This post originally appeared on our sister blog, Freelance Copywriter’s Blog, but we also wanted to share it with you here.

You already know that search engine optimisation is one of the best and most effective long-term marketing strategies for any business that markets itself online.

But you also know that one wrong move and Google will be down on you like a tonne of bricks, so if you decide to outsource your SEO work, how can you be sure you find an agency that actually knows what its doing?

A lot of agencies will try to blind you with science and then take short cuts that, although may produce immediate results, could harm you in the long-term. Or you could end up with an agency that has no idea what it’s doing and simply won’t deliver the return you want.

So how can you be sure you find a good agency that actually knows what it’s doing?

Here are a few questions you should be asking when meeting with potential agencies.

1. Algorithm updates

What do you know about the latest Google updates?

Any agency worth its salt will be up to date with all of Google’s latest algorithm updates. You’ve probably heard about Penguin and Panda, but a good agency will not only have heard about them, it should also be able to explain to you what they mean.

2. Penalties

Can you tell me why I have been hit with a Google penalty?

If you fall foul of Google’s rules you will be slapped with a penalty, but in order to make good the situation it’s essential you know why you got the penalty in the first place.

3. Expertise

Now this one covers a lot.

You need to be sure of the agency’s technical experience and knowledge and that of their content writers.

There are loads of companies out there that can produce shed loads of content for not a lot of money, but if it’s not high quality you’re going to do a lot of damage.

On top of that, as social media is a huge part of SEO these days, the agency also needs to demonstrate it has a working and in depth knowledge of how to use social media to build influential relationships, promote your content, encourage sharing and generate customers.

4. Link building

What link building strategies do you use?

Link building, if done incorrectly, will damage your website. Avoid any agency that answers this question with things like, submitting your website to directories, placing articles on article directories, buying links, automated link building etc.

Instead you should be looking for ideas such as guest blogging on influential sites, increasing exposure on social networks and forums and other creative ideas.

5. Tools

What tools do you use?

There are certain tools that the agency should be using and some it shouldn’t. If they say they do everything manually, you’ll end up paying far more than you need to.

However, if you hear things like they use tools for link building, content production, social media etc., run for the hills as fast as you can.

But, you do want to hear they use tools for measuring their effectiveness, potential link opportunities, tracking your ROI and for the discovery of influencers etc.

6. Guaranteed results

Do you guarantee results?

If they say “yes” run away.

The true answer is “no” – no one can guarantee results when it comes to SEO.

Other things to ask

You should also be asking:

  • Who else they work for – can you speak to their clients?
  • How do they measure success?
  • What happens if they fail to provide results within the give time frame?
  • How will they report progress?

There are a lot of elements to your marketing strategy – finding the right professional copywriter to work with, the right design company, the right email marketing software etc.

But finding the right SEO agency is one of the most important aspects of getting your online strategy off the ground.