Like many people, I got into SEO by accident, but that was a long time ago and SEO was a brave new world that most people had never heard of, let alone thought they knew anything about. The market we find ourselves in these days is much more mature, competitive and just about every man and their dog seem to argue they know how to do SEO. So how do you choose an SEO agency?
What’s more, all those different SEO agencies, SEO consultants, SEO experts and SEO gurus (or whatever we call ourselves these days) all seem to use various methods – often having an SEO focus – and some of them are harder to get your head around than others.
Many people have different perceptions of what SEO is. Some people focus on the onsite work of getting the keywords in the right place on a page or making sure a website is running fast enough.
Personally, I think SEO is a strategic and tactical approach to increasing the visibility of a business on search engines.
As such, at GrowTraffic, we have a holistic approach to trying to increase that visibility but we do have a specialism. We use a content marketing approach to ongoing SEO for example. We do this because it not only provides us with something we can use to generate links and increase the relevancy of a website but provides the customer with an output that they can actively use in their marketing. This is more important because of the reputation of the SEO industry and the way many SEO agencies have operated in the past, which has often seen them taking money on retainers and not really doing a lot and not providing clients with an understanding of their work.
And it’s not just about methodologies and finding an agency that has the right level of expertise, it’s as much about personalities as it is about the interpersonal relationships that come with working with an SEO agency. And it’s going to depend on your existing marketing focus and your own resources as to which type of SEO agency you go for. For example, if you are already producing a shed load of content you might not want to go with an agency that uses content marketing as heavily as we do at GrowTraffic. Alternatively, if you’ve got a PR agency that is great at getting high domain authority backlink through press releases and articles then you’re probably not going to want to choose an SEO agency that solely relies on link building.
What Questions Should You Ask An SEO Agency?
OK. So not everyone is going to have up to the minute expertise in SEO before they speak to an SEO agency (why would you be speaking with an SEO agency if you already had that fluency?). As you’re speaking about one of the most jargon-heavy areas of marketing it’s best to have some questions in mind and the answers you should expect to get before you get overwhelmed.
- What are your biggest successes in SEO?
When speaking to an SEO agency you’re going to want to find out what they’ve achieved. They should be able to show you some of the ranks they’ve attained, but more to the point aks them about the length of time they’ve kept customers. At GrowTraffic we still work with customers that we started working with over eight years ago and I hope that says a lot about the quality of our work.
- What are your biggest failures in SEO?
This is one of my favourite questions when speaking with people that have worked in SEO for some time. We’ve all made mistakes when it comes to SEO and any SEO agency should be able to tell you about the time that one of their juniors accidentally noindexed an entire e-commerce website and it took two weeks to work it out (that’s a real-life example from a past agency I used to work at). I learnt a lot during the Panda and Penguin updates era and this changed the way GrowTraffic does SEO – for the better – but there was collateral damage along the way.
- Will the SEO be carried out in-house?
At GrowTraffic we carry out SEO for a number of digital marketing and web design agencies. We do this on a white label basis because they don’t have the necessary skillsets in-house to carry out the work. We have no problem in working in this manner but it does add a layer of administration between GrowTraffic’s SEO specialists and the client. Personally, in my past life as a marketer, I would always like to know that the company I was dealing with would actually be carrying out the work as well.
- What’s your account management processes for SEO?
This can be quiet important. When I was working as Head of Marketing I once signed up to work with an SEO agency and after the contract started I was introduced to a new account director who was taking on our account. The trouble was I didn’t rate her, she’d been an account manager in a different industry and it was clear I was going to have to be very patient with her for months whilst she got up to speed with SEO. I wasn’t happy. Had I known about it before I’d signed the contract, I may not have put my name to
You’re also going to want to understand what level of contact you’re going to get and what reporting you’re going to get. Remember, if you want more reporting, or a greater level of contact most SEO agencies will be able to accommodate you but you will probably have to pay a little extra for that additional level of service. An agency worth their salt will try to manage your expectations, but if you generally have high expectations be sure to spell out what you’re looking for.
- How will you define the KPIs for SEO?
We all know it’s hard to really firm up KPIs for SEO but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be put in place. An SEO agency should be able to tell you what you should expect to get and over what time period. As with the point about the account management process, understanding how the KPIs will be reported on is important and how often they should be reviewed and adjusted depending on the SEO campaign’s actual performance. Getting these KPIs right at the start is important to ensure the SEO strategy put in place by your new SEO agency are well aligned to your objectives.
- Who is responsible for the keyword focus?
Similarly to the KPIs, it’s important that you agree what keywords need to be focused on. And where the responsibilities lie is an important one. Some customers approach us and insist we focus on a select number of keywords whilst others look to us to define which keywords they should go after. We will then carry out an SEO audit and work out what keywords we would suggest and the types of traffic we anticipate they might receive from those keywords. We also make it clear that as well as the handful of keywords they may be interested in we are going to help them grow traffic to their website for a whole range of related keywords. We expect the client to agree to the keyword focus though and tell us if something needs to change as we go along.
What Shouldn’t An SEO Agency Say?
If the SEO agency you’re speaking with start to speak about some of the following then you might want to keep looking.
- Non-transparent SEO pricing
You’re going to want to know what you’re paying for and most SEO agencies will be able to provide you with a price list that details all the costs of the different SEO elements. Whilst breaking down the anticipated work on the quotes we send out, we also send out our price list to every client.
- Your SEO will be done in days
To do SEO properly you’re SEO agency is going to need to undertake a whole range of research which will be summed up in an SEO audit and then they’ll need to put a plan in place to implement tactics to deal with the things they’ve found. And that’s just to get started. Even for a small website carrying out onsite SEO will take hours and needs to be monitored for weeks and amended accordingly. Then there’s the ongoing content development and offsite work.
- Bulk submissions to search engines and directories
If they start to talk to you about carrying out some bulk submissions either to search engines or to directors, or both, I’d start to get worried. A decent SEO agency will work on one task at a time, and whilst there are some specialist directories you might want to be included on, it’s been a long time since bulk submissions have done anyone any favours – and don’t even get me started on the pointless act of submitting your site to thousands of search engines… All of this will only hurt your rankings.
- Extreme link building
Most websites need tens to the low hundreds of good links to be competitive, but some SEOs still believe they can brute force rankings by building thousands of links. It may work for a while but ultimately Google will catch up with you and punish your website’s rankings.
- Proprietary SEO copy or software
I’ve worked for companies in the past that offered websites built in their own proprietary software and I’ve heard of SEO agencies that provide copy for websites that they retain the ownership of. In my eyes, this is a huge no-no. Your web presence is something your business needs to own and it’s something you should be able to get different developers and different SEO specialists to work on if that’s what you want to do.
- Non-marketing focus
Far too often I bump into SEO consultants who don’t consider what we do as a marketing channel but rather a technical tactic. Organic search is a huge part of the marketing mix for most businesses and if you find an SEO agency that can offer you a rounded marketing approach they’ll be able to have greater integration with everything you’re looking to achieve.