Choosing a good SEO company is tricky, mainly because it’s really hard to figure out what a good SEO company looks like. Talking to search marketers often doesn’t help: their jargon is dense and impenetrable to the point that it’s often hard to understand what’s actually being said and why it matters.
It makes you feel like the school bully in a 1980’s coming-of-age drama: at the end of the day, you just want these silly nerds to stop babbling and give you what you want (swirlies optional, but highly recommended).
The worst part of this opaque, laborious process is that it isn’t even successful all that often. We’re an SEO company ourselves, and we’re often the second, third, or fourth agency a business works with. Why do the others fail? The reasons are legion: they engage in dubious, black-hat processes; they use outdated, ineffective practices; they let algorithm update after algorithm update pass them by (please don’t swirly us); they build poor spammy links – the list is extensive unfortunately.
Of course, knowing why they fail isn’t enough to succeed. So how do you go about choosing a good SEO company?
You don’t need to read every page of the SEO handbook: for one thing, it’s updated often enough that it’s likely to be old news by the time you’re finished; for another, it’s a task for your search agency. The key is to make sure they know it – and how they can use it to solve your particular business needs.
In your early conversations, you want to see evidence of a modern approach to SEO. Warning signs at this stage include:
Low cost – if they’re offering to get you to position one for hundreds of pounds they’ll be using spammy techniques that will cripple your website in the longer term. You might not believe it, but Google penalises sites that use spammy links – if your website is a lead generator, these penalties can be disastrous. Good SEO costs thousands not hundreds I’m afraid – AVOID.
Mentioning things like – link wheels, reciprocal links, forum comments, advertorial (paying for media coverage) – all connected to old school black hat tactics and all likely to get your website penalised by Google – AVOID.
Newswires – lots of old school SEO agencies know they need to do good PR for their clients these days but they lack the skill, so they turn to paid for newswires to distribute their clients’ news in the hope of attracting links. These result in paid for links. These are seriously frowned upon by Google – read about the Penguin part of the Google algorithm if you want to find out more – AVOID.
No strategy – good SEO agencies build strategies consisting of technical onsite tactics, great keyword research, content creation, PR, link building etc. If they cite one tactic to solve all your problems – AVOID.
No interest in your business objectives – SEO is there to help you meet your business objectives. If an agency is only prepared to talk to you about how good they are at improving keyword rankings and not about stuff like how they increased organic traffic, reduced client cost per acquisition, cost per deal etc. – AVOID.
No content team – remember, search marketers don’t just make reports and tweak your website. They are, in some respects, your business’s writers: they’re responsible for creating keyword-rich web copy and generating links with quality PR content (if they know what they’re doing – find out more about that here).
In the course of doing these things, they’re also serving as brand representatives. At the very least, you should want them to understand your brand.
Finding an SEO company
The most immediately obvious means of finding a quality SEO agency is Google. After all, if they aren’t near the top of the rankings, there’s clearly something wrong with them. Cobbler’s children, etc. etc.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Rankings are, for one thing, subject to change; usually because of a change in the algorithm, or a change in Google policy to punish ‘black hat’ practices such as page swapping, invisitext, or link buying – often via the algorithm (we keep saying ‘algorithm’, we’re really sorry).
We appear at or near the top for several keywords ourselves (search for “B2B PR agency” – we’re quite proud of that one) but we’d never pretend that this is, in itself, an indicator of what we can do for you. When it comes to choosing an SEO agency, do your due diligence. Get recommendations. Proposals. Concrete examples of what they have achieved and what they think they can achieve. Get some notion of how they intend to pursue ranking opportunities, increase conversion rates, and translate your requirements into tangible business value.
How much time do they intend to spend on onsite vs. offsite optimisation? And don’t take “50/50” for an answer. Can they provide evidence of successful link-building from high domain authority (a metric from Moz that gauges the trustworthiness of various websites) sources, and is their own domain authority reasonably high? Do they have case studies – with real metrics – that prove the value of their approach?
If they have good, realistic answers to these questions, and if they know what your business is trying to achieve, they’re probably a safe bet – congratulations, you’ve solved the problem of choosing a good SEO company! If they make promises they can’t keep, demonstrate a willingness to use unethical methods – or worse, attempt to hide their use of unethical methods – and haven’t kept up to date, then it’s wise to meet with a few more candidates.