More Than 40 Questions To Ask When Examining Link Building Agencies

If you intend to hire a 2017 SEO agency to do link building for you, then you’ll have to consider more than one agency.

That’s not an easy feat, and let me tell you why:

It’s not easy for me to say this, but the modern SEO market is still filled with link-building agencies who are decidedly low caliber. Even worse, these low-quality players usually offer specific guarantees that are very appealing to anyone not yet savvy in search engine optimization.

Finally, low-caliber services often provide their services at lower price points than their higher-caliber competition. All of this winds up being a trap for any legitimate business or company that wants a more robust online presence.

When budgetary concerns are present, and honestly, they always are, business owners, entrepreneurs, and marketers who simply do not know any better are likely to fall in love with cheap link packages guaranteed to provide certain numbers.

At the end of the day, just how different can one link be from another? Is it worth it to spend half a grand on ‘better’ links? Why would that be? Is it quantifiable?

Why would five low-caliber links be equal to one high-caliber link? And why should anyone pay more for a service that doesn’t offer the specific guarantees a cheaper one seems to?

All of those are rational thoughts and logical questions that any business owner or marketer should ask, and yet, they often wind up getting misleading answers. Buying bad links can wind up producing no results.

In fact, they can even wind up producing something that’s worse that not getting any results, as the net impact might be inherently negative.

In the case of cheap, low-quality link builders, you might be better off buying your links off of Fiverr; that at least could save you some money and get the same impact.

Today, I’d like to take this opportunity to give you a hand in making an educated decision. I own a link agency, and my intention in writing all this is to help you figure out which link-building agencies are low in quality, and more importantly, which ones are reputable.

When you go through the process of vetting any link agency, there are certain questions you need to ask, and I go over them in the following sections.

Question Their Link-Building Process, As Customization Is Central

Doing quality link building necessitates that their entire process be customized, from on-boarding and strategy development to execution and reporting. Each part of the process has to be done in a customized fashion for your own company, if the results are going to prove effective.

There’s just no cookie-cutter ways that any SEO firm can use repeatedly with new clientele that will actually build quality, successful links.

We in the search engine optimization arena have to embrace the fact that the combination of a client’s niche, product or service, industry, and marketplace all dictate what kinds of links will actually make an effective difference.

If you are thinking about hiring a particular agency, then you should expect them to provide explanations about how they customize their work for their clients. If they don’t do this, then start hitting them with questions like:

  • What experience do you have in link building and the search engine optimization industry?
  • Who decides strategy during one of your campaigns?
  • Who would actually be working on securing links for my website?
  • What are the tools your firm uses to secure links?
  • How soon can I see project results?
  • How are you going to represent my online branding?
  • What criteria do you use in evaluating possible linking sites?
  • What defines a project as successful?
  • How do you identify link possibilities?
  • How well do your tactics align with the webmaster guidelines Google provides?
  • How are your results monitored and reported?
  • What is your outreach process like?
  • What tactics do you think will work best in my case? Why is this?
  • Just what tactics do you employ in securing links?

The most basic piece of advice I can possibly give you is to pepper them with questions regarding the ‘how’ of their work.

This is something that is going to (hopefully) have a huge impact on your goals and objectives, so ask questions, and dig deep.

Prior to signing any contract or giving someone a dime, you need to know quite well just what you’re buying, and you need to feel pretty comfortable with establishing a relationship with this firm.

Some of this is going to be pretty high concept, and it will have tremendous impact on both your branding and your website, so it’s essential that you have trust in your link-building firm or SEO agency.

You need to have a crystal clear mental picture of how they are going to get you links before you start partnering up with any link provider.

Demand Honesty And Candid Conversation

Search traffic usually accounts for the majority of traffic any website gets.

Treating search engine optimization like a technical and highly analytic matter is tempting. However, what you’re really doing is hiring a business to give your website an audience with the intention of them enjoying themselves and developing a preference for your brand.

Short-term gains aren’t the only matter you should emphasize either. Search engine optimization, and link building in particular, are focused on growth over time.

Only sign up with a business that you have decided you can trust, who you are convinced is going to represent you and your company well, helping you achieve your long-term goals.

You can vet possible firms easier with some SEO savviness, but there’s also no substitute for candid talk between human beings.

Keep the conversation in plain English, and never place your trust with an SEO professional who only has jargon coming out of his mouth.

