of mind of knowing that they will always keep themselves up-to-date.
What SEO tools do you use?
This is one of the most important questions to ask, and you should be informed enough about SEO software, not to be taken by surprise. Indeed, some SEO companies can achieve extremely fast results thanks to automated tools. While these tools might lead to short-term gains, they will not grow your business in the long run. Tools are no replacement for humans, but we definitely need software to automate procedures and scale efficiencies.
When it comes down to the tools used to implement a certain SEO strategy, your company might expand on several types of applications and strategies, including:
- Reporting Tools – they allow your SEO company to automate the process of creating precise reports combining analytics, traffic data, keyword rankings, and the other SEO metrics you have agreed upon.
- Technical SEO tools – These are applications which allow your company to scan your site for issues and resolve them quickly.
- Link building tools – they allow you to conduct in-depth backlink research
- Research tools – they can help you understand your audience, conduct keyword research, and find leads.
- Monitoring tools – allow you to monitor some pages and quickly resolve security issues. One of the most important tools in this category is Google Search Console.
Each SEO company will be using tools to complete and automate its processes and strategies. These tools are excellent when used properly to create more precise results and reports while also speeding up the completion of tasks and deliverables.
However, there are some tools, such as pure link-building tools, that can be extremely damaging for your website and go against Google’s best practices – something that can cost you a penalty! Learning how to distinguish these tools can help you stay away from the wrong SEO company.
Who is my point of contact?
Communication is crucial, especially when your business’s success is at stake. Most respectable companies will be able to tell you who your point of contact is. However, if they don’t assign anybody or you are put in contact with an intern, you should opt to move onto another company.
How will I be involved?
Of course, deciding to outsource your SEO strategy can help you gain some time to dedicate to running your business. However, this does not mean that you can just forget about all of it! And, if the SEO agency tells you otherwise, then you should look for another vendor.
Instead, ask what your specific role will be and how you can help. They are likely to require access to analytics and other business information, which is important for the strategy’s success. At the same time, opening clear and streamlined communication channels from day one is paramount. If they are a capable and trustworthy agency, they will be the first to push for regular updates and communication!
What are your processes for keyword research?
Keyword research and link building are only some of the aspects of an SEO strategy, and they have been around for a while. However, they have evolved over the years, and today they require much more than just finding the right keywords and scattering them into a blog post. Keyword research is about understanding the user intent, for which, in turn, you will need to know who your users are.
What are you processes for link building?
Link building has evolved over the years and can be the most time-intensive and laborious SEO process. When done correctly, link building can increase rankings and drive more referral traffic. When done incorrectly, link building can backfire and result in a Google penalty. This can’t be stressed enough (and deserves its own post), understanding the SEO agency’s link building process is absolutely critical. Make sure they are adhering to Google best practices.
How do you make sure that you are using up-to-date strategies?
As we have seen above, following Google’s best practices (or white hat strategies) is paramount if you are looking for long-term gains. In fact, this is the only way to prevent penalties and ensure constant growth.
However, the best SEO strategies to follow are often dictated by Google’s algorithm, which determines what websites hold the highest authority and offer users the best information. But this algorithm, which used to change over 500 times per year, recently has been “improved” over 2,000 times a year!
Of course, not all of these updates are radical, and they don’t mean that your entire SEO strategy until that point needs to be discarded. However, because these improvements are there to improve the user experience, they might change your site’s ranking. That is why your SEO team must play by the rules and always be updated on the latest developments.
How do you report on progress and updates?
You should be able to receive comprehensive reports and updates on the results achieved. At the same time, you don’t want the SEO company you have hired to spend most of its time putting together and sending you reports! Generally, you should aim to obtain monthly reports, but if you have more specific needs in terms of frequency, make sure the agency can accommodate that.
Instead, in terms of content, the reports will vary depending on your goals. But they should all include some key metrics such as:
- A summary of the activities that took place since the last report. It should include any marketing efforts launched such as a blog posts, acquired links, and pages optimized
- Updates on search rankings for your website, pages, and targeted keywords
- Changes in search traffic. This is one of the most powerful SEO metrics and can help you understand progress. Make sure the report includes a comparison with last year’s and last month’s figures.
- The number of conversions. This is what truly translates into results and sales. The number of conversions refers to the number of website visitors that have taken action such as a purchase, download, or sign up.
Remember that, even if the number of visitors is increasing or your website is ranking higher, you can only see Return on Investment in conversions.
What happens if I terminate the contract?
This might be an awkward final question to ask during your initial meetings. However, often SEO contracts with agencies can last between 6 and 12 months. And, something might happen in these extended time-frames. You should know the options if your agency is underdelivering or no longer suitable for your goals.
Even if you are thinking about a long-term partnership with your agency, make sure you ask questions such as:
- Can you continue the campaign on your own?
- Who keeps the rights of the work?
- Do you need to continue paying?
How long does it take to see results?
If you are paying for a service, you would want to see results. This is entirely normal, but you should also set the right expectations about when you will see these results. Firstly, you should consider what results you are aiming for are. If you just want to see your company at position 1 on Google search, this can take months or years. However, in the meanwhile, there are other factors worth considering.
Firstly, SEO is designed to increase the crawlability, relevance, and ranking of your website. This can take between four and six months to start happening.
Secondly, other metrics are also indicators that the strategy is performing well, such as:
- Impressions – how many times users saw your website or pages
- Clicks – how many times interested users clicked on your pages on SERPs
- Positioning – your rankings
- Sessions – visits from organic searches
- Visitors – number of unique visitors
Another benefit of analyzing these metrics is that it can tell you a lot about your users, including demographics, what type of content they prefer to consume, their frustrations, and needs.
While we all approach an SEO company with the idea of seeing our company on the first page of Google, the reality is that won’t happen overnight, and if not done correctly, may not happen ever.
Why should we hire your company?
The last, most important question can tell you a lot about the company you are considering to hire for SEO services. When asking this question, some red flags might include guarantees such as faster results, lower prices, and more backlinks. These are all signals that the company is working towards fast, short-term results and might not keep in mind quality and Google’s best practices.
Instead, make sure you are placing the right investment in this project. The right SEO company can increase your business’s ranking on Google. In turn, this can help you see your organization’s value and revenue skyrocket. However, SEO is not a fast process and will not come cheap.
The right company will be able to point out past and respectable clients and convince you that they are, in fact, the best company for your project.
Looking at the overpopulated market of SEO agencies, it can feel extremely intimidating having to pick one – especially when your business’s success is at stake. However, the right SEO company will be ready to answer all of your questions, keep the communication channels open, and help you create realistic expectations about your SEO goals. And, of course, make sure you are patient – with the right company, results will come.