As of this article’s publishing date, 17,353 agencies offer SEO services across the globe according to Clutch.
In one of the most saturated service markets, how does a buyer like you find the right SEO agency?
If you know what to look for, it’s easier than you think – and can be the difference in making the right or wrong decision for this critical marketing channel.
What does your ideal agency look like – and what should you avoid? Here are four easy takeaways.
Their sales team are SEO experts
The sales process is a perfect time to uncover the expertise (or lack thereof) of a potential agency. It’s your personal red carpet treatment. As such, you can use the sales process to benchmark an agency’s skillset.
Beware of: The CEO sale. Speaking with the agency’s CEO is always compelling. They’re the most knowledgeable and charismatic asset of the agency.
With a full understanding of the agency’s history and performance, the CEO can impress. The CEO sale sets expectations sky-high. So why should you beware?
A CEO-led sales process steals a critical moment from you: the ability to evaluate the expertise of a normal agency employee.
What about those who execute the strategy day-to-day? Will they have the ability to follow through on the incredible results the CEO sold you on?
By the time you sign your contract, the CEO is off on another adventure and you might be stuck with a junior-level account manager two weeks into the job.
What to look for: Your ideal agency has expertise “up and down the chain.” There are no knowledge silos. The CEO isn’t white-knighting the sales process.
Instead, the agency knows it is bigger than its CEO and knows its rank-and-file employees can educate and sell. The sales representative can command a conversation around contextual link building or technical audits as well as the SEO Director.
This might seem counter-intuitive (“I want to speak with the CEO!”). The truth is, there’s no greater way to discern the skillset of the agency as a whole.
Takeaway: Focus on agencies that use regular team members in the sales process (and speak with as many members of the fulfillment team as you can).
Their scope of work is crystal clear
A great scope of work is like a great recipe. It’s easy to follow, includes specific amounts of ingredients and creates a great outcome (yum!). Your ability to discern a great scope of work from a poor scope of work is a critical part of selecting your agency.
Beware of: The “unspecified laundry list” scope of work. This looks like an exhaustive list of SEO buzz words and marketing gimmicks. It’s meant to impress a prospect by sheer overwhelmingness. What it lacks is any cohesion with a greater strategy.
What to look for: Your ideal agency avoids filler deliverables. If a deliverable isn’t tactical (part of the strategy) or outcome-driven (creates bottom-line impact) it’s not included.
This may mean your ideal agency’s scope of work is smaller; this won’t matter if it’s specific and descriptive.
Beware of: Lack of clear timelines or wishy-washy language around deliverables.
What to look for: Your ideal agency has clear internal processes to keep their operation efficient and profitable. As such, they’re experts in resource planning. Sharing timelines keeps the agency aligned with your expectations.
Takeaway: Ask for a comprehensive explanation of the strategy and scope of work. Cut any agency that finds difficulty explaining each deliverable’s role in the greater strategy.
Their strategy makes you money
An agency’s strategy is the nucleus of your decision criteria. As such, there’s a lot to consider when selecting the right agency.
Beware of: The “first-page guarantee.”
It’s not difficult to get a keyword on the first page. It’s difficult to get a business-impacting keyword on the first page. If a keyword receives no search volume, it’s position on the first page has zero impact. Your ideal agency focuses the strategy on business-impacting keywords to generate leads.
What to look for: Your ideal agency uses your data to build an outcome-centric strategy. They gather historical performance, conversion rates, and goals to create a scope of work. They know their strategy must result in a positive ROI or they’ll lose the account. As such, they’ve used projection algorithms to determine ROI viability.
Takeaway: Cut any agency that doesn’t include growth projections and a path to ROI.
Their customers praise them publicly
Verified reviews of an agency’s performance are the strongest indicator of their ability to perform.
Beware of: Fake or paid reviews.
Paid, fake or review exchanges are a budding cottage industry. Some agencies will do anything to build a positive online reputation. The good news is fake reviews are discoverable if you know what to look for.
You can cross-reference a review on LinkedIn to confirm it represents a legitimate company. If an agency has paid for a review, the reviewer’s profile may have a history of disordered 5-star reviews in a variety of businesses and locations.
What to look for: Your ideal agency has plenty of recent, specific and real reviews. The reviews come from established companies in similar verticals. This shows your agency works with legitimate customers with similar internal structures.
What to look for: Your ideal agency knows the SEO industry is corrupt with fake reviews. They focus on sites that verify a reviewer’s identity and details via phone interview. And when you’re ready, they’re happy to connect you with current customers for feedback.
Takeaway: Cut any agency without verified reviews – and speak with at least two references via phone.
With these four takeaways, you can give yourself the best chance to land your ideal agency.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
How SEO Works in Digital Marketing
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an integral part of digital marketing.
SEO helps with brand discoverability. When done right, SEO can create the most consistent and by far the highest-quality traffic source which doesn’t require on-going maintenance.
