My latest post on 13 Questions To Ask Before You Hire a Local SEO Consultant is now live on Search Engine Land. It’s pretty good if I do say so myself, so I may have to copy it here:

Can you tell me exactly how you do what you do?
Local SEO is not magic. There is a long list of techniques that are known to work. Some work better than others. While how a SEO campaign is executed can have some proprietary aspects to it, in general a good SEO consultant should have no problem telling you how that are going to go about improving your rankings. In particular you want to make sure they are not using any spammy techniques that could potentially harm your business. If they avoid the question or they don’t seem particularly transparent about their methodology, hang up the phone. It’s not particularly hard to switch out a toilet, but most people would prefer to hire an expert so it gets done right. Your plumber doesn’t have any secrets (at least I think he doesn’t) so why should your SEO consultant?

What are you going to need from me to be successful?
While it typically takes some time to analyze the state of a business’ SEO, the consultant likely has a list of tactics they will deploy which they know from the start. Some of these will require input from the client. It’s important for you to understand up front how much of commitment will be required. Knowing how much time, money and human resources you will need to spend will help you determine how profitable this effort will be.

Do I control access to all accounts?
Typically local SEO engagements require updating your business’ profiles on a number of sites: Google, Bing, Yahoo, yellow pages sites, etc. I hear from businesses all of the time who can no longer get into their Google Place Page account because their old SEO agency or a former employee created it for them. It is critical that you control admin access to the account for any profile or page created for you by a third party. This can save you a lot of headaches if you part company in the future.

How are the spammers doing it?
Most SEOs I know typically work inside of the various search engines’ guidelines to achieve great rankings for their clients. It can be tedious, not-very-glamorous work, but in the long run it pays off. That said, there are a whole host of successful SEOs that use less-than-kosher techniques that can pay off fast and drive a ton of new customers to their clients. While these techniques can be risky, the short term ROI on them can be stellar. I would never recommend that a client go this route, but as I watch the same spammy fake address listing rank #1 for a valuable local query for the third month in a row, I would be hard-pressed to tell a client that it is not worth doing. If you are going to play in this game, you need to know both how to play by the rules and how to break them. If the consultant doesn’t know about these techniques, how are they going to know how to beat them?

What is a typical return on investment for one of your clients?
This is always a great question. Depending on the client’s business, a good search marketing consultant should be able to come up with some kind of tangible ROI metric that you can relate to your own business. Instead of “increased traffic 50%” I like stuff like “generated five breast augmentation customers at $1,500 a pop and twenty qualified leads in sixty days.” That one always starts a good conversation with the prospect. 🙂

How do you measure your effectiveness?
Pretty simple question. How are you going to prove to me you did what you did and that it worked? Typical answers include: increase in rankings for targeted terms, increased qualified traffic to your site, increased inbound email and phone calls (via a tracking phone number usually), and ultimately increased business.

How do you communicate your effectiveness to me?
The consultant should have a system that regularly communicates what they have done, what is going to be done and when.

Who’s my point of contact?
You or a 22-year-old? Enough said.

If we part ways, will you remove all your work from my website and the links you have secured?
This is why it’s important to understand the consultant’s methodology from the get-go. SEO consultants often rely on networks of sites they control to get links to your site. Then they hold you hostage by threatening to remove those links if you don’t renew a deal. Make sure you understand up front that this is not the case.

Can you show me some representative results?
If they can’t show you a company that they have successfully ranked #1 for a variety of competitive terms and give you an idea of how they did it, then say sayonara.

Can you give me some references?

Why do customers leave you?
I doubt there is any agency out there that has a perfect record when it comes to performance and customer retention. Customers change their strategies. Consultants don’t hit home runs every time. An honest discussion about challenges the consultant has had with customers and how they are improving things is always a good thing. A good consultant should almost be proud of their mistakes. I like to tell my clients that when I started doing SEO I lost a lot of traffic and learned enough so that you don’t have to.

What sets you apart from other SEO companies?
The answer here shouldn’t be “we get you ranked #1.” What you really want to know is why they think they deserve your business vs. the thousands of other guys out there?

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20 Response Comments

  • Mike Stewart  September 6, 2010 at 4:53 pm


    Pure Gold I tell ya. Amazing how I somehow managed to incorporate just about everything you said into my business model.

    From honesty, such as setting up client Google, Yahoo, and IYP profiles that they own, to transparent reporting such as Google and Woopra Analytics, Web Ranking Reports, and Google AdWords campaign reporting. I also don’t own paid search campaigns, but build them for the client.

    We provide SEO Copywriting services, and when I finally get my challenges with website design resolved, should be very competitive in that arena as well.

    Love it.. Keep it coming!

    Mike Stewart

    (btw, what is the 22 year old comment? I am only 7 years older!)

  • Jo Petkovic  September 7, 2010 at 4:11 am

    I agree with you that SEO consultant should tell how campaign will be executed but I see one big problem here. Since there are a lot of techniques that work they can easily tell you they will do technique A and execute technique B for example let’s say something spammy that works short term and gets penalized on long term. To protect yourself from that I suggest contract includes penalties for SEO consultant if that happens.
    As you mentioned it is crucial to to protect yourself against potential threats from SEO consultant if you don’t renew.

  • Tom  September 7, 2010 at 4:36 am

    Nothing wrong with a 22 year old if they’re good!

    Loved the post, all great tips (minus the ageism!)

  • Jim Rudnick  September 7, 2010 at 6:30 am

    Spot-on Andrew….love the question/answer format and the counsel provided !!!!



