How to choose the right SEO Agency: Tips & Myths
Set your Goals & Objectives
If you are looking for an SEO agency, chances are you own your business or work for a company or organisation. Consequently it is likely you have heard about S.M.A.R.T. objectives:
- achievable & agreed upon
- time based & trackable
Usually this is an effective framework to determining your business objectives. Well, it is also very efficient in determining your search marketing objectives.
Is your main objective:
- increasing leads you get through?
- increasing bookings on the site?
- increasing revenue from e-commerce sales?
- increasing your form submissions/ white paper downloads conversion rate?
- increasing organic traffic?
- improving on-site trends?
These will vary depending on the nature of your business, products and/or services, your strengths, weaknesses, key business objectives, and current situation.
Tip: if you ever get promised that your focus key phrase will be ranking #1 in 3 months… turn around and never look back.
Chances are this agency doesn’t fully understand how Google works to be honest, and most likely isn’t up to date with Google’s algorithms, still primarily relying on Black hat SEO methods and also over-promising – and as a result most likely to under-deliver.
No SEO agency or expert can tell you the exact Google algorithm – otherwise Google will be out of business and that agency/ SEO professional not looking for new clients – and consequently no one should be able to or can make such a promise and keep up to it.
In addition, maybe except if you work for Google, no one is able to accurately predict and algorithm update and how it will change search results. Educated guesses and predictions can be made by industry leaders and experts but never with 100% confidence.
Look at clients’ case studies and references.
The reason why e-commerce websites tend to see sales increase when they have positive customer reviews? There is no one customers trust more than fellow customers.
Similarly, if recommended an SEO agency, which can show success stories and results for clients across various industries, they are likely to be able to deliver.
Ask for a few of their clients’ names, their biggest successes and past achievements, as this will help you assess whether they can offer the diversity of services you are looking for and help you assess whether they are versatile enough to adapt to your business, your industry and focus on your particular objectives to drive the best results to help you grow your business.
Another insightful question to ask and which is likely to reveal a lot about how a particular agency handles clients is the average time of their working relationships with them.
Ask them for how long they have been working with the oldest client, and you are likely to get more of an idea of whether you are in for the long term, and therefore are likely to get the results you are aiming for as let’s be honest, if results aren’t there and your haven’t been achieving a positive return on your investment, your are likely to terminate this relationship after a year or so.
How will your search marketing strategy be shaped?
Different agencies will operate in different ways when it comes to structuring and shaping SEO strategies for clients.
Nonetheless, there are a few points which all should be looked at in order to gather the necessary data and information to effectively create the best strategy for your business and get the best results as quickly as possible.
- A full technical SEO audit of your site
- A thorough keywords research, competitors analysis and backlinks review
- Monthly link building & outreach strategies as part of your retainer
- Optimised on site content creation – make sure you ask whether this is include in the monthly retainer and created in-house – you wouldn’t want this to be outsourced in a different country
- Other search & social marketing services – can the agency offer additional integrated services such as social marketing, paid search, lead nurturing or email automation if you ever decide to give it a go?
A technical audit, keywords research, competitors analysis and backlinks review should ideally all be completed in the first month or two of your partnership.
Tip: Will they be working on technical, off site and on site SEO on a monthly basis? This should be the case, no matter what your budget is.
Question the SEO Agency.
About how it operates, and challenge them with some of your issues or concerns.
They are several questions you should ask in addition to the above, about the agency itself and how it operates, as well as about some challenges your company would pose.
Don’t hesitate to challenge them with some of you concerns or issues your site might have – have had – to assess whether this agency is right for you, and more importantly offers the specific services you are after.
- How will they show transparency? How can you see exactly what has been done for you?
- How will you be kept updated of progress?
- What is their reporting process? What about sign off of content and technical update?
- How often can you expect communications? Can you contact them as you please?
- What tools are they using? That’s when you would like to hear names such as Screamingfrog, Buzzsumo, Searchmetrics etc.
Tip: Have they mentioned Bookmarking Demon, Xrumer or SE Nuke?
And stay away from automated tools – links, content, idea generation etc.
Have you had a google penalty before?
- Ask the agency if they have dealt with penalty removals before and if so how they will deal with yours?
Are you worried about the quality of the traffic driven to your site?
- How are they planning on improving this?
Ideally you would like to hear all about a target keyword strategy based on a detailed keyword research. Going after longer tailed key phrases and so called “low hanging fruits” is likely to be improving the quality of your traffic by responding more accurately to users’ search intents.
- Do you have concerns about being in a highly competitive industry? How is the agency planning on overcoming this obstacle?
If this is the case, the first thing they should offer are detailed competitors analyses of your direct competitors as well as industry leaders to identify opportunities, as well as insightfully assessing your competitive landscapes by looking at their strengths, weaknesses, and arising opportunities and threats (yes, we are talking about a SWOT analysis here), in terms of keyword strategies, on site and off site optimisation, content ideas, and high quality backlinks that could be mirrored.
Has your site been designed by another agency?
- Ask the agency if they are used to working with other agencies.
You want cooperation. Not competition.
Gather proposals & arrange an initial call or meeting.
If after looking at and into various agencies you are still hesitating, don’t hesitate to ask for initial proposals. Once again this will straight away provide you with further insights into the agency and how it operates.
- How effective is their structure – how quickly can they deliver?
- How tailored are their strategies?
