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In too many cases, SEO consultants get lumped into a single group: “Those guys who do Google stuff to improve your website.” In fact, there’s a wide range of different SEO solutions out there, from one-man shops to large agencies, all of which have different strengths and weaknesses and employ different techniques to improve a company’s search placements and website results.
The obvious corollary to this idea is that different clients will be better served by different SEO agencies. Though it can be tempting to take on any customer who’s willing to wave a paid invoice in your face, it’s even more important to make sure that the customers you take on are a good fit for your skills and experiences. Moving forward with clients for whom your business isn’t suited is far more likely to result in bad reviews and a tarnished reputation than to bring about positive results!
As a result, you’ll want to take a look at the following list of questions that we at Single Grain use to qualify the customers we choose to work with before committing to any future SEO projects:
1. How is your website structured?
These days, website structures range from HTML pages to sites that use popular CMS platforms to custom coded, script-based systems. Given all this variety, it’s nearly impossible to attain expert-level proficiency in every web technology, meaning that clients making use of platforms that aren’t your strongest suit may not be the right fit for your agency. Determining this before drawing up a contract will save both you and your prospective clients plenty of time!
2. How would you describe your current marketing strategy?
Similarly, companies employ a vast array of marketing strategies, from solely SEO to PPC, content marketing, and social media outreach. If your client’s dead-set on using PPC, but you can’t tell your CPCs from your CPMs, do everyone a favor and pass on the opportunity. Poorly executed projects—no matter how good your intentions are—will only damage your company’s reputation.
3. What SEO have you done to date?
Sometimes, clients come to you after having invested years into “DIY” SEO or phony SEO consultants, leaving their sites a mess of abused tags, spam backlinks, and spun content. In some cases, these sites may be too far gone to recover with a short-term SEO campaign. If so, it’s your responsibility to either turn down the project or make your client aware of just exactly how much work will be required to clean up past messes.
4. Have you engaged in any link building activities?
Learning more about a prospect’s past link building is another great way to gauge how SEO savvy prospective clients are. For example, hearing a potential client say, “Yes, we’ve focused on building high value backlinks from experts in our industry,” is a much better sign that future campaigns will run smoothly than hearing, “Yeah, we paid some guy $10 to build a couple thousand of those.”
5. Are you targeting any particular keywords?
Understanding whether or not a client is targeting particular keywords gives you some insight into whether a prospect’s expectations are reasonable. Charging a customer your base rate to secure “a couple of first page rankings” won’t do you much good when you find out that the client wants to hit the first page of the “auto insurance” SERP!
6. Has your site ever been penalized?
Helping a site to recover from a past penalty can range from being difficult to downright impossible. And while I’m not saying that you should avoid a project simply because a penalty was issued in the past, go into these types of projects with your eyes wide open to the amount of extra work they’ll require.
7. What metrics are you tracking?
We ask this question to learn more about a company’s marketing objectives (though it also helps us to gauge the business’s level of marketing sophistication). Certain metrics naturally lend themselves to improvement via SEO, which means that a company’s answer to this question helps us to determine whether or not our skills are the right fit for the organization.
8. What is your current website ROI?
This question is always an interesting one to ask, as you’ll receive answers that range from, “What’s a website ROI?” to detailed spreadsheets outlining past results.
In this instance, we aren’t asking because we only want to work with companies that know or don’t know their site’s ROI. We’re asking because it lets us know whether the company has analytics and goals tracking installed, both of which have the potential to influence the ultimate scope of the project.
It also gives us some clues as to the mindset of the organization, as companies that currently measure ROI will need to see a more detailed accounting of our activities, compared to those for whom website tracking is a new concept.
9. What separates your business from your competitors?
Before signing on with any potential customers, it’s important for our company to learn about their industries and their place within it. While it’s obviously easier to work with a client who has a well-defined value proposition compared to others in the field, it can also be a fun challenge to help a business hone in on what sets their products or services apart from their competitors before beginning an SEO campaign based around these benefits.
10. Who is your target audience?
In addition to knowing how a prospective customer’s company is special, finding out more about their target audience helps us to get a baseline feel for the types of promotions that will serve their organization best.
As an example, if we hear that a company is primarily interested in reaching young people, we can automatically assume that social media marketing will be a part of our ultimate proposal. Knowing this helps us put together ballpark estimates on-the-fly, allowing us to provide prospect’s with more accurate cost estimates earlier in the buying cycle.
11. Are you using social media marketing in conjunction with your website?
Developing some measure of perceived authority and following on social media websites is becoming a more important SEO ranking factor by the day, so it’s important for our team to understand a prospective customer’s current social media presence. If we see an existing social media marketing campaign in place, we can often find ways to improve upon it to help our clients better engage with our customers. And if we don’t, we’re often able to bring about positive website results more quickly by integrating this strategy into a customer’s SEO plan.
12. What are you hoping to get out of this SEO project?
Lastly, it’s important for us to know right off the bat what our prospective customers expect to get out of their SEO campaigns. Too many “get rich quick” types have sold SEO as a way to fast Internet results, when the reality is that a well-executed campaign may take months to show progress. Explicitly hammering out what is—and what isn’t possible—when it comes to SEO helps to keep expectations reasonable and ensure that all parties are able to get something of value out of the project.
While we don’t stick to this list exclusively (we might add or subtract other questions on a case-by-case basis), these particular queries provide us with enough information to qualify clients and move forward with the projects that are best suited to our skills.
If you have any other qualification questions you’d like to add to the list, go ahead and share your recommendations in the comments section below!