Stoddard Digital Marketing Agency

Scaling a Home Services Business Into a Multi-State Powerhouse

How to Evaluate Your Home Services SEO Agency

…And how to know if they are worth the money you are spending on them

This report is for home services trades and contractor business owners who want to know if the SEO Agency they hired is doing a good job and worth the money they are paying. There are many different types of digital marketing agencies, and SEO agencies are one of the most important ones to have working for your home services businesses to get more prospects and leads online. The trouble is that every agency will take your money, but not everyone will do a good job. This article will help you determine exactly what they ought to be doing and if they are doing it for you.

If you do not know a great deal about SEO, it’s fine! I’m here to help. One of the most common misconceptions is that SEO is simply a marketing strategy whereby you put your website on the first few pages of the main search engines. In actuality, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is what makes or breaks your online business. When you hire an SEO firm, they are responsible for getting your website on top of the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), and if it is not on top, then no one will ever find out about it. But how can you evaluate an SEO firm? Here are some tips:

You want to work with an SEO firm that has a good reputation. You want to work with an SEO firm that has experience in your industry! The best way to find out this information is to contact them and ask questions. Ask them how they plan on helping your business grow.

If you want to make sure your online marketing team is doing their job, there are a few things you can look for. There are obvious things like creating quality, unique content for your website (as service pages or blogs) on a consistent basis. You want them to be getting back-links to your website and having those link-building activities yield results. You may also want them to do non-SEO things like social media and PPC advertising, both of which will help people find your site and should put you in front of new customers.

However, in my experience, agencies specialize in different things. Some agencies will specialize in SEO, and some in PPC. The “all-in-one” generalized digital marketing agencies may be able to do that, but usually, they can only do it well for one vertical, niche, and/or size of the company. The last thing you need from an online marketing agency is for them to try to do too many things at once that they are not great at and get luke-warm to poor results on everything. This might lead to making stupid and costly decisions that you pay for, like the SEO company trying to spam search engines and get you banned from Google or Bing. This is one of the fastest ways to tank your business and drive clients away while costing you a small fortune.

Not all SEO agencies or consultants are created equal. While some of them know what they are doing, others don’t make the grade. Some SEOs will tell you that there are as many different strategies for SEO as there are stars in the sky. This is technically true, but it’s also a cop-out since anyone can use this line to justify any lack of progress on their client’s website.

General advice is all well and good, but for one of your most costly marketing and advertising expenses, we need to dig deeper.

Here’s what we will cover in this report:

  • The importance of a holistic SEO strategy and how your digital marketing agency ought to be customizing one for your business
  • What To Do Before You Start Asking Your Marketing Agency Questions
  • The 7 Piercing Questions To Ask Your SEO Agency That Will Make Them Squirm
  • Why your overall site structure, content map, and keyword index are more important than most business owners think
  • The little-known secret about backlinks that agencies get lazy about or are too cheap to invest in for you

The importance of a holistic SEO strategy and how your digital marketing agency ought to be customizing one for your business

You may be wondering what a holistic SEO strategy is and why you might want to create one.

A holistic SEO strategy is a way to use SEO to help achieve your business goals in a more efficient way. It’s not just about getting more traffic, it’s also about doing it in the right way that will give you the best results.

When I talk about “holistic” SEO, I mean an integrated approach that takes into account your website and its content, and may even be incorporated into your offline marketing efforts or non-SEO campaigns like paid ads and social media. Creating a holistic SEO strategy is an essential step in any digital marketing plan.

Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Increase your brand awareness
  2. Increase customer loyalty (or at least repeat business via easy recognition)
  3. Increase prospects (marketing qualified leads) and leads/appointments (sales qualified leads)
  4. Increase sales conversions

A holistic approach to SEO is one that takes into account all aspects of the business strategy and marketing mix, including:

  • On-Site SEO (Structured Data, Mobile & Desktop Usability, and User Experience)
  • Off-Site SEO (Backlinks, Citations, and Social Presence)
  • Technical SEO (Mobile Responsive Design, Site Speed Optimization)
  • Content Auditing (Comprehensive Content Analysis)
  • Analytics Reporting

On-Site SEO (Unique, Quality Content, Structured Data, Mobile & Desktop Usability, and User Experience)

The first step in your holistic SEO strategy is to create unique, quality content that is relevant to your target keywords. This content will help you rank higher in the search engines and help you convert more visitors into customers. Your website should be optimized for both humans and computers. This means that your content should be easy to read and understand by both humans and search engines.

One of the most important things you can do for your website is to create high-quality content that provides value to your readers. When you create valuable content for users, they are more likely to bookmark it, share it on social media, or link back to it from their own sites. If this happens often enough, it can help you rank better on Google’s search results pages (SERPs). The more people that link back to your website or blog posts, the higher they will appear in Google’s rankings when someone searches for those keywords.

On-site SEO is what you’re doing to your website to help it rank higher for relevant keywords. This means creating unique, quality content that answers questions that people are asking. It also means having a solid site structure and linking structure so that Google can crawl your site easily.

