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Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010 at 7:31 am

20 Questions to Ask When Evaluating Optimization Services

By Brendan Regan
February 9th, 2010

20questions.001Since the common predictions over the last two months have been that Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is going to have a big year in 2010, some of our GrokDotCom readers have expressed interest in how to evaluate the different CRO service providers out there.

Despite an obvious bias, I still think I can offer some objective talking points, questions to ask, and things to think about if you’re going to pursue hiring help to optimize your conversion rate.  But before we go there…

Full Disclosure: FutureNow, Inc., the publishers of this blog, are in the business of optimizing conversion rates.  There, I said it.  And now you know ;)

When you start thinking about optimizing your website’s conversion rate, the first thing you should think about is: Can I do it myself? Do I want to do it myself?  This is a pretty rare DIY attitude where someone has the time and inclination to take on all the extra work CRO entails, as well as having to learn quite a broad new skillset (psychology, design, testing methodology, etc.).

Next, you should think about whether this type of CRO effort should be handled in-house or with outside help.  So ask yourself if you have the right skill sets in your company already.  If so, do they have the bandwidth to add “optimization” to their job responsibilities?  Do they want to work on optimization?  If you decide to bring optimization into a larger, corporate culture, where in the organization will it live?  Who will be stakeholders?

If you decide to handle things in-house, there are more and more resources out there to improve a human resource’s optimization skillset: training courses, seminars, books, blogs (like the one you’re reading), etc.  Similar to how SEO started as a mostly “outside consultant” skill set, but has been moving more and more “in-house” over the past 5 years, I think CRO will follow a similar path.  It’s still pretty early to have this specialized skillset in-house, but as more people become practitioners, more and more of them will go in-house at the larger companies that can offer big paychecks and stability.

Assuming you decide to hire outside help, here’s a list of 20 questions to ask about, or directly to, the companies you evaluate.  Note that the actual answers may not be as important to how the questions are handled:

1. How fast can we be up and running, making optimizations?

2. What are your competitive advantages?

3. How long have you been in the Conversion Rate Optimization business?  Do you also work in other areas?

4. What are your qualifications, training, and experience?

5. How can you add value to my existing team?

6. How customer-centric is your service?  Do you really get to know my target prospects?  How?

7. How do I know which offering is best for my business goals?

8. What’s it like working with you?  Do you do 1-time major projects, or smaller incremental optimizations?

9. Who are some of your other clients?

10. Who will I be working with on a regular basis?

11. Do your clients have business models comparable to mine?

12. How do you work with other service providers like design agencies, SEOs, ad agencies, etc.?

13. What are your core business values?

14. How does technology play into your approach?  Are you a “platform” I need to be on?

15. Can I see a sample contract?

16. What are your cancellation policies?

17. What process or methodology do you use?  Is it documented?

18. What would the process look like after I signed with you?

19. How data-driven is your approach?  What about so-called “best practices”?

20. Why should I go with you over your competitors, i.e. what’s your Unique Value Proposition?

Like this list? We’d love it if you’d share it with anyone who’d find it relevant!

Add Your Comments

Comments (53)

  1. This is a great list for me to use as a new SEO company. It shows me the areas where I need to develop my skills and prepares me for likely questions from potential customers.

  2. I agree. Excellent checklist. Just getting into SEO myself and this list will be invaluable

  3. This is a very useful and comprehensive list for clients to evaluate Service Level Agreements and the professionalism of SEO and CRO service providers. I would add just one more question: are you an Authorised Google Consultant?

  4. @Web Search Workshop: yes, good question to ask. Beyond that, if the agency is a certified partner, you can ask how many of the employees have individual certifications now…

  5. Great post, I am learning to do SEO and many of the available literatures are confusing and sometimes conflicting, the 20 questions show me more ideas.

  6. Do you all have your clients reference these questions when they are looking to you for consultation? We recently did a writeup of several seo questions and funny enough our prospects actually ask us these when going through the initial stages of conversation!

  7. Love the disclaimer – honesty counts for something, right?

    Good points and things to look for. This can be a snake oil industry, but a true optimiser can really help things take off in ways not imagined.

    In the meantime, if you can’t all out afford a true service, send an email out to 30 friends asking them to use your site, and give feedback.

    Cheers,

    Anthony.

  8. What a useful question lists it will help me since I’m a newbie. thx a bunch

  9. Good article, I’ll share this one at Digg.

  10. This article has widened my perspective on looking for and hiring outside help. It showed me things that I need to explore further. This is really helpful. Will be retweeting this.

  11. [...] small details Lesson #8: Use Google’s new boldfacing algorithm to your competitor’s advantage Future Now: 20 Questions to Ask When Evaluating Optimization Services Assuming you decide to hire outside help, here’s a list of 20 questions to ask about, or directly [...]

  12. I’m hearing more and more about CRO. Not only are these good questions for customers to ask, they’re good to ask internally as well to make sure we’re delivering quality work to our customers.

  13. As a client I know it is very important to ask lots of good questions, good advice in the article with valuable questions. I would like to add 2 more questions that were particularly helpful for us:
    What do you think of our current performance?
    What kind of results are reasonable to expect?

  14. It would also be good to find these in other ways than asking questions.

  15. uh. i really don’t know that some points are crucial are for a real good conversion. thx dude!

  16. Ideas like these are very impressive. But some of questions are excellent but some of not. At the end of article I say good.

  17. not one of your best posts, but everyone has a bad day.

  18. Thanks for the info. I have been doing some research in hiring an SEO firm and I think this will help me a great deal.

