Consistently I come across people who have dealt with SEO firms in the past and have been burned by them. Not only did they not get the results they were hoping for, but they also spent a hefty sum with nothing to show for it. Finding a quality SEO strategy today can be challenging with all of the theories that exist in this industry, and it is no secret that SEO has had its share of snake oil salespeople. This kind of poor reputation from our industries past makes it tough to choose a reputable firm today. This makes it more important than ever to properly educate businesses on the value of Inbound Marketing over just focusing on SEO.
But before we dive too deeply let’s quickly understand the different types of SEO Companies to see how SEO strategies may form.
Strictly SEO type firms almost always fall into the following three categories: Freelance firms, Local and Regional firms, and National agencies. Of the three there are a few key takeaways.
Freelance firms are often a one-man shop that usually does most of the work themselves. They are typically excellent at one or two different skills, and ok at a handful of the rest of them. Often freelance firms that do well get known for being an expert in a particular area, which is what inspires them to become a freelance firm. If you need a specific task done and know a reputable freelance agent that is known for this type of work, they will likely do an exceptional job for you. Just make sure you stay in their wheelhouse of expertise, and know when to bring in additional help.
Local and Regional firms have a team of individuals that manage different areas. They typically have copywriters, graphic developers, website development, project managers and skilled leaders in SEO and marketing. These firms focus on a range of expertise and work with helping local and regional awareness for their clients. These companies should have a range of skills and aid your business with PR, Content Development, Website Management, SEO and perhaps a handful of other inbound marketing techniques. Local firms will usually cost more, but should also deliver stronger results.
National agencies are the big guys that work with large national or worldwide companies. They have all expertise in-house and focus on organizations that need a national or global presence. Typically, these firms are far too expensive for local and region businesses as their products and costs are focused on the big players.
Below are five questions to ask a prospective SEO firm. While there are certainly more than this to consider, these are critical for taking the first steps and identifying if you want to spend more time with an SEO firm.
Which SEO Company do I need?
First, you need to know which category of SEO company you need. Most business owners today fit into the local or regional needs for building an online presence with their business. This fits nicely into both a freelance agent when the job is well defined and understood by the business owner, or a local/region firm when a range of skills is needed. However, if you need a complex SEO strategy that focuses on a national or global footprint, then national SEO agencies are right for you.
Do they guarantee results?
If the company you are reviewing says yes, a red flag should go up. Not only is this against all Search Engine Guidelines, but it is also almost certainly a Black Hat Technique and will usually result in penalizing or even delisting of your website.
If you want to risk working with a firm that does guarantee their results, then make sure you get it in writing, and they promise a refund for services that fall short of the guarantee.
However, I find that companies that take this route are disappointed and lose time, money, and their sites reputation.
Do they have experience with improving local search results?
An SEO strategy for a local brick and mortar business is very different than an only online business or one with no local store front. A quality SEO company should know how to manage this and be able to explain how they can help, or have help businesses like yours.
How often will we communicate?
This may seem like a simple question, but if your marketing/SEO company does not keep constant communication with you and review their results, it will almost certainly end badly.
Make sure this is as important to them as it is to you!
What is their process for working with a new client?
When it comes to taking your business and improving its digital footprint, it is important to have a strategy. The firm you work with should understand where your business is today and where you want it to be tomorrow. A good strategy will lay these goals out and present a measurable and actionable plan to achieve the desired results. This works best when you both review this plan monthly and see what results have occurred, then tweak the project according to what metrics need corrected. Make sure the firms approach involves more than just a monthly figure in a cookie cutter plan. Every business has different needs and actions, and a custom plan should be developed.
Hopefully, this doesn’t happen, but when it does you need to make sure you have ownership of everything you expect. There is nothing worse than parting ways with a company to find out they host your website, and own all of the content. Be sure you also get this in writing at the time of a contract.
If done properly, and most SEO’s will do this, all the effort put into developing your SEO can be handed off to the next company you work with.
Remember SEO is just one part of a bigger picture, and it takes time, on average 3-6 months to get substantial results. Remember, quality over quantity is always the rule in any good SEO. Any method that ranks you quickly is almost certainly going to cost you in the long run. A good SEO firm will take the time needed to work with you, and measure your results and present them to you. Sometimes it will be good and other times it may be bad, but in the end, it should be improving your businesses.
-Sean Riggs Search & Rank Technologies