The most important thing about on-site SEO is that you need to create unique, high-quality content and link it together in a way that makes sense! If you have lots of duplicate or low-quality pages on your site, it will hurt your rankings.

A good starting point for on-site SEO would be creating a sitemap and using the WPMU Dev tools or the Yoast WordPress plugin to analyze the structure of your content and see how well it ranks in terms of keyword density and readability. Your agency should be doing this regularly, and providing proof of work.

The first thing to do is to do a little research. You need to understand your competitors and what they are doing. You need to understand what the search engines look for when they rank websites. So, where do you start?

  1. Do some keyword research
  2. Look at your competitors’ backlinks
  3. Find out what citations are available for your business
  4. Do some social media analysis

It should go without saying that your site has to be completely mobile-optimized and fast. Slow speeds or awkward design reduce your rank. Period.

Your SEO agency should do all of this and report back to you with their detailed findings. In order to give you a strategy, they need to do their research.

Off-Site SEO (Backlinks, Citations, and Social Presence)

To ensure that your target audience finds your website you need to create a web presence. You can’t expect people to find you if you don’t exist and this is where off-site SEO comes into play.

The most important thing in off-site SEO is backlinks. Backlinks are links from other sites pointing to yours and these will help search engines rank your content higher on their results pages. Create quality links from high authority sites to increase the value of your brand and attract more visitors. This will also help improve the overall user experience on your site by making it easier for users to access relevant information quickly and efficiently without having to spend too much time searching for it.

Another important part of off-site SEO is citations, which are mentions of your business online in places like directories, blogs, articles, and other third-party websites which have chosen to include mention of your business as part of their content. The goal here is not only to increase brand awareness but also to drive traffic back to your own website by including links directly back to it within these citations such as ‘read more’ buttons or hyperlinks within the text.

seo blitz

Technical SEO (Proper Coding, Mobile Responsive Design, Site Speed Optimization)

Technical SEO is the process of ensuring that your website is optimized for search engines. This can include everything from choosing the right hosting plan and installing the right plugins to optimizing your site’s load times and coding.

It’s important to note that technical SEO can only be done by a professional or someone with experience in these areas. If you try to do it yourself, you could end up making things worse instead of better.

Some SEOs may suggest that you don’t need to worry about technical SEO because it’s all about the content and it doesn’t matter how your website is built. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Technical SEO is an essential part of any holistic SEO strategy and you should never overlook it.


The technical aspects of the website are what Google uses to determine whether your site is trustworthy or not; if your site isn’t built in a way that makes sense to Google, then it will be penalized by the search engine. If this happens, then even if you have great content and on-page optimization, your website will struggle to rank well in search results pages (SERPs).

Technical SEO is a sub-category of on-page SEO. It helps you to optimize your website’s structure and content for search engines. This means that you will be able to determine how search engines read your site and what they expect from your website.

There are many factors that influence the way in which search engines read websites. Some of these factors are:

URL structure – The URL should be clear, easy to understand, and follow logically from one page to the next.

Duplicate content – If you have duplicate content on your site, it will not help with rankings or conversions. You need to ensure that there are no duplicates on your site; this is something we do during our technical audit process.

Code quality – The code on your website should be clean, well structured, and user-friendly for both humans and machines alike!

Content Auditing (Comprehensive Content Analysis)

An effective audit will help you uncover opportunities to improve the overall user experience of your website. It will also provide insights into how users interact with your brand and how you can create content that speaks to them.

This means going through every piece of content on your site and analyzing it to see if it is meeting certain standards. The purpose of this analysis is to determine whether or not the content on your site is useful, relevant, and interesting to visitors. If it isn’t, then you will need to rewrite or remove it so that it can be replaced with something that meets those requirements.

To do this, you need to look at all of your pages from the perspective of the user. This means looking beyond just the quality and quantity of content, but also considering its relevance, usability, and accessibility.

marketing assets audit

We’ve identified four key areas for an effective content audit:

  • Content Quality: Is your content useful and relevant?
  • Content Relevance: Is it up-to-date? This includes keyword research. A good keyword audit helps you identify target keywords for each page of your website and then creates a list of keywords based on those pages. It also helps you identify the most important words from the perspective of your audience. This will help them understand what you are offering more quickly and easily than others in your industry.
  • Content Usability: Can users find what they are looking for?
  • Accessibility: Are all users able to access your content?

Again, your SEO agency should be able and willing to perform a comprehensive audit and report back not only their findings but also what they are going to do to improve it.

Analytics Reporting

The best way to start your holistic SEO strategy is by gathering data and analyzing it in order to identify your strengths and weaknesses. This step is crucial because if you don’t know what you’re optimizing for, you’ll end up optimizing for nothing.

The first thing you need to do is set up analytics reporting on your website. You want to see where people are coming from, what they’re doing after they visit your site, which pages they spend the most time on, and how much time they spend on each page.

