Being mystified by any aspect of your business is always a recipe for disaster.
Unless your business is entirely – or mostly – online, there’s probably still a lot to learn. Without question, whatever you learn about the online aspects of your business will always pay you back, either in getting you more online business, or just in generating more business through the online marketing you can do.
Few other fields of business have capitalized on the mysticism of websites and online traffic as have the SEO consultants.
As technically demanding as the field may seem, most SEO consultants will admit that it’s still more art than science.
Understanding that is a huge plus. Whether your business is purely local and dependent on maximizing a limited territory or national and dependent on FedEx and UPS, you can cut through a lot of cobwebs that snare smaller Orange County businesses. Ask these questions first.
- How well do you know the area? This is a locals-only question, but it’s especially important if you have a limited service area. Your business region is a complete mystery to outsiders who use official names and remain blissfully ignorant of how it breaks down into neighborhoods and towns. Whichever market you cater too – locals or tourists – can make a tremendous difference in the local optimization you do. Remember, a big part of “local SEO” comes down to simply presenting your local place names well. Importantly, sometimes your born-and-bred local is not as good as the migrant who came later in life and learned a place as an interested adult! Talk about it with your consultant.
- Tacks. Brass Tacks. Ask about the nuts and bolts until you get as clear an idea as possible of what you’re paying for. Lots of techniques exist. Many old, and even archaic techniques exist. We can’t go into too many specific here, about which you should avoid, but getting a clear understanding of why your prospective consultant thinks they’ll work is important. Watch for any think which doesn’t seem utterly transparent, and ask until you’re satisfied.
- Spam. Spam almost always does more damage than good. Talk about that too. SEO consultants are generally considered a part of the big world of “marketing” and so understanding the damage that Spam does to your reputation and especially to your traffic and rankings is important. You want to discuss at length, too, what “Black Hat” techniques your consultant knows, has used or approves of. We can’t say here that you should consider seriously using them, but rather, you should look at how reputable your consultant is – and if the consultant really screws up, who deals with the consequences.
- ROI. One thing bad SEO consultants love is that ROI is difficult to measure. Because these campaigns are relatively long – a full year is typical – measuring success is often impossible within less than three months. The question then is simple: “How will you prove to me that what you’re doing is working, and how often?” Measuring your local search ROI is often presented in terms of:
- increased phone orders, Internet or email orders
- more quality traffic to your site
- increased search engine rankings for targeted search terms – this is the old-school SEO question. It’s still most the difficult to prove, and particularly difficult to quantify in monetary terms.
Don’t forget, any talk with any SEO consultant should include a careful discussion of your own business model and the kinds of goals you think you can reach. Don’t get talked into a campaign designed for another business model.
- Your side of the deal. Any consultancy is just that, a consultant to provide advice and direction on a specific aspect of your business. The question is really – “What do they need from you?” Many SEO Consultants will work closely with content developer and web developers, and very often they can craft a custom package. In some other cases, they won’t. Get all of this out on the table, and understand your own contributions to the project. Lots of SEO projects stall out because owners don’t want to provide more information or more content, and the SEO consultant can’t optimize pages that don’t exist.
- Social Media Accounts. Keep control. This one is important! Ask how your consultant is going to deliver access to all the accounts he is going to create in your name. This is especially important for local where Yelp, and similar review sites really dominate. It’s usually best to have an admin (or social media manager) on your side maintain a list of all the log-ins and passwords and who is doing what with them. Like we always say, you don’t have to be on every social media or local business-listing site. But even the conservative number you do sign up for is tremendously important to your businesses public profile. Don’t let consultants walk away from you still owning and controlling your listings.
- Contact? Who is it? Just like that social media manager mentioned above, it’s important to know who on your side is talking to who on the consultant’s side. Keep it all clean, and you’ll end up with a lot less headaches.
- Results. Just like ROI, spend a little time looking at the results of campaigns for businesses as similar as possible as your own. #1 rankings are nice, but not if they aren’t directly relevant to the target company’s business model.
- References. This is another one that’s tricky, but important. Make sure you get a few phone numbers. And call them. Ask about the details of the campaign, and no SEO consultant has a spotless record. They will, presumably, give you their best customers which is fine. See if you can determine the nature of the working relationship, now, and what results were delivered. If it ended, why did it end?
Local SEO is always a process, and it can be a process as long as your business is online. It can be fun, hopefully a little artful, but it can also be stressful or even a waste of money. The more you know going in to a discussion with your prospective consultant, the better results you’ll get.
This article was written by james t. James is a writer working out of Texas and an SEO expert.