Whether you’re planning on grilling a new SEO consultant or agency, you need to hold fire under your current SEOs, or you’re currently an SEO getting a feel for questions that may blindside you, it’s essential to examine some of the most pivotal and difficult SEO questions. I’ve compiled 10 of the most challenging questions I’ve been met with over the past decade. Because these kinds of questions can vary widely based on a high level of subjectivity, consider this list my personal experience, having answered each at least a dozen times.

Likewise, the short answer for always every question can start with “it depends…” In this particular article, however, we’ll be providing purely anecdotal responses. The “it depends” will take into consideration the following, prefacing the situation before moving on to answer the question:

  • The budget of the client
  • The level of competition in the market
  • The level of competition for the keywords
  • How much SEO has been done for their digital assets already

Consider this not as a crutch to stand on if efforts aren’t going as planned, but rather as a way of appropriately setting expectations. With this ado now out of the way, let’s address each question.

1. How long will it take to rank for my main keywords?

At my first Director-level job, the way I addressed this question—concerning keywords hitting the first page on Google—was as follows:

  • Easier local keywords – 3 months
  • Tougher local keywords – 6 months
  • Tougher national keywords – 12 months

Some may agree that this is a decent rule of thumb, but it’s important to note that it could vary drastically, especially if you’re focusing on numerous simultaneous keywords. In any case, the difficulty of movement is exponentially more challenging the higher you move on search engine results pages.

For example, you may be able to jump from rank 50 to rank 20 with minimal effort. The same amount of effort—in the form of on-page optimization, link building, additional content/link building, etc.—may get you from rank 20 to rank 12 or rank 12 to rank 8.

It’s crucial to build expectations around the long-term upward trajectory of keywords, especially once you land on the first page. As you know, any rank less than 5 is next to useless.  In most cases, the most accurate ways of predicting a reasonable window are by confirming current placement for the keywords and having good intuition about the site’s authority score enabling the movement you anticipate.

2. How much will it cost for my SEO strategy work, including paying third parties?

Budgets for an ongoing partnership in SEO vary greatly, often dictated by your level of expertise and competition. In the legal field, it’s rare to see an SEO campaign priced between $500-$750 a month that will move the needle. This is because for SEO to work correctly, it’s generally going to be a comprehensive plan requiring the input of many different roles:

  • A content writer that’s continually writing blogs, pages, and articles on your website.
  • An SEO that hopefully doesn’t wear every single hat. All bases should be covered, including local SEO, on-page SEO, content strategy, link building, and technical SEO.
  • A role for either an Account/Project Manager or something similar to open the door for open communication between the business owner and the agency. The AM/PM should keep the campaign updated and the team accountable.

Even at a mediocre level with intermediately experienced personnel, organizing this would likely cost $500-$750 to operate at a minimum.

There are going to be different perceived responsibilities. This includes expenses that will help the business for which the SEO isn’t necessarily responsible, and costs that could help the company get where they need to go faster, but that the SEO should always use to burn the business.

Potential expenses suggested by an SEO company

  • Chat Services to help conversions (Free – $500/mo)
  • CRM ($150/mo+)
  • Intake for Overflow and Afterhours (Varies)
  • Newsletter Platforms for CX, Drip, Nurture Campaigns ($50/mo)
  • Hosting better than your GoDaddy ($30/mo)

These prices vary greatly.

Potential expenses with which the SEO company shouldn’t typically burden you

  • Sponsoring content ($2,000/mo) for building links
  • Starting a scholarship (a lot) for building links
  • Sponsoring a 5k (still a lot) for building links
  • Review generation software (not particularly expensive, but most agencies should cover this because of the SEO implications)

This isn’t to say the SEO company will end up buying those links on your behalf, but there should be alternatives to building authority to your website for your business to succeed with higher rankings and visibility.

3. What happens if we don’t reach our SEO goal within the timeframe? I want a guarantee.

This is among the tougher realizations as you may not hit all of your goals, even when you have conservative and calculated expectations. There are two approaches that I’ve heard SEOs execute in this situation, and though it isn’t a practice we currently employ, I think it can be managed under the right circumstances. This strategy includes the following:

  • Discontinuing payment temporarily (1-2 months, no more)
  • Allocating part of the budget temporarily to paid campaigns like Google Ads (no more than 25%)
  • Offering additional scopes of work (no more than 25%)

I wouldn’t say that SEO has to be viewed as a “risky” venture, but there is always a chance it doesn’t live up to expectations or takes longer than you might expect. I think this is a small tradeoff for what SEO produces when it works well.

4. Will you be doing anything that Google won’t like?

This conversation mostly comes up when discussing what form of link building the SEO plans to implement. It’s important to know that anyone that uses phrases like “white hat” and “black hat” when discussing link building has already written off most forms of link building that actually work. Much like Yelp! completely disavows any solicitation of reviews, Google has a similar policy on how you obtain backlinks to your website.

If someone claims that they’re getting links in a way that Google likes, know that there is no link-building method that Google likes. Essentially, you can argue that all forms of link building are inherently black hat by virtue of their efforts being active instead of passive, so this isn’t something that has to be specifically addressed.

5. My paid campaigns get me leads right away. Why should I wait for SEO?

SEO has always been and always will be a long play. As far as the timeline of results you can expect from different digital marketing campaigns, there’s no argument that SEO may take the longest when matched up against anything paid. If your business needs leads and needs them now, no SEO will rationalize their work being the best fit for this scenario.

