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How to evaluate an SEO provider

It’s a common situation many small business owners find themselves in. You know that SEO plays an important part in making sure your website can be found by potential customers, but if you’re paying a third party to manage the process, how long it should take before you start seeing results and, more importantly, how much it should cost?.

If this sounds like your situation, we’ve put together a run down on what you can do to understand the basics of SEO, as well as some tips on what to ask an SEO provider before you sign up for their services. Including:

Things to do before meeting with an SEO provider

Doing some homework first will help you understand what you’re paying for and if the work being carried out will provide the results you’re looking for. This includes:

  • Reading up on the basics of SEO so you can understand key terms like backlinks, on-page and off-page SEO, and what their purposes are. Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide is a great place to start.
  • Have a clear idea of your online marketing strategy. Identify and plan content around your different audience groups (for example, people who are ready to buy and those that are still conducting research before they make a purchase), as each group will need different information.
  • Identify what you’re trying to achieve from the SEO work. These will be your ‘conversion tracking goals’. Such as an increase in sales, more contact form submissions, getting new subscribers to your mailing list.
  • Use Google’s free Search Console tool to download a list of the third party websites that link to your website (these are known as ‘backlinks’). Having this list as a baseline will let you check later whether the SEO provider has been successful in increasing the number of quality backlinks to your website.

Tip: Attend our Digital Marketing Advanced workshop to learn the basics of SEO and other digital marketing strategies such as Google Ads. The workshop costs just $50 and is a great, low-cost way of learning about SEO, and providing you with an opportunity to ask questions.

Questions to ask an SEO professional before hiring them

Choosing any supplier to work on your business comes with a degree of risk. Our tips on how to find the best contractor for your business covers the basics of hiring the right person to work with.

In addition to following these general tips, you should be asking for the following from an SEO provider.

1. Can they provide examples of when and how they achieved a top three page ranking for a client?

When it comes to SEO, the proof is in the pudding. A lot of suppliers make a number of promises, so it should be a red flag if they can’t back it up with examples of what they have achieved for other clients. The SEO provider should be able to use analytics to show the increase in page rankings, number of website visits and conversions that were achieved.

2. What guarantees do they offer (if any)?

If a provider promises a ‘first page search result guarantee’ don’t be afraid to ask what they mean. In some instances, if the SEO work you’re paying for isn’t achieving results, the provider may run a Google Ads campaign to get your website to the top of the page rankings and consider that as having fulfilled their agreement to you. While this will get you a higher search result while the Google Ad is being paid for, it isn’t going to provide the longer term benefits you were seeking.

3. What happens if their guarantees aren’t met?

Any ‘guarantees’ made by an SEO provider are likely to be performance or task based. If your provider offers certain guarantees, ask what the consequences are if they don’t meet them. Will they provide the next month’s services for free, provide a partial refund or work unpaid until they achieve the promised results?

Before signing a service contract, check that any guarantees and the consequences of not delivering on those guarantees are clearly documented.

4. What contract arrangements do they offer?

Avoid long term/lock-in contracts so you have the option of cancelling if you feel like you aren’t getting what you paid for or if the company hasn’t delivered on their promises.

With this in mind, remember that SEO is a long term digital marketing strategy, so it may take a few months, if not longer, for the provider's work to gain traction/generate the results you are looking for.

Tip: Be wary of any SEO provider who claims they are from Google, work with Google or are part of a Google ‘SEO partner program’.

What to include in your contract/agreement with an SEO supplier

Once you’ve selected an SEO provider, make sure your contract with them includes agreed key performance indicators (KPIs) and regular reporting so you can monitor their progress and ensure they are delivering for you. This should include updates on:

  • Your website’s ranking improvement. Google’s Search Console tool allows you to monitor how a page is ranking. So ask the provider to monitor the ranking of the pages on your website that they have optimised. There should be clear evidence of a ranking improvement for each page as a result of their work.
  • An increase in traffic to your website from search engines. You should see an upward trend in traffic from online search coming to the page/s they are optimising. Before you start with the provider, use Google Analytics to get a sense of how your website was tracking before the SEO work, so you can gauge the size of increase.
  • Conversion goal improvements. The provider should use Google Analytics to set up reporting on your agreed conversion goals. This will allow you to clearly track the results. What you are looking for is an increase in the overall number of conversions. As a secondary measure, you also should be looking for improvements in the overall the conversion rate (this is the percentage of website visitors who complete your desired conversion goals).
  • On-page optimisation work. The provider should give an overview of the adjustments carried out on your website. Examples of this could be changes to page titles, page descriptions, headings, page content, image optimisation etc.
  • Off-page optimisation work. This should outline the new backlinks the provider has secured on external websites linking back to your business’s website. Verify this report by making the following checks:
    • Visit each external website to confirm the backlinks are in place.
    • Check the content of the external websites to help you gauge if it’s a ‘quality’ backlink that will help your website’s ranking.
    • Cross-check the list of new backlinks against the original list you downloaded from Google Search Console (to ensure the provider isn’t claiming backlinks you already had before the SEO work began).

How much should SEO cost you?

This is a question commonly asked by business owners. It’s a tricky one to answer as there are many variables that contribute to the cost of SEO. Some of which could include:

  • Whether you’re using a local specialist or an overseas based freelancer.
  • If you’re optimising only one, or a range of pages.
  • What you’re trying to achieve. Is it increased sales or lead generation?
  • The other businesses you’re competing with online.

Optimising a page on your website could cost anywhere from $200 to $1,500 – depending on the provider’s hourly rate. As part of this task, the provider should be carrying out keyword analysis and on page optimisation tasks. The time to carry out this work could be anywhere from four to eight hours of work per page.

For a regular SEO service, costs could range from $300 per month to $1,000 per page – depending on the number of regular tasks being performed for you.

A return on investment (ROI) can be hard to measure, because in some cases your goal maybe simply be to increase leads, not make direct sales. Metrics you could use to measure ROI/success include:

  • Gradual increase in page rankings
  • Increase in website traffic
  • Increase in conversions – form completions, sales, mailing list sign ups etc

As a business owner, you will need to determine the value of the SEO work by comparing increases in the metrics against the costs incurred (also factoring in additional profits from additional goods or services sold).

You could also try using these equations to see if the number generated is positive.

ROI on SEO work to generate sales: net profit on current sales - net profit of sales before SEO work - cost of SEO = profit

ROI on SEO work to generate leads: number of current leads - number of leads pre-SEO x net profit per lead - cost of SEO = profit

Want to learn more about SEO?

Read our SEO made easy article for tips on how to create an SEO strategy or attend our ‘Digital Marketing Advanced’ workshop to learn more about search engine marketing and how to manage your website’s SEO.

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