What to look for in an SEO agency
A high performing SEO agency that’s worth their weight in gold will do the following during a sales call:
- Ask you what your quarterly/annual revenue goals are
- Ask about what your internal, organizational bandwidth is to execute strategies
- Ask about buy in from devs and executives
- Ask about what executive focus is, as that will impact strategy
- Ask about tracking, and KPIs your organization focuses on (bonus points for mentioning MQLs vs. SQLs if you’re a b2b fintech company)
- Ask what strategies you’ve tried in the past, or what your experience has been with other agencies/freelancers/employees (this directly impacts how they should be communicating with you)
You’ll notice a distinct lack of anything involving keywords, rankings, link building, or page speed. There’s a reason for that. A good SEO agency recognizes that those are vanity metrics. Those key performance indicators (KPIs) are great for giving you a general direction as to how strategies are performing, but they don’t put leads in your sales team’s pipeline, or revenue in your business’s bank account.
Things to ask an SEO agency for:
A face to face meeting.
Talk to them verbally and face to face (or zoom, which is what we prefer). Having face to face interactions will give you a better idea of how an SEO agency will communicate with you. Nonverbal cues are a huge part of communication that you won’t get via email or phone calls.
A sample audit or strategy they’ve delivered to a client or perspective client
I like asking for this instead of having an SEO agency do an audit for me for free. Most SEO agencies will not provide a very robust audit free of charge, but would be open to showing you a (redacted) strategy they created for a potential or former client. Here’s an example of a redacted strategy that we shared recently.
This gives you a good sense of how they think, what strategies they use, and how they communicate. Do they give you constructive to dos? Do they provide context around their proposed strategies or tactics? Do they include estimated impact of changes they want you to make so you can prioritize that in your larger website development sprint cycles? (If the answer to any of that is “no,” you should move on to find a different agency).
If you have budget to pay for a small audit, go for it. That’ll give you more about how they think and communicate than anything else.
A high level list of priorities your company should be thinking about
After you’ve had a conversation with them, and given them some information about your business, stop and ask what their immediate feedback is, and what they think you should prioritize. Again, I’m not a fan of asking for free work (unless you feel like it) but a good SEO should be able to listen to your situation and have 2-3 big priorities they’d want to explore further or flesh out with you.
Red flags to watch out for when hiring an SEO agency
Here are some red flags to watch out for when speaking with SEO agencies and freelancers (or even hiring your first SEO specialist in house). These red flags come from our experience as in house SEO directors who have dealt with agencies, and what we’ve seen agencies do now that we’re on the other side.
Watch out for SEO agencies that:
- Only talk about keywords and rankings.
- Think link building is the end-all-be-all of SEO (it’s a part, but not the only important part).
- Use page speed as the go to critique of your website’s ability to rank.
- Uses “SEO” as a verb.
- Speaks in generalities and buzz words you don’t know or recognize.
- When you ask “why” they suggest a change, they say it’s best practice, without applying it to your specific situation.
- Super cheap pricing. This tends to be an indicator of either: super cheap outsourced labor, cookie cutter strategies that aren’t based on your company, or a misalignment on needs
SEO is convoluted, and changes almost every month as Google (and Bing) change their algorithms. There are a lot of moving parts, and a lot of terminology that sounds like gibberish to even the most experienced marketer. But hopefully these tips make navigating this new hire a bit more manageable. (And if you have any questions or want some help, feel free to reach out to us).