At some point, you might decide to hire an SEO company to help get your website ranked in Google.

It’s not hard to find SEO companies. They’re kind of hard to miss…  Most small business owners I know get bombarded by SEO companies by email and phone on a regular basis.

But it can be hard to find an SEO company you can trust to deliver.

So, here are 13 questions you should ask before hiring an SEO company (based on our own experience working with SEO clients for many years).

1. How long have you been doing this?

SEO is an industry where it makes sense to hire someone with at least a couple years of experience. Things can change from one Google update to the next, and you want somebody who takes a long-term approach — rather than somebody who uses a technique that’s working now but might not be working in a few months.

2. What’s your methodology?

Before you hire an SEO company, you want to have a clear idea of what exactly they’ll be doing. If they can’t concisely explain their methodology, that’s a red flag.

And don’t be satisfied with an answer like “We practice ‘white hat’ SEO techniques,” because that’s not enough info. And unfortunately, many SEO companies who say they do “white hat” SEO are in fact violating Google’s terms of service.

Dig a little deeper under the hood and ask specific questions about how they get their clients ranked. If they refuse to elaborate and say their methods are confidential, then choose another firm. You want a firm that will be transparent.

It’s also a good idea to have at least a basic grasp of SEO best practices before hiring an SEO company. That way, you’ll have a better ‘BS’ detector and you can make sure they’re doing a good job for you.

3. Who does what work?

Once you have an idea for their methodology, find out who’s responsible for what tasks.

For example, does the SEO company create content, or is that the client’s responsibility? If the SEO company creates content, ask for a sample of the content, in order to make sure you’re comfortable with the quality.

In addition, you want to make sure you’re hiring the actual provider of the services, rather than hiring a firm who will subcontract the work out to another company.

4. Can you tell me about some successful campaigns?

You have two goals with this question.

First, you’re looking for what results they’ve generated for their clients.

Second, you’re also looking to see how they define success when it comes to SEO. I encourage you to work with an SEO company who defines success in terms of increasing your sales, not just improving your rankings or generating more traffic.

5. Can you tell me about an unsuccessful campaign?

Most SEO companies have had some missteps in the past, and that’s how you learn. It’s a good idea to hear about a campaign that didn’t go as well as planned, why it didn’t perform — and, more importantly, what the SEO company did to make it right.

6. Can you provide references?

If the SEO company can’t provide at least 3 references of satisfied clients, with names and phone numbers, then you should keep looking.  Assuming you get the 3 references, call the people and ask them about their experiences, including how long they used the company for, whether they’re still using the company, and what the results have been like.

7. What kind of clients do you typically work with?

You want to find a company that has experience with the type of SEO campaigns you’ll need help with (e.g. local or national). If you’re a local business, then you’ll want to make sure that your SEO company is experienced with local SEO.

8. Have you worked with companies in my industry before?

This question isn’t as important as many clients think. SEO best practices don’t change based on the client’s type of business.

That said, it can be helpful to hire an SEO company with relevant experience – and, more important relevant contacts – in your industry. For example, let’s say you wanted to pursue an SEO strategy of getting guest blog posts in order to generate traffic and links. It would be to your advantage if your SEO company already had lots of relevant relationships with bloggers in your industry.

9. Are you working with any of my direct competitors?

There’s only 1 spot at the top. You should avoid a conflict-of-interest situation, where an SEO company is having two of its clients compete head-to-head for the same Google rankings.

10. How do you price SEO projects?

It’s a good idea to get a sense for the SEO company’s minimums up-front, so you don’t waste each other’s time. If the SEO company has a minimum of $2,000/m and your budget is only $500/m then that’s going to present a problem. And it’s good to find that out sooner than later.

Cheapest isn’t always the best option. SEO is an area where it’s often worth it to pay extra for better results, because — when it’s done right — the investment can continue to pay off for months and years down the road.

Beyond the fees, you also want to learn how they approach pricing. You want to ensure that they are pricing the work with  your return on investment (ROI) as their top priority. You might also want to ask for an estimated projection of future results, so you have some kind of expectation and benchmark to follow in the coming months.

11. Do you require long-term commitments?

You should be aware of any long-term commitments up-front. Obviously, it’s better for the client to not be locked in to a long-term commitment.

However, long-term commitments aren’t necessarily a bad thing with SEO. Depending on your level of competition, it might require several months to generate results, and it’s good for both the SEO company and the client to be realistic about what it’ll take.

12. Do you provide any guarantees?

I’m not a big fan of results-based guarantees for SEO, because the SEO company doesn’t control Google’s algorithm.  In many cases, the SEO company doesn’t control website conversions either. So, putting an SEO company on the hook for performance guarantees can be tricky.

I think it’s healthier for the SEO company and the client to both acknowledge that there’s a degree of risk and uncertainty inherent in SEO.

However, some SEO companies offer a satisfaction guarantee, where clients can get out of the contract or even get the last month’s payment refunded if they are dissatisfied with the results. And I think that’s a sensible approach to take.

13. What other services do you provide?

When possible, it can be convenient to deal with one marketing provider rather than several.

So, before you sign up with an SEO company, you should also find out what other services they offer, including pay per click (PPC) advertising management, social media marketing, email marketing, and website design.