There are fortunately questions you can ask that helps you establish a personal connection with them:

  • How long have you been a part of [name of firm]?
  • What brought you into search engine optimization?
  • How many times has your firm worked in my specific industry before today?
  • What drew you to building links? Why?
  • Can you name some of the other brands you’ve done work for before.
  • What SEO experience do you have?
  • Have you always been in your current [company or position title]?

Your expectation should be nothing short of earnest communication with any contact you have, but it is up to you to get the conversation past just SEO.

After you’ve talked to a person for a while, take a moment to reflect upon whether or not you actually respect and trust the individual you have been talking to. You’re looking for a partnership, but many of the candidates you vet are just going to be looking to close a sale.

Also keep in mind that any vetting should be going on both ways. The agencies you talk to should only be open to working with companies that they know they can help out. The good ones will not just look for your business, but also seek out an understanding of your business.

You’ll know when this happens if you get asked questions about your competition, customers, marketplace, operations, and audience.

Certain questions your contact asks you might demonstrate understanding and even care. Listen for potential queries like:

  • What’s your current market positioning?
  • What do you consider the most essential keywords?
  • Is there currently tracking of those keywords and your rankings?
  • What variations have you tracked?
  • Just where do you think you’ll rank a year from now?
  • Who is your primary competition?
  • Who among them are your primary search competition?
  • What makes them different from your business?
  • What history do you have in link building and search engine optimization?
  • What SEO firms or agencies have you done business with in the past?
  • In terms of your big picture goals as a company, how do you think organic search will help out?
  • Do you currently have associations, sponsorships, or partnerships we should know about?
  • Are you currently undergoing additional initiatives that might have influence on your search performance?

Any of these particular and pointed questions are ones that your potential link-building firm needs to ask you so that they can know whether or not they can even deliver results you want.

Honestly, they should be asking you as much about your business as you do about their own services. The goal for both parties should be a business relationship that is mutually beneficial.

Be sure that any agency hoping to get your business actually seeks to understand your business and works to earn your trust first. If you don’t actually trust your contact, or you can’t say what kind of individual they are, be sure you note that during your vetting process.

Personal instinct is critical here, regardless of how much or little you know about SEO.

If you don’t trust a person or business you work with, you simply won’t trust the services they provide either.

Talk About Metrics, Results, And KPIs

SEO results do not occur quickly. Unless you are starting from a point of severe technical complications that someone solves easily and quickly, you can expect many months of both execution and data before there is a demonstrated trend in your growth.

Link building is no different. If the industry you’re in is competitive, then the agency is going to need to set and then report KPIs to highlight any positive indicators of your growth towards success.

Setting meaningful KPIs is not easy. It’s going to require a conversation that goes back and forth for quite a while. It might even feel like a marathon game of ping pong.

You’ll have to clarify the goals you have for your business and then probe the agency about how it is going to help you attain those goals. The metrics they set should satisfy you, but only after you comprehend how they relate to the goals you’ve laid out and the metrics your company already uses.

Expect your potential agency to ask you the following questions:

  • In order for your business to consider this project successful, what demonstrable results do you need to see?
  • How do you classify conversions on your website?
  • Are secondary support goals something that you monitor?
  • What do you track and how do you track it?
  • Have you seen fluctuations or growth?
  • What specific keywords do you target at the moment?
  • How exhaustive has your research been?
  • What pages of your website are most important?
  • What level of traffic does your site currently get?
  • Has that traffic grown year over year, month over month, or seasonally?
  • What sorts of traffic or conversion increases do you want?
  • What quantity of links do you want over the run of a campaign?

KPIs have to be in alignment with your specific company goals. My recommendation is that you set the following certain baseline metrics:

Rankings: Guaranteeing number-one rankings is of course impossible. Having said that, you should ideally see substantial improvement in any search phrases or terms that you target.

Keyword expansion and growth: On top of improvements in how you rank for specific terms, you need to also witness an increase in long-tail keyword rankings and also more relevant terms within the top two dozen spots across the entire board.

Organic traffic: Your organic traffic towards targeted pages should go up during the duration of a link campaign, as well as the amount of traffic your overall site sees. It’s critical to measure all this impact. It all impacts things you need to work well, including conversion rates, revenue per visitor, and average order value.

Ask to See An Example of Their Work

When links are being secured, it relies on third parties, known as the linking websites. They have an effect on Google’s algorithm, which could be considered a “black box.”

If any of the SEO agencies guarantee they can provide a top listing in Google, they are a liar.

