I can't tell you how many prospective clients come to me saying "We need SEO!" without really understanding WHY they need it (or if they need it at all). I usually start the conversation with a list of questions that hardly even mention search engines at all.
When possible, I prefer to have this conversation in person rather than over email. It allows me to probe deeper if they mention anything that raises more questions or red flags. I included my internal though process and rationale below each question.
What questions do you ask your clients? If you are responsible for marketing your company, what questions do you wish your marketing firms or consultants would ask you?
What are your business and marketing objectives? How do you measure them?
Depending on your objectives, specific SEM tactics can be tailored to help support your marketing and advertising initiatives such as lead generation or awareness building. Just as importantly, how are you measuring the success or failure of your marketing and business strategies?
Who are your target audience(s)?
Different segments of the population use the internet differently and have different search habits. Additionally, different "calls to action" should be considered for different audiences.
What other marketing channels are you using or thinking about using?
Search Engine Marketing works best when integrated with other marketing channels to capture the awareness and intent generated in other media.
What is your timeline? Do you need traffic immediately?
Unless your website already ranks at the top of a search results page, Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising is the only sure way to drive traffic to your website from a search engine reliably and quickly. PPC gives you much more control over who sees your ads and where they land on your site. As the name implies, you are paying for every click and it may not scale as well over time.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a more gradual strategy that will take a little longer to kick in, but the incremental traffic from higher rankings does not cost anything on a per-click basis. If you are looking for long-term efficiency and scalability, SEO is probably for you.
Many times, PPC spending can be implemented first to bring traffic to the site while the SEO tactics are underway.
Who manages your website and is responsible for making changes?
To get the best results, it may be necessary to modify the structure or content of your website.
If you were searching for your company, which keywords would you use?
There is often a discrepancy between what a company says about itself and the keywords that consumers actually type into search engines. A great example is “low cost airfare” versus “cheap tickets”. Do you speak your customers' language, or do you expect them to learn yours?