Your patience will be rewarded long-term during an SEO plan when being executed correctly.  Because SEO utilizes your own digital assets, people tend to get a more serious and informed potential buyer/consumer that won’t necessarily reach out from a conversion page immediately.  Also, the ROI for SEO can scale increasingly over time as it builds on itself, where the majority of paid campaigns will usually hit a wall with ROI or only experience drastic diminishing returns as time goes on.

6. Google is monetizing results more and more. It looks like SEO may be dead after all, right?

I thought SEO would be dead less than two years into starting in the field, so I pursued additional education in the form of a Master’s in Computer Science and coding boot camps to hedge my future. Here I am, eight years after the fact, still working in the ever-changing world of digital marketing. Though Google gets a large percentage of its revenue from Google ads and other paid products and has slowed monetized portions of results, including Local Service Ads and an ad within Google Maps, the complete takeover still doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

I recently participated in a content marketing boot camp in which one of the attendees—an in-house Director of Marketing for a law firm—was constantly at wit’s end with several attorneys questioning the viability of SEO results. I’m used to validating the value of SEO year after year, as I would never want to promote an approach to marketing for our clients that was on the out. So, I did have quite a bit of research to “back up” why SEO was still worth pursuing, besides the fact that our clients that rank very well organically see an influx of quality leads.

In a survey asking what placement someone would click using a short-tail vanity keyword, here were the results: In August of 2020, LSA (Local Service Ads) were about 10% of clicks.  Now, they are 20%. The 10% that was displaced almost entirely came from Google Ads, meaning that even the introduction of LSA’s hardly affected clicks to Maps and Organic.

I consider Maps a part of the organic strategy and appropriately designate it as “Local SEO” as there are components of Google Best Practices and fundamental SEO that play a role.  While Organic for this particular search type is 22.5%, this number drastically increases as people modify their search to ask questions while utilizing long-tail keywords.

7. I know how to buy good content and good links on my own.  Why would I need a dedicated SEO?

Without simply answering, “do you?” SEO is much more than building quality links and writing quality content on an ongoing basis. For us, it includes:

  • Great on-page SEO and meta information implementation to bring out the most of your content and website’s authority
  • Staying on top of technical aspects of SEO, such as Core Web Vitals, proper website indexing, analysis of user experience on desktop vs. mobile, auditing content and engaging in content strategies, optimizing for proximate and voice searches…and dozens of other items.
  • Having success in local SEO and expanding visibility from a localized standpoint
  • Being another set of eyes and ears for Google trends and algorithm updates, oftentimes experimenting with other sites and coming to you with new ideas

Plus, it’s easy for most people to get comfortable with how they’ve been doing links and content for years. There are dozens of different ways to execute content and links, and frequently, an SEO team is doing this on a much larger scale than you are and has insight that may push you further along than you would have gone on your own.

8. Once I have enough qualified traffic and excellent results, why shouldn’t I be able to scale down at that point?

Pardon the cliché, but SEO is a marathon, not a race. Anyone that’s “at the top” now won’t be in the same position weeks or months down the line. At any given time, there may be 20-50 other law firms working day in, day out with other SEOs that are consulting in-house or at an agency, all vying to knock you down from the positions for which you’ve worked tirelessly. While you may have a hyper niche or smaller market and think you can feel confident dominating even if you let your foot off the gas for a little bit, this concept doesn’t really exist in the world of legal digital marketing. It’s simply too competitive to allow you to coast on the work you’ve done for too long.

9. I’ve already worked with SEOs in the past and got nothing. Why will you be any different?

The short answer is that it’s exceedingly difficult to speak on behalf of the former agencies that obviously didn’t work out. You’re not a bad business owner for having chosen to work with ineffectual SEOs — SEO is notorious for having experts that are often much better at talking about how it’s going to work, but not knowing how to make it work. It may take only a few months to speak eloquently about link building and content plans, but another few years to truly grasp how it all works.

At this point, it’s rare to find a team of SEO experts that will be able to have an impact unless they meet the following criteria:

  • Spend an exceptional amount of time serving your specific industry.
  • Have resources and connections to support the marketing of your industry.
  • Have positioned themselves to cater to your industry (speaking engagements, webinars, articles, podcasts, etc.).
  • Have a track record of showing success in your industry (KPIs such as traffic and keywords may be sufficient. Showing leads can be arranged as well).

Some potential clients may request referrals, which is challenging to arrange considering other business owners’ precious time, so testimonials should also work here.

What sets our business apart includes the following:

  • We have experience working in-house at law firms as well – combined for over 30 years in marketing roles.
  • Relationships and connections through the entire industry via our Legal Mastermind Podcast.
  • Complete transparency in our campaigns and reports, where many SEO companies and campaigns are often murky at best.
  • A focus not only on results, but a meaningful, strong client experience and partnership.
  • Openness to all other marketing campaigns and communicating our professional input, whether it be traditional, social, paid, directories, etc.
  • We also work well with other vendors and love it when you have an in-house point person or team with whom we can collaborate.

10. How will I measure your SEO efforts’ success if they’re so much more difficult to track compared to other marketing?

We’ve dedicated an entire article to answer this critical question. We know that some companies won’t engage in SEO simply because they feel they won’t know what can be attributed to SEO. Those days are over.

Trust Market My Market to Give You an Edge

At Market My Market, we aim to help your website outperform and outrank your competitors’ sites so you can dominate your niche. We offer multiple web design and web development packages to ensure your site stays atop SERPs and ultimately establishes itself as an industry leader. To find out how we can improve your metrics and catapult your website to the top of search engine results, contact the experts at Market My Market for a free consultation today.