Here’s a selection of some of the questions I ask and why they’re important to the overall SEO process:
1. What web analytics program do you use, and can we have access to it?
Web analytics are the key to measuring the current level of SEO success (or lack thereof). They’re also the key to determining whether any future SEO implementation is helping to bring more targeted traffic. Therefore, it’s critical for me to have access to this information regardless of the level of SEO service I’m providing. If you use Google Analytics (GoAn), it’s very simple to add new users to the account and in most cases it’s fine to provide report-only access (rather than admin). Along with GoAn, I also ask for access to the client’s Google Webmaster Tools (GWMT) account. These days, if you have GoAn access, you can usually add the same website to your GWMT account as well, which makes the process easier.
2. What’s the purpose of your site and who is your target audience?
This is a seemingly simple question, yet it often stumps many clients. Some of them will cop out: “Well, the purpose of our site is to sell our product.” And your target audience? “Umm … anyone with a credit card?” Not very helpful. If you don’t have a good handle on who the people are who are buying your products, how will your SEO consultant help you bring those people to your website? An SEO consultant needs to have a clear picture of who you are because everything we do hinges upon this — from the keyword research to deciding what type of content needs to be written, to how you might want to attack social media marketing. If you’re an SEO consultant, I urge you to push for deep answers to this question.
3. Are there any other domains or sites that you own or control, or that you used to use instead of the current domain? (Please list them all.)
This information is important so I can assess any duplicate content issues. I need to know whether that other site I found that is using nearly the same content as yours is owned by you, or if someone scraped yours. I also need to know if you’re using multiple domains as an SEO strategy (so I can smack you!). I added this one to my questionnaire when I kept finding doorway domains or other sites that my clients *forgot* to tell me about. Even those who really do forget or who purposely don’t tell me about their additional domains aren’t getting away with anything. I usually end up finding them during my website audit process. So if you’re a client, do us both a favor and come clean from the start. This will save us all some time down the line! (And I was just kidding about smacking you :)!)
4. What have you done so far (if anything) about optimizing your site?
My favorite answer is to this is “nothing” because that means we’re starting with a clean slate and have nowhere to go but up! But most clients these days have done at least some rudimentary SEO. While I can usually spot any on-page optimization, it’s helpful to hear it from you. Sometimes, the things clients say they’ve done (e.g., created keyword-rich Title tags) don’t actually seem to be done when I look for them. That tells me that your idea of SEO and mine may be quite different, and it’s good to know this up front. It’s also good to know if you have already been through a string of SEOs and what each of them has done to the site during their tenure.
5. Is there anything that you may have done that the search engines may not have liked regarding previous optimization efforts for your site?
This one is sort of an addendum to the last one for those who may have *forgotten* to tell me any bad or spammy things they (or a previous SEO) may have done. While they may have not mentioned anything spammy in the last question, this gives them the opportunity to add anything that they weren’t quite sure was on the up-and-up. Very often, the client may think something was bad or caused problems, when it’s actually innocuous. Other times, there can be a big mess to sort out — e.g., all kinds of paid-for spammy-anchor-text links. As an SEO it’s helpful to know right away where to focus my efforts.
6. List the websites of your three biggest competitors. Why do you feel they compete with your site?
I like this question more for the second part than the first. It’s always interesting to see why people think another company or site is their competitor. Very often, the only reason people think it is that the other site shows up in the search results for the keyword phrase that the client wants to show up for! While that may make them your competitor, it also may not. It may simply mean that you’re shooting for the wrong keyword phrases. It’s also very helpful to look at competitor sites to see how they’re set up and whether they seem to have done much in the way of SEO or not.
7. What do you feel is your most unique selling proposition (USP)? Why would these clients come to you as opposed to anyone else who offers the same or similar products and services? What’s different or better about your product or service?
Hat tip to Karon Thackston for these questions, because they are ones she always asks before doing any copywriting for a website. Along with who your target audience is, these are some of the most important questions for any client to think about and answer. Sometimes a client will have a great grasp of this and provide lots of valuable information, but more often, the best they can come up with is that they are “more friendly” than their competitors. In today’s competitive marketplace and search results (especially since Google’s Panda Update), it’s critical to be able to differentiate your products and services from the rest. And even those who have an excellent grasp of this don’t always make it clear to the users of their website, which is something that will need to be fixed.
8. After a potential customer visits your site, what specifically do you want them to do?
This is a wonderful way to understand what the various conversion points of your website are. If your only answer is “Make a sale,” then you likely need to add some other smaller conversion points, such as signing up for a newsletter or updates, following you on social media, filling out a contact form, calling you, etc. As an SEO you need to know what all of these points are so that you can make sure that the client’s web analytics are set up to correctly capture all the conversions, and that the website is properly leading people to complete those conversions.
9. Do you have social media accounts (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Google+) and if so, what are your user names?
This is important to see if and how they’re using social media. If they’re not using it at all, as an SEO, you must determine whether they should be. If they are using it, a quick review of their accounts will show you exactly how they’re using it. For instance, you’d want to look at whether they are simply tweeting out links to their own content via an automated feed, or if they are also interacting with their audience. This will help you devise an appropriate social media marketing strategy for them down the line.
10. Is there anything else you may have that you think will provide a more complete picture of your site?
It’s always a good idea to have a final, open-ended question such as this in case the client forgot to tell you anything within their previous answers. You may learn all kinds of things that you would not have otherwise learned without asking this question.
Those are the most important ones that should get you started. While you can ask all these in person or on the phone, I find it extremely helpful to have it all in writing. It also provides the client with the opportunity to think about their answers and get additional input from others within the company, as necessary.