Finding an agency to manage your search engine optimization (SEO) is easy. Choosing the right SEO agency is not.
If you’re not already versed in organic search, trying to figure out which agency knows their stuff feels daunting. Couple that with the potentially high price tag and long contract length 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 search, make sure that you’re clear on what you want out of your agency relationship. Do you want to grow your organic search traffic by 20% year over year or increase revenue by 15%?
When you talk to the sales representative and prospective team at each agency, ask them how they would help you reach your goal. Do they answer the question easily or say a lot without much substance?
If your prospective agency speaks solely in rankings or references rankings as the goal they’re working toward, be skeptical. Rankings do not pay your bills; they’re just a step in the organic search journey toward conversion to revenue or leads.
2. Set Your Search Criteria
Next, decide what’s important to you in an agency. Budget and contract requirements are obvious places to start, but you may have others in mind, such as:
- Whether they offer multiple services you want;
- Specialty in your vertical or business model;
- Level of expertise;
- Cultural fit.
3. Check Reviews & Testimonials
You wouldn’t choose a restaurant for dinner without checking reviews; the same should be true for choosing an SEO agency.
Any agency that has the level of experience you need will have Google reviews, both good and bad. Read the good reviews critically, looking for specifics that match your criteria. Read the bad reviews critically also — every good business will have a few — but remember that every story has two sides. Look for the way the agency responded to the negative review. Did they invite the reviewer to talk it over? Did they refute the review angrily? Both are clues to how that agency handles customer service.
4. Ask about Your Site
Don’t settle for a canned pitch. Any agency worth their salt should do some analysis of your site and be prepared to answer your questions before they meet with you. Most agencies have tools that spit out “audits” containing bits of data like the number of:
- Duplicate title tags;
- Server error codes;
- Erroneous canonical tags.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the data — make sure they explain what the actual issue is behind the number, why it matters, and how they would fix it. Their answers will tell you how much experience the team really has.
5. Investigate the Lead
Ask which strategist you’ll be working with to achieve your objectives. If you can, make sure you talk directly to that person. In addition, google that person and read samples of articles they’ve written or presentations they’ve done publicly.
6. Process Their Process
There is no such thing as “secret sauce” in SEO. Every agency is working within the same framework of technical SEO, content optimization, and link authority. If, while pitching you, the agency refuses to answer questions in detail because it’s part of their secret sauce, it’s because they didn’t do their homework, or they don’t know the answer.
7. Understand What You’ll Get
SEO is a partnership between the agency’s expertise and your business’s implementation. In many cases, what you’ll receive is recommendations for changes to make to your site and documents containing content to review and post. As part of understanding their process, make sure that the agency tells you what the outputs of that process will be — what you will receive.
8. Ask How Much You’ll Need to Do
Be realistic about the time your team has to manage the SEO process.
If the agency you’re considering focuses on search marketing, you’ll almost certainly need to do more of the implementation. The agency will make recommendations and give you web-ready content, but someone on your team will need to review and post that content. If your site needs technical modifications, your developers will need to code and test them.
Even if the agency you’re considering has a full-service model with developers on staff and a slew of content creators, you will still need to manage the process, review the recommendations, perhaps route them for internal approvals with other teams, and review the final product.
These eight tips will help you choose an SEO agency that fits your needs. The process can be confusing, but if you stick to your search criteria, as well as keep asking questions and examining how they answer, each pitch will reveal more than their words say about that agency’s expertise, ethics, and customer experience.