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10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Professional SEO Company

To the untrained eye, SEO might seem like a guessing game. You choose your keywords wisely, build some links, and––presto!––suddenly, your website sits atop the first page of a Google search. In truth, search engine optimization is anything but magic. When a Google bot scans your website, crawling through each of its pages, there are specific criteria it looks for, like content quality, site authority, and page responsiveness. What’s more, search engines are continually adjusting their algorithms, refining how they categorize and rank pages. 

But what does this mean for your business? A digital agency that specializes in SEO can help your business maximize returns on your web presence. Much like the search engines they work with, SEO is a rapidly evolving industry, and the right agency can wield their expertise to suit your company’s needs, allowing you to focus on the rest of your business.

It’s essential for starters to understand that search engine optimization, while complex, is not magic but rather science. Through a deliberate approach of link building, content development, and webpage optimization, new websites can use SEO to increase both organic traffic and conversions. The good news is you can remove the wand and crystal ball from your Amazon cart. The better news is that you can implement an effective SEO strategy with the help of a professional SEO company.

Once you consult with your team and decide to hire an SEO company, the question remains––Which SEO agency best suits my business? Currently, there are hundreds of options at your disposal, and more cropping up each day. Between SEO freelancers, in-house specialists, and full-fledged agencies, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Likely, you’ll start by browsing the web; however, we recommend asking your friends and colleagues. Which services have delivered results for them?

When you reach out to an agency, they’ll likely begin with a conversation, one in which they’ll assess the needs of your business and outline a plan of attack. During this call, be sure to ask them the following questions.

#1. What is your overall SEO strategy, and how do you produce results?

The goal of any SEO approach is, at its core, the same: to increase organic traffic to your website. With that said, there are many different ways of achieving this, so when consulting with an SEO agency, it’s important to consider the ways through which they plan to boost your search rankings.

Essentially, there are three main categories of SEO, and any SEO strategy worth its salt will account for each of them.

On-Page SEO

As the name implies, on-page SEO refers to the content visible on your page. This includes landing pages, rich media, blogs, your services pages, and other website content that your user will engage with. A solid SEO company will make sure to optimize all of this content for you, which can be done through a variety of means.

Keyword research consists of finding the best keywords to target on a page in order to boost its search engine rankings. Especially if your website is relatively new, you’ll want to select a company that targets keywords with attainable ranking difficulties. For example, if you’re hoping to boost traffic to your meal kit service, a good SEO company will find high-value keywords that drive qualified, converting traffic to your page, effectively carving a niche for your business, even in crowded markets. 

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to the backend of your website, that is, the parts not visible to the average user. While it’s tempting to settle for optimized on-page content, what happens under the hood is of equal importance. While the user experience is important for human users, they are not the only one’s reviewing your site.

In order to categorize and rank your site, search engines crawl each of your pages, “reading” them and rating them on their own scales of readability, so to speak. Especially in the coming months, with Google’s page experience update, the speed, mobile-friendliness, site architecture, and security all factor heavily into your page’s ranking, and a good SEO service should account for this.

Off-Site SEO

The third, and arguably most difficult type of SEO, occurs off-site. It consists of all things related to building your website’s reputation within the greater community of the internet. By building a network of links to your site, links from authoritative and relevant sources, you’ll ultimately bolster the authority of your own page, all of which ties back to higher SERP placements.

This is where an SEO service really comes in handy, as building a backlink profile is as difficult and time-consuming as it sounds. With this in mind, you’ll want to look to an SEO company like LinkGraph, one that offers extensive and high-quality link building campaigns. A search engine optimization strategy needs to see you through in the long-haul.

Remember, not all SEO companies will offer solutions for all three of these elements, so be sure to assess the particular needs of your business before hiring their services.

#2. Are your SEO tactics Google compliant?

Just as a library has the Dewey Decimal System, Google and other search engines have their own systems with which they crawl and index web pages. Unlike your average library, however, Google has the mind-boggling task of organizing the trillions of pages available on the internet. What’s more, Google must rank these pages. To accomplish this, Google has a set of rules and criteria that pages must abide by in order to show up in searches.  

At first glance, it might sound tempting to manipulate these criteria. Cloaking content, stuffing irrelevant keywords into your copy, and plagiarism are all examples of what we’d call black hat SEO. While these methods may boost your rankings in the short term, they will ultimately damage how search engines regard your site.

Bonafide SEO specialists will use white hat SEO tactics that abide by Google’s webmaster guidelines, which are rooted in the quality of both content and user experience. Sure, strategies such as link-building and keyword analysis take a lot of time and effort, but if you’re going to shell out for an SEO company, then you’ll want to make sure they comply with Google; otherwise, the benefits of their services will be short-lived.

