Hiring an SEM Agency? Ask These 11 Questions First

If you have a business with a website, you probably don’t have to search hard for an SEM agency that wants your business – you probably get sales calls and emails almost daily! It’s easy to hit delete when you don’t need them, but when you are ready to invest in better results from your company’s site, how do you evaluate SEM agencies? Here are 11 questions that can help you separate the worthwhile SEM agencies from the time (and money) wasters.

1. What tactics would you recommend specific to my business or industry? A good agency’s strategy should not be one size fits all. From PPC to content to social media, there are numerous places where you can spend your SEO budget and time. A skilled and experienced team will know where to invest (and what to skip) for a retail ecommerce client vs. a SAAS client vs. a family law firm. Look for an agency who has experience in your industry through other clients.

2. What are the specific tactics you will use? Look for detailed and understandable answers. Make sure these tactics include both on page SEO (content, keywords, page URLs and titles, image alt text, etc) and off page SEO (social media, commenting on other blogs and forums). Avoid agencies that offer paid link building. This is an unacceptable practice that could harm your site’s reputation and penalize it within search results.

3. Can you promise that we will be number one in search results? This is a trick question you should ask that can help identify bad SEM companies. Anyone who says “yes” should be removed from your list of candidates. No agency can control Google or Bing, and if they could, would they really be searching for new business? Claiming to be able to produce exact results is highly suspect.

4. When will we see results? Less of a trick question than number 3, but still one with an informative answer. Avoid agencies that promise you immediate results. How quickly you will see results depends on what your agency is doing, but also on factors your agency can’t control, such as how competitive your keywords are, how long your site has been around, and what condition it was in when you hired them. That is not to say you should keep paying an agency endlessly while hoping for an unrealized future payoff. You should start to see some action in no more than 6 months, and a new benchmark within a year of consistent, high-quality SEM efforts.

5. What will our reporting look like? A good agency should be able to give you analytics that mean something to your business or industry, not just a generic report. This might also include comparing your SEM ROI to other forms of marketing. They should give you results that will please the C suite and justify their continued existence in your budget.

6. How will our analytics inform our strategy? You want an agency who is proactively paying attention to your results and your goals, and will suggest changes accordingly. Garnering a lot of visitors is great, but what if they’re not converting? A good agency uses analytics (and not their personal notions of what “should” work) as a way to dynamically guide and improve your strategy – doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

7. Do you also work with content marketing? SEM and SEO often go hand-in-hand, and a big part of SEO is content marketing. Search engine results are largely driven by human behavior, and humans love content. The industries where content marketing is ineffective are few and far between. Good content marketing is evergreen, useful across numerous platforms, and frankly a little more difficult than just stuffing keywords into a blog post. Even if you are currently only looking for PPC and web design help, content will most likely be a need for you in the future. Ask for past examples of high quality content.

8. If we will be working with social media, what are your different strategies for different platforms? Every social media platform has a different user profile, different features, and different roadblocks. An experienced SEM agency should be able to narrow your focus to the platforms that are the best suited for your business, and offer examples of past successful efforts.

9. Can you give samples of tying your marketing to current or newsworthy events? Addressing popular events or developments in your industry can be a way to get your company current and gain relevant search traction. It might even pay off in bigger ways if you can become an authority, from page rankings to getting linked by mainstream media outlets. It can also work in reverse if a product, location, or celebrity associated with your business experiences a scandal or bad press. How quickly is your SEM agency willing to react and re-calibrate, in case of good or bad news?

10. If you have a brick and mortar location, does the agency have experience with local search? Good local search results need more than just your city name added to page titles. Being a brick-and-mortar business gives you both opportunities and potential pitfalls within SEM marketing, such as having multiple locations, moving locations, dealing with external review sites, geo location targeting. How experienced is this agency at navigating those waters?

11. If and when we quit working with you, what will happen? Not every relationship lasts forever. If you decided to quit working with your SEO agency, who will retain control of the work they have done for you, and ownership of the many accounts your business needs? Look for transparency, a willingness to explain and teach, and good communication.


The experience and expertise that an external SEM agency can bring to your business can be game-changing. Get the results you want by taking the time to find the best agency to represent your company to your potential customers

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