A good agency will use research and assessment to make any predictions about your placement in the search engines. They will not provide guaranties. If you have an agency that is making any grandiose guarantees, they should be avoided. That is especially true if they guarantee rankings.

So how can you achieve a balance in making a determination that an agency is able to deliver the results you need?

Ask for an example of their work.

It is possible to learn a lot about the capability of the vender by asking for the following:

  • Case studies from any projects they have done in the past
  • Client testimonials; both current and past
  • Example reports
  • Recent links they were able to secure
  • Campaign and strategy plans from existing clients
  • Examples of content creation and promotion
  • Experience in your specific niche or industry (including client examples)
  • Any legit SEO company will readily supply you with client work.

What Is Their Policy On Transparency?

A trustworthy link building agency will be transparent with their work.

The agency should be willing to be forthcoming with details on the work they provide. In doing so, they will keep you in the loop but it goes further. They will also communicate regularly and ask for feedback.

From the time you begin looking into the possibility of working with a link building agency, ask questions that reveal their transparency. This would include asking about their structure. You could include the following questions:

  • Who will manage my project?
  • Is there someone who will be my point of contact and are they dedicated to that post? If so, when and how will I be able to reach them?
  • Who will be assigned the task of building links?
  • Is the work outsourced to an overseas agency or to one in your home country?
  • What type of team structure does the link agency have? Why do they adhere to that structure?
  • How the results reported and what is included in the report?
  • How frequently do you provide reports?
  • Are you able to modify your reporting schedule to accommodate my needs?
  • How can I review any active work being done for me?

Transparency should be provided by the link building service at every level. It should start during the initial phase of the project and carry through until the partnership has concluded. In doing so, you always know what is taking place with your project. When you first begin working with them, test that transparency. This should be done before a contract is signed.

What Are Their Policies About Communication?

If you are to have a long lasting and successful partnership, they must communicate openly and frequently.

Transparency is the key – the work being provided on your campaign should be viewable – communication is also an important factor that is not to be left out of the mix.

When the link builder provides transparency, it will answer the question, how. When they communicate, it will answer the question, why.

Consider asking the following questions as you are discussing a possible partnership with the agency:

  • How do you communicate with your clients?
  • What tools do you use to facilitate communication? Common options include email, phone, chat programs, dashboards, Skype, etc.
  • How frequently can we meet to discuss the ongoing project?
  • What is covered in each meeting?
  • What role will I play in the meeting – what should I provide?
  • Is it possible to contact you between scheduled meetings?
  • Do you also offer consultation for other key factors outside of building links? This could include on-page SEO, social signals, content, etc.

As your link campaign continues to grow and evolve, it is important to access the structure of those who are responsible for your campaign. There will be times when adjustments would be beneficial. At the same time, you would want the opportunity to communicate any changes that have taken place on your end. This could include launching a new product or incentive. Proper communication of changes helps to secure the necessary links.

Communication is one of the most important factors to acquiring links. It is necessary to have the information so the contacts can be reached when communication is necessary.

To summarize:

Over the past 5 years, the SEO industry has grown and matured. Not all agencies have kept up with those changes.

If your link building efforts are going to be outsourced, it should not happen quickly. Time must be set aside for due diligence and for the vetting of any link builder or SEO.

Although discount prices and firm guarantees may be tempting and attractive on the surface, they are not the most important factor. They are often the sign of a service that provides less than quality work.

Speak openly with the agency contacts once they are on your radar. Ask them about their policy of communication, customization, transparency and how they provide reports.

A link building partner should have your full trust now and for the long term. Don’t simply go off of short term promises of grandiose results.

SEO is not something that happens overnight. It can drive significant traffic to your website but make sure you are looking at it as a long term investment, not a short term goal. In doing so, you will gather leads, prospects and customers that will benefit your business for years.

By way of review, here are things to look for when interacting with prospective link builders:

Customization: Look for a service that fits your business and can achieve your goals.

Investment: Make sure the link builder is invested in your project and will take on any unique challenges it provides.

KPIs: The link building agency should help you to develop custom KPIs that are specific to your business. They should then provide reports.

Process Proof: You should know how your vendor works and how links will be secured for your website.

Work Proof: The link building agency should provide reports, references and case studies. This information can provide you with a clear understanding of their work process.

Transparency: Verify their dedication to transparency with the proper questions.

Communication: Test their commitment to communication early in the process. When good communication exists, it provides the avenue for link building success. It is a part of a good partnership when communication runs in both directions consistently and freely.

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