Interviewing An SEO Company – It Helps to Ask The Right Questions

November 3rd, 2008 by Will Scott

I had the great experience recently to be interviewed in a lengthy email by Natalie, the Office and Marketing Manger, of an Atlanta Office Cleaning company Clean-Guard Inc.

She sent me an email with a list of questions which were based in large measure on a list at It was a great list, I’m a guy who likes being challenged and with Natalie’s permission I’m reposting the bulk of that email here:

It’s funny this is the first time I’ve been asked to answer so specific a set of questions but I’m happy to have the opportunity.

Perhaps we should make it the basis of an FAQ page 🙂

Please see my answers in line below.

Very best regards,


Natalie wrote:

> Will,


> Great speaking with you on Tuesday. Below you will find a lot of questions. Due to our inexperience and knowledge on this subject we tried to compile a list of questions that could help us understand things a bit more. Thanks for your time and patience.

I’m going to say again, you’re pretty darn savvy and this list proves it.

> 1. Have you optimized other cleaning services? If so can you give us an example of feedback/response they have received?

We have not worked with a cleaning service. We work with many different businesses both consumer and business to business. These have included printers, sign brokers, medical professionals, soil testing companies and many more.

The tools we use are appropriate for any business and most particularly effective with locally oriented service businesses like yours.

There is a great quote on our web site in the testimonials section from our soil testing company.

This past Tuesday, Midwest Laboratories had the largest receiving day on record. We received 17,800 soil samples. The previous record was 13,200. That is the equivalent of 790 UPS Boxes – 3 UPS Trucks.

We are now averaging about 85-120 hits per day on the eStore. Thanks again for your help in this process.

Also, we recently published a press release on our success in internet marketing for plastic surgeons with a New Jersey plastic surgeon:

> 2. Based upon your professional opinion when should we expect results?

It is a constant process, and we see continued improvement in sites we’ve worked with for years. In the worst case you should see something definitive within 6 months. If we are aggressive it should be markedly less, perhaps as little as 60 – 90 days.

> 3. Will you/company be undertaking the seo work yourselves or will you be outsourcing to another country?

We have both US and offshore staff. We do not outsource our core work and aside from 1 or 2 discreet tasks all work is done by our employees, some of whom are offshore.

> 4. What is the payment schedule?

We bill by credit card on the 1st of the month.

> 5. Who owns the rights to the work?

You do

> 6. Please define maintenance after site is up and running. What does maintenance include and why is the start-up and maintenance price the same? Do you have a maintenance program?

The bulk of our ongoing maintenance is link-building and content development. See fuller answer in #7.

> 7. Will you be providing any additional value added services with the setup? Example: blog, ezine, newsletters, PR, etc.

We often use all of the above. Currently for link-building we are very fond of Articles (distributed to ezine sites and press releases. When desired, some of the effort that would go toward off-site content creation can be used for on-site blogs. As an added service we can help with newsletters and email marketing.

For more about link-building in the local space please feel free to have a look at my presentation from SMX Local/Mobile.

> 8. Is there a limited number of keywords that will be used?

We usually select a basket of 20 search terms to focus on. These are terms which we agree together will drive valuable traffic. In our typical relationships we have a 1 year contract which has a 6-month checkpoint. If at the end of 6 months you’re not on page 1 of Google for 10 of those 20 selected terms we keep working for free until you are for up to another 6 months.

Typically we track many more than 20. The selection of 20 search terms is merely intended to be used as a yardstick by which our clients may hold us accountable.

> 9. What is Google PageRank™ and how does it affect our website(s)? How would you address improving our PageRank™ with Google, and other search engines that calculate the number of quality inbound links to our website?

PageRank, in a nutshell is Google’s indication of the relative authority of your site among its peers. All of the search engines do some level of weighted link analysis which helps to sort the sites competing for a given set of searches.

In other words, if you have two sites which say exactly the same things and one of them has 10 inbound links and the other has 100 links, the one with more links should clearly win.

That said, per the algorithm MORE links doesn’t always mean better. The authority of the links matters too. if the site with 10 links has links from Harvard, Emory, NASA, The Pentagon, your local newspaper and the like and the site with 100 links has nothing but free directory links, the 10 trump the 100.

To improve PageRank, it’s important to focus on trusted inbound links (of the type discussed in 6 & 7)

> 10. What is link popularity? What linking strategies would you use to increase link popularity for our website? Is this service part of the proposed price? What types of websites will you target for link exchange?

Link popularity is no longer as widely used given the advent of PageRank and similar systems from the other major engines. Many times Link Popularity was referenced when talking about reciprocal links (you’ll notice this question references “link exchange”) — I’m sure you get the emails offering these exchanges.

Per the PageRank algorithm, the number of links is no longer weighted nearly as strongly as the trust of the sites linking in.

In fact, in the last 2 years Google has specifically come out against link exchanges and there was even and issue a year or so ago where hundreds of realtors disappeared from the listings due to aggressive use of this technique.

> 11. What changes can we expect you to make to our website to improve our positioning in the search engines? Will these changes be visible? Will there be changes in the coding of our website?

We typically change a number of on-page elements including the title and description which are not readily apparent. We also will often make changes to the visible copy to enhance the use of search terms in copy and the use of page elements such as heading tags which are cues to the search engines of the importance of certain text.

We typically don’t change the code which structures your site unless it is inherently blocking search engine spiders.

> 12. What type of reporting will you provide to us? How often will you provide those reports? Will you provide consultation on how to interpret the reports so that we have a basic understanding of the statistics?

We typically offer both position reporting (e.g. you rank # 10 for phrase X) and traffic reporting using Google Analytics. We send monthly reports interpreting these data and are happy to walk you through the reports to explain items which may be unclear. We will also have separate call tracking #s for better visibility on the actual leads.

> 13. What is a PR0 penalty?

Sometimes, when site owners behave very badly their PageRank and ability to rank will be greatly diminished sometimes to zero. Recently Google has been clamping down on paid links. Some have suggested that a PageRank of zero is a warning to clean up one’s act. There are a lot of differing opinions on this point. In short, if a site has been online a year or more has a fair number of inbound links and a PR0 it’s not a good sign.

To really be able to tell what’s going on with your site we’d need to do some analysis and then submit a re-inclusion request to Google and see what happened.

> 14. How many pages will you be optimizing in our website?

All of them.

> 15. What techniques does Google consider spam?

The Google Webmaster Guidelines say it better than I can:

> 16. Can you assure us that the optimization strategies and methods that you are utilizing fall under the criteria of Best Practices for the SEO/SEM Industry? Can we assume that this means no penalties for our website? Penalties could include, but are not limited to; removal from the search engines or directories index, or a possible Google PageRank™ penalty.

We haven’t lost one yet. We don’t do anything risky. We don’t hide text and we don’t auto-generate 15,000 links overnight. We trade content in the form of articles, PR, blog posts and submission text for links.

As I’m sure you can see from the above, this is a GREAT way to start a relationship. If only all our clients were this rigorous in interviewing an SEO company we’d all be better off.