With so many voices claiming to deliver the results you need, deciding on the right SEO agency for you and your business can quickly become a daunting task. The decision you make could mean the difference between a successful and a failed campaign, for the same price. So where do you start?
Why Does Finding the Right Agency Matter?
In an increasingly saturated market, finding the people who know exactly how to make your company’s online presence heard is crucial.
A good SEO partner will be exactly that – a partner, not a supplier. Finding the right one relies on being able to build an honest and frank relationship and an understanding of your business and the specific ways they can make things tick for you. Believe me when I say, there are no quick tricks or secret sauces, when it comes to optimising your website.
Part of the mistake so many companies make is to focus solely on deliverables and, in doing so, they _package _SEO up; seeing any potential agency as a service provider and them as the customer. Whilst deliverables are important, your focus should be on the wider impacts and benefits they’ll have on your business, from a short and long term point of view. Broadly speaking these can be broken up into four areas:
- **Revenue growth: **SEO is about generating more sales at the end of the day and if you’re not achieving this, then what’s the point in high rankings. Your investment in any potential agency should therefore match the potential revenue you’re going to get out the other end. This is an extremely important consideration and something we’re tried to empower other businesses to forecast themselves by creating our SEO revenue forecaster.
- **A trusted advisor: **A long-term strategic partner will have the experience and knowledge needed to tailor a specific SEO strategy to meet the demands of your wider business goals. Every business is different, so building up a relationship based on two way communication, trust and candidness is critical. Your agency should come to know your business inside out over time, enabling them to make more informed decisions based on your specific set of circumstances.
- **An agile strategy: **SEO is an ever-evolving landscape. A good agency will be able to adapt their strategy as your business scales and marketing requirements change alongside the shifts of the algorithm. Whilst SEO is never a set and forget investment, it does change in nature as the successes start rolling in. Often mature digital marketing strategies will shift organic SEO budget towards more outreach and PR related activities.
- **More time: **Sourcing an agency will move a mountain of tasks into more capable hands that would otherwise take up a lot of your team’s valuable time. You need to think of your agency not as a supplier but as an extension of your team. More than that they need to be leading when it comes to setting strategy. We’ve experienced clients that try to micromanage and it never works, for either party.
Questions to Ask Prospective Partners
Sifting through the masses of SEO agencies out there not only takes time, but can be a mystifying process. To make things a little less confusing, we’ve compiled a list of seven vital questions you can ask any potential SEO partner to find your perfect match.
1. What experience do you have?
Experience isn’t only an indicator of proficiency – getting a feel for the kind of clients an agency has worked with in the past will help you to gauge whether or not they would be suited to working with you. Have they helped businesses similar to yours? Have they been successful in doing so? And most importantly, have they managed to retain clients for extended periods of time?
Loyal clients speak for themselves. Any good agency will be happy to demonstrate their past successes. Facts, figures, Google reviews, case studies, client contacts – there are countless ways to show off real, tangible results and experience, so be wary of companies that try to palm you off with excuses or don’t have any real world examples to point to.
Another thing to be wary of is industry experience. SEO is not a boilerplate exercise and agencies with experience in your sector will be able to put together more informed content and will have established contacts, efficiencies and economies of scale in your industry. They’ll also understand the kinds of issues your sector has and, more importantly, your customers. Many agencies will niche in an industry (we specialise in manufacturing for example) and this can be a very attractive option, as they’ll likely have a lot more experience than a non specialised SEO agency.
2. How much work will be done in-house?
Many agencies will often outsource some of the SEO work that needs doing. That is normal and makes logistical sense, especially for smaller agencies. Sometimes, most or even all the work will be outsourced, however. And this is not good because, as the volume of outsourcing increases, the level of control the agency, and you, have over the work drops significantly.
If your SEO strategy is being stretched over numerous separate companies through a single agency, your company becomes disconnected from the source – less control typically means less quality assurance, as well as a decrease in accountability for the agency involved.
Agencies who outsource all of their SEO duties also typically shift through clients at a rapid rate (so called churn and burn business models), and are less likely to form a close partnership with a deep understanding of your business and marketing needs.
3. What contact will I have with my account manager?
As with most relationships in business, communication is key. Regular check-ins and catch-ups will not only enable you to keep on top of what’s happening with your campaign, but will also allow your chosen agency to adapt accordingly to any shifts and changes within your company (such as a new product line or promotion).
