Unfortunately I know a lot of small businesses who have placed trust in their SEO agency, only to have their online businesses destroyed from poor SEO strategies. Cost doesn’t discriminate either, I’ve seen struggling startups spend thousands of dollars only to realize they’ve received nothing but a search engine penalty in return.
For the good guys in the industry like me, I don’t want to see it happen to you.
I don’t want you to waste your money or have your branded domain name ruined. To be honest I’m protective of my industry and I’m tired of hearing about these scammers doing damage to your business and damage to an industry reputation.
I’ve compiled a list of questions that you can use when seeking an SEO agency to provide SEO services to your business.
How will you measure success?
I strongly believe that ranking is a means, not an end. SEO isn’t about ranking for a handful of terms, if you think that then I’m sorry but unfortunately you’re missing the big picture. People search for content in a variety of different ways and they’re also at different stages of the buying life-cycle. Your aim is to target the widest range of relevant search terms using content and then convert visitors at the highest rate.
As a business owner you need to define your requirements in terms:
- X number of increased sales
- Y percentage of increased traffic
- Z number of increased customer enquiries
A quality SEO agency will configure conversion tracking, within Google analytics, and will be able to provide you with monthly reports on each of the items I’ve listed above. You should be tracking the metrics that matter – sales, enquiries and conversions. After a period of time, yes you’ll need to be patient, the reports an agency provides you will hopefully show an increase in visitors converting into your goals.
What strategy do you use?
All good SEOs have a process, whether they freelance or work for an agency.
Their process allows them to provide a consistent and repeatable level of service quality to each of their customers, regardless of the level of budget. This process has been built, tested and continously refined to consitently meet customer expectations. An SEO agency is likely to break their process down into once off and continuous tasks.
Be happy if they talk about:
- Conducting an SEO audit
- Providing on site optimisation, technical SEO and local SEO updates.
- Improving conversions or modifying your website to encourage sales.
- Creating quality content on your behalf or with mentoring.
- Quality link building where less is more and quality trumps quantity.
Be concerned if they talk about:
- Rankings and nothing else
- Links and nothing else
- Don’t have a defined strategy
- Tell you it’s different for every customer
What’s your first move?
It’s important to understand the starting point of any SEO campaign. It’s very rare in my experience to find a website with perfect technical and on site SEO. Technical SEO is area of SEO that we the most control over, it includes anything we can physically change such as the text on your website.
In most cases the starting point for any SEO campaign will be to conduct an SEO audit and identify any of the technical SEO areas that need to be improved. SEO audits and recommendations typically form the baseline for the work required in the coming months.
Be concerned if they:
- Don’t want access to Analytics or webmasters
- Don’t want for access to your website
- Don’t talk to you about your business requirements.
- Want to move straight into link building without reviewing your website.
- They try to confuse you with techno babble.
How will I know what work you’re completing?
A good SEO company will send you regular reports for your campaign. The most common frequency is for reports to be sent at the end of the month but each agency may differ. As part of those reports you might receive:
- A high level overview of your campaign – visitor numbers, source overview etc.
- Conversion reporting indicating sales, enquiries and other conversion tracked through your website.
- A list of content that was created.
- A list of back links that were built.
- A break down of the tasks completed for the month.
- A break down of the tasks to be completed for next month.
If an agency is reluctant to tell you what they’ve done then it’s a sure red flag that they’ve either been ignoring your campaign or engaging in poor SEO practices that may do your business damage.
Is content part of your strategy?
Content is quickly becoming the backbone of effective SEO strategies. When you create best available content on your website you provide your audience with a reason to link or share it. Content, such as blogging, can easily increase the relevance of your site, attract more visitors and rank for a greater number of search terms.
Content is also incredibly effective for outreach where an agency will contact relevant websites on your behalf and ask whether they might like to link back to your content. You wouldn’t go fishing without any bait and content is often the bait for acquiring quality links.
Be concerned if they talk about:
- Crappy 400 word articles
- They offshore to non english speaking countries
- They don’t use content in their strategy
What type of links will you be building?
If link building is part of your campaign or project then it’s worth asking how they will build links throughout.
One good back links is worth more than thousands of low-quality back links.
Low-quality back links are typically the ones that can be automated or require minimal effort to attain such as business directories. Fiverr is a great example where you can buy hundreds or thousands of links for $5-10. Any form of automated link building can be a golden ticket towards your first Google penalty.
