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CMOs: Don’t Hire an SEO Agency Until You Ask These 8 Questions

We work with a lot of CMOs. 

And if we’ve learned one thing about this crowd, it’s probably this: CMOs have a difficult job. CMOs aren’t just responsible for deploying one marketing strategy; they’re in charge of the whole marketing ecosystem

By nature, CMOs are jugglers. And if you’re a CMO, you likely have lots of balls in the air. Maybe you’re managing the in house PPC team. Maybe you’re deploying more detailed analytics. Maybe you’re managing sales staff. Whatever the role entails at your specific company, you’re probably managing a lot. 

And one of the things you might be responsible for is hiring an agency to fill the gaps in your company’s internal capabilities. 

That’s usually why CMOs hire us: either their marketing team doesn’t have expertise in SEO, or they do, but they’re stretched too thin to run strong SEO campaigns.

Here’s the unfortunate reality, though: there are lots of bad SEO agencies out there. 

I love SEO. I’m a dork about it. So it always kills a tiny part of my soul when I have clients come to us because they’re on their second — or in some cases even third — try hiring an SEO agency. 

So I wanted to write a quick guide to help CMOs vet SEO agencies.

Below, I’ve laid out questions CMOs should be asking potential SEO partners — and the answers you want to hear. 

1. Will you be able to run an SEO campaign with minimal input from me?

The answer you want: “Yes. We’ll build a plan and get your buy-in up front, but after that, we’ll run the campaign on our own and report back to you with results.” 

To me, this is the most important. 

Of course, it’s good to be involved, and your SEO agency should absolutely be building a roadmap with every stakeholder who needs to be involved.

They should also be able to operate collaboratively.


After the plan is set, the research is done, and a roadmap is built, a good SEO firm should be able to operate autonomously

Here’s how we usually do it at Ranq:

  • Have a kickoff call to learn about your business
  • Perform extensive research for a couple weeks
  • Build a complete 6-month project plan that includes every single task we’re going to tackle (that you can see and that is updated in real-time)
  • Get your buy-in & greenlight
  • Work autonomously & send updates twice a week

It doesn’t have to be hands-off, but it can be. And for a busy CMO, that can often be a big asset.

2. Can you work with our existing marketing ecosystem?

The answer you want: “Yes. Our project plans can include input from any other stakeholders, and we can create SEO-driven assets that can also be used by the PPC team, email marketing team, social media team, etc.” 

In my experience, SEO works best — by far — as a part of an existing marketing ecosystem. 

SEO can be mutually complementary with most other marketing channels.

For example, PPC data can inform SEO keyword research, and good SEO campaigns can capture organic real estate below paid ads. 

SEO can help build huge audiences for remarketing campaigns. Organic traffic also usually converts nicely into email subscribers. 

PR efforts generally produce “natural” links, which allows more of an SEO budget to content instead of link building.

Good SEO assets can be used to drive traffic back from social channels, or, in the best cases, create viral effects. 

And, over time, a good SEO campaign can create brand awareness, and good brands will start to generate their own branded keyword volume over time. 

It all works together.

And it should. 

And your SEO agency absolutely should understand how the rest of your marketing ecosystem works and be able to work alongside it. 

How we usually do it (and what we recommend):

  • Any relevant stakeholders should be involved in the SEO kickoff process
  • The SEO roadmap should be available to all other marketing teams
  • SEO activities should be flexible enough to support other teams  

3. How will I know what you’re doing?

The answer you want: “You will always have access to our project plans, which are updated in real time, and we’ll proactively communicate with you at least twice a week.”

There’s this weird thing we hear about our clients’ previous agencies: they didn’t tell anyone what they were doing. 

They’d disappear for weeks — or even months (yes, really) at a time — and just kind of… claim to be “doing SEO.” 

In my view, an agency should be checking in weekly at a bare minimum, and they should be doing it proactively. 

At Ranq we like to significantly over-communication (without being annoying). Here’s how we do it:

  • Real-time project plans. We create full project plans that include every tasks for every week in a campaign along with statuses for each tasks — all updated in real time
  • A note on Monday morning to let you know we’ve started and to address any outstanding questions from the week before
  • A note on Thursday letting you know that work is ready for your review

And for us, we make all of this — all our communication, project plans, and other documents — accessible in a single dashboard that looks like this:

5. How long will it take to see success?

The answer you want: 3-6 months depending on the state of your business.

SEO is a long game. 

It’s extremely important to be wary of anyone promising quick results. Because that’s generally not how SEO works. 

It can work like that in some cases, but usually only in two kinds of cases:

  • When articles go truly viral or are the first to jump on a trend
  • When ultra-authoritative news sites publish new articles about important things

But in most cases, SEO takes time.

And if someone is telling you they can get results fast, it’s usually a red flag.

How much time? Depends on the state of your business. When I talk about timelines, I usually break it into two categories: (1) sites that are just launching and (2) established businesses with established websites. 

