I once had a website-build client who called with strange SEO questions. When I launched their website, we had done preliminary technical SEO. But, most of the website was not optimized because the client didn’t want to pay for it.
This client owned a large, local home improvement store. When I asked for specifics, he explained that he typed in “outdoor window shutters” and his website didn’t show up.
Recalling some of the site content, I asked if he even sold “outdoor window shutters” as a product. He did not.
Nothing on his site related to “outdoor window shutters.” He didn’t carry the product. He didn’t have posts or pages about the product. Nothing on his site even remotely referenced this topic.
But, he was upset because his competitor (who actually sold shutters), was the top search result for this specific key phrase. And he wanted to “beat” them.
Common SEO Questions
The “shutters” conversation is actually a familiar one that highlights some common misconceptions about optimizing websites for search engines — especially Google.
It’s not that clients are actually dumb. Instead, the way SEO experts sell “SEO” is dumb. It leads to misconceptions, confusion, and disappointed clients.
How Agencies + Freelancers Sell “SEO”
When professionals sell SEO services, it’s hard to quantify the process. Ideally, it’s set up as a retainer (or sometimes called a subscription) where we track and improve the website constantly.
However, that can be difficult to sell. The process can feel invisible to the client. Furthermore, anyone with integrity will tell you that the work will take at least 6 months to bear results. Most of the time, I tell clients that it’s a 2-3 year investment.
What you do today for your SEO will pay off in the future.
This means that the work is built around strong initial research and knowledge of key principles. Yet, a lot of clients want to see a low dollar amount for a short period of time. This has led to a familiar set of packages to sell SEO services.
- The One-Time Project: Some people will sell a package where they go through your website one time and “do SEO.” If they’re reputable, this means they fix your technical SEO (page load speed, broken images or links, backlinking, etc.) Sometimes, they’ll check or add Meta Data for all. If they’re doing it correctly, the work will be built around a list of target keywords that they researched — and reviewed with the client.
- The Low Monthly Payment: You’ll often see groups or freelancers advertising SEO for $10/mo. I have yet to find a group (international or in the U.S.A.) that can actually do a good job for a low monthly payment. Whenever I have hired one of these to vet them as a subcontractor, they tend to do random backlinks (on sites of dubious quality) and keyword stuffing. These actually hurt your website’s rank over time.
- The Do-Nothing Retainer: Sometimes, I see service packages that take advantage of clients’ ignorance. They add on a website maintenance/hosting retainer for SEO services and word it vaguely. Or they misattribute things. For example, I’ve seen agencies say they “install Google Analytics” for SEO. You can use Google Analytics to track aspects of SEO but, it’s not actually going to improve your SERP ranking.
5 Dumb SEO Questions that Everyone Asks
Each of the questions below is extremely common because of the way SEO experts describe their services.
1. Can you turn on my SEO?
Variation: Can you do my SEO?
These SEO questions stem from a misconception — that it’s something highly technical that can just be “done” in the “code.” However, SEO is actually broken into two parts: technical and content.
Technical SEO includes areas that are part of how your website functions. This includes things like alt text, page load speed, meta descriptions, duplicated content, page headings, backlinks, internal links, etc.
The content side of SEO includes things like keywords or keyphrases, word count, on-page time, and task completion.
Both of these areas, combine to optimize your website for search. So, you could start with some technical SEO tasks such as:
- Adding title and alt text to all of your images and links
- Ensuring all your pages have meta descriptions
- Testing your site’s performance like page speed and making adjustments
- Soliciting backlinks from reputable websites
You could also look at your website from a content perspective by:
- Creating a list of relevant keywords and adding them to your content (appropriately)
- Checking the on-page time, bounce rate, and number of pages per visit for your site then, reworking your content to improve the numbers
What to ask instead: What is your process for optimizing my website?
If you ask this question, it pushes an SEO professional to explain what kind of tasks they plan to perform on your website. At the very least, you should hear them mention some of the basic tasks that I list above. These are not secret or proprietary. They should be able to list them off in a conversation.
The expert’s value comes from how experienced they are at researching and optimizing each area, not the tasks themselves.
If they can’t explain their process, their agency probably doesn’t have a set list of tasks to optimize your site. This makes it unclear what kind of services you are actually paying for and the value (or quality) of those services.
2. What is my rank?
Variation: Can you get me to a page 1 rank? Can you get me in the top 3?
Anyone who owns a website has gotten an email telling them, “Your website isn’t top-ranked!” This is followed by a pitch for why you should hire their SEO services.
It’s a BS statement. Why?
They haven’t listed which keywords you rank low for.
Determining your website’s rank starts with listing keywords and key phrases where you’d like to rank on the first page. These are related to your products and services, should be based on potential customer queries, and should include local variations.
Then, based on that list of keywords, you can pull your website’s average rank.
If you haven’t told someone which keywords you want to rank for, they can’t really know if you’re missing the target.
This format isn’t super smart. Why? Because your website hasn’t been optimized yet.
The trick here is that most groups use a shortcut. They will load your website’s URL into Google Keyword Planner. This will spit out a list of suggested keywords for your website. Then, they can load those keywords into a ranking tool and pull your average rank.