Be concerned if they mention any of the following:
- Private blog networks
- .GOV or .ORG links
- PR1 to PR10 Links
- Press releases
- Social bookmarking websites
- Article submission websites
- Crappy and irrelevant business directories
- Article spinning
- Blog comments
- Quantity over quality
Be happy when the mention any of the following
- Relevant guest blogging
- Reverse engineering competitors
- High quality Australian business directories
- Industry relevant websites
- Through content marketing & outreach
- Quality over quantity
For a quality SEO agency they’ll take the approach of less is more. High quality and relevant links to your industry will have a much greater effect than large numbers of low quality links.
Do you offer guarantees?
One of the easiest ways to weed out crappy SEO agencies it to ask them about their guarantees. One thing is for sure no one can guarantee #1 rankings but that’s the way they’ll sell it to you.
Guarantees aren’t the problem, as a customer you’re entitled to have or want a guarantee on any work completed, it’s standard business practice. At PixelRush we provide a 90 day performance guarantee where we promise a % of keywords on 1st page in 90 days and an out-performance guarantee where we will out perform any existing SEO campaigns in 90 days. In an industry where many of our customers have been burnt this provides peace of mind.
But when it comes to guarantees there are certain areas you should be aware about:
- Nobody controls google except google – We have the ability to influence the algorithm but we can’t control it. The algorithm is incredibly diverse and not a single employee at Google could tell you exactly how it all works so it’s impossible to guarantee an outcome like a #1 ranking.
- Guarantees for low competition keywords – Guarantees are often based around ranking your site for low competition keywords, keywords with no commercial value, that won’t generate any ROI for your business.
- Guarantees for #1 rankings – If anyone guarantees are #1 spot then run away. Google is complex and it’s impossible to know exactly how much work is involved in attaining a top ranking in a specific industry. Work with an agency that guarantees a % of keywords on the 1st page but make sure those keywords are of value to you too.
- Automated or illegal forms of control – Private blog networks are basically link farms created for the sole purpose of building links to customer websites. These go against Google’s terms and conditions and Google actively seeks out these networks for removal. There are many poor link building strategies out there that might give you short term results only to result in a penalty down the track.
Who have you worked with and do you have referrals?
Ask for the contact details of previous clients, and then get their feedback. Are their previous clients happy with the work they’ve received? Ask them whether they’ve worked with brands in your specific industry as well. While it’s not critical they have experience it may mean they have connections or better knowledge and understanding of what works.
If they aren’t prepared to provide you with referees or businesses they’ve worked with then it might be reason for concern.
What results have you achieved?
Results are important and most agencies should be able to provide you some case studies to show how their work has had a major impact for one or many of their customers. Don’t expect exact details as they may be under strict contracts which prevent an agency from discussing a client name in detail (due to competition).
In most cases however they should be able to provide you with a handful of case studies highlighting their success and the work they completed.
Do you offer lock in contracts?
Lock in contracts may be required for a variety of reasons such as when work is completed before payment is received. In most cases however there is no need for SEO campaigns to have a lock in contract. Low quality SEO agencies often use lock in contracts to force customers to work with them for a period of time.
More often than not the customer typically loses out when they discover that the practices of such agencies are poor and doing more damage than good. It can be a challenge to break the contract and even more challenging to revert the bad work they’ve already completed.
Good SEO agencies won’t force you into lock in contracts but will recommend you take a long-term mindset and consider a 6 – 12 month campaign.
Things you need to do
1. Clearly define your requirements
It’s very important as a business you define the requirements for success. As mentioned rankings is a means not an end and a #1 ranking doesn’t always result in increased revenue. If you align your online marketing goals with your business plans you’ll have a much clearer definition of success.
2. Get referrals
Ask around and seek referrals from friends or from businesses you speak with. You’ll quickly find out which agencies are providing a quality service
3. Be Patient
SEO isn’t an overnight solution, it takes time. Remember that although you might be employing an agency with monthly SEO packages what they’re actually providing to you is a fixed number of hours. Rome was built overnight and remember that growth is often exponential and you’ll need patience while your campaign gains momentum.
4. Work with them
SEO is a team effort. Remember that if you hired a fitness trainer then you’d still need to do the work outs. If an agency tells you that your website is missing critical elements to make it perform then listen to them and assist with having it changed.
Be mentored and learn how you can create quality content and then create it as often as possible. Your agency will love you.
5. Don’t micro manage
A good agency will keep you informed, you shouldn’t need to micro manage them every day. Don’t waste your time by reviewing your rankings every day and instead have a long-term mindset and trust their processes.