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Questions to ask SEO company
I would like some suggestions on specific questions or types of questions.
9thsign




msg:243381
 1:47 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I have narrowed down 6 SEO companies to 2, and I'm in the final stages to where I will be choosing one of them. I would like some help on what types of questions I should ask that would help me decide which one to pick. Anything critical, or usually overlooked, or any specific questions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance ...

 

korkus2000




msg:243382
 1:48 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Will my site point to your site. I would want to hear a no.

sparrow




msg:243383
 1:54 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I haven't dealt with them much, but the ones I did I have to wonder about.

Just be very carefull and remain IN CHARGE at all times. Don't let them do any submissions if any until you say GO.

That was my worst experience.

ritualcoffee




msg:243384
 1:58 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

If they will be hosting anything - ask for a service agreement with uptime gurantees.

Brett_Tabke




msg:243385
 2:00 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Get a contract, and make sure the contract spells out what is and isn't required on your part. Note carefully what they say they will do.

Pricing: double check the lingo and terms. When will you pay, and will you pay if there are no results.
Are you paying for bulk services? If so, how many urls does that cover?
Does it include any content creation on their part, or just optimization of existing content?
Any garantees to results?
How many hours will they put into working on your site?
Is it a template cookie cutter approach to seo, or do they get in and work with your existing site?
How long until you see the first results?
Is this purely consulting services? If so, is it programmed consulting, or email/phone consulting?
Ask them to be as specific as possible without giving away trade secrets as to what they are going to do to your site and how they are going to do it.
Are they going to use shadow domains to funel you traffic?
What search engines will they target? Is any ppc or paid url inclusion included? If they do this, expect traffic to shut off when their contract is up.

webdiversity




msg:243386
 2:32 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'd be interested to know how you got 6 down to 2 without having had some sort of criteria to measure against.

We are an SEO company, and are quite happy to answer any questions potential clients have before they engage. Equally, we reserve the right to undertake due diligence with the clients we take on too (it's a two way street after all). This may include checking accounting references where we extend some form of credit.

As Brett pointed out you don't want to be held over a barrel if you decide not to use them any more. We hate the ransom note SEO's (no more traffic unless you pay our new prices, that sort of thing).

Establish if any paid inclusion fees are included or extras ?

Minimum contract (6-12 months would be best for both parties). Doesn't affect statutory rights to cancel if not happy with service or if they not happy with your payment schedule.

Is maintenance included or extra ?

Is consultancy included for this site or extra ? What about if you start a new site ?

Will they undertake the SEO work themselves or outsource to some foreign country with cheap labour ?

How soon for results ?

Who owns the rights to the work ?

What is the payment schedule ? (Shouldn't be expected to pay more than 50% upfront).

Can you speak to any of their clients ?

Do they talk in terms of rankings or traffic or both ?

Do they offer any additional value added services ? Tracking, ROI measurement, e-mail address gathering, PPC, directory advice, viral, PR, link building, copywriting, ezine, newsletters, hosting ?

Lextech




msg:243387
 2:38 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

If the company doesn't have any references or an online portfolio of recent accomplishments in the SEO field, I'd look elsewhere. A friend of mine posts regular SEO charts that show the keywords and positions currently achieved. If the company can't show that....then what do they base their expertise on?

Marcia




msg:243388
 2:51 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

With regard to consulting, what would a client normally expect that to be, or to include. No matter how specifically it's written up, some can somehow come up with different expectations.

agerhart




msg:243389
 2:55 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>>> online portfolio of recent accomplishments

This actually should not be a requirement, as most companies, both SEO and client, prefer not to have their company names posted on the SEO's website. This allows for poaching and many other issues.

Ask the SEO company for references and current clients.

web_india




msg:243390
 3:15 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

since you've already narrowed down to 2, it would help to know since how long the two companies are providing SEO services, no. of clients they have, how many #1 rankings they have achieved.
go for a comparison between the two and make the decision.
all the best to you for your top rankings.

agerhart




msg:243391
 3:19 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

An important thing to find out from the company, which you will have to gather without a direct question/answer from them, is what types of keywords they are going to target, and if these keywords will produce any real traffic. For example, they can promise to target 10 keywords, but they may be 4 word keywords that will end up producing no real traffic and no conversions.

