20 Questions to Ask Before You Hire an SEO Agency in Post Panda/Penguin Era

SEO is one of the most effective long term marketing strategies available to businesses that would like to increase their online exposure, but deciding who to hire for SEO work isn’t always an easy decision. Some SEO firms take shortcuts that can temporarily boost rankings, but harm your reputation in the long run. Others have limited experience and may not provide the value you’re looking for.

How can you decide which SEO firm to work with? These 20 questions should help you weed out the bad choices and focus on the most promising agencies.

Question #1 – What do You Know About the Recent Google Algorithm Updates?

Any SEO agency should be familiar with the Panda and Penguin updates, but there are other Google search algorithm updates that they should have knowledge of as well. These include the Exact Match Domain update, 7 Result SERPs, DMCA Penalties, Link Warnings, the Knowledge Graph, and more. Follow the link above to see an infographic of all the updates. Any SEO firm should be able to tell you what these updates did and why they matter.

Question #2 – How Do You Identify the Cause of a Penalty?

We’ve noticed several agencies have misconceptions about Google search algorithm updates, and many of them are incapable of differentiating Panda and Penguin penalties. If you find yourself penalized, it’s important to understand what caused the penalty in the first place, in order to resolve the issue effectively.

If you fail to identify the true cause of the penalty, your actions could do more harm than good. If you took a hack saw to your link profile when the true cause of the penalty was your content, this would be a tremendous waste of resources and it would hurt your rankings. See the link above to find out what your agency should know before you hire them.

Question #3 – What is Your Technical Experience?

Much of SEO is an art, and those who think it’s a purely technical exercise are very wrong. Despite this, it’s important to work with a firm with some technical skills, including knowledge of:

  • Server level redirection
  • Dynamic rules for unique titles and meta descriptions
  • An SEO friendly information architecture
  • A consistent URL naming convention
  • A logical hierarchy that doesn’t produce duplicate content
  • Proper handling of 404s and server codes
  • Optimized coding that loads fast
  • High quality user interfaces and user experiences
  • Responsive web design

While an SEO doesn’t necessarily need to do all of this work themselves, they need to have enough knowledge of these subjects in order to communicate with a web designer effectively, providing effective instructions in order to avoid conflicts, errors, and wasted resources. Google does consider the internal design and coding of a website when it assigns rankings, and SEOs should be aware of this.

Question #4 – How Experienced are Your Content Producers?

The core goal of SEO is to become an established authority on a topic. This can’t be accomplished without the help of a skilled team of writers and content producers. High quality content is the backbone of any long term SEO strategy. Any SEO firm you work with must be able to produce high quality content on a consistent basis. None of the following strategies can work otherwise:

  • Viral marketing
  • Guest posting
  • Relationship building
  • Social media marketing
  • Content marketing

Skilled content is key to all of these.

Question #5 – Do You Employ Social Media Optimization? How?

SEOs can’t ignore social media anymore. It directly influences rankings and it’s an important relationship building tool. Relationships, meanwhile, are crucial for link building and many other tasks. The modern SEO should understand how to:

  • Build influential relationships using social media
  • Produce content that is social media friendly
  • Expose content via social networks
  • Encourage sharing activity without being pushy
  • Convert social subscribers into email subscribers and eventually customers

Question #6 – What is Your Link Building Strategy?

This is the perfect question to ask up front. Any SEO that can’t answer this question in plain English is not to be trusted. They should understand how to build links in the wake of Panda and Penguin, and they should take advantage of advanced link building strategies in order to ensure long term results. Avoid any SEO who still:

  • Submits your site to a long list of directories nobody outside of SEO has ever heard of
  • Submits articles to article directories
  • Guest posts on obscure blogs that never send referral traffic
  • Uses any form of automated link building
  • Outright buys links

Instead, your agency should be engaged in link building strategies that make sense as marketing efforts such as:

  • Guest posting on popular blogs that send either targeted referral traffic or massive amounts of traffic
  • Collaborating with influencers on mutually beneficial projects
  • Building exposure through social networks, forums, and advertisements in order to build natural links
  • Any creative link building strategy that sends referral traffic

Question #7 – What Are Your Relationship Building and Outreach Skills?

No legitimate SEO strategy is complete without relationship building and outreach. It’s virtually impossible to earn worthwhile links without these skills. It’s certainly necessary in order to earn the hard links, and the type of links that your competitors won’t have. These skills are absolutely necessary in order to build a truly diverse and robust link profile that will stand the test of time.

Question #8 – How Does Your Team Adapt to the Needs of Different Clients?

This is a very important question to have an answer to. As we’ve said before, the core value of SEO is becoming an established authority. SEO agencies are experts in SEO, not your niche. How can they help you become an established expert in your field?

There are many legitimate answers to this question, but almost all of them will involve you. The answer may also rely on hiring experts or seeking out proprietary data. It certainly relies on extensive research, fast learning, and a dynamic skill set. Push hard on this one. It should be very clear how your SEO agency plans to help you become an established expert in your subject matter.

