This post was originally written by Lesley Latham.

Before engaging in any discussion with a search engine optimization (SEO) vendor, it’s wise to do a bit of reconnaissance. A few observations and analytical snapshots will tell you if a company is worth talking to. Google them. Bing them. Study their website design, code, keywords, links, anchor text, flexibility and optimization.

Then when you’re ready to chat, take a prepared set of questions (like the set below) to keep from getting sidetracked. If you sense that you’re being “buzz worded” into feeling technically inexpert, it’s not a good fit. Remember: it will be the vendor’s job to communicate regularly with you on your level, as well as to provide excellent results.

1. “What is your goal with SEO?”

Dig for detail. You want to hear something like, “Create a user-centric website with valuable info that draws inbound links. That makes it rank higher in search results, increase traffic and improve conversion rates.” If their answer simply has to do with PageRank or manipulating the search algorithm, walk away.

2. “What is your linkbuilding strategy?”

Inbound links strongly influence search engine ranking. But you don’t want “bad” links, which is what they’ll be if you buy, trade, or link on spammy articles. Other sites should to link to your site for a good user experience—that’s the only way to make a lasting impact on SEO. If the vendor mentions generating unique content, anchoring links, and building relationships in your industry, that’s the right track.

3. “How do you choose keywords?”

Finding the right keywords for your site it takes plenty of research using keyword tools (like the one in Google AdWords) to understand the market, measure traffic, monitor competition. The vendor should find out which keywords you already rank for in search results, not which keywords you “think” you rank for.

4. “Do your web developers know SEO?”

SEO is a unique hybrid of web marketing and web development. Developers/programmers should be aware of several influential elements like keywords, title tags, 301 redirects, canonicals, and alt tags.

5. “We want a completely new website, what do you think?”

Whenever a web vendor hears “new website,” his ears should perk up—but not in a cha-ching kind of way. The first concern would be whether you actually need to create a new site; maybe you just need to improve your old one. If you determine that a new website will benefit you more, your SEO should worry about password protecting staging servers, correcting 301 redirects, and myriad other technical details.

6. “What are three most important factors of SEO?”

A lot of answers fit this question, but off-site links (with anchor text) and on-site content should be in there somewhere.

7. “What is site architecture; why is it important?”

A site’s architecture, or navigation scheme, is how your site’s pages are organized. Site architecture is important for both SEO and user experience. You want Google to be able to “crawl” your self storage site easily, and you want your users to easily find information. Consequently, flat architecture is better than deep architecture—that way, Google and your users can find a page using very few clicks.

8. “What do you know about local search?”

Local search is different than regular search, and you’ll want to hear an answer that implies the vendor recognizes the divergence. When it comes to geographical specific search, standard SEO tactics like anchor text and site authority (including age) still matter, but there’s more to the equasion. Look for words like “groupings” and “citations” (references to your facility’s physical location) in the vendor’s answer.

9. “Which analytics tool(s) do you use/provide?”

Ask for a walk-through and analysis of the information provided. Look for the key performance indicators the vendor uses. Be sure that you have constant, immediate access to your own website’s analytics.

10. “How do you measure SEO success?”

There should always be a way to measure SEO success. If they work on optimizing your pages’ content for certain keywords, then a good way to measure is to see if you begin ranking higher for those keywords. If they implement a link building campaign, you should start to see more traffic from those links. Your candidate should have a way to measure everything that they do and the effects on your site.

BONUS: “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

If the vendor can answer this question – or if you just get a bit of a laugh – congratulations: you’ve officially found a geek. Geeks are good.

Focus on finding an ethical team committed to hard work, endurance, realistic expectations, and_transparency_. It’ll pay off in the long run.

One last word to the wise self storage marketer: Center your web efforts on the prospective renter, not on search. Search marketing is not a panacea. You still have to nurture the lead and close the sale via personable, expert facility management.