This can get into an entirely different conversation, one about Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), which is the study of conversion on your site and how to improve it. It goes beyond the scope of this report, but there is some crossover with your SEO agency’s responsibilities so it is worth noting.

Site speed – This is one of the most important things you can check in your Google Analytics reports because it affects both organic and paid search rankings. If your website takes more than 3 seconds to load, Google will penalize you and decrease your ranking on its search results pages (SERPs). You can use websites like Pingdom and GTMetrix to test how fast your site loads across different devices and browsers (make sure you turn off any images or JavaScript that could slow down your site).

To summarize the importance of analytics—if you aren’t measuring KPIs concerning your website and SEO, you don’t know if you are winning. You should measure everything so that you know if, how, and when you will achieve positive ROI from these efforts.

new website SEO

Holistic SEO Takeaway

Your agency should be creating a holistic SEO strategy around your business and goals, and they should be demonstrating that to you in a way you feel confident about your future work with them.

SEO strategy is a crucial part of your marketing strategy. It’s what helps you get the most out of your investment in search engine optimization.

Search engine optimization is nothing without a holistic approach. The goal isn’t just to come up on the first page of Google once; it’s to be found at all stages throughout the customer journey, from awareness to purchase, and on a daily basis.

Before You Start Asking Your Marketing Agency Questions

Before we dive into the actual evaluation and analysis of your SEO agency, it is important to consider the human element and the practical considerations around good business relationships.

A big part of the evaluation is asking questions so that you can dive deeper into the inner workings of your vendors. The trouble with asking questions like this is that your vendor might perceive this as not only intrusive but threatening.

Armed with what I am about to teach you, you will likely be the only client that has ever been able to ask surgeon-like precision questions like this and they may feel that your inquisitive scalpel is like a police investigator giving them the third degree. They may feel interrogated by questions of this depth.

social media contest

…and it can be a good thing if done the right way. I prefer to set this up with a bit of preamble. I will begin these conversations by saying something like the following:

“I am here to help everybody get better at what they do and make sure we are all focused on our area of excellence (what Dan Sullivan from Strategic Coach calls your Unique Ability), rather than doing stuff that we really aren’t good at, which at best leads to mediocrity. [Insert your company name here] is an excellent company, and we are excited to partner with the best strategic alliances. I am not here to tear anybody down, but my questions are going to be a bit pointed and specific, so that we can fully understand whether we are a great fit and totally aligned with each other’s goals. Companies change and grow at different rates, and there is often a mismatch, but the good news is that we can usually fix it and get on the same page. Does that sound fair?”

If you were paying attention to my wording, you’ll notice a lot of subtle things that are worked in there. I’ll leave you to examine the first part, but notice near the end how I said “Companies change and grow at different rates…” This part is to imply that not only does your home service business grow at rates different from their other clients and other service businesses, but marketing agencies grow at different rates too! So that also means that you may be growing faster than their agency which implies you might outgrow them! This is a business reality you need to be prepared for. I have seen it many times. If you outgrow your agency, they either have to catch up and better themselves to grow with you, or you need to hire a different agency (or build your own in-house team) to have a better fit.

Next, I said “…and there is often a mismatch,” which further implies that chances are there is a mismatch between you and your company. It’s not the end of the world, however, because “…the good news is that we can usually fix it and get on the same page.”

I say this because we will be fixing it. By the end of this report, you’ll know if you need to kick their butt into action or kick them to the curb.

“Does that sound fair?” is a great question because it of course sounds fair and sound and logical. If it doesn’t, or if they fight you, big blaring fire alarms should be going off in your head and you need to fire them right away.

I have found that after an introduction like this, you can proceed with the “interrogation” with a much more willing and open recipient.

Even with the kind introduction, however, don’t be surprised if they start squirming anyway.

As a side-note, you may not even understand what some of these things are or have enough experience on the technical side to truly understand the nuances, but you can gauge their answers using your own innate common sense. Trust your gut. If they sound like they are having a really hard time answering these questions, or they seem to avoid them or try to redirect them in any way, then they likely are not performing things at the highest professional level. That’s fine if you are a small startup. A lot of agencies are great at startups and you don’t need to get fancy.

However, my guess is that if you are reading this you are likely a home services business that does over a million dollars already and is either spending a lot of money or preparing to spend a lot of money on your SEO bill.

If that is the case, be brave, load these bullets in your gun, and fire away!

How To Profit from Questionable Times

The 7 Piercing Questions To Ask Your SEO Agency That Will Make Them Squirm

When evaluating an SEO digital marketing agency, use these questions:

First, a pre-question: “Can I see the (most recent/updated) service agreement?”

I didn’t include this obvious question in the seven piercing questions list because it goes without saying. You need to be reading your service agreement with them and look at the exact details of what they provide. There should be a list of things they do and don’t do each month. Look for any red flags, like them not using anything you can evaluate, or keeping everything a big gray area. If it is not clear, then that might add more questions to the list that you’ll need to ask to get clarity. You need to know how they measure their progress, other than just you getting organic traffic. You want to know if it is them, the market, the economy, or just plain luck. There is no reason to pay them if you are getting results without them even having to do anything.

