Lee Odden

Evaluating Client Search Marketing Readiness


Experienced client side and agency search marketers know that today’s SMB and enterprise SEO projects involve much more than single event “SEO triage” and link building. A quick look at the topics on the top search marketing forums, newsletters, conferences, blogs and even print magazines shows an increasing variety of strategies ranging from marketing with social media to SEO and usability to leveraging user generated content.

As companies look for the right online marketing resources to help navigate the ever changing and increasingly complex world of search marketing, what variables, channels and outcomes should be considered?

In order for companies to realize the maximum benefit from a search marketing initiative, there must be a certain level of understanding about how various online marketing channels work. One of the most effective ways our SEO firm has found to assess current understanding and to introduce important concepts is through a discovery process including questions.

Here are a few questions companies might ask themselves and answer before embarking on a “search” for a trusted search marketing consultant:


  • Is there a person or committee that “owns” the search marketing initiative?
  • What client side resources are available for support and implementation of search marketing initiatives?


  • How is the web site/business currently marketed? Direct mail, email, trade shows, advertising in print-radio-TV, email marketing, word of mouth, PPC, SEO, interactive marketing, etc.
  • Is the company open to additional online marketing channels outside of standard search?

Web Site:

  • How long has the web site been live in its current form/design?
  • What platform and content management system is used?
  • In what ways and how often is web site content added/updated? By whom?
  • How many unique pages are there? How many primary categories of content?
  • Is the company willing/able to change the web site content to improve relevancy?
  • Would the SEO consultant make changes directly to a copy of the site or would they go through a web developer or agency for implementation?

Understanding the Target Audience:

  • Describe the target market/industry
  • Describe the target audience/prospect (person that makes the buying decision)
  • What unique value does the web site offer clients/prospective clients? What need does it satisfy better than the competition?
  • List the top keyword concepts that are most representative of the target product/service offering
  • Are specific geographical areas targeted? Where?

Measuring Success:

  • What measures of success will be used to evaluate the search engine marketing program?
  • What are the specific benchmarks and goals? i.e. % increase in traffic, sales, etc.
  • What type of web site analytics software is used and what are the key performance indicators?
  • How does a prospective buyer typically make contact? (web form, phone, email, in person)
  • Describe the typical web lead sales cycle
  • How are web leads to conversions tracked?
  • What is the average cost per web lead? Per sale?


  • How many press releases are distributed each month and through what distribution channels?
  • Is there a blog? If so, what is the URL and what is its purpose?
  • Is a podcast or any other type of audio recordings published?
  • Is there a print or email newsletter? If so, how often is it published and in what format? Is it archived to the web?
  • Does anyone in the company author articles pertaining to your company and/or industry?
  • Are images related to the business, products or services published on a regular basis? Ex: candids, product shots, staff, collateral, direct mail
  • Does the company produce or outsource the creation of video content?

Outside Influences:

  • Please list up to 3 competitor web sites
  • Has a SEO firm previously been engaged? If yes, describe the experience
  • Is an outside PR firm and/or ad agency currently engaged?

Time and $:

  • Time frame to start program
  • Which cost centers are funding the search marketing initiative?
  • Overall budget allocated annually for search marketing – organic, PPC.

Obviously each situation is as unique as the company and its objectives, but the list above can provide valuable insight into a company’s state of SEM readiness as well as provoking new thoughts and concepts. The more informed companies are about search marketing, the more successful they will be at qualifying and managing SEM agency engagements.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Hi Lee,

    You’ve certainly covered a lot of useful criteria we all should consider when getting to know an organization’s needs in terms of SEM/SEO. In fact, your list is comprehensive enough to be invaluable to in-house web developers and marketers. I wouldn’t be surprised if I got very different answers to these questions from members of my own organization.


  2. Thanks Garry. It’s really in-house web devs and marketers that the post is intended for, so I’m glad it came across that way.

    Since we take on so few clients anymore, we really need to make sure new engagement is a good fit, hence the above set of questions as the “ice breaker”. After that, there are more interviews and questions to make sure we thoroughly understand the target customer and market.

  3. This is very generous of you Lee. Thank you.

  4. Thanks Marty, It’s really only useful for those that can actually do something meaningful with the answers. And those types already know and use these kinds of questions. 🙂

  5. Yes..but you have your “way” and insight into your firm’s (example) verbiage is tasty like Dairy Queen for dessert.

  6. Ha, I know I know and it’s one reason why maybe I shouldn’t be so forthcoming with such info. But, it is what it is. 🙂

  7. Ha! yeah, that’s a good example.

  8. So very true.
    I wish clients would understand this is also for their own benefit…

  9. If you are in the business of SEO, please read Lee’s post!

    I am on the client side and would LOVE to see someone actually apply what is written here.

    Fabulous post!

  10. Thanks Michael, we’ve been using questionnaires like this for nearly 2 years. 🙂

  11. I think many clients may shy away from a formalized questionnaire because it will expose just how badly their internal situation is! The person who “called you in” could begin to question if this whole “SEO thing” might just add nights and weekends to their work schedule.

    But … If you feel uncomfortable doing this kind of due diligence, I guess you have to ask yourself if you should just pass them by.

    Then again, as I’ve previously blogged…if ALL of your candidate clients are like this, you’ve got to ask yourself if the whole business is a problem. :-0

  12. Lee,

    I really enjoyed this post. Your questionnaire is very similar to the one we require all new clients to fill out before the engagement begins. I’ve been working with Fortune 500s on their SEO efforts for more than 10 years now, and when I implemented something like this about 2.5 years ago, I found my workload was reduced just because it made the IT team jump before I got to work and fix some outstanding problems. Again, great post.

  13. One more thing – I noticed you asked about other SEO firms, but I’ve also found it useful to ask about in-house efforts as well. I’ve run into suprises in the past when working with large companies who have had some inexperienced or shady in-house characters that have done some stuff that would definitely hamper my efforts.

  14. Thanks Tony and good point about in-house SEO efforts.

    Webmasters working in silo’d departments can get some pretty crazy ideas about what kind of SEO tactics are appropriate without thinking of the long term impact.

  15. From the perspective of a consultant, these are great question to ask the client during the discovery process!

  16. Great post, Lee. I enjoy the inside view.

    I find that this sort of communication enables the client to measure commitment without wasting your time with meetings. However, I also find almost every potential client that wants to waste your time will do it anyway. This won’t stop those guys, but it will deter some.

    I moved from SEO services to business consulting because they really do often need help getting to the point where they can responsibly complete this list. Who better than an SEO consultant to get them ready for SEO?

  17. BINGO John, that’s exactly it.

    Many companies cannot answer a lot of the questions in this (incomplete) list and therefore reveal other issues to be solved prior to an effective SEO campaign implementation.

    That leaves the qualified and prepared business/SEO consultant in an opportune situation to make things right from the start for both the agency and the client.

  18. Your list is similar to a questionnaire I send out to people to pre-qualify them as a potential client. With regards to measuring success I usually end up having to educate clients on what success online actually is!

    I also end up having meetings with them to go over the questionnaire to ensure if it is fully and correctly filled out!

  19. Avatar Greg Jarmiolowski says

    I built a profile on a site called congoo.com and now when you type my name into google, its the number one result. I like that!


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