Here are our basic (and very rough estimates) for SEO timelines for those two kinds of sites:

  • New sites: expect to see pre-traffic signals (impressions, keyword data) in months 3-4, and expect to see traffic in months 5-6+
  • Established sites: expect to see pre-traffic signals in months 2-3, and expect to see increased traffic months 3-6+

Basically, anyone who tells you SEO isn’t exactly what it is — a long game — may be in the snake oil business instead of the marketing business.

6. What is the content strategy, and how will it generate the right kinds of traffic?

The answer you want: “We’ll write content that targets conversion-focused keywords, but we’ll also write top-of-funnel content that helps you build a large audience over time.”

Content is important for SEO.

Here’s usually how I think of it: technical SEO helps Google crawl and understand our site; a strong link profile helps pages rank higher for keywords; and publishing new content gives us more opportunities to rank for new keywords.

So we need content for traffic to grow over time, but it also needs to be the right traffic. It has to lead to more revenue. 

Every piece of content targets a keyword, and every keyword has search intent — the thing the user wants when they type it into Google. 

And every keyword therefore falls somewhere in your buying funnel. 

Some keywords fall near the bottom of the funnel, and the search intent might indicate the user is close to making a buying decision. These keywords are typically very high-ROI, but they are often difficult to rank for and have lower search volumes.

Other keywords might fall closer to the top of the funnel. These folks might not be ready to buy, but they might be a good audience to build over time, and often, they’re easier to rank for and have higher search volumes. 

A good SEO-driven content strategy should do both.

You need conversion-focused keywords to be revenue drivers. 

And you need top-of-funnel keywords to build larger and larger audiences over time — audiences that can turn into other (extremely important) sales assets, like email lists. 

A good SEO agency should be doing very comprehensive keyword research and creating editorial calendars that include both.

How we do it:

  • Deep dive into your market, competitors, and user keyword data
  • Deliver many, many more keywords than we need (usually hundreds more)
  • Let you pick the ones that are most relevant to your business
  • Use that feedback to craft a strong editorial calendar that will help to both generate revenue directly and build an audience over time

7. How much does it cost?

The answer you want: Varies, but truly good SEO is hard to find for less than $3,000/mo and it’s not uncommon for large agencies working on enterprise projects to charge $10,000/mo+.

SEO is one of those things where you get what you pay for. 

But it’s more than that. 

In SEO, if you pay for cheap services and they violate Google’s guidelines, you can damage your businesses’ organic traffic for years into the future. 

It’s almost always better to do no SEO at all than it is to do bad SEO.

Additionally, it’s very, very difficult to execute a strong SEO campaign on the cheap. 

A good SEO campaign requires technical expertise and will include lots of technical tasks, which requires expensive software and lots of man hours. It includes content strategy and content production, which usually requires a full editorial team. And it often requires link building, which is essentially a sales process, and is the most labor-intensive part of SEO. 

Strong SEO campaigns usually include the work of half a dozen professional marketers.

You can’t get that for $800/mo (which seems to be this weird magic number for the cheapo agencies our clients tell us horror stories about). 

How much does good SEO cost?

At Ranq, most of our clients fall in the $3,000-$6,000/mo range. 

Larger agencies who specialize in hyper-scaled enterprise projects can be more up in the $10,000/mo range. 

But most businesses should expect to invest $3,000-$6,000/mo, with a standard campaign length of 6 months (although most of our clients choose to keep investing at that point, since the ROI has started to crystalize). 

8. How will you measure success?

The answer you want: “Ultimately, we measure success in revenue. Because SEO takes time, we measure lots of other things to gauge the efficiency of our activities, including: traffic, keyword data, and impressions in Google.”

I think a lot of SEOs lose sight of why they’re hired: to generate revenue. 

There are lots of ways to do that, of course. We can help generate traffic to build an email list. We can help use our content to help build remarketing audiences. We can optimize stores so product pages generate more traffic. 

But it’s about revenue-generating traffic.

That said, the hiccup is always the same: SEO takes time. 

So, we know we want to generate more revenue, but because that might start to happen in month 4 (or 5, or 6) of an SEO campaign, we need things to measure in the meantime. 

For us, we’re extremely confident in our keyword research and content strategy. We know the kinds of content we produce can generate traffic and revenue. 

So in the interim, we usually just want to check to make sure things trend in the right direction. 

That usually includes the following:

  • Impressions. Impressions measure how often your website loads for a user in Google, regardless of what page they’re on. Impressions usually precede traffic.
  • Number of keywords in Google. We also like to track just the raw number of keywords we’re showing up for anywhere in Google. This graph also usually precedes the traffic graph. 

If those things are moving in the right direction, almost always, revenue-generating traffic follows.

Along with that, we also just track our output. Because output often predicts results. So we also track the technical health of the site and the number of words of content we produce. 

Want to work with someone who knows how to work with CMOs?

We know SEO, and we know CMOs.

We work with CMOs all the time, and we know the unique pain points CMOs usually have. We’ve built whole systems around solving them.

If the above jives with how you like to work, drop me a note here

Author avatar
Perrin Carrell
Perrin is a decade-long SEO who has generated millions of visits for his clients over his career. He's built and sold two business, both driven by organic traffic from Google. He's published hundreds of thousands of works thought leadership in the industry, and can be heard on dozens of podcasts around the web.


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