Keeping Your SEO Firm Honest – How to Evaluate Outsourced SEO

Many small businesses don’t have sufficient in-house tools or people to handle the search engine optimization (SEO) of their website. As a result, a myriad SEO/SEM/social media firms have sprung up over the last decade. As with any vertical, some are great, some are OK, and some simply aren’t worth the investment.

If you’ve already outsourced your SEO, I’ve put together a list of free tools to help you evaluate the work done by your SEO firm. For the purposes of this article, all three happen to be provided by Google. The reason for that is Google still controls 60 percent of all web searches per most studies, so it makes sense to look there first.

What Does Our Marketplace Look Like: Google Insights

The first tool can tell us what our marketplace looks like on Google. Insights offers a glimpse into the popularity of certain keywords versus overall searches done in Google. So in other words, we can use this tool to determine if our SEOs are targeting the right set of keywords, or if, in fact, they’re leading us down the wrong path.

In the examples below (to see the graphics full size, click the graphic), we’ll assume our company is selling kayaks.

So, since there’s a lot of ways we can approach SEO, we’ll start picking words that accurately describe the kind of kayak we make. Here, we see “sit on top kayak,” “fishing kayak,” and “hunting kayak.” In the live version, you can use your mouse to see interest levels of any month (relative to total Google searches). You’ll see here as well that we can change the time scale, select different geographic regions, and get Google’s forecast for what these searches will look like next year.

It’s likely that your SEO provided you with a list of terms that they want to optimize for on your website to help you grow your business. By plugging them in here, we can determine if those are in fact worth the effort and expense. If they are trending downwards, find some that are trending up, and task your SEO with making you rank for the best key terms your product set will allow.

Answering So What: Google Webmaster Central

So now we’ll assume we have our target list of keywords, we’ve cut a check, and our SEO is busy optimizing our site for the buying traffic we want. The first thing we want to look at here is one of the famous “so what” questions. Let’s assume we’ve managed to rank for “sit on top kayak.” So what? Google Webmaster Central (GWC) can partially answer this question.

By logging in to your GWC account and applying a filter under “Your Site on the Web -> Search Queries” we can drill down to search terms that contain “sit on top” and find out how many times we’re appearing in Search Results for those terms. In our case, for the last 30 days, we see that we’ve appeared in search just over 70 times and probably only received a handful of visits (represented by the <10 under clicks.) We also see that our average position for these searches ranges from 130 to 220! That’s not what we’re looking for at all.

Webmaster Tools - Search queries Sit On Top

So we can take all of this data and go back to our SEO and ask them about it. We’re prepared to ask the tough questions, too, such as, “Why do we rank so well in Google when I do the searches, yet Google Webmaster Tools shows we’re 130th on average?”  They SHOULD be prepared to answer those questions.

To be fair, I think the most important thing we can look at in this report is trending. Are we trending up in search engine position, or down in search engine position? SEO takes time, and Webmaster Tools is the barometer where we can measure progress.

Measuring Business Outcomes: Google Analytics

The last stop on our brief tour is Google Analytics. After doing our due diligence in Google Insights and watching progress in Google Webmaster Central, now we have to measure results in dollars and cents. We know what we pay per month for SEO. So is it worth it? Let’s log in to Google Analytics and find out.

By going to the Traffic Sources -> Overview -> Keywords portion of Google Analytics, and using a simple filter for “sit on top,” we can pull a list of keywords that were directly affected by our SEO efforts. And by clicking GOAL 1 on this report, we can figure out exactly which of those key terms are generating sales. If you’re an e-commerce store, you can also click on the E-commerce tab of this report to get REAL DOLLAR answers to these questions.

Search Overview - Google Analytics - Sit On

So this report is the tiniest portion of the funnel—from keyword ideas to keyword ranking and keyword results.

Conclusions and Next Steps

Now that we’ve made the investment in SEO and invested a small bit of time on our own to understand the results, we’re prepared to have our weekly or monthly call with the SEO firm. I think it’s important that we talk about the results that we’re seeing based on the above, as opposed to letting the SEO firm direct the discussion based on ranking results or traffic results.

Here are some questions we may want to ask them, based on the above data:

  1. I see “fishing kayak” is trending to be more popular than “sit on top kayak.” Should we put more effort in that area?
  2. Per Google Insights, all of the key terms we are SEOing for are very seasonal. What related terms should we be looking at to generate traffic year round?
  3. Despite the number of impressions we’re receiving in Google, our traffic seems low. How do we fix that?

In taking control of this discussion yourself, you stand a far better chance of maximizing the return on investment in your SEO.

About Kevin Webster

Kevin Webster manages web analytics, SEO, and SEM accounts for He also assists in OPM duties there, and blogs on his own at Kevin has been in affiliate and online marketing since 2003, and web analytics since 2005. Over his career, he has worked in B2B lead gen, outdoors/recreational SEO and SEM, and in the manufacturing space.

One Response to Keeping Your SEO Firm Honest – How to Evaluate Outsourced SEO

  1. Seo says:

    I love google insights and keywords tool. Thanks for sharing.