The Google Keyword Planner relies on the keywords already in your website to pull suggested keywords for Google Adwords. If you haven’t deliberately added a list of target keywords into your website’s content, then, the keyword planning tool will struggle to find keywords.
You can try it now: Google Keyword Planner
In my experience, these lists miss the mark. So, your “average rank” will be inaccurate and unhelpful.
What to ask instead: How much do you charge for a site audit?
Any reputable group can offer you a site audit to determine your site’s actual rank and offer suggestions for improvement. For example, I offer a site audit that creates a multi-page report addressing several key areas. I review the following page-by-page and post-by-post.
- Design and Content
- Image display/size
- Mobile Review/ Responsive review
- Link testing
- Proofreading content
- Technical SEO
- Meta description
- Page title
- Internal link alt text
- image alt text
- image title text
- SEO Considerations
- backlinks – top incoming links
- top traffic sources
- top device use
- top referral landing pages
- top incoming keywords
- top landing pages
Additionally, I note the following metrics:
- Page visits
- Pages per visit
- New vs returning visitors
- Bounce rate
- Incoming traffic overview
- Average keyword rank
- Search Engine Visibility (Links, images, Content)
- SEO Metrics – search engine share
- Competitor SEO comparison
I cannot pull this information without access to your website, your Google Analytics and Search Console, and a list of agreed-upon keywords, and an agreed-upon list of competitors. It’s an involved process that takes several weeks to run after I load all the information into various software. Then, I analyze the data and compile a report.
I guarantee you that those unsolicited SEO sales emails are based on none of these activities. They just tossed your site into Google Keyword Planner then, checked your rank for the keywords you already have on your site — not particularly insightful or accurate. They’ll say you have a “D” score after a quick crawl but, cannot define why.
3. Can you make me higher than my competitors?
Most SEO sales pitches promise to make sure you rank higher than your competitors. Like the question above, it’s a slightly misleading concept because there are actually two ways to achieve a higher rank.
First, you could rank higher than your competitors organically — meaning that your website comes up higher in search results without paying for ads.
Second, you could rank higher on paid ads — meaning that you are outbidding your competitors and showing up higher on paid search results.
The second one is easy. You just have to a) spend more and b) pick less competitive keywords.
The first one is harder to promise. Basically, you have to optimize your website better than your competitors have. If your competitors have already started to optimize their websites, you are behind.
If you want to know how your website stands against your competitors, you should ask for an evaluation of your overall organic visibility compared to your competitors.
Since you are playing catch-up, it’s not a responsible promise. You could surpass your competitors. You might already be ranking higher than your competitors in some areas (see question above.)
What to ask instead: How is my overall organic visibility compared to my competitors?
If you want to know how your website stands against your competitors, you should ask for an evaluation of your overall organic visibility compared to your competitors. This includes key areas such as:
- External Backlinks
- Citation flow (by Majestic)
- Trust Flow (by Majestic)
- Domain Authority (by Moz)
- Load Time
- Page Speed (by Google)
- Social Media connections and engagement (by each applicable platform)
By looking at these, you can actually create a task list based on the areas that you’re falling behind. Then, you can improve your rank — strategically!
4. Will you teach me how to do my own SEO?
Related: I found someone overseas who will do my SEO for $5.
This question is underestimating the level of experience and training it takes to optimize a website and maintain that optimization. It’s not something you can learn in a weekend.
On the flip side, there are areas where an expert can consult and then, give you a list of tasks to perform. For example, I would be comfortable training someone on best practices for creating backlinks. Then, they could create a schedule to handle those internally as resources allow.
An SEO agency should be able to provide a general list of activities and estimate the hours it will take.
Big Picture — search engines constantly change their algorithms. So, professionals are constantly responding to those changes and updating their processes accordingly.
What to ask instead: What’s your process for maintaining SEO?
Obviously, you don’t want to throw your money away on a mysterious retainer. Talk to the agency you’re considering and ask them what kind of things they’ll be auditing and updating each month. They should be able to provide a general list of activities and estimate the hours it will take. Also, they should be able to let you know their process for tracking and reporting on those activities.
5. Someone did my SEO 5 years ago, why isn’t my website #1 anymore?
Related: Why would I pay for a monthly optimization package?
Search Engines change their algorithms constantly. Your competitors update their websites all the time. As a result, you will find that your website will “fall behind” if you don’t maintain your website.
What do ask instead: What are the top areas I need to address to improve my website’s organic visibility?
An audit of your website can help you strategically optimize the areas that will have the most impact. If you haven’t updated your website in a few years, such a report will allow you to assess the situation and make a plan for ongoing site maintenance.
If you liked this…
My name is Danielle and I have a Lynchburg marketing agency. I’ve brought together a small team that specializes in marketing services for makers, eStores, and retailers. We’ll make sure your products are online and ready to sell. And you can get back to the parts of your business that you love.
Working with us is simple. I am the main point of contact on all my accounts. I visit in person or schedule phone calls to discuss your projects. My team members are all located in Central VA and we work together closely. (No passing you off to a junior coordinator after you sign!)
If that interests you, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.