12 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Local SEO Agency

Have you decided that it is time to stop doing your SEO 100% in-house? Is it time to start looking for a local SEO agency to help you meet your goals?

It is a decision most businesses have to make at one point or another, especially when things start picking up for a brand (and frankly the work required to maintain a good online presence just gets to be too much).

For many, the solution is to hire a local SEO agency to help not only pick up your extra work but use their knowledge to help take you to the next level, as well.

It is crucial that you ask the right questions and you know what answers to expect when thinking of hiring an SEO agency.

You want to make sure that there is a good fit with the company you are working with, and the questions below should help you answer that.

Identify Your Local SEO Goals Before You Get Started

Before you begin to look for a local SEO agency, it is important to prepare.

You should first:

  • Know your company’s goals.
  • Know your competition.
  • Have enough local SEO knowledge before you go in that you can evaluate candidates.
  • Know your options (for example, an individual vs. a company).
  • Have a schedule or an ideal way to monitor progress and work with the company that you end up hiring.

Key Questions to Ask When Hiring a Local SEO Agency

Then, as you evaluate your options, be sure you’re asking them these essential questions.

1. Have You Worked with Businesses in Our Industry?

It is really helpful to identify from the very beginning whether or not the local SEO agency has worked with another business that is similar to yours.

This may give them an edge on knowing how to go about certain optimizations on behalf of your company.

SEO can be very different depending on industry and company size, so the more direct experience an agency can have, the better.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

Ideally, you want to hear “yes” and see some examples of companies they have worked with to support their claim. However, do not dismiss the company right away if the answer is “no.”

It is possible that they have worked with similar brands and are equally positioned to help your company be successful.

In this case, the key is the portfolio examples they provide, so that you can make a judgment call to see if the work they do for others will benefit you.

2. Can You Guarantee Local SEO Results?

A lot of SEO companies try to claim that they can guarantee results or somehow have a “proven” relationship with the search engines.

The most common guarantee sounds something like “Guaranteed a page one ranking for any keyword within the first 6 months.”

What You’re Looking to Hear:

The answer to this is “no,” there is absolutely no way to guarantee SEO results or have some sort of secret expertise that other companies (or even in-house specialists) do not.

Now, if they’re so confident they can meet a goal that truly matters to your business that they’re offering a money-back guarantee, you may want to consider taking them up on it.

But simply guaranteeing rankings for this keyword or that isn’t any guarantee it’ll move the needle in new customers or revenue.

You want to find an agency that is confident they can help you but will be honest, realistic, and legal in the work they are going to do on your behalf.

If they use black hat tactics to get ahead, you’ll be in much more trouble than before you hired the agency and may have to dig yourself out of an incredibly time-consuming and expensive hole.

3. What Aspects of SEO Should We Consider Outsourcing?

Even local SEO is multi-dimensional, and if you decide to go with an agency you do not necessarily have to outsource every part of your SEO work.

The company you are interviewing should be able to give you a solid idea of at least three aspects of local SEO they can help you improve.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

Obviously, in an ideal world, the SEO agency should be able to handle any aspect of SEO work that is thrown at them (you want them to state that they can handle any part of the process).

However, they should be able to give you some recommendations on specific aspects that you could get started on with them.

For example, you want them to acknowledge that they do their own link building, local listings management, and content creation.

If you hear that any of these three aspects are outsourced further, be cautious as these are three important aspects of SEO that you want to be directly handled by the agency, particularly when thinking about local SEO.

4. What Metrics are the Most Valuable to Analyze/Which Metrics are a Top Priority?

This is a good question to examine what their best practice is when looking at your metrics from the very beginning.

Identify which local metrics matter to you, then see if an agency is on the same page.

For example, if you’re looking to drive more calls to the business and foot traffic in the door but they’re hoping to prove success to you by a number of local citations built and top rankings on 20 keywords of their choice, it won’t be a good fit.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

Effective SEO account management should be focused on increasing (1) leads and (2) sales, which is why you are outsourcing. As such, these two metrics should be an agency’s top priority.

Of course, metric analysis is multi-faceted – rankings, traffic, and back-link numbers are all important – and you should hear them mention something about these, as well.

Keep in mind that SEO is about more than increasing rankings, decreasing bounce rates, or improving your traffic levels.

Effective SEO puts the business itself as a priority, and leads/sales are essential to improving SEO for the business as a whole. This is another reason a local SEO strategy is so important for many companies.

Leads coming from areas you cannot work with won’t do you much good, and the agencies you’re considering should understand that.

So what is it you want to see — clicks for driving directions? Local backlinks? Citation consistency? Coupon redemption?

And how will it be measured? Make sure you’re on the same page.

5. What Are a Few of Your Best Clients or Examples of Case Studies?

An SEO agency’s portfolio is extremely important and they should be able to provide you with a few examples of their best client success stories.

This should include plenty of data, and testimonials along with actual screenshot examples.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

“Let us show you!”

They should be able to show you a few sites and case studies that will lead you to any further line of questioning about your own business site.

Be wary if they don’t have any examples that they can see relating to your company’s situation.

6. What Kind of Reports or Monitoring Updates Will We Be Receiving?

Knowing what week-by-week and month-by-month reports are going to look like with this company is essential.

Communication isn’t always easy in SEO, but it has to be happening if you’re going to work with a third-party company.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

You want them to not only show you the reports they will provide, but also walk you through them.

You want a report that is clearly explained and easily understood by you and other members of your team.