Proper communication is vital to ensuring everyone’s on the same page, which is ultimately what will lead you to getting the results you want. A good account manager will understand this, and will go out their way to express things clearly and concisely, checking you’re involved with what’s going on, and avoiding misunderstandings and pointless to-ing and fro-ing over email.
Consistent contact also drives collaboration. A unified approach equals a unified outcome – being able to work together with your account manager is crucial to achieving the results for your business that you want, with the tools they can provide to get there. It is therefore crucial that you establish with your agency who your point of contact is and how often you will have planned catch ups/meetings with him or her.
It’s worth noting that while it’s not always necessary for an agency to have dedicated account managers, a good agency will always assign an individual to fulfil the role of account manager, whether that’s the MD, a project manager or another senior manager.
4. What will you need from me?
It might sound appealing to simply hand over the keys and let the agency take the wheel with your SEO, but your input is vital to achieving great results. Any agency that appears to suggest they can do it all without any input from you should be raising red flags. This is always going to be a collaborative effort to some extent.
Make sure you understand what will be expected from you, how you can help, what your agency will need – how you will be involved in the entire process. Not only does this make sure your business goals and objectives are aligned, but it allows you to assess an agency’s understanding of the collaborative relationship required to reach your targets together. SEO companies who know what’s necessary to get the job done right will want detailed information. They’ll need to know your audience, KPIs, industry, history – anything that will impact your marketing strategy.
Working with an agency is a two way street. It’s incredibly important to engage with the agency if you want to see results and the more involved you are, the better those results will be. This is especially true when it comes to content production.
5. What results do you expect, and over what timescales?
Having goals in mind is, of course, a constructive and necessary tool for getting where you want to go. However, the way an agency responds to this question will not only show you whether your goals are aligned, but it will reveal any unrealistic or just plain impossible targets put forward to make themselves sound more appealing to potential clients.
Google’s algorithm updates itself all the time and so good agencies will always avoid giving cast iron guarantees of achieving given rankings within a given timescale. Instead, look for structured responses that set out realistic periods with details as to what will be done to reach goals within that time – in general, in most relatively competitive industries, you can expect to see results from good SEO strategies within six to twelve months, with most of the real gains in terms of ROI happening in year two and onwards. If an agency is swearing they’ll get you to ‘the top of Google’ much quicker than that, then that should be raising a red flag.
6. How are keywords chosen?
Keyword research is an area that has evolved rapidly over recent years, so it’s easy to spot if an agency is leaning on outdated practices.
Once upon a time, keyword research might have involved inserting certain phrases into suggestion tools before crafting content with relevant words jammed into irrelevant places. The modern strategy is a little different. Leading agencies now recognise the importance of understanding user intent, over the need to repeat keywords throughout your content.
Today, keyword research is all about people. It’s about connecting with what people are actually looking for when they type something into Google, and supplying content based on the reason behind the search. When you approach an agency with this question, responses that include ‘people’, ‘buyer personas’, and ‘user intent’ are all bright green flags to look out for. If an agency is keyword obsessed and doesn’t have your customers in mind, they’re one to avoid.
7. What is your marketing experience beyond SEO?
As an industry that’s constantly in motion, often evolving to keep up with the treadmill of algorithm developments, there is a lot more to the world of digital marketing than simply SEO know-how. SEO is a key piece to the marketing puzzle, but there are dozens of strategic instruments a successful agency will incorporate into their campaigns.
Good SEO should go hand in hand with initiatives like digital PR, content marketing, pay per click marketing and social media, as part of an overall plan. Companies that focus all their energy on SEO and ignore other facets of marketing will usually be missing the bigger picture. Even if an SEO agency doesn’t provide all of these services, they should be able to recommend them to you or even put you in touch with an agency or expert that can help. A good agency will, ultimately, suggest what’s right for your company, not merely what’s financially attractive for them.
It’s also important that an agency’s plans are able to blend and meld with your pre-existing and current marketing strategies. The integration process will be key in uncovering what has and hasn’t worked thus far so you can hone your efforts and focus on growth.
Red Flags to Watch Out For
Red flags can be easily missed when hidden amongst a plethora of technical marketing jargon. Here are some of the key warning signs to watch out for when you’re chatting with a potential SEO agency.
1. Underpriced services
Be wary of prices – although a low quote might seem appealing, the cost will likely be reflected in the quality of work. There will always be cheaper companies, but SEO done properly is rarely cheap but it _will _be worth the investment. That’s because the results from getting to the top of the search results are often extremely lucrative. So if an agency is going to be getting you five or even six figure increases in monthly revenue, then you need to seriously question anyone who’s claiming they can do this for a three figure monthly retainer.
