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SEO Website Audit

10 Questions for New SEO Clients

November 30, 2011

Hello Jill,
Photo Credit: eleaf
If you could only ask 10 general (non-industry-specific) questions of your new SEO customers, what would they be and why would their answers help you help them?

Thank you,

++Jill's Response++

Hi Andrew,

Great question! I have a variety of different questionnaires that I send to clients, depending on the type of SEO consulting that I'll be doing with them. For any SEO service, the more information I get from the client about their business and website, the better I can help them with their SEO.

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 <sigh>. 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.

What additional questions do you ask? Let me know in the comments!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings,Jill Whalen an SEO Services company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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Related article: High Rankings Question of the Week: What questions do you ask new SEO customers?
Post Comment

 Mikhail Tuknov said:
Jill, I've always enjoyed reading your stories and tips. Great info, thanks for sharing. By the way, i have a client call within 30 minutes.
 Kevin Burke said:
Who are your target customers or sales channels? How do YOU measure success?
 Zachary said:
It looks like one important question that I like to ask missed your list (although technically it could be included in the last question) is, what types of offline advertising are you doing i.e. television, direct mail, radio etc. Im always able to address some immediate issues here and create opportunities for a client that is not using internet marketing to their advantage in off-line media.
 Scott Bauer said:
Great post, sorry I miseed the research round.

One of the main questions I often ask is, if they are using a CMS or what tools they use to control their website, or ecommerce store. To control onsite efforts related IA, content and marketing at the highest level is a must.
 Melt du Plooy said:
excellent questions indeed, especially #7 & #8. All good for you to know what you are supposed to do and how to strategically approach the job ahead. One "question" that cannot always be asked directly but it is so important, is the question of managing expectations. Does my client really understand what I am doing/going to be doing and do they understand the deliverables or timing involved. The questions in your article above Jill, should answer and provide the correct approach from the SEO's side but knowing or understanding what exactly the client expects of you and when they believe they will see results is sometimes a different story.
 Matt lambert said:
Great article, and as usual answers create yet more questions. I wonder when you migt decide a website is too broad in nature that it might affect conversions - forcing consideration of another domain. I'm just putting that t-shirt on..

As you are clearly against it, I wondered if you had a view?

All the best, Matt
 Jill Whalen said:
@melt the managing of expectations, for me, comes before we ever sign a contract. In fact it would all be in the contract. These questions were kick-off questions before we can begin any actual strategy or work.

@Matt I don't take broadness into consideration for most sites as it shouldn't matter. Look at Amazon.
 Melt du Plooy said:
totally agree with you Jill, should have paid closer attention to the "brief" :)
 Paul Tagent said:
Methodical and very apt article.
The only thing I would add which is more of a statement than a question, is how patient the client is! i.e. some clients I have worked with seemed to think that a "quick bit of SEO" will yield huge improvements in page position and hence profits. For me, to get the best SEO results, stick with it.
 SEO Bedford said:
We use a very similar questionnaire but I liked questions 5 and 9 which are not included in ours, yet. If I may, I'll copy your idea Jill and add them to our clients questionnaire.
 Manan Patel said:
Hey, Jill Whalen... thanks for the answer.. Basically after three years of experience today I am going to deal with my first client... this is not as easy as we thought...
Cross finger for the same... because its first time to deal with client & looking positive.

Thanks for the sharing..
 CyjAndrew said:
Thanks, Jill Whalen. Very insightful post. I like the list of questions, and I shall co-opt them for my next SEO project.

Client's expectations are often out of sync with consultants'. People think SEO is a quick fix; some kind of magic bullet. I think not. IMO, SEO is iterative. And your list of questions show that.

Another thing I've found that could affect SEO is the site architecture, planning, and infrastructure, i.e. what it's running on. I've seen instances where sites are being hampered by so called "premium themes" or "plugins" on the WordPress platform.

Would it be worthwhile to include a question to the client that addresses these kinds of issues? It would be a shame if all the smart SEO work is being undone by poor site design/architecture, or by some developer's sloppy spaghetti code. What do you think?
 Ben Lavie said:
Content restriction - If you edit your client's content you should be aware of what to ask and what to avoid, and what is a must to mention. From our long experience we know that content is one of the most important aspects for a client.
Most clients will pay more attention to the wording of the text and have a hard time understanding the SEO aspects of it.
You must work with your client to understand his/her content criteria (you will also gain extra insights as to additional keywords you may use to promote his/her website on) and explain the importance of your onsite SEO work. Once you reach a mutual understanding and agree on the form of content to use your work will be much more beneficial!
 Daniel Humphrey said:
Hi Jill, thanks for the questions, this really helped me. I am looking to hire a SEO agency and I wanted to get an insight on what type of questions that might be coming my way.