#3: Does your SEO company know how to rank in my industry?

Although all SEO is centered around boosting organic traffic, SEO is not a one-size-fits-all type of service. Even if a search engine optimization company increases your traffic, there’s no guarantee that this correlates with increased revenue. A professional SEO company could maybe land you at the top of the rankings for cloud computing software, but this will do you little good if you’re in the business of CRM platforms.

Solid professional SEO services will be familiar with your industry. Certain industries, such as insurance, are highly competitive in terms of SEO. Others, like call center software, while less saturated, possess a high search intent, thus driving up the CPC for associated keywords. An SEO company should be able to understand the types of search idiosyncrasies in your industry and create a strategy accordingly. Armed with industry-specific knowledge, they’ll attract the type of potential customers that drive conversion.

#4. How does your SEO agency approach keyword research?

There are two ways in which SEO experts utilize keywords: buying search ads and page optimization.

Search Ads

The more straightforward of keyword methods, buying search ads allows you to show up in the search results for specific keywords you’ve selected. While this can certainly be a way to vault atop the Google rankings, you’ll be charged for every click, which can quickly become a costly form of paid advertising, not to mention the perils of click-fraud.

Especially for small and medium-sized businesses, Google Ads can be a hefty price to pay with little guarantee of a return on the investment. In the short term, it will surely bring a larger audience to your page; however, this will only hold for as long as you keep paying for clicks. On the other hand, SEO, while more complicated, provides a long-term solution, ultimately boosting organic traffic at lower cost. 

Optimize for Organic Search

The more laborious option is to optimize your page for organic search results. This is done by first making sure your site has content that is both relevant and of high quality. Then you’ll have to get other websites to reference your content and link back to it. All of this plays into Google’s algorithm.

Most professional SEO services will likely focus more on optimization for organic search. This process begins with keyword research, the best way to figure out which terms to target. One might assume that a personal injury law firm should naturally target the term “personal injury”; however, with its high keyword difficulty rating (62) and high costs ($44 per click), there is likely a more effective approach. A true SEO expert will take the time to figure out with you, the client, alternative search terms that will both save you money and increase your likelihood of SERP visibility.

#5. What previous clients or business owners has your company worked with? What were the results?

Nowadays, there are hundreds of digital marketing agencies that offer SEO services, and it can be difficult to figure out which one will suit your needs. A good place to start is by reviewing who they’ve worked with. Most SEO specialist services will list prior clients on their website. LinkGraph, for example, provides detailed case studies of their clients, in which they outline their methods and provide their tangible measures of success. Take a look at who a company has worked with. If they have a history of success in your industry, then it’s likely they’ll be a good fit for you.

In addition to the specific type of industry, you’ll also want to look into their success metrics. Did the SEO firm simply boost traffic? How did this traffic affect conversion? Did they utilize social media, email campaigns, local SEO, graphic design, or competitor analysis? For the best results, you’ll want to have your SEO goals in mind so that you can better observe a similar pattern of success in professional SEO services.

#6. For link building services: How do you get your backlinks, and how long do they last?

Link building is the backbone of any content marketing strategy. It improves your position on major search engines and expands both your web presence and authority. With that said, not all links are created equally, and you should pay close attention to how an SEO firm obtains backlinks for their clients.

Simply put, the way to obtain backlinks is by creating quality content. A good SEO company will review the entirety of your website and determine which pieces of your online presence hold a high linkable value. From there, they will optimize your content for both overall quality and target keywords in addition to creating new content that they’ll work to place in authoritative publications. It’s important to note that all of this outreach should be 100% organic. While there are certainly ways that you can pay in order to place an article, the most effective (albeit time-consuming) method is through pitching content to publications. With LinkGraph’s scalable link building campaigns, their editorial team will draft original, high-quality content and pitch it directly to authoritative web publications, thus building the authority of your own web presence.

Some companies will obtain links that only last for 6-12 months, giving you little benefit in the long run. Since Google’s algorithm can detect other unnatural link building tactics (that is, black hat SEO), it’s important to make sure that a professional SEO company plays by the rules. Bad links are penalized by search engines, whereas high-quality links that appear in useful content can drive organic traffic to your page for years to come.

#7. How will I know what changes your SEO company has made to my website?

It can be scary, essentially handing over the keys to your company’s web presence, especially for those not well versed in the language of Google, Bing, and the almighty algorithm. A professional SEO company understands this, and they’ll take steps to keep you in the loop on their process and overall progress of your SEO campaign. This can be achieved through a variety of means such as weekly reports of keyword rankings, conversion rates, backlink numbers, and traffic quality.