The SEO and client should have a relationship where they both are excited to succeed, and help each other to drive traffic to the site. What good are rankings without targeted traffic?

9thsign




msg:243392
 3:25 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thanks to everyone, you all have been extremely helpful .. We're a pretty big company (2 billion a year), and I'm the webmaster. I have decided to outsource this because I don't have the time to do it myself. The CFO has left it up to me on what route to take and who to pick.

Getting down from 6 companies to 2 was actually quite easy. I contacted all 6 companies, online or by phone call. 2 companies never got back to me; I guess they didn't want our business. 1 company was extremely cookie cutter style on their proposal. I never spoke with anyone, they just e-mailed me a link to a webpage and told me to click on the options that I wanted, then and then proceeded to give me a quote. The page stated that I should click to indicate that I was interested! I don't know how these people get any business. Anyways, the last one I took of my list was too priced too high for what they were offering. 24k a year.

To answer some of the questions presented by some of you:

No, we will not need them to design, or change any of the website. We will do that.
No, they will not be hosting the site; we have everything we need to do that.
We do not want to do ppc.
We want to concentrate on keywords (high placement)
We rather have a small amount of qualified traffic, then a huge amount of non-qualified traffic.

Marcia




msg:243393
 3:45 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

9thsign, I asked about consulting because if that's part of it, since you're the webmaster, you should get the specifics down in advance so there's no misinterpretation about what's included or how much with the consulting. There can easily be a lot of phone contact or email correspondence back and forth during the process, so it's best for everyone to get the time element clarified from the very start.

Another point is dealing with changes. If whichever company you engage makes suggestions for changes and you implement them and shortly after, make changes on your own for some reason (which can and does happen, it just did, twice), what's the procedure for that? Getting the policy for that established at the beginning of the relationship, in advance, can help matters go much more smoothly long term.

makemetop




msg:243394
 4:12 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

>We rather have a small amount of qualified traffic, then a huge amount of non-qualified traffic.

I wish more potential clients were like that! The time I've spent researching good focussed keywords which are going to drive good relevant traffic only to hear we want to be #1 for say 'jobs' is too many.

Back to the question though, getting a couple of decent client referrals should be possible from most SEOs. That has to be really the only way of knowing if other people are satisfied with their work.

Jane_Doe




msg:243395
 5:20 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm working at a company that had their site PR0'd from their former SEO company's spam techniques. Their URL was the company name with hundreds of inbound links pointing to it, so this was not a good situation for them to be in. So based on their experience, I have thought about what they could have done to have hired a more reputable company the first time around.

I think it may be good idea to give a potential SEO firm a technical interview. You'd have to talk to the people doing the actual SEO work (which may not be the owners or marketing reps), but this is probably a good idea anyway.

I'd print out Brett's Google knowledgebase questions, the library posts from this site and the webmaster tips from Google. Then I'd ask some of the basic questions from these lists to the SEO candidates.

The kinds of questions I'd ask would be: What is Pagerank? What is a PR0 penalty? How can you find out what sites are linking to your sites? What techniques does Google consider spam? How often does Google update their index? What is a link farm? What are the names of some of the robots for the major search engines? What is a referer URL?

It would be good to do this in person, if possible, so they can't look up the answers while talking to you on the phone. If candidate firms are really competent at SEO work, I think they would know the answers to these types of questions quite readily. If more than one firm answers these questions okay, then interview them both again and ask harder questions.

I agree that asking for references and a portfolio of work would also be important.

fathom




msg:243396
 6:06 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

See if the chosen SEO companies actually appear near the top of search engines for their targeted keywords /phrases.

I always find it strange when a company doesn't practice what they preach.

In this line of business, the top four phrases are

1. search engine optimization
2. search engine positioning
3. search engine ranking
4. search engine optimisation

A little homework goes along way... if their not here ask why? Also ask what terms they use for their own company and check these out at the search engines as well.

The advestisement for SEO's is obvious!

pageoneresults




msg:243397
 6:55 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

This is a long one...

