SEO has remained a great way to get new customers for a low cost per lead and remains one of the most profitable ways to market a product or service online. . Not everybody has in-house SEO experts, which is why many businesses hire SEO agencies.
But how do you choose one that is good?
And even more importantly, how to choose an SEO agency if you know very little about SEO yourself? Today, we're going to help you with just that.
What you will learn
- What an SEO agency is
- Tips to choosing an SEO company
- What to avoid when looking for an agency
- What questions to ask when hiring a new agency
1. Determine your goals
To find the right SEO agency, you first need to determine what you want from SEO as a service. What are the pain points you want to solve? Here are some examples:
- I want to outrank my competitors for certain keywords that bring in a lot of new customers. I want to do this without keyword stuffing
- I want to create new content which is SEO optimized and grow organic search traffic
- I want to improve my brand's reputation and get visibility for my online business
- I want a technical audit of my website so that it loads more quickly and has no UX/UI errors
- I want high-quality backlinks for my website from relevant sources
The business goals you have determine your expectations, and that impacts the choice of your SEO agency.
Think hard about the specific and measurable goals you want to achieve.
Once you know your goals, every step after this one will be significantly easier for the agency vetting process.
After a good discovery session, most SEO companies will be able to tell you if what you think you need is actually what your needs are.
For example, you may be thinking that you need more content to get better search engine rankings.
However, your content could be on high quality and relevant and all you need is a healthy dose of link building to get better rankings for your keywords.
You can also determine your goals.
That way, you can conclude that maybe hiring an agency is not right for you and you want someone in-house instead.
2. Use your network
Ask around in your business network about an agency that others have worked with.
Many times, you'll get honest recommendations that you wouldn't be able to find in reviews and testimonials.
Further, you can ask your network about the goals that they had and whether a specific agency helped them achieve those goals.
You'll also get a chance to ask about the finer nuances of a client-SEO relationship, such as communication, punctuality, reporting and much more.
Of course, you'll always run into businesses recommending a friend or SEO partner, so this is just the first of many steps to follow.
Even if you get a recommendation from a close friend or an associate, make sure to vet the agency first before starting any work with them.
Bear in mind that many agencies have referral programs.
This means that the person recommending the agency to you will get a certain commission (e.g. 20% of the monthly retainer) if they get you to sign a contract with that agency.
So, it’s in your best interest to do as much research as you can to find a good SEO company that meets your SEO needs.
3. Ask for previous results
Every good SEO agency has some social proof that helps them with client acquisition: case studies, testimonials, reviews, interviews and similar.
Once you find an SEO agency that might be great for your next SEO campaign, ask them for examples of previous websites they worked on.
Ideally, they should show you an example of a website in a similar industry and niche.
Moreover, they should explain to you how they achieved the results.
If they can't disclose a client's name, they should show you screenshots from Google Analytics and Google Search Console, as well as their favorite SEO tool, so you can see the progress and compare the results before and after the work is done.
If you have no SEO experience, you might have a hard time understanding the graphs, so ask the agency to elaborate and interpret the results for you.
There are many agencies who present vague graphs in their portfolios, with upward trending curves, hoping it would be enough to persuade clients that they're the real deal. Ask for explanations and dig into metrics and results.
4. Check for guarantees
If an SEO agency is guaranteeing you keyword rankings for a specific keyword (or more keywords), walk away.
There is no SEO company in the world that can guarantee that a website can rank in search engines for a keyword in a specific amount of time.
They should be able to tell you, after taking time to prepare a proposal, how long you'd have to wait to start seeing the first results.
You should expect some sort of a time span, such as 3-6 months.
How soon you can expect results depends on many factors.
Usually, the lower the competition and the better the shape of your website, the sooner you can start expecting results.
The lack of guarantee goes both ways.
As the client, you should understand that you can have expectations but there is no way to get guaranteed results from most SEO companies, no matter how good they claim to be – or are.
5. Question their strategy
Transparency is key when choosing the best SEO company for your needs. Once you ask them how they plan to reach your goals, you should get a set of actionable items that they intend to do.
If your chosen SEO company is secretive and withholding information, beware.
For example, you could ask them about the SEO strategy for your website, using a series of questions:
- Do you plan on building links?
- Do you plan on optimizing existing content, including internal linking?
- Do you plan to increase our topical authority and how?
- How will you prioritize which type of content we should publish?
The right SEO company will practice white-hat SEO techniques. They will disclose every move that they make when it comes to search engine optimization on your website.
If they do black-hat SEO practices, they might only do more damage to your website.
You want to make sure that they are not taking any shortcuts.
This means they are not getting links from PBNs, writing only AI content, or attacking your competitors with malicious links.
6. Examine the team
A good SEO agency has a variety of experts in-house to be able to handle various aspects of search engine optimization. This includes:
- technical SEO experts
- content writers
- link builders
- outreach experts
- and others
The more diverse the team, the more capable the SEO service provider is. And more importantly, the higher the chances of you receiving a turnkey solution with nothing to worry about.
You can ask for an introduction to those team members if you want to find out who specifically will be handling your project.
Based on the proposal that you get from the agency, you’ll know what kind of people they need to have onboard to deliver the work for you.
For example, let’s say they promise to build 20+ links per month for you. If they have no link builders or outreach managers, that’s a red flag that you should ask about and get more details.