Chances are if they truly offer case by case strategies they will offer a free proposal as this would useful to them further down the line in helping them shape your Search marketing strategy but will also help them assess whether they are the one best suited for your business, its needs and requirements.
Proposals need to address the key points of their strategies and some highlight about how they intend to shape it based on your communicated priorities and objectives.
Although free proposals are always a plus, I wouldn’t recommend systematically going for the cheaper option. Successful SEO agencies won’t be the cheapest. Although a high price does not necessarily mean higher service quality. Look at what they are offering, and the strategies they are proposing specifically for you.
Tip: Ask if any of their services are outsourced. Outsourcing link building could be risky as can potentially involve paying for high quantities of low quality links. Remember, one high quality link is worth more than 100 low quality ones.
On the other end, some might outsource design, which if anything is a promise of quality if this is not something they specialise in.
Question them about what makes them different, and why you should pick them.
If their answer is one of the bellow, then once again proceed with caution:
- We can deliver results quicker than other agencies
- We are cheaper than our competitors
- We can get you more links than others.
Pick the one you FEEL is right for your company
Nothing like mother’s instinct right?
Well, same often applies when choosing a partnership. Obviously, you firstly want to gather some objective information, data and statistics to help you make an educated decision. However in the end, I truly believe in order to achieve the best results, you need to have a positive, strong and understanding relationship with your agency – and account manager.
They need to fully understand your priorities, the reason behind these, and any limitations or specific requirement you might have to be able to set up the most adequate and efficient strategies for you.
This will also make contact and communications much easier, which will facilitate and most likely accelerate any technical or strategy implementation. You shouldn’t be hesitating about picking up the phone to ask a question or have quick five minute conversation about how your account is performing and what is currently being done.
The biggest myths about picking an SEO agency?
An almost a daily basis, we have businesses enquiring after having been approached online, or cold called.
Most tend to have a few questions in common, the most recurrent ones being:
- When will I be ranking #1?
- How many links will you build per month?
- Can I only have link building with my monthly retainer?
Hopefully, this article has so far managed to explain why these aren’t promises any agency should be making to potential clients.
On the other hand, businesses who haven’t worked with agencies before sometimes also have misconceptions about success indicators, and factors they think determine whether an SEO agency is as good as it preaches to be.
Here are the winners:
1.It’s not all about the looks….
“This agency’s website is very sleek. And they rank #1. Deal done.”
In fact, I strongly advise you reconsider.
Except if you are looking for a brand new website, some of the best SEO agencies out there won’t have the best looking websites, as first of all this is not their priority, but also if they are as good at SEO as they promise, even with a website which is a few years old, they can still most likely have strong rankings.
Although we are not talking about 10 years old site either.
Are they ranking #1 for one specific search term? Great, but this is not everything. I frequently still see companies (agencies or not) ranking 1st for some keyphrases, when it is quite obvious they are still using black hat SEO techniques.
Google penalises such practices so why would they rank first?
Quite simply Google is not perfect, and might take some time to pick up on this, but once it has trust me they will be going down SERPs. If not just simply vanish.
So try not to go for the bedroom-based freelancer with duplicated doorway pages and one key phrase repeated a few tens of times on the page.
One last point you might want to consider: would you rather the agency focus on getting results for clients or ensuring they rank first themselves for every single SEO related terms?
2. The bigger… Not always the better.
“They are the biggest agency, therefore they MUST be the most successful”.
Let’s rethink this.
I’m sure this is no surprise but growing a business is more about it’s operational structure and business development strategy than 100% about the quality of the products/services offered.
On the opposite, the bigger the agency, the more likely it is they will pay less attention to your account. Why?
- they have hundreds, so one more one less, same difference.
- the more clients account managers have, the less they will get to know their clients, and thus understand their needs, priorities to effectively and rapidly achieve their objectives.
- search marketing strategies are probably pre-packaged and generalised rather than individually and carefully tailored to clients – especially for smaller clients.
- staff turnarounds are probably higher, meaning you accounts goes from a leaver to a newbie, not too bothered about ensuring a proper handover. Don’t get me wrong, having a new account manager is most often positive, as it can offer a fresh look on your account, but it is always better for both account managers to be remaining in the company to ensure a seamless handover.
- a huge agency means a very high number of employees. Yet experts can’t be found at every street corners. In addition, smaller teams tend to be tighter, helping one another instead of competing for personal achievements.
Of course, an international SEO agency might be the right one for you, once again depending on your needs, but its size will not guarantee a quality of service.
3. Stay close to home.
“Long distance relationship can’t work”.
Webex, conference calls, Skype. Just to name a few.
Great “long-distance” communication methods are now easily available for free, so no, you don’t need your SEO agency to be around the corner.
Again, this will depend on your needs, as it can definitely be an advantage, but if you feel like the right agency for you is a few hours train journey away then do not see distance as an obstacle.
I personally prefer meeting clients face to face, but this is definitely outweighed by having a strong client – agency relationship even if just over the phone and via remote meetings.
However, you should make sure that the agency you want to start working with is the most adequate to your needs.
Indeed, if you are a Birmingham based local business, it would be challenging for a multinational Chicago based agency to truly understand your need for local knowledge to increase your visibility. Even more if you are planning on hiring them for social marketing. The other way around would tend to work best. But once again, this is most often a case by case decision.
Ready to get started? Start with a free technical health check of your site, and get in touch with us to talk to one of search and social marketing experts today to answer your questions!