Many business owners employ search engine optimization or paid search consultants – which are sometimes the same people. However, many business owners don't actually take the time and spend the energy to actually audit the activities of their own consultants or the agencies they work with.
Properly and periodically auditing your own SEO and/or PPC specialist is essential for business owners – not only to make sure they're maximizing the effectiveness of your budget, but also to ensure they're targeting the types of leads and traffic that will benefit your company most.
What's more, recognizing the way each SEO and/or PPC consultant works and the metrics they prioritize is equally essential – and agreeing upon and understanding the reporting metrics are equally important. After all, search consultants tend to start with an audit of your overall digital presence; you should start with one of your own regarding theirs as well.
What to Look For
Knowing what you don't know is only the beginning. Obviously, you don't need to be an SEO or PPC expert (we're assuming that's at least part of the reason why you're outsourcing in the first place), but previous successes are just the beginning when it comes to building your long-term relationship with a particular consultant or agency.
1. Defined Goals and Metrics
Start by understanding what your own goals and success metrics look like. Then, evaluate what your consultant or agency's success metrics are. Having a similar definition of success will make for a positive working relationship.
2. Clear and Accurate Reporting
A key element of the working partnership will be learning how to read and understand the reports they provide. This starts with agreeing on the software, metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs), and any other benchmarks that are valuable to you before you initially engage their services.
They should be able to walk you through their reports, answer questions, and easily address concerns. Googling the various metrics, KPIs, and other terms they use to see how other SEO and PPC consultants define them can be a helpful way to educate yourself in the field.
3. Clear and Accurate Initial Website Audit
Also, take a careful look at their initial audit of your website (not to be confused with your own auditing activities described in this piece, as well as your personal ideas and opinion of their services), benchmarks, and opinions regarding your Web presence, along with any other analysis they can provide.
These documents are the beginning of a solid foundation for future search marketing programs.
4. Accurate, Strategic Keyword Research and Audience Targeting Recommendations
In addition, understanding and verifying their suggestions for new keywords or audiences to target is essential. Nobody knows your target market better than you; this is where your responsibility to effectively communicate with your consultant/agency is most crucial. Your SEO and PPC consultants should be able to bring in new ideas based on their expertise as well as their outside perspective.
This initial documentation should encompass the full picture of your website and digital presence (landing pages, reviews, social media, etc.); not just organic or paid search traffic. After all, they may be able to deliver all the traffic in the world, but if those visits aren't converting, you won't see any benefit from it.
5. Sufficient and Continuing Industry Education
One way to assess their prowess is to ask how they stay up to date on current best practices, trends, and industry changes.
What sites do they read, what industry experts do they trust, and how do they keep updated on industry new trends and updates to the search engine algorithms? Even more importantly, how do they plan to keep you and your team updated?
How your search professionals educate themselves and their teams is a valuable indicator of their knowledge of best practices, and as such, their ability to maximize the effectiveness of your budget.
6. Progress in Essential Metrics
Compare leads, website traffic sources, monthly spend (both paid ads themselves and the consultancy's fees), and the overall ROI - and not just on a macro level, but per keyword and ad, if applicable.
Month-over-month organic search traffic is also important, along with quantity and quality of incoming links, social media traffic, indexed content, and query metrics from Google Webmaster Tools.
In fact, if your consultant isn't readily providing you with this information in the form of regular reports, it may be time to look elsewhere for SEO and PPC services. Similar types of activities should be performed on an ongoing, regularly scheduled (such as quarterly) basis – it's not simply a one-time line item in the marketing budget.
If you employ an SEO or PPC consultant/agency, assess each point above to determine whether they're doing their job. If you're looking to hire a new agency or consultant, address each point with them and ask for examples before initiating an engagement.
It's absolutely necessary to communicate your goals, needs, and desires before you engage with the consultant or agency. This goes beyond considering the overall costs (although that's obviously an important point), but also being perfectly honest with yourself about how realistic your goals are at the budget you have.
The consultant or agency depends on the information and feedback you provide to them over the course of your relationship. Keep in mind that as you consider the quality of their services, you're auditing the strength of your own marketing program as well.