How to choose the right SEO agency
SEO – get it right, and it will deliver fantastic business results with a strong ROI. After all, 68% of online experiences start with a search engine. Whether you’re looking for leads or sales, a well-executed SEO plan can drive performance that will have a positive impact on your business goals. Getting SEO right takes expertise, creativity, technical knowledge, and a great understanding of how search engines work. It also takes a commitment to time and resources. These factors are why more and more businesses of all sizes are turning to SEO agencies for help. As SEO rises in importance on business agendas and becomes more of a priority for companies operating globally; SEO agencies have similarly grown in popularity.
Knowing how to distinguish a mediocre SEO agency from an excellent one might feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Here at Blue Array, we have spent many years speaking to internal teams and key stakeholders about what it means to choose the ‘right’ SEO agency. We’ve presented our services to many companies, and have interacted with everyone from the C-suite and marketing to procurement and IT. There is no one size fits all answer, but our experience has shown there are some common themes and features that you should be looking for when assessing an SEO agency. Read on to find out what you should be thinking about and the questions you need to be asking before committing to any one agency for SEO help.
Why choose an SEO agency vs. a freelancer vs. in-house resource?
SEO agencies typically have the benefits of scale and scalability. What that means is you’re typically getting the experience of working with a large team of professionals who have a wide and deep view on not just your website but possibly hundreds of others concurrently. They’ll know what’s delivering results and what isn’t across many websites and industries. In terms of scalability, most agencies can expand and contract with your needs without the need for you to commit to the same resourcing challenges as you would with an in-house team (hiring, training and retaining that talent). However, there’s a clear difference between generalist and specialist SEO agencies particularly in terms of talent.
Freelancers may have the benefits of cost though scalability is often a real challenge and they are usually juggling many hats at once such as business development with invoicing, chasing delinquent accounts, servicing clients and keeping up to date with the latest industry news. It’s no easy task.
In-house resources can work incredibly effectively particularly with an agency and we’ve seen hybrid versions of in-house and agency delivering the best results. In-house alone though is a lonely world for the individual and one that can become very siloed, very quickly. Delivery can also be quite challenging given the pressures and strains of being within the business vs. execution on the outside where an agency is less invested in the politics or needing to attend so many internal meetings. You also have to deal with staff turnover and all of the other challenges of having f/t employees vs. the flexibility of an agency.
How can an SEO agency help me?
How an SEO agency can help you depends entirely on your specific business and your unique business goals. Knowing what you want to achieve is the first step in choosing the right SEO agency for your business.
Some of the most common goals and objectives that SEO agencies can help with are:
- Improving website visibility for keywords
- Driving brand awareness and enhancing credibility
- Increasing search engine traffic and subsequent conversions to your website
- Generating high-quality leads (nothing beats keywords for intent)
- Increasing conversion rates and sales
- Improving user experience and website performance
- Assisting conversions through search (such as with review being prevalent for branded search)
- Improving technical aspects of your site such as mobile friendliness and loading speed
- Getting you ahead of the competition and increasing your market share
- Boosting how many local customers visit your physical store after searching online
- Internationalising your business through search
- and so much more…
One of the most important aspects of getting SEO right is being able to report on SEO activity and its impact confidently and accurately on your key marketing and business metrics. Whilst this is something that you can achieve internally, bringing in the many years of experience that SEO agencies can ensure that reporting is done efficiently and effectively from high level through to granular detail.
Maybe you’ve tried your hand at SEO internally but aren’t sure if it’s working, or you may understand its importance but have no idea where to start with building out a strategy. Either way, SEO agencies can integrate with the necessary resources, data, and teams in your business to make sure that in the future, you’re working on an SEO strategy that is tailored to your business and will produce results.
How should I find an SEO agency?
Stay clear of listing websites or search engines. Most good SEO agencies don’t spend much time working on their own visibility, they commit that precious resource to getting their clients success.
The number one way to choose an agency or build a list of agencies is to ask your professional network. Who have they worked with in the past, enjoyed the experience and seen great results from.
You should also use social media and online review websites to look for feedback on the agency. If it’s negative, look for their reply and how they resolved the situation.
Do I need to create a proposal for the agency?
Yes. It really helps the agency and you be objective about your decision making. If you’re going to be selecting an agency from a list of prospects it helps if you can remove any biases you might have with a set of questions and scoring criteria (this is sometimes known as a request for proposal/quotation or RFP/RFQ by the receiving agency). The request should outline your business at a high level, its goals and what an ideal partner would look like in an agency. You can also outline how you will score or weigh the responses? Is price a factor? If it is a factor, how much will this contribute to the overall scoring? Let the agency know this. Finally, please allow yourself some time to give feedback to the agencies who were not successful, they will have invested time and energy into pitching for your business and all really appreciate direct feedback.
What should I be looking for in an SEO agency?
Ready to take your list of prospective agencies and refine them into a stellar shortlist? Here are the things you should be looking for when deciding which SEO agency is right for your business.
Do they understand your goals, and can they deliver results?