1. How long have you been providing search engine optimization services?

2. Are you an individual consultant or are you part of a team?

3. How long have you and your team been online?

4. What types of websites will you not promote?

5. Do you participate and/or, are you a moderator for any of the SEO - Search Engine Optimization / SEM - Search Engine Marketing Forums? If so, what is your username and can you provide links to your most recent or notable discussions?

6. Can you describe and/or produce recent successful campaign results? If so, can I use those clients for references?

7. Do you have website design experience? Technical background? What types of programming environments are you experienced with?

8. What are your opinions in regards to Best Practices for the SEO - Search Engine Optimization / SEM - Search Engine Marketing industry? How does a company effectively compete online using traditional optimization strategies?

9. Can you assure us that the optimization strategies and methods that you are utilizing fall under the criteria of Best Practices for the SEO/SEM Industry? Can we assume that this means no penalties for our website? Penalties could include, but are not limited to; removal from the search engines or directories index, or a possible Google PageRankô penalty, also referred to as PR0.

10. How many search engine optimization campaigns have you been involved with? What was your role for those projects? How many are still active? How many are inactive? If inactive, why?

11. Are there any guarantees for top search engine positions? The answer to this question will depend on whether or not you choose a PPC - Pay Per Click program from Overture, or similar bid management campaign like Google's CPC - Cost Per Click program. Depending on the competitiveness of your industry, guaranteed #1 search engine positions may be difficult and expensive to maintain.

12. Do you have experience managing PPC - Pay Per Click, CPC - Cost Per Click, and other bid management campaigns? What types of programs do you use for PPC bid management?

13. What is link popularity? What linking strategies would you use to increase link popularity for our website? Is this service part of the proposed price? What types of websites will you target for link exchange?

14. What is Google PageRankô and how does it affect our website(s)? How would you address improving our PageRankô with Google, and other search engines that calculate the number of quality inbound links to our website?

15. What changes can we expect you to make to our website to improve our positioning in the search engines? Will these changes be visible? Will there be changes in the coding of our website?

16. What type of reporting (website log analysis) will you provide to us? How often will you provide those reports? Will you provide consultation on how to interpret the reports so that we have a basic understanding of the statistics?

17. Do you offer ROI (Return On Investment) analysis? Is this in addition to your contract pricing? Have the consultant explain the process of how the ROI will be determined. This type of ROI tracking may require strict participation by the employees of your company. You may need to address internal procedures first, before being able to successfully track ROI for your website.

Those are just a few. Unfortunately, the consumer will not know many of these questions and is at the mercy of the company and/or consultant they are speaking with. Because the consumer is not educated in our industry, there are many who will fall prey to unethical SEO/SEM practices.

4eyes




msg:243398
 7:56 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

See if the chosen SEO companies actually appear near the top of search engines for their targeted keywords/phrases. I always find it strange when a company doesn't practice what they preach.

There are good reasons why some SEO companies may not want to appear at the top for SEO type phrases - it depends on your target audience and your business model.

Typically the phrase 'search engine optimization' is not used by our target audience. We get most of our business from referrals and networking - most of it local to our region. It is not worth the effort and cost of getting in the top ten for these extremely competitive phrases.

The most important measures are whether their client sites are ranking well, whether they continue to rank well, and whether they deliver traffic.

We have a few customers who are happy for us to show their server log analysis to our prospective clients - that usually does the trick:)

pageoneresults




msg:243399
 8:13 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

> There are good reasons why some SEO companies may not want to appear at the top for SEO type phrases - it depends on your target audience and your business model.

I'll agree with 4eyes. Also, take a close look at some of those who are holding positions for those terms. I also feel that Google has a special little algo for SEO related terms, I really do. Especially those mentioned above. ;)

bigjohnt




msg:243400
 8:24 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm with you too, agerhart and 4eyes. The last thing I need to do is give my clients' competitors a roadmap to their sites, and how they got there by putting them in a nice neat list in a portfolio.
If references are needed, I readily give prospective clients a list of phone numbers and clients.

