Finding an agency to handle your search engine optimization (SEO) is easy. Choosing the right SEO agency is not.
If you’re not already familiar with organic research, trying to figure out which agency knows their business seems daunting. Add to that the potentially high price tag and long term of contracts that many agencies require, and it can be downright overwhelming.
These eight criteria will help you find an SEO agency that meets your needs.
1. Know your goals
Before you start your research, make sure you understand what to expect from your agency relationship. Do you want to increase your organic search traffic by 20% year over year or increase your income by 15%?
When talking to the sales rep and potential team at each agency, ask them how they would help you reach your goal. Do they answer the question easily, or do they say a lot without a lot of substance?
If your potential agency only speaks in rankings or referral rankings as the goal they are working towards, be skeptical. Rankings don’t pay your bills; they’re just one step on the journey from organic search to converting to revenue or leads.
2. Define your search criteria
Then decide what is important to you in an agency. Budget and contract requirements are obvious places to start, but you may have others in mind, such as:
- That they offer several services that you want;
- Specialty in your vertical or commercial model;
- Level of expertise;
- Cultural adjustment.
3. Check the reviews and testimonials
You wouldn’t choose a restaurant for dinner without looking at the reviews; the same should be true for choosing a referral agency.
Any agency that has the level of experience you need will have Google reviews, both good and bad. Read good reviews critically, looking for specifics that match your criteria. Also read bad reviews – every good business will have a few – but remember that every story has two sides. Find out how the agency responded to the negative review. Did they invite the reviewer to talk about it? Did they angrily refute the criticism? Both are clues to how this agency handles customer service.
4. Learn about your site
Don’t settle for a canned pitch. Any agency worth its salt should do a review of your site and be prepared to answer your questions before meeting with you. Most agencies have tools that spit out “audits” that contain bits of data like the number of:
- Duplicate title tags;
- Server error codes;
- Canonical tags wrong.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the data – make sure they explain what the real problem is behind the number, why it matters, and how they would solve it. Their answers will tell you how experienced the team really is.
5. Investigate lead
Ask which strategist you will work with to achieve your goals. If you can, be sure to speak directly to that person. Also, search for this person on Google and read sample articles they’ve written or presentations they’ve given in public.
6. Process their process
There is no “secret sauce” in SEO. Each agency works within the same framework of technical SEO, content optimization and link authority. If, in pitching you, the agency refuses to answer the questions in detail because it is part of its secret sauce, it is because it has not done its homework, or because it does not know the answer.
7. Understand what you will get
SEO is a partnership between the expertise of the agency and the implementation of your business. In many cases, you will receive recommendations for changes to your site and documents with content to review and publish. As part of understanding their process, make sure the agency tells you what the results of that process will be – what you will receive.
8. Ask how much you will need to make
Be realistic about how much time your team has to manage the SEO process.
If the agency you are considering is focused on search marketing, you will almost certainly need to do more implementation. The agency will make recommendations and provide you with web-ready content, but a member of your team will need to review and publish that content. If your site requires technical changes, your developers will need to code and test them.
Even if the agency you are considering has a full service model with developers on staff and a large number of content creators, you will still need to manage the process, review recommendations, perhaps route them for internal approvals with d ‘other teams, and review the final product.
These eight tips will help you choose an SEO agency that matches your needs. The process can be confusing, but if you stick to your search criteria, while continuing to ask questions and consider their answers, each pitch will reveal more than their words say about expertise, ethics and the customer experience of this agency.