There are tens of thousands of SEO companies all over the world, and many of them are capable of serving clients from the opposite side of the globe. Freelancers and new companies open shop every day, all hoping to find long-term clients and grow their operations.
With so many service providers to choose from, finding a digital marketing agency that can walk the talk is becoming increasingly challenging. It falls onto you, as the client, to be prudent in choosing a capable SEO agency for your digital marketing needs.
This article offers some tips on how you can succeed at finding an SEO service that can live up to your expectations, if not exceed them.
Learn About the Agency through Local Search
Cover your bases, first and foremost by doing background checks. Broad searches, however, may not give you enough information about the agencies under your consideration. This is especially true for newer agencies. Local searches, on the other hand, can unearth official social media accounts, mentions in local publications and organizations, business directories, and local review sites.
- Verify your prospect’s NAP details (name, address, phone number) provided in their website. Look for the address on Google Maps and call the landline numbers; and if they answer, set a schedule for a proper first consultation.
- Agencies that operate strictly online are trickier. Since you cannot meet them face-to-face, you can insist on video conferencing on top of verifying their contact information.
Read Beyond the Reviews
As consumers, it is second nature to check out the comments of other people who’ve tried the product or service you’re interested in. The practice applies to digital marketing services. Agencies with mostly positive reviews stay on your considerations list, while those with low ratings and reviews get the boot.
One tricky thing about client testimonials, however, is they don’t always paint a complete or even accurate picture.
Customers who are unhappy with their experience are more likely to write a negative review than happy customers would with a positive testimonial. Moreover, irate customers are likely to talk to 16 people about their negative experiences whereas satisfied customers only talk to an average of nine people, according to an early survey by American Express. Negative reviews are, therefore, more magnified than positive reviews.
How then should you regard online reviews when choosing an SEO company? Here are a few suggestions:
- Consider who wrote the review and where it was posted. For testimonials published on an agency’s website, videos have more weight than anonymous review snippets. Testimonials in business directories that are open to the public are also worth looking into.
- Assess the specific issues raised in the low-star reviews. Are there recurring issues? Are the complaints warranted? We recommend that you also consider the nature of the negative review. It is only fair given that negative reviewers make more noise online than happy clients. Plus, you don’t deny yourself the chance to hire a competent agency that can truly do the job.
- Read how an agency replies to complaints. Don’t take it against companies to defend themselves on directories and discussion boards but pay attention to how they respond to their former clients. Tactfulness and diplomacy in reputation management indicates professionalism, which might tilt the odds in their favor when you’re whittling down your choices.
Opt for Comprehensive Services
It’s ideal to choose an agency that offers complete SEO services for many reasons. One, it is convenient for your finance team as they only have to track and issue checks to one company. Two, your entire digital marketing campaign becomes streamlined. It becomes easier for the teams executing the different segments of your online marketing, i.e., Pay-Per-Click ad managers, SEOs, and content writers, to align with one another and ensure a cohesive execution of your online marketing. Three, legitimate agencies that manage comprehensive campaigns often become more flexible with their services. There’s a higher chance your agency will accommodate upgrades or downgrades for specific service packages if they consider you as a major account — an advantage if you want to change directions midway through your contract.
For example, if your priorities change from branding to lead generation, your full-service SEO company is more likely to agree to downscale branded content generation and move the funds to your PPC ads instead.
- How do you know an agency is a “full-service” SEO company? Find out if they offer these key services: content generation, custom strategy, link-building, paid ads management, social media management, and advanced web development.
- How do you know an agency can be flexible to your needs? Bring the topic up on your first meeting and ask if they’ve done something similar for their previous clients. If you want to verify their reply, ask for details about what they did, the challenges they faced, and the outcomes of their work. A reminder: it’s usually a good sign when an agency tells you about their difficulties and failures as well as their triumphs. It speaks of reliability and honesty, which brings us to the next tip.
Verify the Agency’s Transparency
Expert execution of campaigns will no doubt become your priority, but there is another important thing you need to be sure of before hiring an SEO company: transparency. You’ll want your agency to be just as truthful about the lows of your campaigns as they are about the highs. Additionally, your agency should provide regular and detailed reports as well as multiple communication channels.
Here are a few indicators that an SEO agency has no qualms about transparency:
- They give you full, unrestricted access to your Google Ads account. As your online marketing partner, your SEO agency should have nothing to hide from you.
- They turn over the usernames and passwords to all accounts they created for you, from social media to WordPress administrator’s credentials.
- They send weekly and monthly reports. Ask for a sample report so you can check how detailed they are in reporting campaign results.
- You can reach them via email, phone, or online conferencing anytime during business hours (while many agencies are open 24/7 to accommodate international clients, not all operate the same way).
How can you verify that an agency can be trusted to give you complete, accurate information about your campaigns?
- Ask about their processes and whether they can guarantee total transparency. Make your expectations clear and indicate that you’ll want them to be included in your contract. Laying these conditions on the table from the get-go will weed out the organizations that cannot meet your demands.
- Review client reviews and get in touch with their previous clients, if possible. They should be able to confirm an agency’s transparency or lack thereof.
Value Experience Over Names
It’s customary for service providers to name-drop their biggest and most popular clients. Digital marketing companies do this by showing the logos of their high-profile clients on their Homepages. It works as a PR and branding strategy: it sends the message that the agency can run campaigns that satisfy even the most demanding of customers.
Understand, however, that non-disclosure agreements are part and parcel of professional SEO services. Besides keeping their business models, copyrighted works, trade secrets, and customer information confidential, high-profile clients might also request to keep their partnership under wraps as well. If you’re selecting agencies based on their client list, you could be missing out on some very good ones.
- Give higher importance to an agency’s experience instead of its client list. Companies that have been in the industry for years have a clear advantage, but it doesn’t mean you should remove the new companies out of the equation.
- When considering new agencies, ask about the owners or the people who head their SEO services. Their companies might be new, but the people running the show might have decades of experience and extensive knowledge about digital marketing.
Find a Partner, Not Just a Service Provider
Besides having the knowledge, skills, tools, and experience, an ideal online marketing agency aligns its services with your business goals. They don’t just talk about improving seo metrics or “feel good metrics” that only look good on paper (e.g., increased social media followers, reduced website bounce rates, more unique website sessions). Instead, they ask about your short-term and long-term goals and develop a digital marketing strategy that helps your business achieve them.
For instance, if your goal is to increase your annual net revenue, you’ll want an agency that will focus on generating high quality leads instead of blindly increasing your website traffic.
- Be wary of agencies that overpromise (“We can raise your leads generation by 300% in two months!”) or focus too much on vanity metrics.
- It’s a good sign when an agency asks about your business goals during your first consultation instead of promising the moon and stars.
Skepticism is natural when you’re looking for an SEO service provider. These services don’t come cheap, so you’ll want to make the most of your investment and look for the best people who can do the job. You should be able to find an agency you’ll be happy with as long as you know which qualities to look for.
by Itamar Gero