About the company ranking for its chosen keywords, a) how do you know what term they are targeting, and b) Some of us do not optimize our sites for the reason above, regarding clients sites. My current business site does not have meta tags, and has not been submitted _anywhere_. Although Googlebot got to me somehow... Time to get the Googlebot repellent on that site.

fathom




msg:243401
 8:32 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

There are good reasons why some SEO companies may not want to appear at the top for SEO type phrases - it depends on your target audience and your business model.

Therefore, the reason to look and ask is very important. What the potential client is looking for it creditability. If the response was more to "we don't like giving away our trade secrets" this would be a less appropriate response than the one you mentioned.

Typically the phrase 'search engine optimization' is not used by our target audience. We get most of our business from referrals and networking - most of it local to our region.

Just the same - isn't this what the client is looking for "an SEO company that can get them to the top ten". The fact that you don't target doesn't mean they don't type it in just that these companies don't find you.

It is not worth the effort and cost of getting in the top ten for these extremely competitive phrases

And we also mention this to the client this too eh! I hope you don't mean that the SEO segment is the only industry and market that has highly competitive phrases out there.

4eyes




msg:243402
 9:05 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

And we also mention this to the client this too eh! I hope you don't mean that the SEO segment is the only industry and market that has highly competitive phrases out there.

Yes I do mention it to my clients - in fact I stress it. Its a crucial part of their education in marketing their web site.

A good ranking for a specific phrase, competitive or otherwise, is only of value if it delivers targeted traffic that is of value to the customer. Why would anyone spend time and money promoting a site for phrases that do not make them any money?

The options for spending money on promoting a site are always greater than the customer's budget - choosing how that budget is allocated is crucial, you need the best ROI. We get it from local networking groups - others will differ.

Some SEO companies use a high ranking for SEO type phrases as proof of their abilities - if it works for their chosen segment of the market, fine, I have no problem with that.

If my order book gets thin, I may travel that path, but there is no need at the present.

Just the same - isn't this what the client is looking for "an SEO company that can get them to the top ten". The fact that you don't target doesn't mean they don't type it in just that these companies don't find you.

We did get found for some of these phrases - we no longer try, in fact we specifically avoid them - we know how to calculate our ROI and re-focus our efforts where the money is. In our case it was a simple business decision based on respective conversion rates and the cost of acquiring the business.

Jane_Doe




msg:243403
 9:09 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm with you too, agerhart and 4eyes. The last thing I need to do is give my clients' competitors a roadmap to their sites, and how they got there by putting them in a nice neat list in a portfolio.
If references are needed, I readily give prospective clients a list of phone numbers and clients.

I'm just starting out at SEO work, but I'd agree, too. I've found the best terms to tackle are ones where I can get top listings for minimal work. For the term "search engine optimization" the #20 site in Google has a PR7 with 180 backward links showing in Google (132 links showing in Alltheweb). Yet there are only 1479 searches per day estimated in Wordtracker for this term. I don't think those are good odds, considering that most, if not all, of the sites in the top 20 for that term have a professional SEO firm working on them.

It would take a lot of time and effort, if I could even do it at all, for somebody like me who is just starting out in SEO to get a web site ranked in the top 20 positions on Google for this highly competitive term. I don't think the effort would be would be worth the potential traffic. Plus, this term might get a lot of visitors just looking for tips to optimize their own sites and not just those wanting to hire somebody to do it for them.

4eyes




msg:243404
 9:19 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

The top rankings for 'search engine optimization' seem to fluctuate quite a bit.

hmmm.. wonder why that is?

Surely they can't be involved in a 'who can best report each other for cheating' battle?

Nah.. surely not, we are all good mates in this industry:)

pageoneresults




msg:243405
 9:33 pm on Jul 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

> The top rankings for 'search engine optimization' seem to fluctuate quite a bit.

Its Google's special algo for SEO related terms, I'm convinced! ;)

agerhart




msg:243406
 1:03 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Jane_Doe,

I think that client's results are a more powerful tool to show potential clients.

Having rankings for these types of keywords are sometimes used for lead generation, but like you said, you need to find out which keywords will work out best for you and your business.