7. Verify their pricing
There is no such thing as a good and cheap SEO company. Even if the labor is outsourced to countries with lower wages, a good SEO firm will cost a pretty penny.
Imagine you ask an agency for a technical SEO audit, four pieces of content per month and 10 backlinks per month. You have three agencies to choose from:
- the first one is asking for $500
- the second one has general experience and is asking for $3,000/month
- the third one is a niche, local SEO agency and is asking for $5,000/month
Clearly, the first choice is an outlier for an SEO budget. Shop around and do not make price your deciding factor.
Instead, focus on quality, relevance and experience related to your industry.
Bear in mind that the typical agency or consultant charges $50-150 per hour. If they promise 40 hours of work per month at a $500 retainer, you'll know that math is off and that something smells fishy.
Whichever pricing package you choose, bear in mind that good SEO is expensive for a reason. It requires coordination from multiple people.
They all need to have advanced skill sets and the chances of getting quality work for pennies are very slim.
8. Review their website
An SEO company with a poor website that does not rank for any keywords is a bad sign.
It is like a contractor selling houses while they live in a poorly built shack themselves.
In simpler words, a high-quality SEO company has an amazing website that they can stand behind.
Make sure the website is properly optimized and ranks for at least some keywords in search engine results.
But even without tools, you should be able to see if the website has a good design and user experience for search engines.
Every page should be easy to find and read and have great copy that talks about you and solving your problem - and not how great the agency is.
You can also load up the website with various free SEO tools to determine what kind of backlinks they have and how many keywords they are ranking for.
9. Put it in the contract
With SEO agencies, the devil is in the details.
Instead of asking the SEO company to promise rankings in a certain number of months, ask for things that you can track.
Top SEO companies have specific items that they deliver on a monthly basis and send in their reports.
If you don’t know what these deliverables are, do some proper research before starting to look for agencies. A little bit of extra knowledge can save tons of time and money.
These can be:
- the number of backlinks built
- new content pieces published
- keyword movements
- new keywords
- and many others
Don't settle for vague promises from SEO agencies. Instead, ask for specific outcomes that the SEO company can deliver and report on.
And always insist on a contract in writing.
Modern proposal software has legally binding contracts as part of the package, so you can sign if you have everything in writing.
However, it’s best to be cautious because if you have to take the legal route to get them to deliver the work, it’s usually not worth the trouble.
Instead, start off the relationship with a smaller retainer if you don’t trust the agency.
You can later get a higher pricing plan once you develop a relationship and the SEO company earn your trust.
10. Study their reports
As we've written before, SEO reports are the staple of a good client-agency relationship.
Besides sending a list of your latest metrics, the best SEO companies also include a bit of backstory with each report.
They answer questions in the reports, such as:
- what went well
- what did not go well and why
- what the competitors are doing in search engines
- what they are going to do to achieve better results
- what outcomes you can hope for in the future
If the agency is indeed amazing, they'll not only execute SEO strategies well but also communicate with you clearly using reports.
These documents should answer most of your questions so you won't have the need to reach out through calls or emails.
Questions to ask potential SEO agencies before hiring them
The problem is, many SEO agencies out there use the lack of clients' knowledge.
That way, they woo them into working together, only for the agency to fail at delivering results.
Choosing an SEO agency is incredibly hard, especially if you have little to no knowledge of SEO yourself.
Now that you know a little bit about finding the right SEO company for your needs, let's go one step further.
Here are some questions you want to ask your potential SEO agency before signing a contract and choosing them as your partners for SEO success.
- What is your typical SEO process for onboarding clients once you start working with them?
- What practices do you use in link building and how do you build most links for your clients?
- What is the one aspect of our website that is in the most need of search engine optimization? Why?
- How will you measure the progress you're making for our website and business?
- How long will it take for us to start seeing the results of your work?
- What kind of tools do you use for your work?
- What kind of reports can we expect from you and how often?
- How do you stay on top of the ever-changing Google algorithms?
- Do you use AI in your work and how?
- What do you need from us in order to do your best work?
- What kind of SEO pricing model do you use?
- What is your approach to competitor research?
These are some good starting points to get you inspired when choosing SEO companies.
But remember: there are no stupid questions, especially if you don’t know much about SEO. It’s best to ask questions and not get surprised later on.
- An SEO agency is a specialized marketing agency offering SEO services.
- There are pros and cons to hiring an SEO agency, and you’ll know if it’s the right choice for you by first determining your marketing goals.
- This is also the first step to hiring an agency - determine what you actually want from SEO in terms of results. Then get recommendations from your personal network. After that, ask the agency for referrals and testimonials, ideally in the same niche as yours.
- Ask them for a guarantee. If they offer one for their SEO services, walk away. Ask the agency how they plan to reach your goals and what kind of staff they have available for the job.
- Look at their pricing and if it’s too cheap, it should be a red flag. Their website should be spotless and well optimized and they should provide you with a contract to sign before starting.
- Ensure you get timely reports with progress on your goals and KPIs and the agency's marketing services.
Choosing the best SEO agency is not rocket science
To choose an SEO agency, you don't have to be an expert yourself. All you have to do is do some research on the basics of SEO and then you can use the tips and questions above to find a reputable agency for your SEO campaigns.
And who knows, maybe in the process you decide that you're not looking for an SEO partner and that you want to hire somebody in-house.
In any case, the more knowledge you have as a business owner, the better deal you're going to get. Good luck with your search for good SEO companies!