As of this article’s publishing date, 17,353 agencies offer SEO services across the globe according to Clutch.

In one of the most saturated service markets, how does a buyer like you find the right SEO agency?

If you know what to look for, it’s easier than you think – and can be the difference in making the right or wrong decision for this critical marketing channel.

What does your ideal agency look like – and what should you avoid? Here are four easy takeaways.

Their sales team are SEO experts

The sales process is a perfect time to uncover the expertise (or lack thereof) of a potential agency. It’s your personal red carpet treatment. As such, you can use the sales process to benchmark an agency’s skillset.

Beware of: The CEO sale. Speaking with the agency’s CEO is always compelling. They’re the most knowledgeable and charismatic asset of the agency.

With a full understanding of the agency’s history and performance, the CEO can impress. The CEO sale sets expectations sky-high. So why should you beware?

A CEO-led sales process steals a critical moment from you: the ability to evaluate the expertise of a normal agency employee.

What about those who execute the strategy day-to-day? Will they have the ability to follow through on the incredible results the CEO sold you on?

By the time you sign your contract, the CEO is off on another adventure and you might be stuck with a junior-level account manager two weeks into the job.

What to look for: Your ideal agency has expertise “up and down the chain.” There are no knowledge silos. The CEO isn’t white-knighting the sales process.

Instead, the agency knows it is bigger than its CEO and knows its rank-and-file employees can educate and sell. The sales representative can command a conversation around contextual link building or technical audits as well as the SEO Director.

This might seem counter-intuitive (“I want to speak with the CEO!”). The truth is, there’s no greater way to discern the skillset of the agency as a whole.

Takeaway: Focus on agencies that use regular team members in the sales process (and speak with as many members of the fulfillment team as you can).

Their scope of work is crystal clear

A great scope of work is like a great recipe. It’s easy to follow, includes specific amounts of ingredients and creates a great outcome (yum!). Your ability to discern a great scope of work from a poor scope of work is a critical part of selecting your agency.

Beware of: The “unspecified laundry list” scope of work. This looks like an exhaustive list of SEO buzz words and marketing gimmicks. It’s meant to impress a prospect by sheer overwhelmingness. What it lacks is any cohesion with a greater strategy.

What to look for: Your ideal agency avoids filler deliverables. If a deliverable isn’t tactical (part of the strategy) or outcome-driven (creates bottom-line impact) it’s not included.

This may mean your ideal agency’s scope of work is smaller; this won’t matter if it’s specific and descriptive.

Beware of: Lack of clear timelines or wishy-washy language around deliverables.

What to look for: Your ideal agency has clear internal processes to keep their operation efficient and profitable. As such, they’re experts in resource planning. Sharing timelines keeps the agency aligned with your expectations.

Takeaway: Ask for a comprehensive explanation of the strategy and scope of work. Cut any agency that finds difficulty explaining each deliverable’s role in the greater strategy.

Their strategy makes you money

An agency’s strategy is the nucleus of your decision criteria. As such, there’s a lot to consider when selecting the right agency.

Beware of: The “first-page guarantee.”

It’s not difficult to get a keyword on the first page. It’s difficult to get a business-impacting keyword on the first page. If a keyword receives no search volume, it’s position on the first page has zero impact. Your ideal agency focuses the strategy on business-impacting keywords to generate leads.

What to look for: Your ideal agency uses your data to build an outcome-centric strategy. They gather historical performance, conversion rates, and goals to create a scope of work. They know their strategy must result in a positive ROI or they’ll lose the account. As such, they’ve used projection algorithms to determine ROI viability.

Takeaway: Cut any agency that doesn’t include growth projections and a path to ROI.

Their customers praise them publicly

Verified reviews of an agency’s performance are the strongest indicator of their ability to perform.

Beware of: Fake or paid reviews.

Paid, fake or review exchanges are a budding cottage industry. Some agencies will do anything to build a positive online reputation. The good news is fake reviews are discoverable if you know what to look for.

You can cross-reference a review on LinkedIn to confirm it represents a legitimate company. If an agency has paid for a review, the reviewer’s profile may have a history of disordered 5-star reviews in a variety of businesses and locations.

What to look for: Your ideal agency has plenty of recent, specific and real reviews. The reviews come from established companies in similar verticals. This shows your agency works with legitimate customers with similar internal structures.

What to look for: Your ideal agency knows the SEO industry is corrupt with fake reviews. They focus on sites that verify a reviewer’s identity and details via phone interview. And when you’re ready, they’re happy to connect you with current customers for feedback.

Takeaway: Cut any agency without verified reviews – and speak with at least two references via phone.

With these four takeaways, you can give yourself the best chance to land your ideal agency.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Michael Transon is the founder and CEO of Victorious, an SEO agency in San Francisco and has worked with leading brands such as SoFi, Drift. FanDuel, and AngelList. Since 2016, Michael has led Victorious to three SEO Agency of the Year awards.


We’re 20 years into the SaaS revolution now, and B2B companies have gotten the table stakes of an operational set-up for tactical go-to-market pretty much down. We know how to define our ideal customer profiles (ICP) in terms of firmographics. We understand the importance of technographics and the implications of existing installs on sellability. We’ve learned about buying team dynamics and we’ve gotten the hang of creating personas to help us address the typical needs of important functions and roles. And, if we have enough historical data, we can now pretty easily use analytics to model propensity to buy, project that onto a list of lookalike targets, and have at it. 

