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.