How to Vet an SEO Vendor

by Jey Pandian

I wrote this old guide for a good friend of mine who works for a F1000 hotel brand. I cannot disclose the brand or the friend but take a look below anyways. You will learn how to vet a potential agency from the perspective of an SEO who works for an agency. Start out with the basic questions, move on to business related questions then work through the technical questions.

Basic Questions:

  1. How long has your company been in the SEO business? You are looking for historical perspective. A company that has been doing SEO for 1-5 years as opposed to 10+ years is not as strong as a company who’s been through every Search Engine algorithmic update.

  2. How do you differ from your competitors? Each company has a different philosophy when it comes to handling SEO for their clients. Some are full service SEO agencies who handle everything from consulting to implementation, others consult and do not handle implementation and some outsource or focus only on social.

  3. Are your services all inclusive? Again, varies company by company – many companies have different offerings which they use to upsell you year over year while there are a few who will provide an all inclusive service.

  4. How many hours and heads do you get for your account? You are looking for value here as many companies put 3-5 people on the paper but each individual may end up spending only 10% of their time on your account with remainder of time spent  on other accounts.

  5. Name the individuals who will work on my account. Then Google them to see what their experience and expertise is like online. Any SEO worth his/her salt will be highly visible online. There’s no such thing as a below the radar SEO (at least not in the agency world).

Business Questions:

  1. How do you integrate with Paid, Display and SEO? 5 tiers:

    1. No integration

    2. Some integration – Keyword data is tested by Paid Search before SEO targets those keywords

    3. More integration – Expensive KWs are ranked by SEO while Paid search pays for cheap KWs but not expensive KWs

    4. Strong Integration – c) is done in real-time (automated)

    5. c) & d) ‘s data are stored and analyzed to drive more revenue (automated – think the Amazon recommendation engine)

  2. How do you calculate ROI for the SEO offering? Very few companies can tie it back to revenue – it’s common sense but most people don’t know how to do it.

  3. How do you calculate opportunity and forecast for SEO? Agencies should be able to calculate the opportunity by Search position based on current rank and current traffic.

  4. Show me an SEO report. Look for analysis and get rid of companies who provide templated documents. Read the analysis to see whether they blame the results on you, guarantee new results next month or provide action items which forecast results with reasonable accuracy.

  5. What kind of cross channel integration do you offer for SEO with regards to Email, Paid, TV, Social, Appstore, etc. Look for the kind of support they are able to provide. It should not be passive support like “optimize title here and there” but rather dynamic support like when TV flights occur during this time, then we put this optimized asset in play to take advantage of the lift in awareness and so forth. Think holistically from the standpoint of integrated marketing.

Technical Questions: If the vendor doesn’t know the answer to any of these questions, its a deal breaker.

  1. How do you optimize a multi-regional multi-language website? Implement Hreflang.

  2. What is a reverse index? 99% of SEOs don’t know this answer – Check to see if the agency bullshits you or is honest.

  3. Name the 6 most important link characteristics that Search Engines value:

    1. IP Diversity

    2. Anchor Text

    3. Topical Relevance

    4. Niche Relevance

    5. Geographic Relevance

    6. Link Weight/PR

  4. What is negative SEO and how do you prevent it? Negative SEO is the act of using SEO to prevent a website or certain URLs from showing up in Search Engines. It’s easy to prevent through Google Webmaster Tools or if you have a strong brand but if you have neither then can get very difficult.

  5. Can Google crawl iframes? If no, then how do you get Google to crawl iframes? Answer is no, it can’t be crawled but this issue can be bypassed through the use of an XML or HTML sitemap.

Social SEO Questions:

  1. What is Google+’s relationship to SEO? It’s an identity verification system that allows Google to calculate an influence score for every “entity” on the net based on their interactions with other “entities.”

  2. How do you optimize a brand listing for Facebook Graph Search? Listen here to see if their answers sound templated or if they admit that they don’t know. The correct answer is to optimize the listing for boolean operators (AND, OR, BY, IN, NEAR etc). For example, optimize for “likes” for the query:  “restaurants” IN “los angeles.

  3. What is the knowledge graph and how do you optimize for it? Google “mastiff” and those fact based results at the top and the right are as a result of the Knowledge graph. You can optimize the Knowledge Graph by modifying Freebase, Google+ and other public trusted sources of information that Google is able to access online via crawling.

  4. How do you optimize for inclusion into Google News? Look to see what their process is like here (and if they have one).

  5. Why were iAcquire (sold links), JCPenney (bought links) and Overstock (bought links) penalized?

The End. Happy vendor selecting

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