But what if you’re a new company and you don’t have the data you’d need to create an effective model? What if you’re small and you don’t have the resource to get all that groundwork done any time soon? What if you’re in a mature category and you’ve already completed all the set-up work – and all your competition has too? In those situations and more, innovative marketing and sales teams are starting to look at their challenges and opportunities through a different lens. Rather than viewing their ICP targets as lookalike companies who all deserve equal attention, they’re turning to sources of behavioral insight that can illuminate the actual people and real solution needs to focus on now. By shaping their own actions around the activity in the market, they’re better able to optimize resource allocations, deliver improved customer experiences and maximize their revenue.

Here’s the proof of why activity matters

When the global tele-qualification company Operatix leverages rich activity signals on behalf of their clients, they’ve achieved a 4X lift on typical conversion rates. And these meetings convert far better than average into real opportunities that progress into deals. When we executed our own extensive analysis of cold list-based demand gen tactics compared to those where we could see significant buyer activity, after over 6,000 outbound calls and more than a million emails, we showed that activity-based targeting yields an up to 7X lift in email response and a 5X improvement in MQLs qualified. What’s more, when rigorously applying the insights available to us to better prepare our callers, we’ve achieved as high as 19X improvement in meeting creation. Conversely, our cold lists required 4X more dials to get a meeting booked, and of those scheduled meetings, the show rate was 50% worse.

and similar variables. “A” accounts will then get more attention than those ranked “B” or “C.”  When buyer behavior is overlaid on such a ranking, something very interesting happens: Now the seller can make a much more informed choice of where exactly to focus their next outbound blitz for example, because they can see where there really is a deal taking shape, rather than having to continue with cold probes that commonly turn up little of immediate interest.

For field reps with only a few accounts, the value of activity is more subtle, but just as powerful. For a wide range of products, large accounts can typically have many buying centers. But if a salesperson has worked hard on a given account, maybe they’ve even sold a deal, the natural next step is to move on to another in their patch. When they have access to buyer activity data across the whole of the account, they’re able to immediately see demand present in other pockets even though they hadn’t had a chance to personally reach out to that buying center. Now they can make a truly informed choice of whether or not it’s time to move on or to strike while the iron is hot and leverage what they’ve learned into follow-on business.

How activity matters in demand gen

Because they’re often selling low-involvement products, many B2C marketers actually do have the ability to generate demand. As any first-year economics student will tell you – with all else being equal – if you lower the price of a commodity, “demand” for it can go up. B2B is different though. We may call what we do “demand gen” but it’s really about demand identification and demand capture. Unfortunately for all of us (and frankly, for our prospects) we’re all literally spending billions of dollars looking for demand where it could be at some point but actually isn’t right now. As a result, many of our processes and systems have been tailored to increase our volume of activity rather than its precision.  

Activity-based demand gen turns the table on this. It puts the focus squarely on improving conversion rates through quality interaction. When teams make the switch to activity-based targeting, we see them become much more picky about what they produce and what they invest in. Rather than staying satisfied with hypothetical personas, for example, they start learning all they can about the actual people who are exhibiting buying signals. They begin to work much more closely with their inside sellers to shape cadences more intelligently. They dig into their conversational marketing tools to better address and qualify inbound traffic. And importantly, we see them move beyond output-based KPIs, to focus on opportunity creation, pipeline movement, and revenue yield.

How activity matters in ABM

As we see it, the sole purpose behind investing in ABM programs is to increase the average revenue yield and total profit obtained from a specific set of target accounts. We plan to invest more on those accounts because, by doing so, we intend to get more out of them. We’re making an educated bet that there’s more demand in there than we’ve historically been able to tap into. And to go after it, we know we’ll have to do better at marketing and sales.

A notable difference we’re seeing between practitioners who are lukewarm on ABM and those who are shouting its benefits to the rafters stems in part from the efficiency of, and the scale to which they’ve been able to grow their successes.

The very best teams are starting to move beyond only doing better with a small set of laboratory accounts to measuring success objectives using a completely new type of metric. SiriusDecisions’s “demand unit” concept provides the intellectual groundwork for the evolving approach. Rather than just looking to beat a historically derived account quota, companies are now beginning to try to calculate the real potential of the account more accurately. Then, they’re planning and investing proportionally in marketing and sales based on that potential. Activity-based targeting is making it easier to operationalize advanced approaches like this. Practitioners are using it in ABM to build programs designed to maximize share of wallet yields per account.

Activity demands action

Buyer activity signals – combining what you’re able to capture on your own properties and obtain through third party sources – provide access to a more complete view of total demand activity in a given market category. Capturing this demand requires that you make a concerted effort to go after it. If in the presence of better information, you don’t change your processes, you shouldn’t expect better yields. Furthermore, the more granular and rich the signals’ components, the greater their accuracy will be in pinpointing opportunity and the greater potential that they will offer a guide to modifying your efforts in line with real behavior in the marketplace. The logic of this seems clear: When the task is to close business, it’s essential to listen and respond to what the customer is telling you. That’s how you can deliver better on customer experience. 

Marketers and sellers who are succeeding with activity-based targeting are pursuing activity aggressively. They’re throwing out rigid persona concepts to adapt to rapidly evolving buyer researcher types. They’re dynamically adjusting messaging and positioning to reflect how customers themselves view the issues. In sum, they’re becoming smarter, more agile and more customercentric than ever before.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author