Okay, with that out of the way, here is where you can really get into the nitty-gritty.

bad website

1. Where is your plan for my website's content structure?

This question might be the most important of all of them and is a heavy-hitter. Sometimes this one question can get to the heart of the entire matter in one fell swoop. In fact, depending on how they answer this question, you might not even need the other six questions. If they fail to sufficiently answer this question, you need to move on.

They should have a well-thought-out content map/index plan for the site’s structure. Some Agencies do this in Google sheets since it lends itself well to using spreadsheets and allows for a pretty sophisticated mapping process.

This means having a well-thought-out keyword index and content map that provides the context for the content structure of the site.

By content structure, I mean how all the content fits together and how it will continue to grow and expand the content. It includes the top-level navigation that people can see from the home page of the website, as well as all the pages in the site index that the average user will not see or can not easily navigate to from the home page. On a sophisticated and long-standing domain, this could be hundreds or even thousands of pages.

Also, you may have noticed that I ask “Where is your plan,” not “What is your plan.” Asking where adds an additional element that puts them on notice. You expect to see the plan. You don’t just want to hear the philosophy about how they make a plan. You want to see it written down!

If they do not have such a plan written down somewhere, then you need to have them make you one as soon as possible. It’s not just for your peace of mind, by the way, it is also for their benefit. They need to have a written plan to keep themselves on track and produce results.

You’ll find that a lot of these questions will help your SEO agency actually get better at its work. Of course, if they don’t want to, can’t, or won’t improve, you just have to find somebody else.

This question might be the most important of all of them and is a heavy-hitter. Sometimes this one question can get to the heart of the entire matter in one fell swoop. In fact, depending on how they answer this question, you might not even need the other six questions. If they fail to sufficiently answer this question, you need to move on.

They should have a well-thought-out content map/index plan for the site’s structure. Some Agencies do this in Google sheets since it lends itself well to using spreadsheets and allows for a pretty sophisticated mapping process.

This means having a well-thought-out keyword index and content map that provides the context for the content structure of the site.

By content structure, I mean how all the content fits together and how it will continue to grow and expand the content. It includes the top-level navigation that people can see from the home page of the website, as well as all the pages in the site index that the average user will not see or can not easily navigate to from the home page. On a sophisticated and long-standing domain, this could be hundreds or even thousands of pages.

Also, you may have noticed that I ask “Where is your plan,” not “What is your plan.” Asking where adds an additional element that puts them on notice. You expect to see the plan. You don’t just want to hear the philosophy about how they make a plan. You want to see it written down!

If they do not have such a plan written down somewhere, then you need to have them make you one as soon as possible. It’s not just for your peace of mind, by the way, it is also for their benefit. They need to have a written plan to keep themselves on track and produce results.

You’ll find that a lot of these questions will help your SEO agency actually get better at its work. Of course, if they don’t want to, can’t, or won’t improve, you just have to find somebody else.

Why your overall site structure, content map, and keyword index are more important than most business owners think.

There should be a solid plan for building out all of your service pages for each and every city you want to rank in. If you have “crawl space cleaning Seattle,” you will also want to have “crawl space cleaning Bellevue,” which is the neighboring city, and all the other major hubs and minor cities you want to rank in and for all of your services, sub-services, for all the major keywords in your niche.

As you can guess, this can get rather unwieldy and create an awful mess if not organized and planned for. In addition to this, there are naming conventions for the URLs and practical navigation concerns for user experience, as well as the web-crawl bot’s ability to properly scan and index your pages. A good SEO firm will not only understand all of this but have a comprehensive strategy ready to show you that explains how they plan to dominate your market using their fantastic SEO plan.

If they don’t have one, or if it is sloppy, that’s at least strike one, if not cause to call them out altogether.

Why is the overall structure of a website important to SEO?

When people think of SEO, they often think of individual keywords and content. They might be thinking of one or two pages that have a lot of content, or one or two pages that are optimized for a niche keyword. But the structure of your website as a whole is actually much more important in terms of SEO. That’s because Google doesn’t just look at individual pages on your site—it looks at all the pages together when it decides where to rank your site. If you have a well-structured website (with a clear hierarchy of information), this means that you don’t need to worry as much about any individual page being optimized for its own keyword, because there will already be other pages on your site to help carry the load. Conversely, if you have an unorganized website structure with lots of duplicate content (like multiple pages about the same topic), this means that you’ll need to work harder to get Google to notice and index the page. By making sure that every page on your website is organized in a way that makes sense, you can make sure that it’s easy for Google to find and rank your entire site rather than just one or two specific pages.

What is a content map for a website and why is it important?

