The whole universe of web marketing has a pall cast over it by scammers and fly-by-night operations. It is no surprise that people misunderstand what various practitioners do and are wary of hiring firms to fix the problems on their sites. SEO is the biggest area of confusion. Search Engine Optimization has multiple components in play, all necessary for it to really be successful. All too often, a firm does one part of the work and ignores the rest.

If you’re looking at an SEO agency to hire, you should ask these three questions to make sure that they are doing the hard work required–and doing a good job of it.

1. Do they change tags and revise page content?

Yes, links are important to the search engines, but real SEO is all about putting high-quality targeted content on the pages in a strategic way. A firm that does real SEO will do a lot of research, then write tags and supporting content that puts the best terms on your site. Minor changes in site architecture or navigation are widely seen components of implementing the content strategy.

2. So, are the terms they need to target for your site ones that make sense for your business? Do they sound like a human would actually search on them? So, are they backed up with numbers?

This is such an important question to ask. Anyone can achieve great rankings for obscure terms or ones that nobody would ever really search on. A real SEO agency will be able to optimize on 25-30 phrases, and they should be terms that can generate revenue. The targeted key phrases will likely have 2-4 words and be backed up by counts of how many estimated searches are done per month. It is important that these numbers be varied. If you see oddly-worded phrases with identical numbers of searches, walk away. These may be automatically generated and searched on to falsely represent the available traffic.

3. Will your results be reported in a meaningful metric?

The pretty thing about search marketing is that everything is measurable. Change the content, change the tags, and compare it to the baseline. You can see the results of each tweak done to the site. A good SEO agency will be able to report on how each term is ranked on the major search engines, show you progress over time, and do this all within the context of how much search traffic there is around the term. Tracking results is as easy as putting a snippet of code on each page. Without tracking what happens on the site, there’s no way to prove whether the work done was effective or not. SEO works by making iterative changes over time, and metrics are an incredibly important part of the equation.