Hiring a recruitment agency is a complicated decision and a major commitment.
Along with the maturity of search marketing as an industry, we are seeing a great commoditization between agencies and consultants.
Buzzwords like “full service” or “specialists” are common on websites, in presentations, and in nature.
The fact that we now have so many agencies, consultants, and practitioners who have been doing SEO and PPC work for decades—plus the relatively low barrier to entry for new agencies, consultants, and freelancers—means there are a wide variety of viable suppliers.
What should you look for in your choice of search agency?
Here are nine factors to consider when deciding which best suits your brand’s unique needs.
1. Process and methodology
Any great SEO or PPC practitioner or company will have a process and an approach to doing their job.
You definitely want to know more.
Take notes on the things they talk about and how they keep up to date with changes in search algorithms and ad networks.
One of the risks of working with an agency that throws around buzzwords and technical terms is that they use outdated methods.
You may want to research the tools and terminology used to ensure they are up to date and relevant.
Another risk is that they are good at talking on the surface of the subject, but lack the depth to execute a strategy beyond optimizing certain tags and copy.
You definitely want to see a sample plan for how they will organize their work.
Also look for recent examples of measurable results for others.
You need to trust that they are on top of their game and won’t always be catching up or putting out fires when working with you.
2. Level of customization
One challenge that remains, no matter who you partner with for search marketing services, is the intangible nature of the work product and service being offered.
It’s easy to say all the same things or even the “right” things to win a contract.
How much time has each potential search agency spent asking you questions about your business and your goals rather than telling you what their solution is?
We want our search agency to have a process and a plan (see above). But we don’t want a standard or one-size-fits-all plan.
Even if it’s the best agency in your industry, tap to find out how personalized and tailored the plan is and integrated with your business goals and metrics, and not just focused on their metrics and processes.
3. Verifiable background
Feel free to ask customer questions, request case studies, check references, and read reviews.
The history and track record of a search agency can tell a lot.
One year may not be at the same level as the next for a number of reasons such as scaling too quickly, poor recruiting, high turnover rates or a change in focus.
Research recent use cases and ask each agency what they think makes a good partnership and what doesn’t.
Ask them what they think are the biggest challenges in your engagement.
Ask for common reasons why PPC or SEO engagements don’t work.
What you are looking for here is some level of honesty.
This process can provide valuable hindsight on whether your brand is also good potential for that particular agency.
4. In-service stability
SEO takes time and is an ongoing process.
Great paid search campaigns are also created and evolve over time.
Additionally, the learnings and integration of SEO and PPC can provide meaningful insights.
Sure, an agency can tell you they’ve been in business for a long time.
Dig deeper, though.
How long have they been doing search optimization?
What are their customer retention rates over time?
What are their employee retention rates?
Also, what is their purpose?
Hopefully research is a big part of that and they have a long-term commitment to it. If they’re in growth mode, make sure they can explain what’s happening to your account as they grow.
5. Titles and Qualifications
Certifications and credentials are often a given or a minimum.
Most research agencies will display the Google Partner badge and be able to talk about their Certified Analysts.
Tap to learn more about the specific team members you’ll be working with and their level of experience and training.
Small agencies might give you an analyst.
Large agencies may have a team approach.
Either way, you don’t want your company’s search performance to be limited by the experience or ideas of one or two people.
Research who you will be working with and whether they act as an extension of your team or simply provide a service or product.
6. Allocation and measurement
You will probably measure the success of the agency relationship partnership based on performance.
Early in my career as a search marketer, I learned a hard lesson about not going far enough in measuring my success. I was happy as long as the search metrics improved and looked good.
In a few instances, however, as I sat across the table and viewed my green numbers and charts rising to the right, I hadn’t integrated my reports enough to know that those conversions were all crap.
In fact, none of my metrics mattered because no new activity was generated.
Make sure you understand what level of reporting to expect, how far the agency will go in terms of integration with your sales or CRM data, and whether they can come full circle in attributing performance to their efforts.
The last thing you want is to spend six months in a campaign or agency relationship and not know if it’s working or not.
You really want to like and be able to relate to the people you work with.
Research (especially SEO) can require a lot of collaboration between the agency and the client.
- What are the expectations of both parties?
- Will you work with the people responsible for implementation and optimization?
- Or is there some level of account service or project management?
- Who is your primary contact?
It is important to have a clear definition of roles, responsibilities and to have longevity in these relationships.
If we invest in people to help work as an extension of our team and they perform well, we probably also want to enjoy working with them along the way.
In my experience as an agency manager, communication is often the root of problematic relationships between the search agency and clients.
No agency and no person is perfect (this also goes for the client side).
However, a lot can be done to avoid mistakes and problems.
When hiring a search agency, it is essential to understand the lines of communication, the roles in communication and the communication tools offered.
This ranges from using email, Slack, phone, SMS, project management systems, and more.
It’s important to find the right fit and the right methods of communication.
It is equally important to ensure that communication is planned and flowing.
In most cases, I’ve found more communication and agile working to be the best.
Gone are the days of spending a week building a fancy platform and presenting it to clients monthly.
It seems pointless to spend a bunch of hours on a formal presentation.
Make sure the agency is professional and has things in place, but not stuffy and overly formal.
You don’t want to pay for wasted hours on unnecessary presentations and presentations after signing the contract.
Building on the less formal, but professional mantra mentioned above: you want an agency that wants to be part of your team.
It might sound as cliché as the word partnership, but push to understand how much the customer wants your success.
Hopefully they understand that your success will lead to theirs.
Silos are long gone in search marketing.
Collaboration is key for timely approvals, content planning, sales data integration, and ongoing feedback.
I don’t know many customers who don’t care what’s going on and only get a few recordings a year.
Make sure you know what the level of collaboration will be and how the agency views you as a partner or for integrating the team into the effort.
Hiring a search agency is worth the time and effort to get it right
The truth is that not all agencies are suitable for all clients.
A search agency may have the necessary in-depth technical knowledge, strategies tailored to the client’s goals, and excellent communication.
But if they don’t tick all your boxes, you need to keep looking.
My wish for you is to find the right person by taking care to carefully consider the factors that will make a long-term partnership successful, profitable and enjoyable.