RaraAvis




msg:243407
 5:59 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think one of the most important issues with any SEO company is NOT how many Top 10 rankings or how many unique visitors they can get to a Web site, but whether they can drive targetted traffic that turns into sales/leads, etc.

It's all about ROI, ROAS, etc. If the SEO company doesn't have a model to produce/demonstrate a real return on your company's investment...it's not a great deal.

We have inherited SEVERAL clients who have used other SEO companies who emailed "ranking reports" every month showing ALL those Top 10's (always concealing the hundreds of "Not in First 30's"). The problem was after we got the client, we found out that almost w/o exception NONE of the keywords generated any significant sales or leads and that the companies running the reports always wrapped their keywords in "". Yeah...most users do that. (NOT)

Just be careful not to confuse "Top 10's" or "increased traffic" with actual results. ;) You may just be paying a guy to click a button and run a report every month who could care less about YOUR bottom line.

mayor




msg:243408
 7:06 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

9thsign, I would ask them why, if they're so good at SEO, are they selling their services rather than some products, since I believe that the top SEO folks can make more money selling products than selling their services. I'm sure the right people will have the right answers but I would still ask the question.

The next thing I would do is hire a top SEO person as a consultant to monitor and QC the service firm's work. Unless you are an experienced SEO person yourself, you won't know if the service firm is stepping over the spam boundaries which could get a big company with deep pockets into a lot of financial/legal problems, to say nothing of messing up your Internet traffic opportunities. You'll really need some checks and balances, IMHO. I would ask the service firm if they are willing to work with your consultant and steer clear of them if they aren't willing.

I won't recommend myself for consulting ... I quit consulting two years ago. But I will refer you to the administrators or moderators on this forum, either as potential consultants or as referral sources. I doubt you'll find more qualified people anywhere in the world.

markd




msg:243409
 7:07 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Like others here, I cheer when I hear a company (large or small) who has the sense and vision to look for quality not quantity when undertaking SEO activities.

I'm sure you've already rejected companies who do this, but for a company such as the one in quesiton, I would show the door to companies who 'promise':

To target 1000's of SE's monthly

'Guarantee' positions, without knowing your audience(s), your company's objectives (marketing, business, profile, and brand). I really get tired of seeing 'we guarantee no.1 positions in xxxx'. Usually this means a PPC program where the skill is in bidding the highest.

That would willingly give away 'trade secrets' - would your company show a client the source code to your killer software, the patents on your drugs etc? There has to be 'trust' based on proven ability. Expecting a company to expain 'how they do it' reflects the low value some place on the service of marketing a site to an appropriate audience in search engines and directories. For your company, it should not be about 'low-value, low involvement' services. It should be returning 'high value, high involvement' to you as a client and to the consulting company approaching your individual requirement. A client does not, and should not, be focused on the 'features' just 'the benefits'.

Does not in some way, want to offer advice/action on your current web site and online activities - even if it is on gaining appropriate and relevant links to your site.

As mentioned, the last thing I would want to do myself is target generic, 'industry-based' phrases such as 'search engine optimisation'. The companies you are considering should be able to advise you on finding niche keyphrases which will be especially relevant to your audiences. If you are a large company, your Public Relations Department or Agency should be keeping up your profile using relevant offline or online media channels. I believe you should use SEO to support, but not reproduce/compete with these activties. Look for a company who can help you target searchers using very specific and niche keyphrases - these can be true 'golden nuggets'.

More about what not to expect, than what to ask, but I hope this helps. Good luck! I for one would really like to know how you make your final decision.

Perhaps you could return the useful advice supplied here by letting us know?

Torben Lundsgaard




msg:243410
 8:39 am on Jul 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

RaraAvis, You are so right!

You all have mentioned some good points to look out for when buying SEO but they require a lot of investigattion and technical knowledge from the client. An assistant from an IT department may know the "right" answer to all these questions. However, the marketing managers who are willing to spend a lot of money on SEO if it gives a good ROI don't know what PageRank is and they don't care. They just want to make money.

I believe that you should look for a company that has a good reputation. Contact the some of the clients and verify the reputation. Focus on companies which deliver traffic and ROI.

Always make sure you that you get a win-win deal. Motivate the company by paying per click or per sale.

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