Question #9 – What is Your Knowledge of Content Marketing?

As QuickSprout has said, content marketing is the new SEO. Content marketing is hard work, but as we’ve said, content marketing isn’t rocket science either. By involving you in the process, in combination with skilled writers, graphic designers, and other content producers, it is possible to reach a wide audience and attract massive attention online.

Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya

Co-Founder & VP of Marketing at E2M
Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of E2M, a digital marketing agency and MoveoApps.com, a mobile apps development company. Pratik has been featured on sites like Forbes, Moz, SEW, SEJ, KISSmetrics, Entrepreneur and FastCompany to name a few. Hit him up on Twitter @DholakiyaPratik for a quick chat.
Pratik Dholakiya

Comments are closed.

24 thoughts on “20 Questions to Ask Before You Hire an SEO Agency in Post Panda/Penguin Era

  1. Well said! This article had all the questions for which i have answered for past 4 years.

    Point #14: If we are honest, we will never get the deal. They expect guaranteed results before handing over. :)

  2. This is an excellent list! Another way to phrase #15 is to ask, “What’s your vision of what SEO will look like in two or three years, and why?”

  3. great list, it would be worth also asking how they use analytics to make the most of trends (seasonal or otherwise) and how they use analytics to shape the future of the site (how they know what to change etc)

  4. Excellent list of questions . Both the business owners and SEO Agencies should aware of this questions

  5. This article fulfills my all requirements, I was having a meeting in my office regarding the same issues of SEOs, I had a good discussion with my seniors regarding the same and I saw this in my facebook page and can not stop myself to read this article. Truly said, it is very good research on particular topic. Many of the companies who still using some Traditional SEO techniques which they have to leave and use good and ethical ways.

    Thanks for focus again.

  6. WOW! What an article you’ve written. The questions are all straight related to SEO and are worth asking, SEO has become a great profession in the worl of digital marketing.

    Loved the article.! Thumbs up.

  7. You said in Q6
    Avoid any SEO who still:

    ” Submits your site to a long list of directories nobody outside of SEO has ever heard of
    Submits articles to article directories.”
    I agree wit h you but still we can submit High PR good quality web directories and HIgh PR Good quality article directories.

    Any body against me ? iam waiting for reply………..

  8. Has Google even released an update list lately? The “Search Quality Highlights” on the Inside Search blog? I noticed they stopped that one a long time ago.

  9. Pratik, fantastic article!

    I am putting this on my private list of favorites to re-read every once in a while.

    I did read it over more than once, in an effort to absorb it as fully as possible, and want to point out a typo to you.

    Question #20

    “should appear ‘spammy’ or manipulative.”

    I’m pretty positive you meant to say “shouldn’t” appear…

  10. Good Article! I feel that some agencies are only interested in taking the money and do a 5 minutes job, which will bring devastating effects for the long term of your business. It is important to have a tailored campaign to your business and budget.

  11. Excellent list of questions, something we do is be as transparent as possible with clients right from the start. Transparency has become such an integral part of how we win clients and new business.

    These are questions that we generally go through with a client, we’ll often ask similar to these and see what knowledge they have of SEO and related topics. Some clients just don’t want to know but we’ll make sure we go through a presentation so they understand what we are actually doing and how the basics of SEO work, what the dangers are etc.

    Being proactive and telling them the information first so they don’t have to ask goes a long way in building trust. We often do a “what is SEO” presentation and then spend a couple of hours doing an SEO Q&A session with the client.

    With regards to link building, we’ll show them how we do it, we show them the tools we use such as http://linkprospector.citationlabs.com/ to find links and then how we analyse the link prospect, email prospects, ring them etc to make contact and get the valuable links.

    Once they see the value in what you do and understand and how much effort goes into a campaign it assures the client that their money is not being wasted and they understand where it’s going.

    Covering this list combined with complete transparency (and a few other points!!) with a potential client is a sure way to win the contract.

  12. I love this article so much. I’ve been with the SEO (my company now converted it to Digital Marketing) for just over a year but I was never thought about the things mentioned above. Thanks a lot for helping newbies like me especially when doing self-study. Kudos!

  13. Great to see a expertise post.

    I think it covers all the questions related to SEO agency/firm. But still I would like to make a note of 2 more questions that can be added to the list.

    1. What system do you use to mange if the flow of projects is huge / increases? The answer should be a finest base-camp.
    2. Can you please proof read some of the projects that you have achieved very good results/rankings/traffic? The answer should be latest case-study.

    Thanks Pratik!

    M R Krishna

  14. Great list!

    One more question: How many clients do you take per niche/market?

    Some companies take too many clients per niche and if you are their client then, how do you know they will rank you higher than the others?

  15. hey, this is interesting how you setup the selection for your SEO agency. I totally agree with the questions that must be raised before infliating with any SEO agency. This is a great awareness for new small business owners who want to hire the SEO agencies .. Keep it up :)