LinkGraph takes it one step further, giving clients access to its proprietary SEO software suite. With this program, users can keep tabs on key analytics and better manage their SEO campaigns. For those looking to maximize their ROI, this tool functions as a handy dashboard, providing insights into technical SEO, backlinks, meta tags, and keyword performance. Some companies portray SEO as a nebulous concept, a tendency you should be wary of. In truth, effective engine optimization is driven by data, which is why LinkGraph is not afraid to quantify and display findings, providing clients with the utmost in transparency.

#8. What is your SEO firm‘s pricing model, and do you require long-term contracts?

While the cost of SEO services varies widely, based on the size of a project, its duration, and the specific SEO pros behind it, it will behoove you to consider a company’s pricing model. This includes initial charges, hourly rates, and monthly retainer fees for longer-term agreements.

Again, this all comes back to knowing the goals of your SEO strategy. If all you’re looking for is to establish a backlink profile, then this can likely be done in a couple of months. More in-depth tasks, such as overhauling your site’s user interface or producing original content, will likely take longer and, naturally, come with a higher price tag.

Many of the larger, more established professional SEO companies will require you to lock into a long-term contract of up to two years. This might not be a bad thing; however, many younger agencies and independent consultants will be more flexible with their SEO marketing services, allowing you to opt-out of your agreement in the event that you’re unsatisfied with their results. You and your team should establish some tangible KPIs and evaluate your progress accordingly. With that said, it’s important to remember that the most worthwhile SEO strategies take time to come to fruition. SEO work takes time, patience, and years of experience.

#9. How involved does your company need to be in the process?

While SEO companies may all refer to themselves as such, there’s often a wide discrepancy in the services they offer. Some agencies specialize specifically in link building, whereas others offer full SEO overhauls, from web design to content creation and direct marketing. When taking stock of a company’s services, you should consider not only your goals but also the inner working of your own operation.

If your interior design team is literally just you and your installers, then you’ll want to consider seeking an agency that can plan and execute an SEO campaign from the ground up. On the other hand, if your company is on the larger side (perhaps you already have a graphics team and web developer), then you can pick and choose the desired services, integrating them with your existing team.

In an ideal world, an SEO agency could handle everything without you having to lift a finger; however, you should be careful of companies that ask nothing of you. At the very least, they should ask you for access to your CMS, Google Analytics account, Webmaster Tools, and social media accounts. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine they’re doing much of anything at all.

#10. Why are you the best SEO company, and why should I choose your services over competitors?

Ultimately, the best indicator of a good SEO company is transparency. From inception to execution, an agency should keep you fully aware of their research, strategies, implementation, and success metrics.

Unfortunately, it’s not so uncommon for SEO agencies to do more harm than good. Through black hat strategies, some companies are able to sell you on short term traffic gains and then leave you holding the bag when the algorithm recognizes the shoddy nature of their techniques and penalizes your page.

Like many B2B services, SEO marketing can become a fixture of your business. The road to the top of Google is both long and complicated; however, with a solid SEO company as your partner, you can get there. Currently, LinkGraph offers several different plans, providing you with flexibility both in terms of cost and contract length. An effective SEO strategy takes time, but LinkGraph is dedicated to providing results, all the while keeping each of their clients fully in tune with the process. 

The Page Experience Update: New SEO Ranking Factors for 2021

In their everlasting quest to provide users with the best results for search queries, Google recently announced that page experience metrics will soon be included in ranking algorithms.

Aptly referred to as the Google Page Experience Update, the revised algorithm will consider factors such as mobile-friendliness, web safety, and interstitials, in addition to a site’s overall UI/UX. Rolling out in early 2021, this is the first update to heavily focus on a user’s experience with each part of a web page.

Those websites that don’t prioritize creating a high-quality, engaging page experience for users will likely see a drop in their keyword rankings. However, site owners who focus their efforts on following proper user experiences best practices will be better situated to sail through the update without any negative impacts to their overall search visibility.

Google’s Updating Algorithm

While Google’s impending update might seem Earth-shattering, Google has a long and varied history of updating its algorithm. In 2018 alone, Google launched over 3,000 updates to how the browser produces search results. These types of updates range from large to small, and they usually include changes to indexation, data, search UI’s, webmaster tools, and ranking factors.

