12 Questions to Ask Before Taking on SEO Clients

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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!

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their... Read Full Bio
Sujan Patel
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  • Jens Peter Nielsen

    Very well put – looks very much like the standard questions I ask potential clients up front and I get a different answer every time 🙂

  • Simona Rusnakova

    Great post – I also like to ask about the way they track the website in this format:

    How many leads/sales/hits etc. are you getting at the moment? How many would you like to be getting?

    And I often ask about customer testimonials/reviews – whether they collect and use them? And what are their success criteria for the work of an SEO consultant?

    • Sujan Patel


      Those are great questions to ask as well.

  • Giriraj Ranawat

    Great post. Certainly some of the best tips for SEO clients services over internet.
    Thank You…..:)

  • Kunle Campbell

    Great list and blog post Sujan.
    It would come in handy particularly at the prospecting phase .

  • Collin Davis

    Those are really wonderful tips Sujan and tips that would especially benefit people like me who aim to take up SEO projects in future. These are great parameters that will help make planned decisions before taking up an assignment.

  • Laura Callow

    This is an excellent post, one of the best I’ve read in a while. Thanks for sharing Sujan!

  • jasminenarry

    Wonderful sharing sujan, keep it up…..:)

  • saif

    Hi Sujan,

    I guess one point is that how much traffic you are getting at the moment from search engines and how much you are getting from social networks ?

    Good post.

    Thank you

  • Nick Stamoulis

    After many years of building my business, I prefer to work with clients that “get” SEO, at least a little bit. I have no problems holding a client’s hand, but if they have unrealistic expectations they are unwilling to let go of I know they aren’t the right fit for me.

  • Jason Nelson

    Good post Sujan. I also like to know what type of off-line and email marketing the company is occurring so that marketing efforts are aligned.

  • M Hill

    Great post! A couple of extra questions I like to ask are:

    1) Is your business (online only) or do you have a retail storefront or service business?

    2) How long has your website been active?

    3) Do you have webmaster tools installed for your website?

    These questions especially the first one helps me make decisions about types of services that will help a potential client during the initial conversation.

    Due to the latest Google updates, asking about webmaster tools was not on my list of questions previously, but it is now. It really helps to get things into perspective regarding issues a site may have before you start firing things at the client about what they could or should do.

  • Geno Thampi

    I agree with everything but one… “What are you hoping to get out of this SEO project?” Don’t you think the SEO company has to tell what the client gets out of the SEO project?

  • Jason Hylan

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together. Your 12 are great and many of the comments have added even more. Another question to ask would be “Are you aware that rankings will fluctuate from time to time and that just because you’re paying a company for SEO does not mean your rankings will ‘only’ go up?”

    On that note, what are you telling your customers that complain when they see a drop in rankings. No matter how many times you educate them about “the process”.

  • hyderali

    Good post & really all those questions should be asked before taking any client. I do have one query though, like your point 6 where we should ask the client whether he had been penalized or not but what if he don’t know because he may never know of panda or penguin, then, how do get the information? He’ll directly say, “I don’t know, you see.”