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Knowing what to look for in an SEO firm is tough business—there are likely several options that must be narrowed down to the one that can provide the solution which best fits your goals, budget, and that you believe will deliver the results you desire.

Asking intelligent and relevant questions can help you determine which agency’s services will best fit your vision for your company’s online marketing strategy.

Here are 6 key questions to ask a prospective SEO agency before you sign that dotted line:

1. What sets you apart from other SEO agencies?

This is an easy way to sort out which agencies provide a unique value to you and which ones don’t. If the company can’t give you a strong answer to this question you’re left to assume that it is because the answer is “absolutely nothing.” You’re much better going with an agency that understands its strengths and is constantly striving to develop them. Any agency that isn’t conscientious enough to manage its own brand reputation shouldn’t be paid thousands of dollars to ruin yours.

2. Can I Speak With A Long-Standing Customer (Or Two)?

The best way to get a real view of what working with the firm is like is to speak to a current client. The most helpful would be a business in a similar competitive sector as you. Any agency worth your time should have a few clients willing to speak as “client references” to their expertise, just as any job applicant would.

Speaking to these references is a great way to get unbiased answers from someone in a similar situation as you. Ask them how quickly they saw results, if they feel they’ve gotten appropriate value out of the budget they allocate to SEO, how much sales have increased since beginning services with this agency.

3. What Am I Paying For?

Generally, a well developed strategy should include a set number of hours (not links) which are spent are doing a variety of link acquisition and brand management activities. A campaign employing a per-link payment plan is prone to poor quality links and over-optimization (including associated penalties).

Any agency focused only on link acquisition is far behind the times. A successful online marketing strategy should aim to optimize your site and create content which yields a varied link portfolio filled with as many natural links as possible. That is what your monthly fee is paying for, not a certain number of links or the #1 ranking for a certain keyword. Employing a monthly strategy allows your team to focus on the quality, not quantity, of links built and building your company’s reputation as an industry expert.

4. Will I Have Access To My Team?

Your SEO fulfillment team is who you’ll be working with primarily through the course of your campaign and relying on to deliver results. Make sure you understand the structure of the team and who is responsible for the activities constituting your online marketing strategy. Who will be your point of contact at the company, and how often can you expect to talk to them about your campaign? Generally your team should give you a high-level overview of how things are doing a couple of times a month and be available in between to answer questions you may have about your campaign.

5. Do I Own the Content I Pay For?

Be sure to look into the company’s proprietary policy before engaging in services. Especially now that SEO has moved toward quality content (which takes more time and budget to create than before), you should ensure that anything your agency creates on your budget belongs to you if services are terminated—make sure it’s in the contract!

6. How Will The Success Of My Campaign Be Measured?

While it is impossible to guarantee results, a good SEO company should be able to understand your vision for your campaign and transform that into measurable goals. You should also ask about the agency’s reporting methods—what type of reports should your team be delivering, how often, etc. Reporting is your primary method of visibility into your campaign’s success. At SEO.com we allow our clients visibility through our tool, SEOinsight. Here they can view their rankings, backlinks, site visits, and website analytics throughout their campaigns.

**Click here to sign up for your free trial of SEOinsight**

These are just a few questions to consider, but they’ll steer you in the right direction when seeking an SEO agency that best fits your company’s needs and strategic vision for its internet marketing campaign.

Remember, you’re doing more than attaining rankings; you’re building your brand in the online community, which includes current and prospective customers. Choose an agency whose capabilities best serve your corporate image online.

What other suggestions do you have for what to ask an SEO agency before hiring them?