At BFO, we don’t build websites for a living. We work with countless numbers of amazing web development firms, agencies and IT departments that develop and maintain our clients’ websites. One thing we often hear from prospective clients is that “my web developer should be doing the SEO”.  As you can imagine, that is a blanket statement we don’t entirely believe in.

There are hundreds of excellent, reputable web development firms.  Combined with what seems like an unlimited number of web platforms, themes, and dozens of  “SEO ready” CMS platforms, a business can easily find a company to build and manage a great website.  Changes Google has made to search, however, have altered the industry as it pertains to “SEO Friendly” websites.

Many web development companies list SEO as a core capability.  But with the changes to the search and digital landscape, you need to dig a little deeper so that you know exactly what their SEO capabilities are.  In the past, SEO was very technical.  Proper website setup, schema and keywords created SEO results. The “checklist SEO” and “plugin configuration” approach would lead to organic search success.

Today that’s changed.  Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo value a unique mix of quality content, and especially user experience. This requires both technical and marketing/content specialists to drive SEO success that leads to both ranking & conversions.

A company that truly specializes in SEO will likely have an “SEO department” rather than just an “SEO guy” since few individuals or teams have the expertise to do both the technical and content side of SEO.   Besides asking if they have a full SEO department, how can you identify if they have the SEO expertise you need?  Here are seven questions to ask…

What percentage of your billings would you attribute to SEO work?

A direct question, sure, but it lets them know you’re serious about SEO.  And it tells you if they specialize in SEO or if they do initial site SEO configurations and then you’re on your own.

How many dedicated SEO team members do you have and what are their roles?

Now you’re getting into the nitty-gritty of their SEO capabilities.  Are they technically focused?  Do they have content producers?  Are they truly SEO focused?  Do they have specialty resources to tap into for each of the nuances related to technical & offsite SEO?

The key to these questions helps you understand how they will be able to help you with the marketing and ongoing SEO content support of your website.

Do you have case studies showing post-launch lift?

Although common for websites to see an initial post-launch dip after a redesign, clients should expect to see increased search results.  You want to see case studies that demonstrate that success or speak with a company’s clients to learn about the successes they experienced.

Do you offer ongoing SEO programs with content generation?

Set it and forget it SEO doesn’t work well in 2016, Google values quality content and rewards websites that have fresh content.  If the web development company doesn’t do this, will you have the time and expertise to do so?  Will they deliver a long-term SEO strategy targeting high volume industry terms while capturing the long-tail for short term gains? If you get answers of no to these questions, you will need to figure in the cost of hiring a SEO content specialist or agency into project estimates to ensure you get the return on the investment in your website.

Do they do offsite SEO work?

SEO success requires more than keywords and content on your website.  You also need inbound and outbound links to respected sites to rank in search results. While traditional “link building” is no longer a core pillar of modern SEO, offsite SEO and content distribution is still as important today as it has always been. Asking about their offsite SEO approach should teach you a lot about how current their tactics and understanding are.

Do they integrate SEO programs with other marketing channels?

Modern SEO doesn’t live in a silo. Will they integrate your SEO strategy with Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter?  Can they integrate your SEO strategy with your eCommerce platform.  What about with cohesive reporting and analysis on overlap with paid search and other digital marketing channels?  

Long ago, web development was a technical endeavour.  Now websites require technical, marketing and content know-how.  This last question gives you further insight into their focus and ability to address your full technical and marketing needs.  

Can they think beyond “best practices” and “platform configuration”?

Even as SEO gets more competitive and complicated, there are still some core SEO best practices which we commonly refer to as “blocking & tackling”. While many web development firms and platforms have built in SEO best practices, “not making big SEO mistakes” is not enough to rank on competitive keywords. SEO strategy is more than meta optimizations and H1 tags.

There are many great agencies and web development firms that “get it right” with the balance of technical SEO. Our job when advising for our clients is to make sure that their websites are optimized for humans and search engines (and don’t forget about conversions). This is why we believe that in most cases the combination of world-class web development agencies with specialist SEO consultants ensures the “hard work” of SEO gets prioritized – and done right. Learn how to select the right SEO agency for your business, here.

To learn more about SEO best practices, check out our ebook!

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Also published on Medium.