When you’re starting the process of planning out your website, you might hear a lot about the importance of creating a site map and an “overall site structure.” You might even start to feel like those are just buzzwords that you need to pay lip service to in order for others to feel good about your site and its future. But a content map is actually something that you’ll use every day. A content map for your website is basically just a map of the pages on your site, what each page is about, and which pages link to each other. If you don’t already have one (or if you don’t have one that’s up to date), it’s time to make one.

As soon as you get past the planning stages of your website and into the design, development, or management stages, you’ll find yourself using it every day—it will really make a difference in how helpful and user-friendly your site is. It will also make it easier for search engines to figure out exactly what your site is about and for people who are searching for specific information on your site to find what they need quickly and easily.

What is a keyword index and why is it important?

An index is a listing of words or phrases that help readers find specific information in documents, articles, and books. The “index” of a particular book or article is the entire list of these words and phrases (also called “keywords”), but one or two keywords are highlighted as “major indexes” to be used as a guide when people are looking for something specific. A keyword index is the same basic idea, but it’s specifically tailored to website content. The goal is to make your website easy for search engines to find and use, by providing them with a list of keywords that you want your site to be associated with. The practice of creating keyword indexes has become increasingly popular over the last few years—and there are several different ways that you can choose to do it.

They’re not just for SEO: For most small business owners, the most obvious reason for creating such an index may be SEO (search engine optimization). If you want your website to be as visible and accessible as possible on search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, then making sure your content is indexed with the right keywords is key—but many people don’t realize that a keyword index can go beyond just optimizing for search engines.

For our purposes, we normally want to create a spreadsheet with all your keyword research. A keyword index is a list of the most important words and phrases used throughout your website. You can think of it as a content map because what it shows is where your different pages contain groups of keywords and how they’re related to each other.

A keyword index helps you visualize the major concepts and topics that are scattered throughout your site, so you can make sure all of your pages are consistent with each other and they’re all addressing the things that matter to your customers. It’s a fantastic tool for developing a better understanding of what people are looking for when they visit your site, so you can make sure your content is well-focused on what really matters to them.

2. How do you optimize content keyword density across educational and commercial intent content to stay relevant considering the constantly changing landscape of Google's AI with natural language processing?

In the rapidly changing world of search engine optimization, content keyword density is one of the most important factors to consider. Your site’s content needs to be relevant and optimized for certain keywords, but how do you keep up with Google’s constantly evolving AI?

As it stands now, Google has a natural language processing algorithm that analyzes your website’s content and determines what it is about by looking at the words and phrases used within it. Then it compares these words and phrases to other sites in your industry for relevance.

keyword planner

To make things more complicated, Google now wants a balance between “educational” content versus “commercial” content.

Educational content is usually the type you see on blog articles. It is the answer to questions people are searching for and takes a topic and elaborates the answer to helping fully educate the consumer. This is similar to what an expert would teach in a class or how Wikipedia might explain something. The trick here is to have it relevant to the question, the target audience, your services, your company, and your area. This is no small task, especially when considering that it also has to be unique and you can’t have duplicate content.

Commercial content is more like the kind that “sells” a solution. This is your sales copy, your pitch, or your services pages that explain what you do and how you solve problems.

Is there a way to combine the two? Of course, but this takes a real pro.

The best way to optimize this process is by writing keyword-focused content that doesn’t only focus on the keyword itself but also provides value for readers by answering questions they may have about their subject matter. This will help you rank higher on search results pages and attract more traffic from those who are interested in what you have to say!

Keeping up with the changing landscape of Google’s AI and natural language processing is a challenge for anyone who wants to stay relevant online. No matter what type of content you’re creating, there are certain factors to consider when optimizing your content for search engines.

Keyword density is one of those considerations. You want your keywords to be present in your content so that they can be found by users looking for relevant information, but you don’t want them to be overabundant. The goal is to get people interested in what you have to say without spamming them with too many words about things they don’t care about.

Optimizing content keyword density across educational and commercial intent content to stay relevant is a challenge. It’s a balancing act between using keywords that are too common and therefore not as valuable and using keywords that are too specific and don’t get enough searches to be worth including in your content.

One way to optimize for both commercial and educational intent is to create a list of different types of products or services you offer, then create a list of keywords associated with each product or service. Then, when you’re writing your content, you can use the keyword from each product or service on its own line and include it throughout your text at natural points in the text. This goes back to our previous question about the keyword index and content map.One example of a software app that a good SEO company might use is called Surfer SEO, which can be used to optimize new and old content to stay ahead of competitors.

what does Fractional CMO do

3. How do you manage onsite actions?

You’ll want to ask to see the on-site actions your SEO agency has performed over the last 3 months. They should be tracking all on-site actions each month in google sheets or on some sort of dashboard. This is more than just saying, “We did 3 things for SEO this month.”

What we are looking for is accountability with specific documentation. They either need a project management tracking system or a way for you to audit what they actually did in practice, not just theory. For example, they fixed this specific page title, H1 tag, this specific Meta description, or this ALT tag over here. We did it on this date at this time and this is the reason why we did this instead of that.

