Looking after your website’s SEO is a delicate business. Do it right and you’ll boost your company’s online visibility, which means potentially more customers and more revenue. But do it wrong and your website’s rankings could drop like a stone, along with your sales!
If you’ve got the time to do your own SEO, have a look at our ultimate SEO guide for small businesses. But if you’re too busy and you need a hand, you have to make sure you find an agency you can trust.
To help you find the right SEO agency, here are a few questions you should ask them:
- “How will you improve our website’s rankings?”
- “Can you guarantee we’ll get to #1 on Google for [INSERT POPULAR SEARCH TERM HERE]?”
- “How will you go about building links?”
- “How many links will you get for us each month?”
- “Can you share past results you’ve achieved with other clients?”
- “How well do you understand my industry?”
- “Do you follow Google’s quality guidelines?”
- “Can you work with my PPC agency?”
- “How will you report your results?”
- “How much do you charge?”
- Further reading
“How will you improve our website’s rankings?”
This is a pretty open-ended question so it’ll give you a good insight into the agency’s approach. And it can help to catch out some of the less scrupulous characters.
A good SEO strategy will focus on three main pillars:
- Technical: This covers the nitty-gritty on how Google can crawl and index your site. As part of this pillar, the agency will concentrate on your website’s technical structure
- On-site: This pillar covers the content on your site, as well as the overall user experience.
- Off-site: The final pillar mainly involves those all-important backlinks. This also happens to be one of the most abused pillars by disreputable SEO agencies.
Bear in mind that some SEO agencies might not offer the full service – there are some agencies which only specialise in one or two of the three pillars.
If this is the case, you might need to either look for a second agency to help with the rest or find an agency that can do all three together.
“Can you guarantee we’ll get to #1 on Google for [INSERT POPULAR SEARCH TERM HERE]?”
This is a bit of a trick question, but it’s handy in sorting the wheat from the chaff. In short, you’re looking for an answer along these lines:
“We can’t guarantee you’ll get to #1 but we’ll do our best to increase your website’s overall visibility for a range of relevant search terms.”
There are simply too many variables involved for anyone to make guarantees about your website’s rankings. And the kind of agencies who give guarantees are usually the same ones who cut corners or break Google’s quality guidelines.
Always be sceptical, and value measured honesty over ambitious promises when you’re comparing agencies.
“How will you go about building links?”
Search engines like Google use a combination of all sorts of factors when it comes to determining a website’s rankings. But one of the most important is still backlinks. In other words, how many other sites are linking to your website, and how?
In the past, SEOs could get great results by paying other people to link to their client’s website. However, this is obviously not an ethical strategy – how can Google trust a link in determining the quality of a website if that link has been paid for?
So over time, Google has got better at working out what links are natural – and haven’t been paid for – and which ones have. If Google finds out you’re paying people to link to your website, they can penalise you and you run the risk of losing your rankings almost overnight.
By asking an SEO agency this question, you can assess their approach to link building. If they say anything about paying for links, be careful!
Each agency will have their own strategy and methods, but they should involve building relationships with publishers and outreaching with content rather than just thrusting money into people’s hands.
“How many links will you get for us each month?”
Again, this is a bit of a trick question. Like the question about guaranteeing a number one position for your website, you want the SEO agency to tell you they can’t give you a firm guarantee.
No one can predict how successful a link building campaign will be. And even fewer people than that can guarantee the quality of those links!
Instead, the agency should give you an estimate for how many quality links they will aim to get for your website each month.
It’s no good if an SEO agency guarantees you 20 links a month when all those links are either low-quality, out-and-out spammy, or paid for.
“Can you share past results you’ve achieved with other clients?”
As they say, the proof is in the pudding. One of the quickest and easiest ways to assess an SEO agency’s credentials is to see their previous work and the kind of results they’ve achieved for other clients. This will give you a good indication of how successful their strategies have been in the past.
Ideally, you’ll want to see examples of results they’ve achieved for companies in the same industry as yours. Which brings us on to…
“How well do you understand my industry?”
While the fundamentals of SEO remain the same, each industry is unique in one way or another. By asking this question, you can find out how much the agency understands about your industry.
If they have a good understanding of your market and your competitors, it’s going to make their strategies more effective as they’ll have some experience working in a similar space.
It’s also just good practice for an agency to do their homework before they meet a prospective client.
“Do you follow Google’s quality guidelines?”
This is a good question to ask because it does two things. Firstly, it helps you to determine how ethical – and therefore successful – the agency’s strategies will be. If they say yes, and can explain how they plan to adhere to the guidelines, there’s a good chance they won’t tank your website’s rankings by employing any “black-hat” tactics.
Secondly, it also demonstrates to the agency that you know there are rules for what’s OK and not OK. Some unscrupulous SEOs benefit from the fact that search engine optimisation is poorly understood by the population at large.
Some might try to hoodwink you into thinking their tactics are kosher when in reality, they’re not. They’re less likely to think they can get away with this if you show them you know what you’re talking about.
If you need to know what Google’s quality guidelines are, you can find them here.
“Can you work with my PPC agency?”
This one might not be relevant if you’re not running pay-per-click advertising campaigns for your business. But if you are, you should make sure the SEO agency can work with the agency managing your paid search ads.
By working together, they can coordinate their efforts. For example, if you already organically rank in the number one position for a particular search, your PPC agency might be able to reduce their bid for that keyword, saving you money.
“How will you report your results?”
Just because you’re hiring someone else to look after your SEO doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be kept in the loop. You want to know you’re getting the value for your money and that the agency’s activities are paying off.
Ask the agency how they plan to report their results and keep you updated on their progress.
Ideally, you’ll need to see:
- Updates on organic search visits (month-on-month and year-on-year)
- Average positions for key search terms over time
- Overall visibility metrics over time
- Conversions and revenue from organic search
Depending on the work they’re doing for you, you might also want to see more granular updates. For example, updates on landing pages which have been optimised, backlinks which have been earned, or seconds which have been shaved off your page loading times.
“How much do you charge?”
This is an obvious one, and probably not really a question you need a reminder to ask. But it’s important to understand the agency’s fee structure and how they’ll bill you if you hire them.
Some agencies will charge a flat retainer fee each month, but some might charge by the hour. Some agencies will also charge by the project (for example, for SEO help while you migrate to a new website).
Whenever you consider the cost of an SEO agency, you should also be thinking about the return on investment. A good agency will factor this into their estimates, demonstrating what they could potentially bring you in terms of incremental revenue as they improve your visibility.
Can we help?
Hiring an SEO agency can be expensive. So if you need a little help covering the cost, get in touch to see if you’re eligible for a business loan from Boost Capital.