All of these updates play into the many algorithms that power every search. Google uses algorithms to help fulfill a specific function, grouped into one larger, core algorithm. Sound complex? We promise it’s not. Here is a breakdown of the different types of ranking factors used by Google:

  • Content: The most popular content algorithm is known as Panda, and it helps Google judge relevant content, penalizing and rewarding content based on specific parameters.
  • Backlinks: The Penguin update helps Google determine if a link is spammy and deserves to be factored in with the crawling and indexing process.
  • Organizing: All this information has to be stored somewhere, and there are specific algorithms to help with that.
  • User Experience: In addition to your great content, Google needs to see if your website brings valuable information to users. It does this by rating your website’s user experience (UX) and factoring it into the search engine organic results.

What is UX?

Simply put, user experience is the study of how users interact with your website. User experience targets potential users at all steps of their journey and helps you get into your customer’s mind before they come to your website, during their time on the site, and after they leave.

To many business owners, a good user experience equates to a pretty website. While it is always a good idea to have an aesthetically pleasing website, a few pretty graphics won’t cause your customers to convert.

Instead, your website’s interface needs to be optimized with the consumers in mind. Here are some user experience statistics that drive home the sheer importance of creating a good page experience:

When it comes to your website, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of competitors offering products and services similar to yours. With this in mind, you can’t risk that your potential customer’s first impression of you is impacted by low-quality UX. Staying on top of user experience trends and best practices has always been important to earning new customers, but it will now be essential to showing up in search results.

What Is the Google 2021 Page Experience Update?

The thing about Google’s algorithm updates is that they don’t release all the information needed for webmasters to optimize their websites perfectly. Due to trade secrets and proprietary information, Google only releases minimal information about their upcoming algorithms. Then, it is up to every web developer and SEO expert to infer how to make optimizations to best match the new ranking factors.

It’s important to understand that if your website is not properly optimized for these algorithm changes, your rankings could drop significantly, thus losing visibility and potential customer conversions. Luckily, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you by outlining the key information you need to know to ensure your website provides the kind of page experience that will be most valued by Google.

What We Know So Far – New Core Web Vitals

In May, Google released a tool named Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics that measure a website’s speed/loading time, responsiveness and interactivity, and visual stability. These metrics will be the foundation of the 2021 algorithm update, as Google will use these three benchmarks, plus a new signal, to help site owners measure a website’s holistic user experience.

While we know that these new measures are subject to change and evolve over time, here’s the breakdown of the three basic metrics:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
(measures site speed and loading time)

LCP reports the render time of the largest image or block of text visible within a web page’s viewport. Simply put, it relates the time it takes for your webpage to load the biggest piece of content on a page. An ideal LCP would be within 2.5 seconds of loading the page.

First Input Delay (FID)
(measures interactivity)

FID measures a consumer’s first impression of your website’s interactivity and responsiveness. It does so by monitoring how long it takes from when a user first interacts with a web page (i.e., clicking on a button) to how long it takes for the browser to respond to that action. Think of it as how long it takes for a user to press a button and for that information to appear. An ideal FID is under 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
(measures visual stability)

Have you ever been scrolling on a website and are just about to click on a button, when the layout moves and you are all of a sudden in a different portion of the page? That is a layout shift, and if your website has a lot of them, it can hamper your user experience.

Visual stability is exactly that—how stable the webpage is when it loads—and if the page stays steady throughout a consumer’s scroll. CLS measures how many times a user experiences unexpected layout shifts, with the ideal metric for this being less than 0.1.

As a best practice, to ensure that you are meeting the right target for each of these metrics, it is recommended you test and monitor about 75% of all pages on your website. It is important to understand that these Core Web Vital metrics are user-centered metrics that give real-world data to see and understand how users interact with your website.

What We Know So Far – Page Experience Signals

A better page experience leads to deeper engagement and allows consumers to get more done. There are already existing page experience metrics that Google uses to help webmasters monitor their performance, including:

  • Mobile Friendliness: Not all searches are created equal, meaning your website should perform on mobile phones at the same level it does on desktop. This new signal will factor more heavily into SEO.
  • Safe Browsing: This metric ensures the security and safety of your website, verifying there is not any harmful content on it.
  • HTTPS Security: Having an HTTPS tag on your website means it is safe and secure for users, and their information isn’t at risk of being stolen.
  • Intrusive Interstitial Guidelines: Many websites have a ton of intrusive pop-ups that get in the way of a user finding the information they need. Because of this, Google has created a set of guidelines on how to include pop-ups on a webpage without severely hampering the user’s experience as a whole.

When 2021 rolls around, Google will combine these existing page experience signals with the new and improved Core Web Vitals metrics to rank a website’s overall user experience.

