How do you find the perfect SEO agency to work with?
This question seems to get posted on Reddit or Quora on a daily basis. And for good reason – with so many agencies out there, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I’ve usually chimed in on these sites, providing an answer which involves some level of due diligence before even giving agencies a call/email. And yet, I believe this answer can be expanded upon and be of greater value to those who are in a similar situation.
I’ve attempted to list what I would investigate, in order of most important to least, while being as objective as possible.
So, what should you prioritize and look for in an agency?
1. Previous Clients
Do they have any previous clients you can contact/observe the results of? Were they happy with the work done for them and are they still ranking well?
Obviously, this test may be flawed due to a number of reasons:
- Client neglected to implement the agency recommendations.
- Client moved onto another agency who made things better/worse.
- Work was conducted a number of years ago and the client has not continued to utilize their services, thus fallen behind to the competition.
- Agency was recruited to only operate on one area of SEO e.g. link building, on page optimization etc.
Nevertheless, analyzing an agencies rolodex of clients is a good way to start your research and go from there.
Some directories can provide insight into the kinds of budgets these agencies work with. Others are a little more difficult to gauge.
Do you have a small budget? Many agencies may not even open your inquiry if they suspect you have have a limited budget to work with.
Make sure this is something you make clear at the beginning of any correspondence.
Some agencies may work within your budget, but extend the contract over a longer period of time to compensate for the lower rate. Be prepared for this response also.
Keywords, competition and the level of work required are all factors agencies take into account before giving a tailored quote, and you may want to be prepared to compromise on some goals if your budget is fixed.
It’s never a bad idea to look into a company further to see what kind of a presence they have in their particular field. Some common questions include:
- Who is the CEO?
- Do they have a social presence?
- Are they known in the industry?
- Do they attend industry-relevant conferences?
- Do they sponsor any events or meetups?
- Are they active in any online community?
If you can answer these with ease, it may become clear if you are dealing with a legitimate agency or not.
That being said, there is always the chance the absence of the aforementioned requirements does not disqualify an agency immediately, but it would be cause for concern – at the very least – proceed with caution.
Dovetailing in with presence is the concept of publications. Simply put, has the agency staff or CEO published a book, eBook, white paper or course?
Do they have a blog they update regularly?
Do they ever give keynotes with slides?
These indicators can make it easy to decide which agency takes their craft and industry more seriously, having invested in resources and publications which display their passion and expertise on the topic.
5. Response Times
As a test, we recently requested a quote from 7 “top” SEO agencies for a website of ours which shows no connection to us as an agency.
The results were quite shocking to us.
Only 1 replied within 24 hours.
2 more replied within a week.
The other 4? Not. A. Word.
Were they too busy? Too complacent? Too big to work with us? We’ll never know. All we can recommend is, NEVER ever follow up with agencies that don’t reply to your initial query. If they neglect something as significant as the initial point of contact, why would you believe the subsequent interactions will be any better?
If you don’t hear back from any agency within 48 hours – no matter how successful or ubiquitous they may be – move on. There’s just no excuse for it.
This point may be met with some contention, however it must be noted. Some agencies have chosen to only work with certain businesses, for example, there are agencies that specialize in SEO for:
- CrossFit gyms
- Divorce lawyers
- eCommerce websites
- Small-to-medium size businesses
- Local businesses
- Large enterprise businesses
In doing so, they may stand out from the competition and win business easier than an agency that caters to businesses of all shapes and sizes. This philosophy is similar to a specialist who chooses to only work in a field of medicine (e.g. brain surgeon) as opposed to a general doctor.
Are you an eCommerce shop? Would you rather work with a large agency that will accept any client, or a boutique agency which only works on eCommerce websites?
There is no right or wrong answer here. But it’s good to be aware of these models in the market.
We are located in Los Angeles. Will that deter a company from Odessa, Texas working with us?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Some clients want to visit and meet the agency they are communicating with, in person. Some don’t care, as long as the work gets done.
What kind of client are you?
Putting language and time zones aside, location shouldn’t really need to be an issue for most potential clients, unless you suspect an agency is a backyard operation, at which point you should simply walk away.
Skill and success does not discriminate. A downtown agency doesn’t necessarily do better work than an agency in a small town. Talent and diligence can be found anywhere.
Agencies are not cheap. They usually cost anywhere from $1-10K per month, which is a significant investment for any company. Be that as it may, it’s not advised to engage with an agency which offers guarantees that you will rank within a certain period of time – there is a very good chance it’s not legitimate.
Quite simply, no agency can offer a ranking guarantee. We can work hard, we can put in the hours and do everything humanly possible to help you rank well in search engines, but we cannot say with 100% certainty you will indeed rank. There are many factors out of our control, therefore we can only put you in the best possible position to rank well.
Hiring an agency is a big decision. Don’t rush into it and pick the first one you see. Take your time, evaluate effectively and I hope this guide helps you get that much closer to finding the right agency to work with 🙂
Sebastian Hovv is the CEO & founder of SEO 101 and the author of the book, The Little White Book of SEO. With over 13 years of experience in SEO, he has become an expert in the field and a contributor to the world of online marketing education through the online courses and learning material SEO 101 provides.