If they can’t do this or won’t do this, you need to know why. If they are just too busy to document, it doesn’t mean they are bad at SEO, they are just bad at project management and at quality control of their own business. You can tolerate this as long as they will start doing it your way now. You aren’t responsible for improving their business for their sake, but it behooves you to do it for your own sake!

As with most of these questions, if they stagger around grasping at straws to try to deliver you sufficient reporting, you might need to bag them unless they turn the situation around right quick.

4. How do you build backlinks and citations?

Next, you’ll want to say, “I’d like to see the backlinks and citations you’ve built over the last 3 months.”

A good SEO agency will track all backlinks and citations in google sheets or in their project management software. They should be able to give you a list of what has been done and when.

“Backlinks” or “Backlinking” are broad terms that refer to any website that links back to your website.

Citations are listings of your business listing in online directories. They usually refer to “NAP,” or Name, Address, and Phone number. I would also add your website to this list, which might make it more properly referred to as “NAPW” or NAPU, where the U stands for URL. This isn’t the official name, just what I call it. Citations are connecting your business name and address with search engines.

holding back

Listings and directories are websites that allow you to upload your business details. This could be anything from Google My Business, to, lead gen sites like Home Advisor/Angie’s List, Thumbtack and Neighborhood app, social sites like Facebook to obscure service-businesses directories you have never heard of. All of this helps direct traffic to your website via backlinks and therefore helps with your SEO.

You can build backlinks by writing articles on other websites or blogging, commenting on articles, and using social media. You can also buy them, or work out strategic link swapping arrangements with all kinds of webmasters, bloggers, and influencers.

You can get citations by creating an account with online directories or listing sites such as Yelp or Bing Places for Business and adding your business information.

The world of building backlinks for the purpose of SEO opens up a huge can of worms. The reason is that this is one area that the typical home services business owner has no clue about, much less understands the intricacies of what an SEO agency should be doing on your behalf.

Here is a great question to add to the first one:

Do you use Yext (or the equivalent) to synchronize NAP to the major data aggregators (data axle, Neustar/Localize, Foursquare), listings, directories, and citations? If not, do you do it all manually?

Here’s the rub: Almost all of them do use a service like Yext, but they don’t always renew it for you to keep it up-to-date annually or monthly, and therefore you are at risk of having incorrect information, or hacked information due to competitors or spammers messing with your listings.

Next, even if they do keep paying for this, they likely don’t clean it up much. There are countless manual processes that would be needed for you to get all your NAP information correct all over the Internet.

Granted, it is nearly impossible to fix all your listings, and may not be that important to get it perfect (the 80/20 rule applies here), but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a few important ones (like your Google Businesses Page, or GMB) that absolutely need some individual attention.

…And that is where the truth comes out: There is almost nobody, and I mean nobody that fixes literally all of your listings, directories, and citations 100% of the time in 100% of the possible places to fix it. You are almost guaranteed to have some of the improperly done, or broken. It’s not something to panic about, but it is something to be aware of and you should at least get an honest answer from your SEO agency about this fact of life. They should at least give you a realistic expectation of what they will actually do, how much of it they are doing, what it costs you and why they do it.

Now, this whole NAP thing on listings and directories is only the beginning of the off-site SEO world of backlinks.

Where it really gets down to brass tacks is when you ask them how they get the other more valuable backlinks from high-authority quality domains, like influential blogs, or popular news sites to point to your content on your website.

The little-known secret about backlinks that agencies get lazy about or are too cheap to invest in for you

Here’s the truth: most digital marketing agencies and even SEO-specialist agencies do not directly create backlinks for your business.

Creating high-quality backlinks is such a time-consuming (and/or expensive) process, that most agencies have no choice but to outsource this activity. They don’t make enough money to justify having somebody spend hours and hours on your account. Granted, larger SEO agencies might have enough clients to bring this in-house, but most of them don’t, especially the agencies that might be niche-specific to home services and might otherwise be great companies.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if they have a good outsourcing partner. The problem is that they never want you to know they are outsourcing this out of fear that you will just circumvent them and go straight to the source. Just like in many businesses, this is an example of arbitrage via a brokering relationship that the agency would rather you not talk about.

Rather than try to avoid it, I like to just hit this head-on. I don’t think of it as a negative, I just want them to be forthright and transparent.

I ask them:

“Who do you outsource the backlink labor to? Domain authority or Camber, etc.?”

Now, the lazy or cheap factor plays in here if your agency just avoids doing backlinks altogether (which many do). They may just do the basic Yext ones that are essentially getting citations on directory sites and completely give up on trying to get the high-quality ones from influential websites and blogs.

Alternatively, they might not be lazy but simply too cheap to do it. They would prefer to charge you for SEO without having to pay out to get them made. They are essentially telling a little white lie by avoiding paying for them. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are stealing your money, but it depends on what they promised you. Buyer beware.

