No longer do marketers debate the importance of search engine optimization. Clearly, if people can’t find you, they can’t buy from you. It’s that simple. The complexity lies in the day-to-day SEO techniques and tasks that elude so many business owners, web designers, marketers and, well, nearly everyone else.
It’s no surprise, then, that most companies prefer to hire out SEO expertise. Yet, what’s even more difficult than understanding the SEO ecosystem is finding a truly great search marketing company. Unfortunately, more SEO imposters exist than great agencies — and there are plenty of marketers burned by lofty promises to prove it.
I’ve worked on both sides of the equation, having served as the senior search marketer for several global, iconic brands over my 15+ year tenure. I now manage a small, powerful SEO agency in Chicago. While in corporate America, I hired, managed, and fired a fair number of search marketing companies. Most often, I was underwhelmed by the expertise, execution, and results.
So, how do you know who to hire (and fire)? Below is my shortlist of signals:
1. They Show You the Results
You’re not doing SEO for SEO’s sake. You’re investing in your search presence to provide bottom-line results for the business. Avoid agencies that are big on promises, and soft on results. They might explain that there are no guarantees in SEO, which is true; and what works for one website might not work exactly the same for another, but reputable agencies will be prepared to give you ballpark figures of what to expect and create realistic strategies to get you there. Only sign on the dotted line if an SEO agency has advanced methods for tracking metrics and treats reporting like it’s an absolute integral part of the packaged deal.
2. They Keep You Informed
A trustworthy SEO agency updates you on their progress. Whether in the form of email messages, phone calls, or reports, they stay in touch so you are always aware of important benchmarks in the contracted work. They establish a track record of hitting deadlines and delivering on their promises, or they’re honest about it when they fall behind.
If an agency “goes dark” or struggles to provide updates about the work they’re doing for you, it’s time to part ways.
3. They Feel Like an Extension of Your Team
When you hire an agency to work on your website, you’re trusting them with your reputation. It’s important that they’re just as invested as you are in making the website successful. They should bring fresh knowledge, resources, and experience to the table and share the same values as your brand.
As soon as your relationship starts to feel like dead weight — you’re chasing them down for updates, you’re coming up with the lion’s share of ideas, you’re not seeing results — it’s time to reconsider the relationship.
Some of these “offenses” are difficult to detect until you start working with an SEO agency, but you don’t need to wait until you’ve signed a contract to find out. Do a little detective work by asking tough questions, looking for customer reviews online, or requesting references from existing clients. These first-hand accounts will provide the clues required before you hire.
4. People Like to Work There
In general, happy employees are more productive (12 percent more productive, in fact). If people like working at an agency, chances are their positivity will shine through in the work they do for you. However, the importance of agency job satisfaction runs deeper than that.
If people like working at the agency, they probably:
- Have the tools, time, and support they need to do a good job
- Feel invested in the work they do for their clients
- Have good relationships with their customers
- Aren’t going to leave in the middle of your project
On the other hand, low employee satisfaction is a symptom of systematic problems (lack of experience, missing tools, poor interdepartmental relationships) that can trickle down and impact the work you’ve contracted. Unhappy employees are the canary in the coal mine of a bad SEO agency.
5. They Practice What They Preach
If a company is selling you “best practices” that they don’t abide by themselves, you shouldn’t hire them.
Transparency is a top concern marketers have when hiring SEO agencies. A recent study found that 23 percent of marketers question whether agencies are being transparent about their SEO methods, or if they’re using any black hat tactics (ignoring search engine guidelines).
That’s why it’s a good idea to partner with an SEO agency that follows their own recommendations. They won’t sell you a strategy that doesn’t work because they’re trusting their own success to the same approach. It’s a sign they aren’t doing anything black hat, and that they stand by what they’re selling.
6. You Get What You Pay For
In the realm of SEO, you get what you pay for. If an agency offers too-good-to-be-true pricing, it probably is. They may lack expertise, cut corners, or churn through work that requires attention to detail.
An agency with higher pricing can get away with charging more because they offer a superior value to customers. This can come through a number of avenues: advanced training for specialization, the latest tools and technology, or simply more time to get the job done right.
It’s like the difference between buying IKEA furniture or handcrafted pieces from a boutique. The former looks great and serves its purpose, but you buy it with the understanding that it may not stand the test of time. The latter is an investment in a high-quality solution that you trust to last.
The price agencies charge for their services should reflect the value you get from the end-result. Spend accordingly.
The ultimate payoff is finding an agency that you can trust to help you grow your business online.
Matt is the senior search marketer for RivalMind. Headquartered 35 miles west of Chicago, RivalMind is an SEO agency committed to service excellence. The RivalMind team works closely with clients, providing regular updates and complete transparency through comprehensive progress reporting and access to daily task details and deliverables.