Search Engine Optimization (SEO) isn’t something that should be taken lightly.
When properly executed, SEO can push your business in the right direction and provide opportunities that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.
However, as the industry becomes even more competitive, with both large agencies and small boutique firms popping up every single day, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to differentiate the quality SEOs from the pretenders.
If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, then you’ll find it difficult to choose the best SEO agency for your situation.
I had the chance to speak with John Bertino, owner, and founder of The Agency Guy, Inc about how his team consults with brands one-on-one to assist them in sourcing the best digital marketing partners. Below are some of the items John recommends taking into account when looking for the best SEO agency.
Related Article: 7 Things to Keep In Mind When Choosing an SEO Agency
1. Define Your Definition of Success
The very first thing you need to do is define your definition of SEO success. In other words, why are you investing in SEO and what’s the desired outcome? For some, a page one ranking for search terms X, Y, and Z is the goal. For others, increasing daily search traffic by 35 percent is the end result. You’ll judge the outcome differently based on your definition of success, so go ahead and iron out the details.
Beyond the actual goals, there needs to be an understanding of how these outcomes will be measured. It’s also important to consider the amount of risk you’re willing to take in order to achieve these specific results.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider. Going into an SEO relationship with the hopes of improving your website’s SEO isn’t enough. There should be a keen understanding of what you want to accomplish and how it will be measured.
2. Lay Out Your Expectations
Armed with your definition of success, it’s now time to lay out your expectations for the SEO agency you hire. At a very minimum, what do you expect from your SEO partner? These are “make or break” characteristics. In order for an SEO to even make your short list, they must meet these criteria. A sample set of must-have expectations would include:
- Have a local office
- Been in business for at least five years
- Offer a free initial consultation and strategy session to discuss plans
This is just an example. Your list may include all or none of these. The point is that you need to sit down and come up with your very own list of “make or break” criteria. When combined with your definition of success, you’ll find it fairly easy to narrow down your list to just a handful of options.
3. Ditch the Rankings
The ultra-competitive nature of the SEO industry means there are lots of rankings for top SEO firms. You’ll see sponsored lists, independent third party lists, lists of the top local firms, rankings for the best large firms, and awards for the best new agencies. There are literally lists and rankings for everything.
If you put too much stake in these rankings, you’ll drive yourself crazy. If you haven’t noticed yet, they all contradict themselves. Why is this? Well, it’s virtually impossible to rank thousands of different firms on subjective criteria. Ditch the rankings as a definitive way to select an SEO firm.
4. Ask the Right Questions
Once you finally gather a short list of possible SEO partners, you’ll want to set up a phone call or meeting with them. During these conversations, ask each of them the same set of questions. This allows you to compare them with some level of objectivity.
Related Article: My Cheat Sheet: An SEO Manager's Go-To Digital Marketing Tools
Here are a few questions you may want to include on your list:
- How exactly do you plan on helping me accomplish [insert goal]?
- What would you consider your agency’s specialty?
- How often do you communicate and share with me changes made to my site?
- What is your definition of SEO success?
- What happens when we decide to part ways?
This is just a starting point. Depending on your company’s needs, you’ll likely have more specific questions to ask. Just make sure you’re asking enough questions to get a feel for what the agency really does.
5. Check Their Own SEO
Would you do business with a roofing company if the roof on their office building was falling apart? Probably not. Well, if a company provides SEO services, then wouldn’t it be logical to check their own SEO efforts? Certainly.
Now, let’s be clear. You shouldn’t check their search engine rankings to see if they rank on page one for all relevant search terms. Even the best SEO can’t guarantee a page one ranking. If they’re a newer, white hat company, it’s virtually impossible for them to outrank more mature companies.
Instead, be on the lookout for things like meta descriptions, local SEO techniques, website optimization, and more. You want to make sure they’re doing the right things. If so, it’s a pretty good indication that they practice what they preach.
6. Ask for Referrals and Case Studies
The best SEO agencies will happily give you access to referrals, testimonials, and case studies. If they aren’t presented, ask for them. Every good SEO firm has this information on file. Case studies are arguably the most valuable, as they allow you to see data, but don’t underestimate the importance of a referral list.
Armed with this information, you can reach out to the past and current clients to get a third party opinion of the firm. Most referrals will be straightforward and honest with you. If you’re choosing between a couple of different firms, these conversations often become the deciding factor.
7. Consider Pay Structure
Finally, you never want to get too far along in the process without talking money. However, there’s a reason this wasn’t included as one of the first couple of tips. Compensation for SEO can vary drastically. Some charge by the hour, others charge by the month, and there are some that charge by the project.
Each of the various compensation models comes with their own pros and cons. Talk through dollars and cents with prospective SEO partners and figure out what makes the most sense for your situation.
Don’t Rush the Vetting Process
When you add all of this together, it can seem like a lot. But here’s the question you need to ask yourself: Do you really want to rush into something as important as hiring an SEO agency? It may not be the most important decision you ever make, but it certainly ranks up there with the best of them.
A quality SEO agency can increase your chances of gaining traction in the search engines and reaching new customers, whereas a poor SEO agency could actually damage your rankings and compromise your organic lead generation strategy.
When conducting the search process, keep the aforementioned tips in mind and take your time. It’s better to spend an extra week looking for the right firm than to rush into things and inhibit the growth of your business.