What to Ask When Hiring an SEO Agency for Your eCommerce Business

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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For every business that competes in the online ecosystem, search engine optimization is one of the most powerful forms of marketing.

What separates this strategy from other efforts like PPC advertising, social media marketing and other promotional modalities is that SEO can produce long-lasting results that can help support a brand for years to come – assuming that its strategies are maintained.

However, the tasks involved in producing an effective SEO strategy – auditing and on-site optimization, keyword research, content marketing, building backlinks, etc. – can be extremely time-consuming, complex and capricious in their implementation.

For these reasons, it may not always be a feasible option for online retailers to manage all of their SEO efforts in-house. At this point, it becomes necessary to hire SEO experts or a full-blown SEO agency.

SEO agencies can enable brands to implement a stellar strategy without having to add bodies to a team. However, merchants must be careful when employing an SEO specialist. While a good agency can bring in substantially more traffic and revenue, a bad one could demolish a site’s reputation and collapse its revenue streams.

woman giving seo seminar

Don’t believe us? Go ahead, Google SEO horror stories and see the damage that can be done. We’ll wait.

With that out of the way, retailers must know how to separate the wheat from the chaff when searching for a team of SEO experts. The most effective way to do that is to ask the right questions.

Here are four must-ask questions for eCommerce merchants looking for a prime SEO agency.

But, first things first:

Know Your Goals

Before beginning to meet with potential SEO agencies for your brand, it’s vital that business owners understand the landscape and what they aim to accomplish via an optimized search strategy.

In addition to knowing who a site’s prime and cursory competitors are, merchants should go into meetings with a fair understanding of the short-term and long-term goals they aim to achieve through SEO (beyond ranking first on Google). Are you seeking to increase traffic? Use SEO for branding purposes? Sales? Lead generation? All of this should be considered and mapped out prior to the meeting.

know your goals on board

Beyond understanding an organization’s aims, retailers should be prepared to ask questions that will determine if an SEO agency can do more than talk the talk.

Here are the questions that every merchant should ask when meeting with SEO specialists.

You Guarantee What?

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There are plenty of SEO salesmen out there who are willing to “guarantee first-page rankings” to their clients. SEO agencies that make guarantees are often swindlers. Firstly, rankings mean nothing if a page cannot convert. It’s important to remember that rankings don’t equal results.

Moreover, search engines are fickle mistresses. Google updates its algorithm regularly and can often cause seismic shifts in the rankings. Given this volatility, guarantees are virtually impossible to make with any certainty.

Instead of empty promises, merchants should hope to hear about sets of standards and metrics that an agency uses to measure success.

On that note…

How Do They Measure Success?

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As noted, an uptick in traffic does not equate to a successful SEO campaign. Therefore, merchants must know what metrics agencies will use to determine if their efforts are generating the intended results.

Moreover, retailers should themselves be aware of metrics that constitute actual success. For instance, an increase in time-on-site doesn’t matter if visitors aren’t converting.

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A seasoned SEO agency should offer a strategy from three pillars:

  • Brand awareness
  • Website authority
  • Quality search traffic

Contained within these categories, SEO agencies should determine the success of their campaign using metrics such as:

  • Organic traffic
  • Organic conversions
  • Keyword rankings
  • New (authoritative) backlinks
  • Visibility
  • Various engagement metrics (bounce rates, time-on-site, pages per visit, etc.)

If retailers don’t hear any of these metrics mentioned during their meeting, seek out a different SEO specialist.

Can You See Case Studies?

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When in the market for an SEO firm, it is just like shopping for anything else. Buyers should want to see reviews, testimonials and, most importantly, case studies.

Case studies that show an SEO agency’s effectiveness are critical in determining who is the real deal. Case studies provide proof for detailing the tactics an agency uses, how it goes about implementing a strategy and the results that it can produce for its clients. Since case studies are a staple in the business world, eCommerce retailers should be wary of any firm incapable of providing such evidence of success.

Additionally, it is wise for eCommerce sites to ask for a few references to contact and ask about their experience with the agency. Most firms should be happy to give contact info for a couple of their clients.

If an agency is unwilling to provide any contacts, that is a potential red flag. This behavior likely indicates that they haven’t been able to produce noteworthy results or are otherwise wanting to conceal something about their services and relationships.

businessman pressing button case study

At this point, merchants should ask how long the company’s longest active client has been contracting with them. Anything less than a year is a major concern as many disreputable SEOs will employ risky tactics that produce short-term results to show to their clients; however, this sort of strategy almost always comes out in the wash, and the client ends up paying the price.

If the company passes these touchpoints, it’s time to move on to question number three.

What Is Your Expertise?

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While various SEO techniques transcend verticals, it is essential for an agency to possess industry-specific knowledge that relates to a brand’s niche as SEO strategies can drastically differ from trade to trade.

For instance, while an eCommerce retailer selling shoes and a cloud-based SaaS company are both technically selling something, the two would have much different SEO strategies. The eCommerce store would likely aim to generate conversions for specific products, while the SaaS company would probably be more interested in SEO for lead generation purposes.

Because of the divergent nature of these two sites, each would employ completely different keyword strategies, CTAs, traffic generation channels, tactics for provoking potential customers and so on.

Therefore, for an SEO agency to be most useful for eCommerce retailers, the firm should have a fair amount of experience in catering to a client’s needs as they relate to their industry.

How Communicative Are They?

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Communication is key in any relationship.

An excellent and attentive SEO agency will send its clients reports regularly – typically, once a month along with brief weekly updates.

In their communications, a SEO agency should provide their clients with a variety of reports that inform clients about what is happening and how a strategy is performing.

Firstly, SEO specialists should supply clients with detailed change logs for any alterations that they made to a site. Assuming that a merchant opts not to make the changes in-house at the direction of an SEO expert, retailers must know what alterations the agency implemented if something goes wrong. If such a situation would come to pass and the firm is unresponsive (which unfortunately does happen), retailers must be capable of pinpointing what caused the problem.

In addition to providing this information, business owners should receive regular reports on the firm’s actions and results. These documents should include:

  • Activity Summary: This should consist of all efforts made via email campaigns, content marketing efforts, link building successes, etc.
  • Search Traffic: This should detail the month’s search traffic in addition to the percentage of change from the previous month and same month from the year prior.
  • Search Rankings: This should explain how well specific pages are ranking for targeted keywords.
  • Conversions: Naturally, this details what percentage of site visitors are converting.

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Having clear communication expectations and agreements is critical before entering into a relationship with an SEO agency as this will help merchants know what to expect.

Search engine optimization is not a quick solution and requires a long-term investment to produce genuine and stable results. Therefore, it is essential for eCommerce merchants to understand the nature and capabilities of the SEO agency with which they partner.

The questions covered here will help retailers to hire SEO experts to engender growth for their brand and help them attain not only substantial rankings, but industry dominance.

Be sure to work these queries into your line of questioning when seeking out an authentic SEO expert. When you find the right fit, you’ll gain a valuable partner in the eCommerce world!

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