A recent Facebook thread got me thinking about things that a franchise owner (regardless of the business) should look for when shopping for an online services vendor. In this case, let’s talk about the ever-elusive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist.
This document will help you in the process of choosing a digital marketing vendor.
Just like shopping for anything else you plan to keep long-term, (i.e. a car, a home, etc.) you want to make sure that you are careful in choosing a vendor that will meet your needs – digitally, professionally, and financially. Take your time interviewing potential vendors and look for some of the following key indicators for fit with your company.
1. PAST SUCCESSES
Look at it as if you were hiring an employee – you’d want their resume. Most experienced online service vendors should be ready with examples, case studies, or success stories of clients that they’ve helped in the past (especially locally-based service companies). If the vendor was doing their job right, they should have specific examples available (while maintaining client confidentiality, of course) to showcase their abilities (more on that later). It’s appropriate (and a VERY good idea) to ask for these kinds of examples, testimonials, case studies, white papers, or any other information regarding the vendor’s track record. In fact, feel free to grill them pretty thoroughly. For example:
- Could you give me a few examples of how you’ve helped other small businesses?
- On average, how long has it taken you to get companies like mine to show up on page 1 of Google?
- How long have you had your oldest client? Who’s your newest client?
If you have any questions about whether a certain vendor is qualified, feel free to reach out to me and we can talk about it.
If you’re going to be paying this vendor (potentially) hundreds of dollars every month to be running your SEO, you want to make sure they actually know what they’re doing. Aside from references (which may be enough for some people) it’s also a good idea to ask about certifications. It’s probably best if they site some source more credible than the “Digital School of Hard Knocks.” Google Analytics certification is a MUST. Look for certifications from organizations such as Online Marketing Institute, iCrossing, Bruce Clay, or The SEO Book.
3. REFERENCE CHECKING
When you ask your vendor for references, don’t just take them. CALL THEM! Get these clients’ thoughts about this vendor. Again, just as if you were hiring a new employee, take some time to “vet the candidate.” You want to be sure that this vendor will be worth hiring. Ask questions like:
- How well does he/she communicate your reports with you? Is he/she easy to understand.
- How easy is it to plan and strategize with them? Are they open to suggestions?
- How responsive are they to communication?
So, here’s the thing about your SEO vendor. They work FOR YOU. You are paying them your hard-earned money, and you could easily take your business elsewhere. They need to understand that and make themselves available for you to contact and collaborate with. Obviously, you’re not likely going to be making SEO-related calls in the middle of the night or (usually) on weekends. However, you want to know that when you need them, they’ll take your call. Will you have your vendor’s cell number? Are they willing to meet with you (via phone call, most likely) at minimum on a monthly basis? When you do speak to them, can they communicate what they’re doing in such a way that you can understand? What reporting/tools do they have in place so you can keep tabs on their work? Some vendors have custom website “dashboards” that you can log on to view your progress in real time. You should automatically receive (at minimum) monthly reports from your vendor.
To help keep your vendors accountable, use this Monthly Vendor Meeting Checklist. (You can also find it on the Chem-Dry Gateway in the Operations Toolbox under Tracking/Reports/Charts.)
You’ll notice that I put price last. There’s a reason for that. For some people, price may be the first priority, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Here’s why:
The price you pay for your SEO service will vary depending on the size of your market, the depth of service, experience, and other possibly bundled services (Pay-Per-Click, website management and design, etc.). While service from one provider may seem high or low, there’s probably a good reason for it. WMS is very low cost (because HRI subsidizes it heavily), but they provide very good service. Other vendors charge top dollar because they have reputations to back themselves up.
In general, try to not let yourself get “sold”, but also remember that your service provider is a business owner just like yourself. At the end of the day, you BOTH need to be making money. Make it a symbiotic relationship, and you’ll soon see the value in having a vendor handle the complicated world of SEO.
Before you choose a new vendor, take some time to educate yourself about what you’re going to be wanting from them. Learn some basics of Google Analytics (click here to take some free courses from Google itself) so that you understand what metrics your vendor is talking about. It also makes it easier to share your thoughts, insights, and goals with them.
Also, look out for any vendor who offers “guarantees” on results. You want someone who will earnestly strive to best serve you and your business. But when some vendors make promises of high, quick results, they can often be achieved by practices that may get you blacklisted in the long run.
If you have any questions about whether or not a vendor you’re looking at is worth hiring, please contact me and let’s talk about it!