Let’s be honest, finding a good SEO agency is hard. Not only is it difficult to find an all-round good agency but one that fits in with your company and message.
Finding the right SEO agency can be tricky business as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. With a huge variety of SEO consultants and agencies, there’s a lot to consider. There are of course key skills and values that will make certain agencies better fitted to your company than others. We’ve narrowed down the 15 most important factors you should consider and established 50 key actions you should take when you choose an SEO agency.
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Table of Contents
Before you even begin to look at SEO agencies you need to get together with your team and set clear and precise goals. Establish what you all want accomplished by working with an inbound marketing/SEO agency.
It could be as simple as an audit to ensure you’re following best practices or supplying training for your marketers and content builders to get them up to speed on how to best promote your site. If you create a solid list of things you want completed, at the end of an engagement you’ll be much better equipped to judge the eventual results.
If you don’t know what you want, that’s OK but it does make your SEOs job harder and means you’ll require an exceptional amount of trust in them. It also means you may end up with what your SEO thinks you want, rather than what you actually want.
That being said, sometimes your SEO will know what you need better than you will so in order to get the best of both worlds, ask them for what they believe your goals should be and combine them with your own.
- Establish goals with your team
- Ask your prospective SEO/s what they believe your goals should be
- Prioritise – Ask them what they recommend to do first, second, third, etc.
Familiarise Yourself with SEO
Perhaps the best way to ensure that you find the best fitting SEO agency or consultant is to know the basics yourself. By understanding how SEO works, you’ll be much better prepared to ask the right questions, analyse the answers, measure results and your return on investment.
As your online presence is so important to your business success, considering over 80% of consumers do their own research online before purchasing (source: Cisco), spending a little time to familiarise yourself with the basics is one of the best investments you can make.
- Familiarise yourself with at least the basics of SEO
- Brush up on SEO best practices to ensure you don’t hire an untrustworthy black-hat marketer
Talk to friends, fellow business owners, SEO bloggers and personalities you know and trust. These are the people who can best assist you in finding a good match.
When you talk to your network be sure to share your projects and goals. Keep in mind that a good fit for someone else might not always be a good fit for you. Establish a point of connection, the more information about what you need from an SEO the better others are able to assist.
Never simply ask: “Do you know a good SEO?”
- Get advice from your social network
- Ask advice from SEO-savvy people you trust
- Look for reviews on your prospective agencies and consultants
Get in Touch
Talk through a potential problem with your prospective SEO, find out how they would approach the issue and what strategies they might recommend to fix them (even on a broad scale).
This will help you to build trust in the SEOs knowledge and gives you a clear insight into how they solve problems. It will also give you an indication of how your work relationship will be if you choose to take them on.
Talk on the phone with your prospective SEO or better yet catch up in person. Establish a rapport. If you don’t feel comfortable on a personal level, don’t dismiss it – no matter how brilliant an SEO is, if you can’t work well together the project is unlikely to succeed.
Email is great for initial communication but a phone call and especially an in-person meeting will give you a real sense of the team you’ll work with.
- Present your prospective/s with a few initial issues over email
- Talk on the phone with your prospective SEO
- Meet them in person (if possible)
Get Their Opinion
Ask them for some observations about your sites technical structure, on-page and off-page content and link profile. Find out what keyword phrases they think should be targeted, while not an easy task during an initial discussion, they should be able to identify the core keywords for your industry and tell you how competitive the segment is. They should discuss geographic considerations and talk about the ‘money keywords’, such as ‘buy’, ‘find’, ‘deals’, ‘best’, ‘cheap’, etc.
Find out what changes to your website are needed, talk about on-page and off-page changes. Also ask them how they plan to develop additional links to your site. Expect them to talk about quality links as well as quantity and a balanced link profile.
Lastly, give them the chance for their “elevator pitch”, if they can’t confidently answer why you should choose them over all the other SEO companies out there, keep moving.
- Ask them what they think about your sites technical structure, on-page and off-page content and link profile
- Ask them for some observations about the key SEO factors that influence search engine visibility in relation to your site, especially link building
- Find out what keyword phrases they think should be targeted
- Enquire about what website changes will be needed and whether they’ll be noticeable
- Establish how they plan to develop additional links to your site
- Ask them why you should choose them over all the other SEO agencies out there
Make certain that your prospective SEO has a wealth of experience. They should have been doing SEO for at least 3 years before you consider taking them on. Be sure that they follow SEO best practices. Stay well away from agencies that guarantee top rankings. While agencies can in fact guarantee that you’ll be able to generate traffic via paid alternatives, including pay-per-click, they should never tell you that they can definitely get you at the top of search results.
You may consider hiring an SEO agency with particular experience in your industry, as this specialism will help them to understand your needs better and convert more customers. However, be prepared to be charged higher fees.
According to BrightLocal’s Local SEO Industry Survey 2014, only 17% of SEOs surveyed targeted clients in 1 specific industry and just 23% set their sights on 2-3 vertical industries. These numbers however, are up from the 2013 survey, showing an increase in the number of SEOs choosing to specialise.
- Ensure they have at least 3 years SEO experience
- Stay away from agencies that guarantee top rankings
- Confirm they uphold SEO best practices (no black-hat tactics!)
- Get examples of work they did for clients in the same (or similar) industry
- Ask who they consider to be the thought leaders of your industry, if they don’t know, ask how they plan on finding out
What You Can Expect
Find out what you can expect from hiring an SEO, ask them what volume of traffic increase it’s reasonable to expect and over what time-frame. While there are a lot of factors to consider with this question, assuming your site is technically sound and has quality original content, you should be able to expect a 50-100% increase in quality traffic within around 3 months. Potentially a lot more if your site is languishing.