In short, a report should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What was done, and why?
  • What have the impacts of previous changes been?
  • What kinds of returns have been generated?
  • What obstacles still stand in the way?
  • What must be done to overcome them?
  • What are the next steps?

Measuring and reporting on conversions from online to in-store visits is incredibly important, so spend time on this question and really dig into the tools they use.

If they can give you clear examples, even better. Have them pretend like you know nothing about this aspect of marketing and see how they would explain this to you.

7. What Can Our Team Continue to Work on In-House?

In most cases, hiring an SEO agency means most of the issues surrounding SEO will be handled through outsourcing the workload.

However, this does not mean your team gets to neglect all further work in-house.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

They should reaffirm that their company will be handling the majority of the workload, but that there are always areas you can keep SEO in mind.

For example, if any of the team is still handling content development in one way, shape, or form (such as repurposing content or writing new blog posts) then it is important to be connected to the agency about what to do for that content specifically.

Ideally, they’ll augment your efforts and the actions each of you takes will help support a more successful local SEO program as a whole.

8. How Do You Select Top Keywords for Our Brand?

As we have already made clear in this article, SEO is multi-dimensional and there is no one thing that should be driving this answer.

This is one question where you should be open-minded but really focus on the reasons that an agency gives.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

There is no one right answer to this, and I’ll tell you, it is definitely not “traffic” and traffic alone.

When they talk about choosing your keywords, you want them to speak to the fact that relevance, searcher intent, traffic volumes, and competition level are all important aspects to consider in keyword selection.

Does their response signal to you that the agency truly understands your business goals? That’s what you want to hear.

9. How Long Does It Take to Start Seeing Results and Improvements?

This is going to vary widely depending on how established your company is and what kinds of improvements need to be made.

Again, you have to be flexible here but laying out realistic expectations is key.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

You want to hear honesty. Anything less than 6 months should raise an eyebrow.

Unless you are already a top-ranking source for your industry and you are hiring an SEO agency for maintenance, they should be able to explain that it takes time and that improvements are certainly not an overnight situation.

10. How is Your Company Positioned in the Current Climate of Change in the Local SEO World?

SEO is constantly evolving and if you aren’t staying ahead, you’re falling behind.

An agency should be able to explain how they stay at the forefront of changing local SEO trends and how they evaluate which opportunities are right for your business.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

If the SEO agency you are interviewing suggests in their response that SEO has remained pretty consistent over time, definitely be cautious.

Core, fundamental, aspects of SEO haven’t changed much, but there are a lot of highly specific tactics that have had to be updated in order to keep up with the updates.

Make sure they can walk you through the recent changes and be able to explain what is going on in terms that you will understand.

Local markets are competitive, dynamic spaces and you need to know that your local SEO agency has the knowledge and drive to keep moving you forward.

You want to be sure that they are a company that will be able to position themselves successfully no matter what changes occur over the next couple of years.

11. Can You Solve Complex Google My Business (GMB), Yelp, Apple Maps and Other Listing Issues?

You want to know that they’re experienced in managing local listings and citations for a business of your size and type.

Beyond just GMB, though, come other local platforms such as Google and Apple Maps, Yelp, and anything else industry-specific (such as Thumbtack or HomeAdvisor, which are both local sites that rank extremely well).

Secondly, are they using any tools to do it?  How do they ensure they’re catching any inaccuracies and fixing them quickly?

What You’re Looking to Hear:

This is a big one.

Managing a Google My Business listing can be time-consuming on its own.

You want to continue to feature new product launches, blog posts, etc. on your Google My Business page, but you also have troubleshooting to deal with such as incorrect information, hours, and reviews.

GMB is a big topic, so learn more here. You need to hear that a local SEO company has experience here, and you should expect to hear examples from the team.

However, what many forget is that when it comes to local listings, GMB isn’t the end-all-be-all.

This is where you want to hear that they have worked in your industry before.

For example, a listing on Yelp might be incredibly important to a restaurant, whereas a listing on Thumbtack might be incredibly important to a General Contractor.

Google your business name and/or your competitor’s business name, see what local sites are ranking, and then be sure to ask about those sites when hiring a local SEO agency.

If they don’t have experience with those sites (in other words, they aren’t too familiar with your industry), that should be a deal-breaker.

12. Is Review Monitoring and Response a Part of the Package, and What Does That Look Like?

For a local business, reviews are everything!

According to BrightLocal, 82% of consumers read reviews for local businesses. This could be the last step before you see that conversion.

We know that local reviews can impact your local search rankings and visibility, as well.

What You’re Looking to Hear:

You want to hear that they are monitoring for new reviews on GMB, Facebook, and any niche networks (for example, in healthcare you’d have Healthgrades, Doctor.com, etc.).

Rather than give away your niche networks right away, see if they can mention them on their own.

After all, at this point, it should be well established that they have worked with others in your industry, so this is a good chance for the agency to prove it.

Secondly, make sure you understand how they escalate negative reviews for your intervention.

Usually, when it comes to negative reviews, you as the business owner will want to respond with guidance from the local agency rather than having the local agency respond for you. Let the agency tell you this.

If they tell you that they respond to negative reviews and you’ll never have to see them, that’s a red flag.


Be cautious and well-informed before deciding to outsource your local SEO.

The best and most successful agency relationships are collaborative and cooperative, providing a true partner you can rely on in every sense of the word.

These questions should help you get to the bottom of whether or not the local SEO agency you are interviewing is a good fit with your business!

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