How to Prepare for Google’s 2021 Page Experience Update

All this information on search engine functionality and algorithms may sound complicated, but don’t worry. There are many easy steps anyone can take to prepare their website for the newly important aspects of page experience. Here are a few of the steps you can take to maintain and improve your SEO.

Know the Tools Available to You

There are plenty of free tools available to you that will allow you to monitor these new ranking factors on your website. Using them to consistently monitor your own website will not only help your user experience metrics soar but bring more potential customers to convert. A few examples include:

Audit Your Site Across Devices

If you have both a smartphone and computer, then you likely know the way in which different devices load pages differently, both in terms of visuals and page speed. There are some tools that can help you audit your website without having to purchase a truckload of devices.

  • With Responsinator, you can test out how your website looks on a plethora of mobile devices, from phones to tablets. This is a great, free way to ensure that the actual rendering of your page is not lost in translation between different devices.
  • CrossBrowserTesting allows you to test out both the appearance and performance of your website on over 2,000 different browsers and devices. This is a great way to ensure that your site not only looks but also performs optimally across a range of formats.

Improving Your PSI Score

Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool lets you know how well your website performs for both desktop and mobile browsers. It also provides detailed information that can be used to deliver a faster user experience. If you find that your PSI is scoring less than ideal (anywhere below a 90), then you’ll want to take some measures to boost your page speed. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Compress Your Images: Large image files are a significant contributor to longer load times. Luckily, there are many free tools available that can help you compress your files and diminish the time it takes to load them. If you host your page on WordPress, then Smush is a handy plugin to optimize and compress images, one you don’t need to be an SEO expert to understand.
  • Use a Browser Cache: Browser caching is another simple fix that significantly improves the speed of your page. Essentially, a browser cache allows a web browser to remember commonly occurring elements of your site, such as header and footer material. This way, users won’t have to reload this material every time they click on a new page on your site. For WordPress users, W3 Total Cache is a tool we’ve found useful.
  • Implement Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): Originally used for news sites, AMP pages are essentially stripped-down versions of existing pages that can load up more quickly on mobile devices. While not necessary for pages loading optimally, AMP can be a boon to pages that are currently lagging. It’s likely you’ve already encountered AMP on your phone, noted by the little, encircled lightning bolt in the page’s corner.

Have a Benchmark

It is of the utmost importance to understand where your website stands before you make changes. We all know that having the top spot in the search engine result pages is our top goal, but, if anything, the announcement of this new algorithm means that it is time to shift focus to include a user’s experience.

So you need to test, test, and test! Use the free tools above on each page of your site and move slowly. Take note of what is working and what isn’t in order to be best prepared. This way, whenever you make changes, you’ll be able to track your results easily and won’t be sidelined with the introduction of Google’s search algorithm next year.

Optimize Your Content

Your website is nothing if not a place for your potential customers to gain information, so be sure to optimize your content, one of the most important Google ranking factors. Our landing page optimizer is the best way to improve your on-page content (you can access it by setting up a free account). Using this tool, you can target up to five keywords and take immediate steps to give your content more topical-depth and authority.

But you can’t just put the content on your page without any organization, as this is where header tags come in. The proper use of headers such as the title tags and header tags will not only segment out your information into easily digestible chunks, it will also make it easier for Google to crawl and index. And don’t forget—these subheadings are a great way to optimize your target keywords, as the more prominent they are on your page and your URL, the more Google will believe the information you are creating is valuable content.

Don’t Forget Images

Yes, it is important to have original content on your website. However, it is much more important to diversify the types of content you use, as images are a significant Google ranking factor, in addition to how they engage the searcher. The easiest way to use images is to put them at the top of the page, grabbing the user’s attention as soon as they get on a specific landing page. Make sure to optimize these images by incorporating relevant keywords in the alt text, so in case of a problem with loading the page, users can see what the photos are meant to be used for.

Stay Informed

Google’s power is that we don’t always know what to expect when they roll out a new change. The websites at the top of a Google search can always change, so you need to stay informed to stay ahead of the game.

New information regularly comes out on how to optimize your website with multiple ranking factors in mind; it’s essential to closely monitor your website, keeping tabs on ranking changes. Especially since it can take weeks (and sometimes months) for Google to register changes to a page, you’ll want to check up on the SERPs post-update to see which types of UX features are boosting your rankings.

As you can see, there isn’t just one answer on how to get to the top of the Google search results. That is why Linkgraph.io is here to help you and your website stay on top of the trends, as and when they happen, and make sure that you understand what these shifts mean for you. So when it comes to the new Google 2021 Page Experience Update, we have one thing to say to Google: Bring it on.