As the SEO industry continues to expand, and more and more businesses wise up to the fact that website optimisation is a crucial aspect of marketing, more and more SEO agencies are springing up all over the world.
Choosing the most capable, the most suitable and the most cost-effective company to promote your business can therefore be a tricky business; particularly as web optimisation is a relatively new industry. Too many business owners are falling prey to false promises and quick fixes from black-hat SEO companies – so here are a few tips on selecting the agency that’s right for you.
Step One – Identifying Potential Candidates
It’s best to start your search locally, for a number of reasons.
- Firstly, using a search engine to look for SEO agencies in your area will throw up a few likely possibilities – if the agency in question have managed to manoeuvre themselves into the top spot of Google for a phrase like ‘Search Engine Optimisation London’, for example, or even ‘Search Engine Optimisation UK‘, then chances are that they have the necessary skills to engineer similar successes for your business.
- Another reason to keep it local, or at the very least within your country, is ease of communication. SEO work can often spill over into web design territory, so engaging the services of a cheap India-based SEO firm, for instance, may well leave you struggling to communicate to the SEO staff what it is that you need – on account of either the language barrier, or the fact that conflicting time zones can make foreign operatives difficult to get hold of.
- Once you’ve identified an agency that you might be interested in working with, start asking around! Word of mouth is an often-overlooked way to gauge an SEO company’s reputation, so take full advantage of it.
Step Two – Are They Legit?
Once you’ve set your sights on an SEO agency, it’s time to make sure that they’re as good as they seem. Visit their website, and see how they measure up when it comes to these factors.
- As mentioned above, come up with some keywords and phrases that you expect the agency would rank for, and search for them in Google. If they don’t rank well for them, it’s not a good sign. If they’re not putting effort into their own SEO campaigns, there’s no guarantee that they’ll put any more work into yours.
- Read up on the company history. The best SEO companies will have been in business for a long time, and will have plenty of experience in the industry. Steer clear of businesses only a year old – you should always consider a firm’s track record before investing in their services, and if they don’t have one, you’re better off hanging onto your money.
- Is SEO their primary concern as a business? In light of the expanding industry, countless web design companies and software specialists have tacked on ‘SEO Experts’ to their company repertoire. In reality, however, these agences often have as much experience in the SEO field as you do in web design. Be sure to choose a company that specialises in SEO, to ensure that your campaign is handled by someone who knows what they’re doing!
- Have a look at the sort of clients the agency works with, or has worked with in the past – most websites will include a portfolio or selection of case studies. Take a look at these clients’ websites, and see how highly they rank in the search engines, for a variety of keywords related to their industry. For the best indication of how well the SEO company have served their clients in the past, however, you can pick up the phone and ask the clients themselves.
- You should also take a look at the agency’s average client lifespan. If their clients have all ended their association with the SEO company after nine months, it doesn’t bode well for you as a potential new client. The ideal SEO agency will have an average client lifespan of at least 2-3 years.
- If the website contains details of the agency’s workforce, have a look at the number of staff they employ. You don’t want to be hiring a one-man-band – there’s always a danger that their SEO business is merely a sideline, alongside a full-time job. Such consultants simply do not have the free time necessary to manage your business’ SEO campaign effectively. If the website doesn’t mention its workforce, be sure to enquire about the company’s size if and when you decide to contact them.
- Ask yourself if you have any interest in a social media campaign – spreading awareness of your brand or services via websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and so on. If this interests you, then take a look at the SEO agency’s own presence on these websites. If they don’t have profiles on social media sites, or if they just have a token Facebook page which doesn’t seem to be kept up-to-date, then chances are they’re not going to be much help with your social media plans.
Step Three – The Final Hurdle
So they rank well for their keywords, their website seems up to scratch and their clients speak highly of them. It’s time to get in touch with the agency, and ask them a few final questions.
- What are the terms of your contract?It’s important, before you sign anything, to know exactly what you’re signing. You should always ask this, therefore, to make sure you know precisely what you’re signing up for. Find out if contracts cover a fixed period of time, or if they’re ongoing, on a monthly basis. Also enquire as to the notice they would require in order for you to change or terminate your contract. Be wary of fixed-term contracts – many unscrupulous SEO companies will utilise black-hat techniques to generate quick results, to lure you into signing up long-term. These techniques are neither reliable nor ethical, however, and in some cases may even result in a search engine penalising you for using them. If you’re locked into a fixed-term contract, you’ll have no choice but to continue paying the agency regardless.
- How involved with the process can I be?Although attempting to micro-manage your SEO company is obviously counter-productive, you need to be sure that the agency will listen to you, should you wish to raise any issues, concerns or suggestions regarding the SEO work. Negotiating a monthly report can help ensure that you are kept up to speed on the work as it is carried out, and allows you regular contact with the agency. This is also a good point to assess the agency’s flexibility regarding the SEO process – if they have a fixed routine that they follow for each new client and are unwilling to try new techniques and strategies, it might be better to look elsewhere. SEO is such a fluid industry that the idea SEO agency has to be equally flexible and innovative.
- Can we meet at your premises?Holding a meeting at the agency’s offices allows you to see first-hand the environment in which your work will be carried out, and helps you to gauge how serious the company is about their work as an SEO agency. If you find yourself in a dingy bedroom at the back of somebody’s house, or looking at a room full of clueless or unmotivated staff, again, it would be better to find an agency more dedicated to the task.
- Have you worked with companies in my industry (or a related industry) before?Ask if they have any figures from work they might have carried out for a company in your area of business. For one thing this will demonstrate that they have experience in working for businesses like yours, and for another, it may give you an indication of the level of improvement you can expect.
- Do you outsource any of the work you do for your clients?This is a bit of a judgement call; there’s no definitive good or bad answer either way. On one hand, outsourcing work will dilute the level of control you have over that particular project, but on the other, outsourcing work allows your SEO agency to pursue other, potentially more effective, web marketing strategies that their in-house staff may not possess the necessary skills to carry out.
- How will determine the best keywords for my business?The answer you’re looking for here is ‘keyword research, and discussion with you, the client.’ There are SEO companies who claim to charge a relatively small fee in exchange for getting your website to rank at position 1 in the search engines for a phrase or phrases of your choosing. This might sound too good to be true, and it is. These companies will often use black-hat techniques, as previously mentioned, to get quick results, and the terms and conditions will usually lock you into a long-term contract. The best SEO companies will research the industry in which you operate, and draw up a short-list of suggested keywords, based on the amount of monthly searches and the degree of competition for each. The agency will then discuss the list with you, gradually refining it until both parties are happy with the selection of keywords.
- Can you give me an idea of the work you will carry out in the first few months of my contract with you?Again, this is a judgement call. A typical SEO campaign will begin with streamlining of the website itself – tweaking the on-page text, the meta data and the layout, to ensure that the pre-agreed keywords are prominently displayed to the search engines. A major part of any SEO campaign is building links back to the website. If the agency’s 3-month plan runs along these lines, it’s a good sign that they know what they’re doing.