I recently found myself in a situation with time to kill, and only my wife’s ipad as company. I started playing with Paper, a great little drawing/painting app, and after my 2nd or 3rd terrible rendition of “a thing in the room”, I decided my unique artistic talents were probably best put to use for this site, rather than attempting to become a digital painter…

So – here are 8 questions that you should ask anyone who offers you search engine optimisation services, rendered in pretend ink and watercolour, and then digitally framed in an attempt to make them look a bit more grandiose.

They should hopefully help you figure out if you’re talking to someone who is actually going to be able to help you, or is selling you internet snake oil. Of course, you will have to be able to decipher my handwriting in order to use these, so please accept my apologies for that first hurdle in advance. Edit: since my unique handwriting was proving difficult to decipher, I’ve added the content as a subtitle under each pic! Mrs. Lee from Primary 4 would be so disappointed with me….

Show me a site that you worked on, ranking for a competitive keyword. Explain what you did.

Show me a site that you worked on, ranking for a competitive keyword. Explain what you did.

Done this before?

If it’s a decent agency, they should be able to show you a few sites that they’ve already managed to get to good positions, for reasonably competitive keywords. If they’re only able to show you sites ranking well for very long, or obscure searches, it’s not a good sign. Once they do show you some, contact the example site owners and ask them for a reference.

Give me 5 examples of sites you’d include in a link-building campaign. Explain your choices.

Give me 5 examples of sites you’d include in a link-building campaign. Explain your choices.

What’s a good link?

You’re looking for sites that are relevant to your business, are well established, and hold a certain element of authority. It’s worth asking how they’d go about getting the links too.

2018 Edit: This is a bit old now!  Better discussing content strategy these days…

What technical changes will you be making?

What technical changes will you be making?

Testing definitions of SEO

This question will allow you to gauge just what you’ll be spending your cash on. You need keyword research, a site plan, and on-page optimisation at the very least. Unless your site is already technically optimised, you don’t just want link-building, as all the links in the world aren’t going to help if your pages are targeted badly.

Do you offer any ranking guarantees? For which keywords?

Do you offer any ranking guarantees? For which keywords?

What is a guarantee worth?

SEO guarantees are the chocolate teapots of digital marketing. A good answer to this question would involve your SEO explaining factors like keyword competition levels, competition site strength, and long-tail keyword opportunities. If they actually do mention a guarantee, try telling them your brother is starting a cereal company and wants to rank No. 1 for “Cornflakes”. See how quickly the guarantee unravels.

Are you comfortable working with the platform my site is built on?

Are you comfortable working with the platform my site is built on?

Technical Knowledge Test

Just do a quick check to find out if they have experience working on your site’s platform. Plenty of people know their way around WordPress, but would be faced with a time consuming learning curve and potential mistakes if they were asked to optimise a site built on Drupal.

Explain ‘schema’ microdata to me.

Explain ‘schema’ microdata to me.

Up to date?

This should reveal a little about whether the person you’re speaking to is keeping up to date with SEO best practise. They should talk about how Schema microdata allows you to ensure google understands exactly what an item on your website is. (typical example – when you use the word Avatar, are you referring to the film, a picture or the incarnation of a Hindu deity?) Schema allows you to tell search engines exactly which, and is also really useful for local business sites. (Cat is 100% decorative)

I’ve been working on new meta-keywords with my nephew. Can I send them to you to build in?

I’ve been working on new meta-keywords with my nephew. Can I send them to you to build in?

Are you going to tell me it like it is?

Or just agree with me. Firstly, adding meta-keywords is a complete waste of time on the vast majority of websites, Secondly, how did you and your nephew go about selecting these keywords? Did you research them, or just brainstorm a massive list. If they just say ‘yes’, they’re happy to accept your money, but aren’t going to provide you with expert guidance.

My friend got 1000 links for 5 dollars, can you do the same?

My friend got 1000 links for 5 dollars, can you do the same?

Are you going to royally screw up my site?

Spammer test: If they say yes, put down the phone immediately and go wash your hands.

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