- Find out what volume of traffic increase they expect
- Establish over what time-frame they expect to deliver results
- Nail down not only your goals but your expectations for your SEO
Get your prospective SEOs to show you recent examples of their work. Make sure they can point to current examples of their success with short competitive keyword phrases.
The best agencies will be able to provide examples from clients who are still actively working with them, this means that the SEO has delivered and earned an ongoing commitment.
- Get examples of their work
- Make sure they can point to current examples of their success with short competitive keyword phrases
- Contact previous clients of potential SEO agencies to verify their claims
- Ensure they mask confidential information when sharing previous work
- Ask them how your situation and their recommended plan matches that of another client they’ve worked with
- Award bonus points if the client they refer you to is still actively working with them, extra bonus points given if the client has been working with them for years
- Get examples of how they’ve been able to reproduce successes more than once
Process and Communication Style
Find out what your prospective agency or consultant’s SEO process is. Reputable agencies will be able to answer quickly and honestly as there are repeatable processes that drive search traffic. This question allows your SEO partner to layout their auditing process, goals, on-page and off-page strategies and timeline. Of course each prospective will come with a slightly different answer but they should all be able to give you a well thought out answer that shows how they plan on reaching your goals.
You should also establish what their communication plan is. Do they offer customer support? If you have a question how long will it take them to get back in touch? Ensure that all your needs will be met in a timely and professional manner.
- Ask them about their SEO process
- Find out how quickly they’ll respond to your requests
Each element of the inbound methodology is trackable and interpretable. Whatever goals you’re trying to meet (and hopefully exceed) by hiring an SEO agency, your prospective agency should clearly define how they plan to track their success. Progress made toward your goals need to be measured every step of the way. The best SEO agencies will also outline not only how they plan to track these goals but also how they plan to share and report back to you.
Ask them what SEO reports they will present and how frequently. Determine the minimum level of reporting to be delivered. A one page report every few months is unacceptable. There needs to be a system of regular reporting, troubleshooting and feedback in place.
- Find out how they measure SEO success
- Ask them what SEO reports they will deliver and how frequently
- Ask to see sample reports
Get to Know the Team
Get to know the people you’ll be working with and establish whether you want to hire a small, medium or large SEO firm. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Small or one-person firms can be fantastic but they may get busy with other, more lucrative clients, while large firms on the other hand can be like sausage-factories, churning out SEO in bulk.
According to BrightLocal’s Local SEO Industry Survey 2014, 84% of those surveyed had 5 or less SEOs in their company.
According to the same survey, the average local SEO deals with 9 clients personally.
As communication is a big factor in deciding which SEO agency you take on, you’ll want to know who exactly you’ll be working with. As many SEOs outsource some of their workload, you’ll also want some information on who they outsource to and what their experience is.
As SEOs continue to take on more and more clients, outsourcing is an efficient way to handle the increased workload at reasonable costs. So you may want to consider just how much work your SEO will be outsourcing and how much they’ll be doing themselves. According to the BrightLocal Local SEO Industry Survey 2014, over 50% of SEOs outsource under 10% of their workload, while 39% outsource more than 25% of their work.
- Find out how many people are on their team
- Confirm who exactly will be working on your assignment
- Establish the amount of work that will be outsourced and find out their experience
When it comes to SEO, you most likely get what you pay for. Don’t expect great service for $100 a month. Both SEO and search marketing are very time consuming tasks. Enquire about hourly rates to determine just how much time will be spent on your assignment.
The price you spend on SEO will also be determined by the size of your own business, the size and experience of the agency you hire and how much competition your company has. Expect to pay between $1-3k per month if you’re an SMB with low to moderate competition and between $3-10k if you’re a medium to large company with high competition.
- Get quotes and establish price per project
Establish a Partnership
SEO is not a 1 time exercise. Search algorithms are continually changing and getting smarter so there will always be need for improvement. Think about the long-term benefits of your prospective SEO agencies, even if you’re only looking to hire them for the short term initially. Question whether the agencies you’re looking at offer any additional inbound marketing services that you may consider using in the future.
- Think long-term – choose an SEO that you can partner with over the long-haul
- Question whether the agency offers additional services you may need in the future
Before You Sign
Before you sign anything make sure you’re not missing any long-term contractual obligations. Ask for a written proposal that clearly states every action. Also ensure you will own all of the content, accounts and media created by your SEO to promote your site. Spell this out in the contract. You don’t want to realise later on that you don’t own half of the content utilised in your SEO strategy.
- Question whether there any long term contractual obligations
- Ask for a written proposal that clearly states every action
- Ensure you will own all accounts, content and media
They Care More about You
Finally, you should make sure your SEO is passionate about what they do and they’re willing to go above and beyond to provide you with the best possible service. Find out if they care about your business. A smart SEO representative should also be asking you questions. This allows them to evaluate you as a client. The best SEO agencies are busy and can afford to be selective when choosing to take on new clients.
Ask yourself whether:
- They’re more interested in you than in themselves – they talk more about your goals and how they can help you than about themselves
- They ask insightful questions to help you clarify your specific needs
- They listen well – asks follow-up questions that show they’ve heard your answers and responds according to your precise situation
- They’re passionate about what they do and how they can help you
Download our 50 points Checklist and Scorecard Template
Now that you understand the key values and actions you should take when searching for an SEO agency, you can start to compare your prospectives.
We’ve created a handy scorecard for you to use to compare your top picks and a 50 point checklist to ensure you’ve narrowed down to the best fitting agencies and consultants. Scroll down the bottom of the page to see the popup