    PS never met a 22 year old that knew as much as a 60 year old!

  • Andrew Shotland  September 7, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I have nothing against 22-yr-olds – I have worked with some pretty great ones. But in my experience most clients want to make sure they are working with someone who is perceived to have more experience (read “older”).

    So maybe I am enabling the ageist point of view of my clients, but until the client has had enough time to get to comfortable with the younger staff members, I don’t think it’s particularly good strategy to pair them up on day one.

  • Drew Barnes  September 7, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I must say I have always disliked when companies say they will pull the links right out from under a customer. Heck they paid your for the work already whats the big deal. Just move on the the next customer.

  • Andrew Shotland  September 7, 2010 at 10:49 am

    It’s a sure sign of a crappy vendor

  • Sherman Unkefer  September 8, 2010 at 7:42 am

    I also think the point of SEO is usually to drive customers to your business and that’s a key to point out in results. How will my SEO work drive more customers to your site/store? We key in on that factor and show our results as opposed to going too far into the techniques we use to make it happen. Plenty of businesses will never show you how they do it but focus on the results.

  • Lucy Griffths  September 8, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Great blog post.

    Being transparent and ensuring that the client understands what is happening with their campaign I find is key in keeping happy clients.

    I also advise prospective clients to talk to my existing clients or read their testimonials to find out about my work.

  • dentist in fresno  September 8, 2010 at 9:44 am

    There is nothing wrong with a young SEO consultant as long as they know what they are doing. The two most important things to know of your new consultant is if they have any sites of their own that are successful on the search engines and if they have ever used black hat techniques to get their rankings. Honesty is important in this line of work.

  • Plamen  September 9, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    “PS never met a 22 year old that knew as much as a 60 year old!”

    I lol’d hard.

  • Gilson  September 14, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    @dentist in fresno

    …And the third most important thing to know about your new consultant is if they know how to create a backlink.

  • Liz  March 1, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    About the 22-year-old remark… I found your blog months after the you published this article. I have to say, not a great first impression… Your stance as you explained it in the comments is, in fact, ageist, and the side note in your blog is a put-down. It’s also odd to read in an article about working online, which is an area where digital natives have a natural leg up. Maybe if you invested more time in training your staff, you could be confident that they would represent you well to your clients, and you’d be able to take advantage of what they bring to the table.

  • Mike Stewart  March 1, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    I have met many so-called “local advertising experts” from IYP companies who have no clue about anything digital.

    My thoughts on the 22 yr old comment are: Don’t rely on an intern to control your companies internet marketing strategy.

    Enough said.

  • Andrew Shotland  March 1, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Welcome to the blog Liz. Sorry you didn’t dig the post. Rereading it now I can see where some readers might think I was a huge asshole (and they may be right). Perhaps instead of “22-year-old” I should have said “inexperienced”. That said, I can’t tell you how many clients I have signed up after being assigned a very young account exec from a big SEO agency. So ageism aside, putting young, inexperienced people on accounts (and perhaps even old, inexperienced people too) seems to be a common practice for this industry. And it makes sense. The demand for SEO has been growing dramatically over the past 5 years. There are not nearly enough skilled practitioners to meet that demand but it’s hard for an agency with a lot of overhead to say no to new business. So what do they do? Hire inexperienced people and train them. It’s hard for me to complain about this as it is these people who have paid for my kids’ college tuition.

  • James  August 12, 2011 at 4:57 am

    I some of your views, for example, your views on Customers controlling their own accounts, like Google Places.

    It seems to me your approach is straight forward and you have honest intentions. I don’t do it often, but I think I will bookmark and stop back.

    I believe 100% in quality content and hard work is the only real way to the top of search engine.-jq

  • Joel Casarez  January 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    I can only imagine how many seo consultants shake in their boots when a potential client asks “What is a typical return on investment for one of your clients?”.

  • Anthony Mangia  January 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    I’ll second what Joel said. These are definitely some great questions for potential clients to be asking. In my experience, though, I’ll take the educated, involved client over the stupid, doesn’t-seem-to-care client any day of the week. They might be harder to please, but they’ll also appreciate your work more – as well as your results.

  • Rick Altuoa  June 20, 2013 at 12:11 am

    Great article but I’ve got a couple comments to make

    1) I don’t think its completely necessary for your SEO agent to tell you exactly what he does.. a general idea and overview (enough to prove he knows what hes talking about) is enough to me.

    2) I know in a lot of cases seo agents cant show actual proof of past work due to confidentiality agreements and such.

    3) Honestly in this day and age I wouldn’t discriminate against a 22 year old, especially in tech-related fields.


  • Andrew Shotland  June 20, 2013 at 8:38 am

    Rick, been a while since I put this up. I think I wrote this in response to about the thousandth potential client that had just been burned by a bullshit local SEO agency, so I wasn’t feeling generous towards these guys as I vented.

    Re your points:
    1. More and more SMBs have been through a SEO program these days, so being forthright about your tactics shouldn’t be an issue. I agree that you don’t need to info overload them, particularly if they are new to SEO, but if part of your strategy is to do something gray or black, you better be prepared to explain what you are doing and why it may be risky so that the client can decide for themselves whether or not it’s worth the risk.

    2. Re confidentiality, every SEO surely has some work they can show to the public. I have plenty of clients that are fine with me showing what we’ve done. If you don’t, then start with your own site.

    3. I have nothing against smart 22 year olds or anyone of any age. I just have seen way too many clients that have been burned by hiring an experienced SEO and then getting the work done by an inexperienced younger person on their staff. See