2. Quick fix solutions
Any mention of quick-fix solutions is bound to be unfounded and unrealistic. This can be tricky to navigate – you’re looking for an agency because you want results, and anyone promising you those results in rapid sprints is bound to sound appealing.
However, if something sounds too good to be true, it is, believe me. Agencies that promise particular rankings after a given amount of time, either don’t have a proper grasp of the basic tenets of SEO or are lying to get you to sign up. Most often it’ll be the latter.
3. Emphasis on link building
10 years ago, you might have been able to fire a load of links at a site and manage to rank it quite quickly, but that just doesn’t work anymore. A lot of people still think it does, however, which some SEO agencies will use to try and sell their services to people.
Whilst links are often important they play second fiddle to content. What’s more they’re easily manipulated and also easily outsourced to a dedicated link building company. Agencies that obsess about link building from day one are almost certainly a one trick pony that have very little ability to create outstanding content that will rank.
4. Doesn’t take the time to learn your business
Be wary of agencies that don’t bother to ask questions and take the time to understand your business. This is something that should be happening even before you begin your partnership, during an initial discovery call. Chances are, if an agency isn’t asking questions about your business from day one, then they’re selling you an out the box SEO package.
Every business is unique, and the right agency will seek to understand the particular nuances that distinguish you from the competition, thereby giving them the tools to focus on setting you apart and getting you ahead in the rankings.
Put it another way… How will any agency know how to help your business if they don’t fully understand it?
5. Over packaged services
Often a result of the previous item in this list, overly packaged services are a commoditisation of SEO and a result of an agency that is trying to scale their business on the cheap. An agency that sells services as a commodity is one to stay away from and a likely sign that they outsource a lot of their work. A one-size-fits-all SEO service just doesn’t exist for SMEs, as it will not take into account your unique business goals and objectives.
6. Massive discounts
Ultimately, selling any service is a process of selling time. If an SEO agency offers discounts on their services, they’re essentially saying they’re going to pay their staff less for a static value of work. While it is common for some agencies to use temporary discounts as a sales tactic, massively slashed prices are a massive red flag of poor quality services masquerading as a discounted high quality service.
Once again, if an offer looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
7. No schedule of work or plan
Agencies should always let you know exactly what services you’ll be getting, and when. In a package, you should be told what work is going to be happening at any given moment. We call this a schedule of work, but other agencies may call it a scope of work, sprint or work plan. If you don’t know what you’re getting and when, then you need to be asking questions.
8. No forecast offered
Unfortunately, a lot of businesses will invest in SEO without a proper grasp of what return they’re going to get from it as a lot of agencies don’t offer any kind of revenue forecasting from day one. It’s all very well predicting keyword rankings uplift, but calculating revenue off the back of this is a more complex task that requires asking a lot of questions of you.
Without some kind of forecasting, it’s impossible to calculate potential ROI and therefore you have no benchmark on what you should be investing. This is ripe for so-called ‘churn and burn’ agencies to exploit with cheap deals that won’t get you anywhere.
Whatever an agency is planning to charge you, should be backed up with a feasible forecast.
Our revenue forecaster is free to download and equips you with easy to execute steps, along with accompanying tables, links to useful resources, and clear guidance that will show you how to:
- Identify critical keywords and how much traffic they could be delivering you.
- Define your target products and associated landing pages.
- Calculate your search market opportunity from being in position 1-3 in Google’s search results.
- Work out your ideal investment level based on a predetermined ROI.
It also comes with our free Google Sheet Template that includes formulas to take care of all those hectic calculations for you.
Take the Next Step
If you repeatedly find yourself flagging in the rankings, despite your great website and great products or services, it might be time to start investing in the people who know how to set you above the competition.
It’s a big decision though, make no mistake.
Finding an agency and investing a significant amount of money in them can be intimidating but by asking the right questions and watching for those red flags, it doesn’t have to be the minefield you’ve built it up in your head to be.
At Superb Digital, we have made it our mission to set ourselves to expose the cowboys and shine a light on what makes a great SEO agency. We’re transparent, frank and always work towards truly strategic partnerships with our customers. We tell our clients what they can make and the ones that stick with us do go on to make a lot of money and a sizable return on investment (ten times or more in many instances).
If you want to know more about how we work and how we can make you this kind of ROI, then book a strategy call with us today and let’s get talking.
Or if you want to start working out your potential return yourself, then head over to this page to download our free SEO revenue forecaster.