The 5 Questions You Need to Vet an SEO Company

Despite your best in-house efforts at demand generation, you may reach a time in your marketing strategy where you’ll want to seek the help of an outside digital agency. You won’t be alone. According to our 2014 State of Digital Marketing Report, there has been a whopping 50% year over year increase in outsourced SEO and SEM programs.

Companies that hire digital agencies benefit in numerous ways. Agencies are among the first to spot trends and can adapt quickly. This allows companies to stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly changing digital landscape. Agencies also have access to top data analysis software and technology, and this can ultimately help you with your ROI.

Before you hire an SEO agency, here are five questions you need to ask:

Question 1. What’s your plan to improve our organic search rankings?

It’s every company’s dream to rank first on Google SERPs, but no SEO company should ever guarantee you a number 1 keyword ranking.  If it does, you should read this as an immediate warning sign. Walk away and look for another digital agency, one which can offer a more realistic and ethical value proposition.

As you research what the agency has to offer, ask what differentiates it from its competitors. Does the agency focus on a particular niche? If it has special knowledge of your industry, ask if there are any case studies that it can share with you.

Hiring an SEO agency that knows your sector can offer you a definite advantage. But at the same time, you’ll want to make sure it does not have any conflicts of interest with other clients. For example, will the agency represent your competitors and target the same set of keywords? To avoid surprises, make sure your agency can articulate a solid plan.

Question 2. Will you be transparent with your SEO strategy?

Because SEO is such a complex and ever-changing process, you’ll want to make sure the agency you choose can both educate you and explain its planned strategy. A good agency should help you understand SEO best practices, and make clear how those best practices are reflected in each change it makes to your web site.

Without this transparency, you risk the danger of hiring someone who uses “black hat” tactics. Black hat SEO usually violates search engine guidelines and can result in penalties or even total removal from Google’s index.

Another form of transparency to consider concerns allocation of fees. Despite the fact that many search engines clearly label paid advertisements, some agencies might camouflage their organic success by placing search ads. Be sure you can tell the difference between temporary ads and actual organic search. The same can be said for social media metrics. You should be able to determine if your increase in followers has come from paid tactics or organic content marketing.

Remember to never settle for an agency that is anything less than transparent. You should always be updated on all changes being made to your web site. If an SEO agency keeps its strategy a secret, it’s another warning sign.

Question 3. How do you measure SEO success?

Although ranking first in organic search results is always an ideal goal, it doesn’t mean much if there is no correlation to ROI. You’ll want to make sure the SEO company is able to quantify your success in other ways, namely in leads and sales.

Be sure to ask how an agency typically organizes its ROI reporting structure. You might also want to ask if the agency will share a sample client report with you, so you can gain insights into the metrics and attribution model used.

Lastly, ask about the timeline for seeing results. To reiterate, no SEO agency should promise you an exact outcome, but it should be able to generate some intelligent projections.

Question 4. How often will we meet with our account management team?

It’s important that your digital agency can devote sufficient human resources to deal with your account. To ensure this, ask if the agency plans to assign an account manager to handle your concerns. In addition to identifying this manager, ask about team members that will also work on your account. How many other clients are they responsible for? How often will the team have conference calls with you?

This line of questioning is crucial to determine if the agency can give you the attention you need. No one wants to feel like a second fiddle being plucked for just the bucks. Will your agency prioritize your account, committing the necessary time and focus?

Another way to find out is to ask for an onsite tour. Agencies that agree to this extra step when feasible will demonstrate they are particularly interested in your business. The visit will also be a great opportunity to meet account team members, giving you a chance to further vet the agency.

Question 5. Is your agency a certified Google Partner?

This question is a basic but often overlooked detail. Google Partners is a certification program for agencies that can prove they follow best practices while also delivering top quality service.

Partners become certified by passing a fundamental AdWords exam and at least one additional exam in search, display, mobile, video, or shopping advertising. As part of this certification process, Google also reviews client accounts to asses how well budgets are being optimized, the kinds of changes being made and how often, and if clients continue to do business with the partner.

If your agency can boast a Google Partner badge, it’s a good indicator that your AdWords campaigns and Analytics will be in good hands. It’s also a sure-fire way to know that the agency has mastered the essentials of Google’s criteria, and this will give you greater confidence to move forward with a decision.

To learn even more about how to select the right SEO company for you, download a copy of the Digital Marketing Agency Buyer’s Guide eBook.