Updated on June 21, 2016.

There is no denying that Search Engine Optimization (commonly known as SEO) is hot! Ranking high in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) gives your business greater visibility on the web. And… there is also no doubt that people Search. Long gone are the days where you let your fingers do the walking.

When an industry in rapid growth mode (such as ours), you will find many businesses rushing to get into the marketplace. In Ottawa, there has been a virtual explosion of new players. Not only do new ones pop up frequently – many existing Internet-focused businesses, realizing the demand, now also offer SEO services.

So…. how do you find the right SEO company?

Here are ten questions I would ask if I was looking for a skilled and qualified supplier of SEO services:

1. How long have you been offering SEO as a paid service?

Qualifications increase with experience. So an agency with minimal or even no qualifications will more than likely give you just the same level of service (“minimal or none”). A good indicator is the content on their website about Search Engine Optimization and the related services that they provide. Minimal content = minimal knowledge and expertise.

2. What SEO services do to you offer?

This should be more than just adding keywords to your website. This is just the tip of the iceberg. A truly qualified SEO should offer on-page as well as off-page strategies that include research and strategy development. And… it should start with a Client Needs Assessment Review and an SEO Audit. There is no way anyone will be able to make recommendations on what to do unless they know the current state of affairs of your results in organic search and associated digital strategy.

3. What do you optimize for Search?

The answer could simply be web pages. Or… even better – they optimize all (or many) online assets. This may include not only websites but also Social Media, Blogs, Press Releases, Images, Videos, Podcasts, Word Docs, Excel, PDFs, PowerPoints, Articles (Mentions) and News. In other words, everything that the search engines can crawl & index.

4. What is your SEO process?

While each (qualified) SEO agency will have a slightly different response, the overall answer is that their process should include several steps. SEO is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. Hint: If a SEO company offers you “something” that will increase your web visibility incredibly for a “one-time” fee, turn around and run! Anything that appears quick and easy is surely being sold by a Snake Oil Salesperson. Following this route could have long term catastrophic results to your website as the major Search Engines can recognize flim flam artists better then us mere mortals.

5. What SEO tools do you use?

Most SEO agencies use a variety of tools (free and paid) that change frequently as the tools improve and better ones come on the market. While they may not wish to share the exact ones that they use, you want to make sure they are not using an automated software process to do the work. Although they can be somewhat useful, these tools simply cannot mimic the human factor that a good SEO will be able to offer.

6. How do you stay on top of Search?

It likely goes with out saying but staying on top of search is essential in order to provide not only the best services but also best practices. In order to determine this, ask these questions:

        • Do you have company standards in terms time investment (usually a percentage) in staying on top of things in this industry?
        • How do you achieve this?
        • What is your involvement in your industry-related membership organizations? (Again – ask them to show you their credentials.)

7. Who are your clients and which industries do you work with?

This is a good indicator of where a Search Engine Optimizer’s expertise lies. It also offers you the opportunity to ask for references. A reputable SEO agency will provide client testimonials without having to be asked. We do! Ideally, a good SEO company serves a wide range of industries (does not specialize in one i.e. Real Estate). Again this builds experience – and value for the client. Also ask if they are working for your competition. If they are, you will undoubtedly end up competing against yourself.

8. What professional related organizations do you currently belong to?

This is really something that irks me! We are seeing more and more companies claiming to have a particular affiliation. When, in fact, they have simply done a screen capture or downloaded a logo and placed it on their website to give the impression that they have something that they actually do not have. Challenge a prospective SEO firm regarding their affiliations. A logo that is not linked to the related website is a sign that you may not be getting what you think you are. If there is a public access to the membership directory, check to ensure that they are listed. I say this tongue in cheek as we obviously only claim to be affiliated to organizations that we are actually members of.

9. What type of SEO strategy do you use – White Hat, Black Hat or Gray Hat?

This is a valid question and one the layperson would not know to ask. You are looking for improve rankings in the Search Engines, but may not realize that these results can be achieved in many ways. In a nutshell, White Hat SEOs are those that implement ethical strategies – and follow Search Engine Webmaster Guidelines (you can find these quite easily on the Internet). Black Hats trick Search Engines and put your website (and domain) at risk of getting banned. Gray Hats, of course, use strategies that are on the edge of being black. The results of SEO services can never be guaranteed 100%, but they can be measured. At WebFuel, we only use 100% White Hat SEO techniques!

10. What type of credentials does the SEO have?

Just like point number 8 (above), this is really something that gets under my skin (and even more so)! We are seeing more and more companies and SEO consultants claiming to have a certain certification. Especially when it comes to Google. Google credentials should have a verification system for both AdWords and Analytics. And those companies that claim to have “SEO partnerships with Google” – Seriously? Google (by virtue of what they do) does not “partner with SEOs”. Nobody gets their recipe for the secret sauce!

Challenge a prospective SEO regarding their certifications. A logo that is not linked to a valid certification is a sure sign that they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Be sure to check out our certifications!

And keep in mind that web directories (more often than not) that rank the TOP SEO companies are paid placements. So… a badge indicating that they are the “Best in Search” is no guarantee – just a paid ad.

Go beyond asking questions…

You will also need to do your homework. I would start by checking their website to see if it is optimized for Search. It always amazes me how many companies offer this service and don’t have a site that demonstrates that has this work done on their web presence. And… check to see if they can get found in a Search. Obvious — but true!

Last, but not least, if a SEO is offering you incredibly fast results, they are not being truthful. Good SEO takes time (re my comments above about White, Grey & Black Hat).

Plus, the obvious, don’t fall for pressure tactics. A good SEO will be looking for a long-term business relationship where you both work together in partnership!

If you are Serious about Search – make sure you get a company that is as well (not just offering an add-on services in an attempt to jump on the SEO bandwagon).

Got SEO questions? Just ask!

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