Advanced Backlinking Strategy

“Do you get or create Tier 1 or Tier 2 backlinks?” In other words, direct backlinks, vs. links to the site that linked to you (indirect links to help with the other site’s domain authority and your overall authority)

Tier 1 – Direct Backlinks (Direct Links) – These are links where someone has linked directly to your website or blog post.

Tier 2 – Indirect Backlinks (Indirect Links) – These are links that aren’t directly linked to your website, but they link to a site that does link to yours.

For example, let’s say you get a link from Site A, and then next month you get site B to also link to the site, which strengthens the domain authority of Site A. Although it doesn’t directly help you immediately, it helps you in the long run, because what counts is the authority of the domains linking to your site.

Another way to get more backlinks is via a Tripod Link exchange (my name for it). This is my name for a three-way link exchange.

For example, if Site A links to Site B, then B links to C, and Site C links to A in a circuit, then it’s considered an indirect link that helps all sites involved, assuming they all have decent domain authority. This is beneficial because it helps with the overall domain authority of all the sites.

According to Wikipedia: “The domain authority (also referred to as thought leadership) of a website describes its relevance for a specific subject area or industry. Domain Authority is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz. This relevance has a direct impact on its ranking by search engines, trying to assess domain authority through automated analytic algorithms.”

Domain Authority scores range from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater likelihood of ranking.

Backlinks from websites with domain authority in the range of 30 to 40 are pretty solid. Most of the time an SEO company or webmaster is going to get a backlink from a page that is in the 10 to 30 range, which is okay. If they are 30 to 50 they are strong and more expensive. If you want backlinks from websites that rank from 50 to 70 you are paying $1000 or more per link!

A successful strategy will typically be alternating between tier 1 and tier 2 each month. This is a reasonable and achievable goal and helps to build the overall authority of the web of sites going to your site as well as your own site in a natural progression that tends to compound the results over time. Again, SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.

Backlinks Combined With PR

A couple more great questions for your SEO Agency: “Do you use a service like PR Newswire and/or another PR company for press releases? Do you incorporate those into the SEO on-site as well?”

What Are High PR Backlinks? High PR backlinks are when you get a link to your website from a website that has a high level of authority or page rank. They are considered to be the most powerful type of backlink you can get.

Going beyond high-level authority page rank websites are the popular news sites that help SEO and have a perceived value in the minds of readers. The way to get on the big news sites is to become a valuable source for reporters and bloggers.

One way to do this is to sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out) via HARO connects journalists seeking expertise to include in their content with sources who have that expertise.

This type of work requires you to become a trusted expert in your field (which you are if you’ve been working in it for any length of time). However, you also have to find things that are newsworthy that tie to your work, or they might contact you if they think there is something newsworthy that they need a quote from you in order to write their article. This kind of free publicity is like gold, so always try to get it and cooperate with them the best you can.

However, this often goes outside of the scope of work of an SEO agency and crosses over more into the world of PR agencies. Still, a good SEO firm should at least help with the basics and look for ways to get PR. The paid services can be very expensive, so make sure that you have a strategy around it if you choose to go that route.

If you can get a big site like to link to your site, you have hit the SEO goldmine, combining a high-quality backlink with high perceived value that you can get bragging rights and even mention elsewhere in your marketing. 

marketing assets audit

5. Do you do regular audits?

Every SEO expert should be familiar with audits and analytics based on their work. Here are two more specific questions to drill down further:

“When was the last time you ran a technical audit with SEMRUSH or AHREFS to assess current site errors? What errors have you been working on fixing over the last 3 months?”

A good SEO agency will run monthly audits on their clients’ sites and fix those issues using AHREFS or a similar tool.

Your agency should show you proof of this and provide reports and document their work.

6. How do you manage site speed to stay on top of Google's core web vitals assessment?

There are several tools you can use to run your own tests. A simple one is to use Google’s own tool: Try it now and run a test on your own site.

There’s also a trick I use to impress people who aren’t used to this stuff. I use the Google Chrome browser’s built-in Lighthouse tool, which is also free.

Lighthouse is an open-source, automated tool for improving the quality of web pages. You can run it against any web page, public or requiring authentication. It has audits for performance, accessibility, progressive web apps, SEO, and more.


Hand turning a knob to set number of leads to the maximum to generate more sales. Composite image between a photography and a 3D background. Horizontal orientation.

You can go to any web page and right-click to “inspect” the page. One of the options at the top of the inspection area is called “Lighthouse.” You can then click a button that says “Generate Report” and you can run it for both the desktop and mobile versions of your site and even export a complete report to send to someone via PDF.

Lighthouse is a great tool that not a lot of people know exists. Most people think you need to pay for fancy software to do this when a great free option is available in the web browser that you likely didn’t know was there.

A good SEO firm will run Google page speed tests and do speed optimizations to ensure faster indexing and health of their client’s sites.

Again, how they answer will tell you a lot. Are they working hard, or hardly working?

google ads

7. How will you be able to scale multiple new locations quickly for our top service keywords?

This last question is arguably the most important of all. You are asking them if they have a solid plan to help you dominate your new territories. It’s no easy task.

