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Search engine optimization has become a fairly standard concept in the world of digital marketing. Most business owners have at least heard of it, and the ones that are looking to grow their businesses and stay afloat in modern marketplaces employ it on their web platforms. Search engine optimization is a tool for ensuring your business gets ranked by Google and other search engines so that when users search for a business like yours, you make the list.
Because it has become so popular, lots of digital marketing companies and SEO experts have surfaced to capitalize on the need for optimization. Not all of these businesses are trustworthy, and many promise results that are frankly impossible.
As more and more companies begin to offer this service, we think it’s important to understand what makes a good SEO agency and how to choose the right one for your business. After being in the business for over 16 years, we like to think we know a few things about what makes an SEO company effective for its customers.
Here’s what you should pay attention to throughout your business’s SEO journey and some tips for choosing an SEO agency that works for you.
How Do I Choose an SEO Agency?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to choose the best digital marketing agency when looking for an SEO firm, it’s important to mention that SEO agencies should not be treated differently than any other business. You have to look at a business holistically and determine if it aligns with your company’s morals, standards, and outlook. It doesn’t matter what kind of work it does, if you don’t get a good impression from the company, if you feel put off by their team’s communication style, or just don’t like the personnel, it’s important to trust that instinct. Just because they have talent in an important area of the tech and marketing world doesn’t mean that you should ignore their behavior. Hold them to the same standards you would any vendor, B2B partner, or prospective employee.
Examine Their Experience
When beginning to look at the technical aspects of an agency, you’ll want to start by looking at its experience. Make sure you know how long the company has been doing SEO work, how many clients it’s had, and what kind of businesses it’s worked for. A lot of agencies will likely attempt to brag about awards or projects. While those things may be able to break the tie between companies you’re considering, the experience should ultimately be most important. An agency that has worked in the industry for a while knows its ins and outs, has been a part of process and innovation, and has been able to troubleshoot on a website that isn’t yours. That’s what you want to see.
Assess If They’re Realistic
SEO is a powerful tool, but it isn’t magic. One of the best tips for choosing an SEO agency is to judge whether what they’re claiming is possible. If they tell you what they can do for you without knowing anything about your site, your needs, and your plans for the collaboration, they’re likely bluffing. You can expect that someone who makes blind claims is being fantastical and not at all realistic. Also, be wary of guarantees. Honest companies will tell you that they can help you improve. Companies that aren’t realistic will tell you they can guarantee page hits or first-page rankings. The reality is that SEO doesn’t allow for guarantees, and if a company claims it can provide them, it’s lying.
Just as you would when hiring an employee, you’ll want to check out the agency’s references. If the agency is professional and honest, it’ll have a list of past clients to give you so that you can find out more about its working relationships. Call a few of these references and chat with them about their experience with the SEO agency. Determine some critical elements of a working partnership and ask about them. For example, is efficient communication important to you? If so, ask the references how the agency handled back and forths, how quickly it responded to inquiries and issues, and if it was able to help with problems after the project was done. Just because an agency worked with a company does not mean the company had a good experience. You want to be sure that you are getting what you want.
Look at Their Portfolio
A good SEO agency will have a portfolio of websites that it’s worked on for you to look through. The team may have before-and-after examples of the tactics used and be able to highlight the changes made in website traffic or rankings. Take in all this information, but make sure to fact-check it yourself. Many experts are counting on the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing, and they do. Check out a previous client’s search engine marketing (SEM) ranking to be sure that changes happened because of the SEO updates. Do searches to make sure that websites they claim will come up on first or second pages do.
Part of looking at an agency’s portfolio is making sure that you appreciate their work. If there are typos or the work feels sloppy or off-brand for your agency, it may make sense to look elsewhere. While some aesthetic decisions are certainly on the client to control, things like links, page buttons, etc., are changed and controlled by the SEO agency. If you don’t like how their work looks throughout their portfolio, look elsewhere.
Awards and Certifications
There is no one answer to the question, “What makes a good marketing agency?” However, there are ways you can determine that an agency is good without knowing much about SEO. If it’s received awards or certifications from reputable places, it’s an indication that the agency’s work is effective and comprehensive. Rating and award systems aren’t perfect, so this certainly shouldn’t be the only criteria by which you make your decisions. However, it’s a significant bench marker if you’re feeling lost or stuck between two choices. Do make sure the awards are relatively recent, as SEO changes frequently. Just because a company won an award in 2015 doesn’t mean its methods are still effective.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is far more important than awards and certifications because there is no elitism or technicality involved. Hearing from a business partner or colleague that an SEO agency has done good work is incredibly valuable. This information is especially useful if they can pinpoint why they believe an SEO company is a good pick. If it’s because they like to shoot pool with one of the marketers, then it may not be a reliable recommendation. If it’s because they believe that the SEO work improved website traffic and business and can express what was done, it’s likely a good sign. If you couple a word-of-mouth recommendation with good references, you’ve probably found a great agency.
What to Avoid When Searching for an SEO Agency
Now that we’ve gone over the question, “What makes a good marketing agency?” it’s time to discuss red flags to look for during your search. Sometimes an agency is overall not a good fit, and it’s easy to see that. Other times, an agency seems excellent overall but has one or two bad traits that should keep you looking.
Here’s what to avoid when you’re considering agencies:
Lots of SEO agencies rely on the fact that their customers don’t really know very much about SEO. If an agency tells you that it has tricks or special methods that help it achieve better results than others in the industry, run the other direction. SEO is not some top-secret formula that’s hidden from the rest of the world. Tactics are always out in the open, and an agency’s job is to implement them effectively. Claiming to have a trick up their sleeve indicates that an agency is not honest. Even if you were to see results from them, they’d likely be extremely short-lived and not worth your money.
Not trusting search engine results pages is counter-intuitive when it comes to SEO. You might think that the top-ranking websites will show up at the very top of a Google search for “SEO agencies.” However, this is not the case. Appearing at the top of a Google search result is no small feat and requires an incredible amount of time, energy, and money. If you see an agency at the very top, they’re likely spending more time optimizing their website than they are spending on their clients. As we stated above, word of mouth is an excellent indication of good business. If an SEO agency is getting consistent business, it’s common to focus on improving clients’ SEO and relying on word of mouth and references rather than taking time and money to work on their own SEO.
It’s generally a good idea not to trust ranking lists. These “listicles” are often paid for and are easily influenced by a check or free samples. Even if there was no bribery involved, the people writing them likely relied on SERPs to get their information. They didn’t put in time or research into seeing if the results were comprehensively accurate.
Is It Worth It to Hire a Marketing Agency?
After all this, you may be asking yourself if it’s worth it to try and find an SEO agency at all. The answer here is yes. SEO is a potent tool and can really affect the success and profitability of your business. The key is to do it correctly. Unless you have an expert on staff, you should hire an agency. If you’re going to hire an agency, you should invest in a good one. This information is not meant to discourage but to ensure that when you begin the SEO process, you can do it with the right agency by your side. After almost 17 years in the business, we’ve seen some real scams and poor SEO by other agencies, and we don’t want that to happen to you.
Contact Eminent SEO
There’s not a magic formula for picking the best SEO agency for your business. Having to choose a firm for something that may be new to you can be overwhelming. However, marketing is marketing – and we’ve been doing that for years.
We might be biased, but we are very proud of the SEO work that we do. We have been operating for almost two decades on honesty, integrity, communication, and quality work. We continually learn and grow in our craft and are proud to share it with some truly remarkable businesses. Contact us via our website if you want to see what we can do for your company, but no matter what agency you hire, make sure you know it’s a good one.