12 questions to ask when hiring an SEO agency
Finding the right SEO agency for your business is tricky. If you're just starting out, it can seem like there are hundreds of SEO companies all offering excellent results at low prices. But if you've dealt with some of these companies in the past, you might be rightly sceptical of these claims.
So, how can you know what separates the best SEO agencies from the bad? What do you look out for? What're you paying for? And when can you expect results?
SEO can be a daunting topic, so here's a list of 12 questions to help find the best SEO agency for your business.
1. 'Can I see past results?'
As every SEO agency will tell you, search marketing is a very effective way to generate new business. Imagine a constant flow of new potential customers. It's every business's dream! But first, your potential SEO company needs to show credible proof they can deliver on their promises.
A word of caution: ask for the right results. It's all too easy to get lost in 'vanity metrics'. Yes, traffic and keyword positions are great (and important), but they aren't the real business objective. SEO at its core is about customers and revenue.
It's also worth finding out how your potential partner values the quality of their SEO strategy. That could be the number of new leads ('conversions' in search marketing jargon) delivered for your business. It could be the equivalent spend in AdWords. Or it could be the increase in eCommerce revenue.
2. 'Have you worked in my industry before?'
Every industry has its quirks, opportunities and challenges when it comes to search marketing. Some industries, like consumer finance, may be dominated by established corporates. Meanwhile, local professional services have less search volume – but also have less competition.
While it's not essential for your SEO company to have experience in your industry, it does help. However, the key is that the agency understands your competitive landscape, customers and unique opportunities.
How can you know? Assess the SEO agency's pitch for your business. Have they done their research? Do they understand your industry and the challenges? Is the strategy tailored to you... or is it a template offered to every prospective client?
3. 'Have you done it yourself?'
This question sorts the best SEO companies from the rest.
If they are such a great SEO company, have they done it themselves? Have they built a business using an SEO or digital strategy?
Simply put, a good agency should be able to practice what they preach.
4. 'When can I expect results?'
This question will test how eager the SEO company is for your business. Of course, they should genuinely want to work with you. But they also need to be honest and realistic. The reality is that SEO is a long term strategy and timing of results is not always clear. Some businesses will see results within weeks – others will take months.
Any SEO consultant should not be afraid to prioritise a long term vision over short term results. As long as they can demonstrate a proven strategy to getting there and offer a positive ROI, they have your business interests (not short term self-interests) at heart.
Also, be wary of promises of 'guaranteed first-page results in 90 days'. In the world of SEO, it is tough to deliver on these promises. All too often, there's a catch.
5. 'What're your metrics for success?'
Just to reiterate: traffic volume, articles published and new backlinks are all important SEO performance metrics. But they are not the end of the story. Your SEO company needs to care about the impact to your business bottom line.
So, go further in your discussion.
How much of this traffic will convert into leads? What will be the quality of the leads? And how much business might they bring? These questions are hard to answer but they're important. Be sure that your SEO consultant is focussed on delivering these real business results.
6. 'How much will it cost? And how is this calculated?'
The cost of SEO can vary. Offshore 'SEO gurus' sell programs for a mere few hundred dollars a month. Even local SEO companies in Melbourne and Sydney will offer cheap SEO packages – but often the work is resold overseas for cheap.
So what does this mean? The simple 'cost' of SEO can be a pretty poor way of judging the quality of the program.
Many agencies operate on 'packages' offering keywords and promises. Other agencies operate and bill hourly. In both cases, dive into more detail. What are the focus keywords? Where are the hours spent? And why? The more detail, the better – it means the agency has a real process for onboarding new clients.
7. 'Do you have a local office?'
These days, communication between suppliers like an SEO company is easy. But if your new agency has a local presence, you will strengthen the relationship between your business and the agency.
That means if you're choosing a digital agency partner for the long term, it's important that have an office in the same city as you. So if you're a business in Melbourne, get an SEO agency in Melbourne.
Why? There will often be times you will want to sit down with your account manager or digital adviser to go through your business and digital strategy. And if things go wrong, you can resolve issues with a face-to-face meeting. This way, your agency can't hide behind unresponsive emails or missed calls.
8. 'How do you report SEO results?'
Results are everything with an agency. They need to be adding value to your business. More clients, smoother sales, more growth. So how your agency communicates SEO results is important to establish from the get-go.
Do they just email you a document every few months? Or a link to a spreadsheet? Or do they offer a comprehensive digital marketing report?
The frequency of reporting is also critical. As a busy business owner, you may not have the time to view the detail of your SEO results every week. But once a month is usually a good amount. This way, you'll have enough time to see the gradual improvements in your business SEO performance.
9. 'Will I have a dedicated account manager or adviser?'
And are they actually 'dedicated'? You want to make sure that your account manager is actually working on your account throughout the week.
When meeting your new account manager, look for signs they'll stick around. Evaluate the strength of their pitch. And assess the number of clients on the agency's roster (if your agency has 'thousands of clients', how will have time for you?).
The reality is that SEO takes constant and gradual work to build your digital assets into valuable business assets. You and your new agency partner will need to work closely together to reach your business goals – so make sure you have access to your account manager when you need them.
10. 'What are the other services?'
Does the agency specialise in search engine marketing services such as SEO and PPC? Or do they have a complete range of other digital services, such as social media marketing, email, web development and digital strategy?
Working with an agency that does both is the best option. That is, an agency that provides a range of digital services performed by specialists in the field. This way you're not just getting a single SEO service. Instead, you're getting a complete solution for your business.
More and more, SEO integrates into other digital services – such as web development and social media. If you're serious about growing through digital, then finding a digital agency that can deliver an end-to-end strategy might be the best way forward for your business.
11. 'How do you get backlinks?'
'Link building' is an SEO tactic that earned a bad reputation after a number of Google algorithm updates penalised sites throughout 2010 to 2013. These penalties were given to sites which had been using 'black hat' link building tactics – tactics that attempted to game the Google search algorithm and manipulate search results. The result? Traffic to these sites dropped off, and many never recovered.
However, 'white hat' (or 'ethical') link building is still critical to SEO. The white hat approach involves creating high quality content for your target audience and nurturing a network of online business partners and affiliations.
This method encourages the process of building links naturally, which in turn increases search engine rankings, all without the risk of picking up a Google penalty. Make sure that your SEO company has this kind of approach to SEO link building. The likelihood that black hat SEO tactics will damage your business is great.
12. 'How do you keep me involved?'
It's your business, so you need to be in the loop. Ask your potential SEO partner what their process is for keeping clients involved in the SEO process. And not just on reporting results, either.
The creation of new content is central to many SEO strategies. So find out your role in the conception and approval of this content before it's published. You should also have a clear idea on how you will collaborate with writers and the creators of this content.
And as a final note: before you dive into your new partnership, it's worth establishing a clear line of decision making. What decisions need approval? And what do not? Finding the right balance will help your new SEO agency remain efficient and effective in delivering their SEO strategy, while give you the peace of mind knowing that your business and brand name are protected.
Want to discuss your business goals with an SEO expert? We're an SEO agency in Melbourne that focuses on outcomes. Talk to one of our specialists today.
Digital360 on 15 May 2017
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