Local SEO has become a powerful tool for businesses to target potential customers who are ready to buy and every SEO agency can promise to do their best to help you when you are a smaller service-based business. Optimizing a single-location business for local search is easy, but if you run a chain of locations (or a franchised operation), increasing the visibility of each location to get positive ROI can be a challenge. This is where the real SEO agency pros rise to the top and all other agencies get left in the dust.

Some high-level multi-location chain and franchise SEO agencies have secrets they use to improve your chances of quick expansion into new territories. For example, one that I work with has a website page building SEO-optimized template that they combine with a mass scale page builder that programmatically spins up new pages with unique content quickly. This is perfect for any new local areas that need to be built that cover every single surrounding service city area and service your business provides.

If they don’t have such a powerful toolbox, then they should have at least thought through the minutiae of doing this intense work manually.

…And it is a LOT of work.

What you need to ask yourself is if they have a good enough answer and do you want to trust your future to their team? It’s a big question that can cost you a lot of money.


Here’s the takeaway: The best thing you can do at this point is to talk to your SEO partner—and make them squirm a little. Be sure that they can answer all of your questions and that they are taking the time to explain why they are doing what they are doing.

Make them prove it to you, and always be ready to ask the tough questions until you understand exactly what is being done with your money.

If you learn nothing else from this chapter, simply remember this: A good SEO agency will not fear or avoid answering your questions, or refuse to provide proof of the work they are doing.

Remember, it’s YOUR money and YOUR business.

What is a Fractional CMO?

A fractional Chief Marketing Officer (sometimes referred to as an outsourced CMO or part-time CMO) is a marketing executive serving businesses by leading marketing strategy, sales development, growth opportunities, and heading the marketing department. Businesses use fractional CMO services because they do not need a full-time CMO but still require expert strategy and leadership.

Businesses enjoy the flexibility that a fractional CMO provides. It often makes sense to bring in a fractional chief marketing officer instead of a full-time CMO. This can be for financial reasons, as a typical full-time CMO salary can cost far more than $252,930 per year. Or because the work needed to be done by the CMO does not require a full-time position—and the dirty little secret is that most companies under fifty-million dollars in revenue don’t need a full-time CMO anyway!

EXPERTISE YOU NEED: Don’t rely on inexperienced marketers to dictate your business’s overall marketing strategy. Bring in a Fractional CMO to provide a comprehensive marketing plan for your business.

COST YOU CAN AFFORD: You don’t need a top-heavy organization with a full-time CMO on staff. A fractional CMO will provide you with the insights and reporting that you need—without the high price.

SELF-MANAGING EXECUTIVE: A CMO will lighten your workload by managing all aspects of your company’s marketing department. From vendors to employees, the CMO acts as an executive.

Fractional CMO Responsibilities

  • Developing the marketing strategy for both the short-term and long-term. 
  • Deciding and committing to which marketing strategies are best for your business, such as SEO, content marketing, paid advertising, Google PPC, Bing, Facebook, social media, email, direct mail, a podcast, etc. 
  • Solving marketing problems that will arise and need to be resolved quickly.
  • Leading the marketing department and inspiring team members. 
  • Hiring new employees and building out your team for success.
  • Working with outsourced agencies leaning on their experience and holding them accountable.
  • Your Fractional CMO should have a wealth of marketing and managerial experience. Therefore, the Fractional CMO should be the natural leader of the marketing team.
  • In addition to leadership qualities, the Fractional CMO is to be seen as the c-suite level marketing strategist who helps organizations achieve their marketing goals. 
  • As a Fractional CMO, I will work closely with both your organization’s leadership team and the marketing talent executing the marketing tactics on a day-to-day basis.
half hour consultant

Benefits of a Fractional CMO

How far do you want to go?

If you are launching a big project and don’t have the time to do old-fashioned prospecting, or if you’ve already exhausted your existing contacts but need to find new business fast, a fractional CEO may be able to help you. A fractional CMO expertly knows how to expand a business. It’s what they do.


Expand nationally to different cities or get national coverage.

With a Fractional CMO, you can expand to multiple cities, counties, areas, regions, and states without breaking the bank as you would have to with a full-time CMO. Using a fractional CMO allows you to get the results that you need so that you can expand your business in any area of the country or even in different countries.

As a business owner, you know the value of acquiring new customers. The problem is that you don’t have the time to manage all the employees and vendors. That’s where a Fractional CMO comes in handy. With a fractional CMO, you get to be the master and commander of your marketing strategy and teams without having to be everywhere and be all things to all people. You are wasting your time going the extra mile when someone already went there for you.

If you own a thriving home services business and want to expand farther and in more territories than ever before, check out

Fractional CMO Marketing Clarity Call Request Form

YES! I am interested in a FREE 15-minute “marketing clarity call” to determine if and how Fractional CMO services can work for me and my business.

Jesse Stoddard—Fractional CMO