    Thanks

  19. Oh well. I wish I would have seen this list about 18 months ago. I learned but it cost me a few bucks. Number 11 was what got me. They had plenty of experience but rarely ventured into my field. And the results showed.

  20. Also be sure to Google the company offering the service and the people involved, you can avoid a lot of surprises that way.

  21. Forming aspects into questions is a good way to do a evaluating by oneself! Thanks, gives me some good impulses.

  22. Good article, I’ll share this one at Digg.

  23. I have extensive experience advising ecommerce stores. Optimization is an advanced skill that few already possess. I strongly recommend that business owners focus on their core business and hire exceptional consultants as needed.

    The quality of optimization work is easily proven by measuring the increase in your conversion rate.

    No offense to those wise enough to be working on learning these skills is intended; however, if a business has the income to afford the very best what they spend will be recouped many times over.

    Bryan Eisenberg and the people at GrokDotCom are highly respected by their peers (which is obvious by the comments from the many here who seek to learn what they know).

    I have no doubt that they can share references and case studies showing enormous improvements they have made for specific ecommerce clients.

    They would be my first choice of the usability experts for optimization testing and increasing conversions. There are only two others I can even think of who might be as capable and talented.

    Just in case anyone wonders, I have no personal or business connection to GrokDotCom or Bryan Eisenberg. I recognize their strong skills and recommend them based on their writing and what they have accomplished for others.

  24. I never thought there could be so many questions to ask.Nice list.

  25. That’s a great list but certainly not exhaustive.

    I also believe that people should learn to do things for their web presence in house. It’s not hugely difficult with the right tools and can save a lot of money too.

  26. Good points and things to look for. This can be a snake oil industry, but a true optimiser can really help things take off in ways not imagined.

  27. Good points and things to look for. This can be a snake oil industry, but a true optimiser can really help things take off in ways not imagined.

  28. [...] full post on Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc Enjoyed this article?WebsiteWordpress [...]

  29. The 20 questions are really good to choose the best CRO service providers by evaluation.

  30. As a DIY se optimizer of my own sites, this list will help me determine my strengths and weaknesses for my own sites. Additionally, while evaluating myself I will know when it it time to hire someone to do the work for me.

  31. Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts, it’s great to read your stories and see some similar experiences from the past decade!

  32. Can I do it myself is usually the one I answer yes to. Especially when it comes to optimization and SEO. Just put in the hours and elbow grease and you will get it done. No sense in spending the marginal income you make early for it.

  33. It’s hard to do SEO. If all question are answered, this mean that we have an effective way to do this.

  34. #20 is usually the best. It tells you everything you need to know about them, their attitude, their value, and their confidence.

  35. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the excellent work.

  36. Great list,these questions definitely help one to find a better team to hire.20 questions i guess should be more than enough.

  37. @ Credit Cards

    Well as for the discussions between writers, it is second to none. But don’t let the comments fool you, many people are here just to get links and provide very little in the way of intelligent and relevent comments.

  38. I learned SEO by originally hiring a freelance SEO for a website I made, and then reading up on SEO and realising I could actually do a better job than he did. I wish I’d found this list of questions back then though, could have saved myself some money! Thanks

  39. thanks for share. I am learning to do SEO and many of the available literatures are confusing and sometimes conflicting

  40. No offense to those wise enough to be working on learning these skills is intended; however, if a business has the income to afford the very best what they spend will be recouped many times over.

  41. One can´t compare eggs and tomatoes. First you must generate visitors then comes CRO into the game and have to transform visitors into customers.

  42. SEO is an important task without much “secret weapons”. CRO is more important than SEO as you have to squeeze the most of the given amount of visitors.

  43. If you are considering SEO from a company that you cannot find for any of the main industry terms they should rank for, this should raise a red flag. Chances are their level of expertise is not going to aid your quest if they imply that their clients rankings are the most important. A true SEO company should be able to aid their clients as well as service and evolve their own organic rankings simultaneously. Essentially, they are their own first client, so the proof is in the pudding so to speak.

    Keep up discussing such a nice topic like this.

    Thanks
    Mark

  44. Of course you can only get value from an established Company if they rank on top position for their relevant keywords. Therefore the checklist is absolutely neccessary.

  45. Hello , My humble opinion: Without a doubt, that was the humblest article I’ve read on this subject. Beautiful. You’ve done the subject justice. Thank you.

  46. Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information

  47. A site I have has been getting some decent traffic lately but unfortunately hasn’t been converting well. I don’t have the time to put into it so I’ve been considering hiring someone. These questions should help me.

  48. I´m using a question sheet very similar to yours. It was very helpful ro hire the right freelancer or Company.

  49. The methodology employed must be quantifiable, trackable and recorded. This is most important to prevent you from being ripped off. Firstly on-site optimization needs addressing, and secondly off-site optimization where you build links to your site as a primary means of getting search engine rankings for your keywords.

  50. I also ask these questions to the service providers:
    What report patters, methods, benchmarks do you follow to measure performance/conversions and how often will you send me the report? Also, depending on the campaign, I also ask for regular review meetings.

  51. At the start of this article about Conversion Rate Optimisation, Brendan comments about 2010 beings a big year for CRO; considering how much a business’s ROI can increase, I find it amazing that there isn’t more focus on Conversion Rate Optimisation. It’s now past the halfway mark in 2010 and there do seem to be more CRO artilces around, the more the merrier. Great list of questions by the way Brendan.

  52. I sould ask for reports, and visit recent customers websites, ask them about the services for the design or website optimisation they have performed.

  53. I think one more question which a client should ask for is to show some of their recent work. A case study from a similar business model would give an idea how that company has improved the conversion rate.

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