SEO has had a bad image in the past and some clients have had bad experiences with their SEO agencies. Many have experienced agencies that seemingly “over promise and under deliver”.

Sometimes, it should be noted however that this is not always the fault of the agency. On occasions the search algorithm may have changed and the previously successful tactics and approach applied is no longer be valid.

1. Can I speak to an existing customer (in a similarly competitive sector) who has been with you for over two years?

Any agency that is any good should be excited about this question and pull out their black book straight away to give you a list of contacts.  

It’s one thing having case studies on a credentials presentation and quotes from happy clients who they have had long-term SEO success with. But it’s another thing speaking with them directly.  

I’d ensure you ask for a direct dialogue with the agency’s client rather than just a second hand reference. You also need to make sure you are speaking with a client of a similar size and that they are in a market that is relevant for you. Ideally they should be targeting keywords of a similarly competitive nature too. 

If they aren’t willing to provide this I would be very cautious of employing their services.

2. Can we meet the team who will be working on the account, the whole team please?

A lot of agencies still outsource the link building, content writing and social elements of SEO services. 

In our experience and in the experience of clients who have come to us from other agencies that do this, this is a really bad idea. How can you control the quality of the work if it is outsourced, sometimes overseas? 

Even more importantly, who is in control of your brand and its reputation online?  I’d recommend before you appoint an agency you arrange a face to face meeting at their offices with all the people likely to be working on the account – including any off-page SEO (link building and creative content) team members. 

This is even more critical when choosing a multilingual SEO agency, most of whom outsource the multilingual elements of the work.

3. Why do we have to sign up for 12 or 24-months, with no break out clause in the contract?

Many agencies get clients to sign long contracts so they have a long time to ensure they get it right and deliver on what they promised. 

Realistically if inside the first three to six months you haven’t seen a positive impact and movement from the SEO work then that type of work is not working for you.

I’d always ask for a mutual break point in your contract, a good agency should be confident in their ability to deliver good results for you and have no issues in providing this.  If they do offer this – it may also be worth asking how many people have exercised the break?

 4. Who is the biggest SEO client you have lost in the past 12 months and why?

All agencies lose clients from time to time (yes even us), but as a potential new client you want to understand the circumstances around any clients they have lost. 

It is a very good gauge of the transparency and honesty of an agency that is willing to share such information. It might also be worth asking if they have ever sacked a client, and if so why? As that will also get you a very interesting answer!

5. Can you guarantee our SEO performance?

Any agency willing to guarantee performance should not be trusted. To carry out good SEO there are many variables outside of the agency and client’s control, it is fundamentally impossible to guarantee anything. 

I would refer back to questions one and two, which are a lot more credible than a guarantee. If an agency is offering a guarantee then I would question their tactics and how they do their SEO work – is it ethical and above board?

Could it damage your brand and credibility and could you be in line for a future Google penalty?

6. What do we actually get for our monthly fee?

This sounds straightforward but what physical work is actually happening and who is doing it? Where are they based and do they work for the agency?  

I would be very careful if agencies are charging on a cost per link basis, as this is a recipe for a further negative penalty. If you have met the people doing the work then you will be comfortable with what everyone is doing and what your monthly fees are going towards, both in terms of the work done by the agency but most importantly the expected outcomes for that work.

Choosing an agency can be tricky but using these points, I hope you might find the process a little easier and more transparent in future.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this – what questions have you asked prospective agencies in the past and how successful were they at separating the wheat from the chaff?