Choosing a good SEO company isn’t easy. Like any industry, search marketing is a spectrum. At one end, you have committed, dedicated professionals: people who dedicate hours to their craft, who spend a lot of time studying algorithm updates, creating great content, and hanging on the every word of Google’s search team – whose pronouncements may as well be carved on cuneiform tablets. On the other end, you have your bargain basement types; the kind of agencies who still peddle the outdated SEO practices they learnt in the 90s.
Choosing a good SEO company is, in many respects, a matter of telling one from the other. And the best way to start is by asking the right questions.
1. What’s your strategy?
This seems obvious, but it isn’t. Many SEO agencies are tactical rather than strategic: they promise to get you to position one for a few hundred pounds, but they’ve no idea how to keep you there and they won’t be around to help when their nefarious tactics land you and your website in deep trouble. They’ve got no long-term plan to speak of: they have a bag of tricks, pulled out in a random, unthinking order. What they sell seems to good to be true – and rest assured, even the big brands fall for their tricks – here are a few examples. If it’s too good to be true…
Ask them what their strategy is. If they say things like “link wheels”, “advertorials” or “paid newswires”, don’t be nice about it, don’t say goodbye – just walk away, quickly. A good SEO agency will say things like: “Our strategy is comprised of PR focussed link building, keyword research, x10 content creation – we combine on and offsite efforts to deliver results in a way that’s designed to maximise your short-term gains and adapt to Google’s fickle, ever-changing algorithm.”
Or, you know, words to that effect. Nobody talks like that.
2. How can you help me meet my business objectives?
This is kind of a follow-up to the first question, but it’s revealing in its own right. It’s like a first date: the most boring and inadequate people talk endlessly about themselves and what they do – usually a load of easily falsifiable guff about their page one keyword rankings. The capable, charming types try to find out about you and what they can do for your hopes, your dreams, and your current organic cost per acquisition.
3. Do you have the ‘write’ stuff?
Choosing a good SEO company requires an understanding of content. Despite popular, largely accurate perceptions of search marketers as socially awkward anoraks with a very narrow set of interests, and of content writers as impossibly suave, lantern-jawed sexual dynamos, the two roles are quite interdependent. Great content needs to be seen, and great content also elevates search rankings – so being a good SEO makes you a better copywriter, and being a good copywriter makes you better at SEO.
Your chosen agency should either have its own copywriters, or its search marketers should be able to create keyword-rich web copy, written according to neuroscience best practice, designed to make prospects act. They should also be pretty adept at calls to action and persuasive meta data. That’s before we’ve even got to the fact their copy also has to be good enough to be used as editorial content, in order to generate links from third-party publications. If they don’t do content, they don’t do SEO.
4. Are any clients willing to recommend your services, and do you have any case studies that prove past success?
5. What’s your offsite/onsite split?
A bad SEO agency will mumble “uhmmmm, about 50/50”. But there are precious few companies that require an exact 50/50 activity split, and even if they do, it’s the wrong answer. With limited information about your company, the only real answer is “it depends”. Maybe you’ve got a well-structured website with keywords scattered subtly throughout your content, in which case a significant proportion of SEO activity will be offsite.
In any event, their reply to this question should contain further questions for you – because there’s no catch-all strategy for offsite/onsite activity. It always depends on the individual business.
6. What’s your domain authority (DA)?
Finally, there’s the classic “carpenter’s children” question. An SEO agency that isn’t respected by Google isn’t worth your time. DA – a metric designed by Moz to discern a website’s reputation – is very telling: if it’s lower than 20, you’ll want to rethink working with them.
Choosing a good SEO company requires a thoughtful, forensic approach to the selection process: get it wrong, and you could waste thousands of pounds and months of your business’ time – potentially getting blacklisted by Google in the process. Whoever you work with needs to be subject to the proper scrutiny (us included).
Drag them screaming into the interrogation room, shine that lamp into their eyes, and see if they break. If they don’t, you may well have the beginnings of a solid business relationship.