Choosing an SEO company is a daunting task.
For many smaller businesses, they may have never worked with an external SEO agency.
More established companies may have hired SEO firms before, and been disappointed by the lack of results.
Other manufacturing shops may have stayed away from search consultants altogether, because the terminology is confusing, or because the SEO industry in general has a shoddy reputation.
This post is for businesses who believe they need a SEO specialist to grow their revenue, but don’t know what to look for in a SEO company.
By listing the characteristics of good SEO agencies, you should be able to select the right SEO company for you with a high degree of confidence.
Why Choosing a SEO Company is Hard
Many people don’t understand how SEO works. To the majority of business owners, (heck, even to a lot of people in web design), search engine optimization is another word for black magic. On top of that, there’s a lot of people that sell SEO that are basically snake oil salesmen.
Because evaluating something you don’t completely understand is daunting, most businesses stay away from SEO altogether. They see it as too risky to invest in.
But SEO is much closer to science than it is to the dark arts. A good SEO company will have a process for diagnosing your site’s current condition, prescribing a course of action, and executing on that strategy to improve your search rankings.
What’s Their Process for Diagnosing Your Current Rankings?
Any search agency worth hiring will begin with a SEO audit. An in-depth audit is drastically different from the complementary auto-generated SEO reports that many sites (including ours) offer.
A professional SEO audit will look at numerous factors that impact your rankings versus your competitors, and may include and assessment of your:
- Site content
- Back link profile
- Titles tags and meta descriptions (these show up on the search results, and have an effect on how many people click your results)
- How many keywords you are currently capable of ranking for
- What keywords should we be aiming to rank for? (Not all keywords are created equal)
- Site speed
- 404s (Page not found) errors
- How easy can your customers find what they need?
- URL structure (web addresses)
- Overall design and layout of your site (Is it what customers expect to find?)
- Brand footprint (believe it or not, this matters)
- Social signals
- Competitor assessment (Who is doing things right? How are they beating you?)
- Code structure
- Other information from Google Analytics and Google Search Console (if you already have this installed)
Basically, a through SEO audit will give your SEO agency and your company a working plan of action to follow for many months to come. The SEO audit gives you a battle plan to improve your site, and rise above your competitors. Without it, you’re shooting in the dark.
Who Have They Made Rank?
This seems really obvious, but many people don’t ask to see proof of what an agency has done in the past. Simply ask, “Can you show me somebody that you’ve made rank? What keywords you were trying to rank for them? Where did they start? And where did they end up?”
Lots of people sell SEO services or SEO training, but haven’t moved the needle for any businesses of note. The more competitive the keywords are, the more impressive it is to drive organic search traffic.
We like to give our clients a weekly update on where they are ranking, and a bi-weekly update on how their organic search traffic is improving.
You see, Google Analytics makes it very simple to isolate only the traffic coming from Google search (not pay-per-click or AdWords), choose a window of time, and then compare it to the previous amount of time.
This creates a line graph that clearly shows the progress of the search campaign.
The main objective of a SEO campaign (in our minds) is to build up long-term, targeted traffic from organic search. If you want to layer AdWords on top of that for good measure, all the better. But, you should be able to get a clear idea of how much traffic a SEO agency can drive through their efforts, and see what kind of difference they made to other clients.
If a prospective agency balks at giving you this information, or says that all of their clients have them under non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), you have a right to be skeptical. They should be able to share anonymized information and results from at least a few clients if they are legit.
Does the SEO Agency Specialize in Your Industry or Vertical?
A big consideration is whether the agency is focused on your industry or vertical. There are agencies that specialize in only doing SEO for lawyers, SEO for e-commerce, SEO for real estate, and so on. We focus on SEO for manufacturing and industrial firms.
By understanding a particular niche, and working consistently with similar companies, a SEO agency can more easily predict what it will take to make a website rank.
This Next One My Surprise You
Before hiring a SEO company, ask them, “Do you guarantee rankings? Can you assure us we will rank number one in Google?”
Now, the answer that you should be looking for, and this might surprise some you, is “No. We do not guarantee you will make it to page one of Google.” In fact, if they make claims like this, you should probably run away.
Why is this?
Google makes changes to their ranking algorithm continually. In fact, in 2017, they made 665 adjustments to the ranking algorithm. Some updates are more far-reaching, and others are less noticeable, but the search engines are always working on improving their results. The formula they use to determine rankings is not static, but always changing.
If somebody guarantees that they can rank you number one, that’s a bad sign, because nobody can predict what the ranking algorithm will be months down the line.
Obviously, ranking #1 is always for your “money” search phrases is always the goal. But, all keywords have a varying degree of difficulty. In some cases, getting you to number one will take an insane amount of effort. For other cases, it might be relatively easy. But, it should never be something that somebody guarantees you.
Pleasing Your Human Customers, Not Trying to Trick Robots
Your SEO agency should be committed to following the best practices as laid out in the Search Quality Rater Guidelines (usually updated once a year by Google). The engineers at Google use choices made by human search quality evaluators, and try to write algorithms that mimic what humans would choose as the best search results.
Google and other search engines are using artificial intelligence increasingly in their ranking algorithms. Though it is still early days for Google’s AI (known as RankBrain), giving your customers what they want, and matching searcher intent will be a key component of staying atop the search results.
Who Will Be Working On Your SEO Campaign?
It’s always good to know who’s going to actually be handling the day-to-day of your SEO. Is it going to be an intern? Will it be somebody experienced in SEO?
Finally, Trust Your Gut
If you’re choosing a SEO consultant, before you sign on the dotted line, sit down and talk with them. Do they give you good vibes? Do they seem like somebody that you can trust? If something in your gut says, they’re not the right fit for you, then you’re probably right.
Hopefully this has given you some insight in how to choose an SEO company. Feel free to ask additional questions in the comments section below.