Most people are really hesitant today when it comes to hiring a marketing agency, and more specifically, an SEO company. In this digital age, more and more consumers are referring to search engines to source information, and to navigate to brands/products that will provide solutions to their needs and wants. Therefore, every business must have a visible online presence to allow their potential customers to find them. That’s what SEO is, putting people in touch with clients that don’t have a brand in mind yet. We need to connect them to and capture them in their research phase or earlier decision making process.

The problem that we now face is people have little trust in SEO agencies, or even SEO in general. This may be a result of a poor experience in the past or just a lack of knowledge in search marketing itself. SEO companies are offering a credence-based service, which is identified as a service that can’t be evaluated by the consumer, pre or post consumption (similar to a mechanic). For those that are uneducated or inexperienced on the service, you may have no idea of what you are actually getting for your marketing dollar. So how do we justify this and encourage business owners or marketing managers to invest their trust in us as an SEO? A website is the forefront of most businesses; therefore it is a very valuable asset.

So I’ve decided to provide some insight for you. What should you look for when hiring an SEO agency?

1. A Reputable Client Portfolio

The first thing you should do, even before making contact, is to check out their client portfolio. Do they work with any enterprise level clients? If so, how many? How long for? Are these clients spread across a number of different verticals (travel, finance, fashion, e-commerce etc.)? Do those clients that they ‘claim’ they work with, actually rank in search engines? Do they have testimonials from the brands?

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These are the questions you should be asking yourself, prior to even making contact, during your research phase. Once you make contact, ask about the clients they have in their portfolio. Ask how long they have been working with them. The more information you can get, the better!

2. Agency Rankings

You’d like to think that an SEO company has a solid organic presence themselves. You need to ‘practice what you preach’ as such. Before reaching out to interview companies, explore a few keyword searches that you’d think they’d be targeting and see how their business is performing in the search results. If they rank consistently for a number of keywords that you’d assume would be valuable to them, this should provide more brand credibility.

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3. Custom Proposals: No Packages

Search has changed immensely over the past couple of years with Google introducing Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, and changes will continue to happen in the future.

Every vertical is different, and every business within that vertical is different. Each business has different target markets, different goals, different budgets and different products (to name a few). Therefore, how can a range of standard packaged SEO deals be beneficial for all these different requirements? Packaged SEO is dead!

As each business in each vertical is different, your website should have a custom strategy created that aims to achieve the best possible results. The sales process should be quite personal and involve somewhat of a qualifying process to ensure you are the best fit for each other. If all goes well initially, they should then conduct an analysis of your website, look at the search space to see what your competitors are doing and how well they are ranking, look at seasonality data (especially in travel, fashion etc.) identify the metrics of your site and how it currently stands and then build a strategy based around all of those components.

4. No Lock-In Contracts

Similar to phone and internet providers, many SEO agencies will try and lock you into a long-term agreement, whether it be 6 or 12 months, or more. Respectable SEO providers should strive on success and be results driven, and they should back this with NOT having lock-in contracts to allow a client peace of mind. You’ll then know that your SEO will be working for you as they strive to generate the results that will keep you happy, resulting in a longer professional relationship.

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If you’re not locked into a contract, you have much more control over your business and marketing budget. If you can see that your current strategy isn’t working, you should be able to invest that money elsewhere and not have that burden of continuing to pay for something that isn’t working. Return on Investment (ROI) is the primary focus in marketing (marketing 101), so you should be making more money than what you are spending on that marketing channel.

5. Custom and Transparent Reporting

All the activity that is conducted during the month should be justified in transparent reporting. Of course you’re only in the initial stages and won’t have any reports at this stage; however, you should enquire about it to determine what the reporting process involves. Are they willing to see you face to face? How much information will they give you access to?

Basically, you are paying for all the information, therefore should have access to it (it’s your IP). This should include manual reports of the activity performed each month, strategies planned, traffic reports from analytics, ranking reports for targeted keywords and even a backlink report to see what content and links have been created. The more information you get in your report, the better. A more visual and detailed report will also paint a better picture of the results and justify your ROI.

6. Knowledgeable and Experienced Team

You most certainly want to allocate your online marketing to a professional, knowledgeable and experienced agency. You should get a bit of a feel for them in the initial contact you make. How much knowledge do they have on SEO? Are they asking you the right questions? Are they answering your questions? Do they outsource their activity? What are their qualifications? Are they a Google qualified partner company? What results have they had in the past on other, or similar clients?

The traditional old saying “you get what you pay for” in SEO is absolutely SPOT ON! If you’re getting content created or links built overseas for a cheaper rate, what quality do you expect that to be? Low quality SEO can potentially do more harm than good to your website, with Google applying penalties for spammy link building and over optimistion. Quick fixes or ‘black hat’ tactics is detrimental to your site long term! We need to think about the bigger picture.

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Conclusion

These are just a number of key things to look for when considering an SEO agency. You might think of some more, but these would be the core factors to really consider. Make sure you ask questions, then ask some more questions and get a good feeling for the company you are talking to. You could ultimately make a decision based on their previous success, the rapport you may have built through the sales process, or simply just a good gut feeling.