Yet, SEO is usually the most isolated part of the marketing. Whether it is an in-house team or a third-party service that’s delivering your SEO campaigns, it usually exists on its own without really communicating goals, progress or results to the whole company.
This creates silos that can lead to poor results and even reputation crises.
How does SEO work in digital marketing and how can a business make it work better?
What is SEO?
Basically, it ensures a machine knows that your page will be easy to find to a human being who is looking to solve a related problem.
Search engine traffic is one of the highest-quality traffic for many reasons:
- Unlike PPC (paid) traffic, it doesn’t require an ongoing investment to keep coming
- Unlike social media traffic, it doesn’t require an ongoing work to keep coming
- Unlike social media traffic, you are not interrupting people’s browsing. Instead you give them what they were actually searching for.
In other words, it is consistent and it converts well. No other digital marketing tactic beats that.
Apart from driving direct traffic, search engine optimization helps build brand awareness by increasing your brand’s organic findability.
Keep Your Whole Team Aware of Why SEO is Important
The great thing about today is that everyone understands the value of ranking high on Google! Sadly, however, many folks only know that they “need SEO” without having really understood what that means.
SEO these days is too hard for a digital marketer to do alone. Many SEOs find themselves in situations where an executive will simply come down and go “Why are we not ranking well for ‘dingwobble’?”
Keep working hard with teams for them to understand how they contribute to the SEO process:
- Product Marketers who are responsible for the business, personas and messaging understand that SEO is critical to driving the bottom line revenue numbers they are looking at. Part of the persona developing process should be the development of the “digital persona” – what websites and search terms are these people looking for? This helps the product marketer when it comes time to develop messaging, as that is going to be critical for developing the content, so the right search terms better be there!
- Field Marketers responsible for the campaigns need to know how SEO fits within their campaign, how it in fact is core to our demand generation, and how to make sure to keep the campaigns integrated.
- Marketing Communications is creating the content, so SEO should very well be top of mind for them, as the content itself will be critical in impacting how successful SEO will be.
- But that’s not all! Often, other groups are creating content (Press Releases, Blog Posts, Presentations, etc.) that also end up on the web and impact SEO. Whether it’s Corporate Communications, Investor Relations or even Legal teams, working with them is critical.
- IT manages the infrastructure and can be very critical to the technical aspects of SEO.
- Sales and customer support teams are at the forefront of marketing talking to your future and current customers, so they need to be involved in the SEO strategy. Creating relevant content goes beyond keywords. It needs to address real problems and answer actual people’s questions, and your client-facing teams will be your best source of inspiration here.
- Executives also care! While they can’t often influence the day-to-day of SEO, they will care a lot about the bottom line, to which SEO contributes.
Educating all of these people about SEO helps empower them, as well as position yourself, the SEO, as the subject matter expert who is not just someone back-office who gives very little visibility into the black box of SEO, but someone who is actively educating and contributing to the organization’s success.
Review and discuss common KPIs early and often to make sure everyone knows what victory looks like to the team.
Additionally, SEO should be a solid part of any project launch as it impacts every stage of product positioning. From choosing a business name to choosing a website builder, your initial efforts should be driven by SEO best practices.
What is the key to SEO success in a constantly changing environment?
As a practitioner of SEO, I believe that you need to look to ensure you are looking at both developing yourself in both depth and breadth of knowledge. A key danger in the name of being informed or being a part of the SEO community is spending all your time debating tactics and practices rather than testing them.
Additionally, SEOs as with all employees need to look outside their field to stretch and learn how to be more well rounded. This could mean learning to code, or educating yourself in some other area of the business you work for. This will expose you to ideas others may not have.
As a manager of people, success is really about diversity of expertise. Who you hire and the kind of people you hire will be far more valuable than much of what people invest in with regards to SEO programs. You have to have people who can roll with the punches and develop a skill for self-management and personal growth.
Finally, I think knowing what your real goals are in having an SEO program are the key to long term success. The reality is you may get more traffic, but if that traffic is not from qualified leads and generates real revenue then the benefit may be very little. Having well defined goals and metrics will also help you avoid chasing algorithm changes and focus on the big picture.
SEO is the most essential long-term digital marketing strategy but to make it really effective, you need a knowledge team that is well-integrated into the company’s life. Good luck!
Ann Smarty is the brand NINJA at Internet Marketing Ninjas as well as the founder of numerous startups including MyBlogGuest, MyBlogU, ViralContentBee, TwChat and many more.
Ann Smarty has been an online marketing consultant for 10 years providing high-quality digital marketing consulting through her services and courses (both free and paid).
Ann Smarty’s content marketing ideas have been featured in NYtimes, Mashable, Entrepreneur, Search Engine Land and many more. She is known for her indepth tool reviews, innovative content marketing advice and actionable digital marketing ideas.
Source: Ann Smarty
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