You know what your business needs to achieve and the direction in which it needs to head. Book in some one-on-one time with your prospective agencies to discuss your goals and what you need to achieve. The right SEO agency for you will engage in an excited, knowledgeable conversation that shows they get what you’re trying to achieve and are the right people to deliver it. They might also offer some challenges or ideas in terms of objectives you haven’t even considered.
The best agencies will be able to provide you with case studies, testimonials, and hard evidence of clients they’ve successfully worked with to achieve similar goals. They should also give you a clear vision of a strategy that gets you excited about working with them.
Identify what their processes are and how they measure success
Established SEO agencies will have a way of working that is tried and tested. They should be able to walk you through what to expect if working together, including their onboarding process and customer service, what they do to show thought leadership, their staff’s experience, how they report, and their transparency.
There are also lots of key performance indicators with SEO – the more your prospective agencies work to, the better. It shows they have an expert understanding of what success looks like in SEO. It also means that they’re working with the right data to refine the strategy and optimise their work as they progress with your account. Listen out for references to:
- Leads and sales
- Organic traffic
- Bounce rate
- Pages per session
- Average page loading time
- Click-through rate (CTR)
- Search engine results page features
If you don’t feel confident knowing what some of these KPIs mean, don’t be afraid to put the agency on the spot and ask for an explanation. Being able to explain complex, technical jargon in easy-to-understand layman’s terms is the sign of a good agency.
Visit them (virtually if required)
Hiring an SEO agency is just liking bringing someone into your team internally – the fit has to be right. Schedule a meeting where your team and stakeholders can meet their team and stakeholders to make sure that you connect, get along, and can collaborate. Talking to them over the phone is fine at the very start of the process, but spending some time together is the best way to assess their passion, creativity, and attitude towards your business. A virtual meeting can work just as well as a face-to-face meeting. A good fit will leave you feeling like your goals are understood, that you’re in capable hands, that you’re excited and energised by working with them and that success is on the horizon.
A good SEO agency should have a mix of specialists from different SEO fields, all of whom should be poised and ready to answer questions you might have. Brainstorm questions to ask with your internal team before meeting with the agency, bringing in team members from various parts of the business to get their different perspectives and to ensure all stakeholders are bought in.
Don’t shy away from discussing your budget
SEO brings together a range of strategies and tactics across different fields, from technical SEO through to content marketing and link building. This means that work can be very easily divided up into packages at different rates and costs. Be as upfront about your budget as you are about your business goals and expectations, and a good agency will be transparent about what they can and can’t deliver within your budget. Between you, you should be able to agree on priority work that you can afford, and that will also generate success.
Be wary of promises
SEO can be unpredictable. At the end of the day, how search engines operate and how their algorithms work is down to them and them alone. This means that whilst SEO agencies can use their experience and knowledge of best practice to plan and execute fantastic SEO campaigns, there is no guarantee that the search engine results pages will work in the way they’re expected to. Find agencies who have been around for a long time and can show how they’ve handled the unpredictable nature of Google and algorithms in the past.
Steer clear of black hat SEO agencies
There are ways and means for SEO experts to manipulate the search engines and their algorithms. This unethical and ineffective approach uses techniques that can help you to rank in the search results quickly but will see you fall from grace (and from page one) fast. There are even occasions where Google might ban your website entirely if it picks up on black-hat SEO activity.
Good SEO takes time to generate results. It is a long-term strategy that generates great results, if you’re patient and put the work in. Look for agencies that are realistic about timeframes and can show how they helped other clients to achieve success over a gradual period. If the agency in question is touting immediate results, then it’s best to steer clear.
A company culture and values that matches your ownEvery business operates differently, with its own set of values and its own unique culture. When you select an SEO agency, make sure that their company culture and values are closely aligned to your own. Most SEO agencies will dedicate a section of their website to their culture, team, and values – shortlist based on what you see online and then look for whether it translates when you meet them face to face.
Don’t be afraid to look beyond SEO
SEO can work wonders. But take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What happens once your newly ranked keywords or improved positions start to bring great leads to your website? It’d be a travesty to lose that high-quality traffic because the website delivered a poor performance or because the lead needed some warming up before converting. This is where conversion rate optimisation, email nurturing, and retargeting campaigns can all play their part. You must have a plan in place for the amazing traffic that SEO brings to your website.
It’s safe to say that choosing the right SEO agency for your business is important. We’ve been part of so many conversations over the years, with clients and stakeholders of all kinds, that whilst there is no magic answer to which SEO will be right for you, our advice above should definitely help you get close to the right decision. It’s all about spotting experts who understand your business, know what they’re doing, and are transparent when it matters. Look for metrics-led case studies, referrals from your peers, strong processes within the agency, and a team and company culture that compliments your own.
At the end of the day, you will be accountable for their performance and SEO’s impact on your business. If you’re at the stage of shortlisting agencies, then you’ve most likely got C-suite buy-in and the support of the business. All eyes will be on you and the agency you choose, as you work together to develop a winning strategy that drives business performance. Teams like ours here at Blue Array have been around for many years, perfecting the art of strategic SEO and working with businesses to deliver fantastic results. Take our advice above onboard and head into the world of SEO agencies with confidence and a clear understanding of what you need to achieve, what your budget is, and what you expect from your agency.