Without prior experience, it can be difficult to identify what makes a really good SEO agency. To help address the issue, Google put together some tips on how to hire an SEO professional; they can be applied to the agency selection process too.
A quick note before we begin – a good SEO agency should always be able to show you a corroborating statement from Google (in the form of a help centre article, video or Google response in a forum) that supports their proposed strategy and recommendations. The statement should have a matching description of the issue that needs to be improved.
By comparison, a less qualified agency/old school agency, might suggest doing things like adding more keywords to the metatags or buying links (neither of which will work in the long term, as Google strongly advises against both activities).
A checklist of questions to ask an SEO agency
Once you’ve got a shortlist of agencies you want to work with, you can start conducting interviews with them to make sure that they are actually interested in you and your business.
Questions to ask an SEO agency
What should be improved on your site for SEO purposes and how?
What should be improved off your site for SEO purposes and how?
What content have they recently produced that’s resulted in followed links for their clients?
What content have they recently produced that’s resulted in brand mentions for their clients?
What have they done that’s worked well for previous clients?
What have they done that’s not worked so well for previous clients?
What do they think the future of SEO looks like?
What do they include in a technical SEO audit?
What do they think are the top three most important things your business needs to do from a technical, content or offsite (e.g. link building) SEO perspective to make progress? (To give them the best chance possible of answering this question you’ll need to give them at least temporary restricted access to your Google Analytics and Search Console accounts.)
If you expect them to conduct an in-depth audit or a competitor analysis for example, then expect to pay for this work! If the agency you’re talking to is prepared to do this for free then be concerned what you’ll receive is a run of the mill, fairly useless, automated report.
Questions they should be asking you
Red flags should be raised if the agency doesn’t want to ask you anything. Questions we ask prospects include:
What are your business objectives?
What do you sell?
What do you need to sell?
How many and in what time scale?
What other marketing activities are you conducting to help you meet your business objectives?
How many leads do you generate every month from SEO at the moment?
How many qualified leads do you generate every month from SEO at the moment?
What’s your organic conversion rate (from organic enquiry to qualified lead)?
What does your website development schedule look like?
How agile is your development function?
How committed are you to SEO?
What’s your budget?
Get some references
Then obviously ask the agency for references!
SEO is a long term strategy – there is no point in getting into this if you’re going to give up six months in. It’s simply not possible to win at SEO overnight but once you get it right you have a stream of highly qualified inbound leads coming into the site. The agency will likely need to create/edit website content required for SEO purposes in the first instance. Then they’ll move into a pattern of onsite blogging (for internal linking purposes) and ongoing link and brand building via PR activity, to increase the position of your website for the keywords you’re interested in (i.e. the ones that’ll generate you the right kinds of leads).
The agency will need to add new content to your site – in all likelihood, they’ll need to add new pages and make edits to existing pages in order to help you compete – if you are unwilling to do this then they won’t be able to make progress.
The agency will require access to subject matter experts (for link building purposes) and whoever is involved in website management (a lot of our clients simply give us access so we can upload agreed content)
Answers to the questions above and due consideration of things like time scale and development capacity, will enable you to get a handle on which agency understands your business the best and which one you’ll have the most successful relationship with. Then it should be easy to pick the one to move forward with.