Tag Archives: Seo Agency

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How to hire the right SEO agency

Organic search accounts for 51% of the traffic brands receive on average, and investment in SEO services is projected to rise to $79 billion annually by 2020. To capitalize on so much opportunity, brands often partner with an SEO agency to add firepower to their existing marketing efforts.

However, with so many agencies all promising so much, how can brands ensure they select the right SEO company?

A significant number of brands choose to outsource elements of their SEO program to an agency partner. This can provide access to valuable skills and insights that the company does not possess internally, so it can prove to be a very sound long-term investment.

However, it can also be difficult to get a clear view on which agencies can deliver on the brand’s business objectives through organic search.

SEO is open to a certain amount of interpretation; Google is infamously opaque when it comes to the inner workings of its algorithms, so we often rely on correlative studies to draw our conclusions about what works and what doesn’t.

That room for interpretation can be exploited, making it hard to distinguish between sophisticated SEOs and false prophets.

In a rare and newsworthy move earlier this year, Google acknowledged this challenge and tried to address it in the video below.

The video, from Google’s Webmaster team, provides practical advice to distinguish between what they call “good SEOs and bad SEOs”.

Google suggests giving an SEO expert at least four months to make an impact, so it’s worth making sure you feel confident in your choice.

The tips below, drawn from experience working at agencies and helping brands to find the right agency partner, will help companies to arrive at an informed decision.

It is important to strike the right balance here; an effective client-agency partnership requires input from both sides. Before setting out a formal pitch process, it is important to establish what these requirements will be and that your company is in a position to meet them.

Research

It can be quite daunting to set out on the search for a new SEO company. Often, a company hires an agency to avail of advanced SEO knowledge – exactly the quantity that would help with the agency search.

Brands are often faced with a choice of a lot of very similar-looking agencies, all promising that they have “reinvented” the agency model or that they have the “only approach that works”.

It is an unfortunate reality that some agencies talk a good game without being able to back it up. Hiring the wrong SEO agency can be very costly and it takes time to recognize the shortcomings in their strategies, so it’s worth putting the work in up front to define and assess the candidates.

Before you start looking for an agency, decide on what exactly it is that your company wants to achieve through SEO. This will help you draw up an initial list of companies (many are specialists in just a few fields), and it will also be beneficial when you communicate with the agency teams.

SEO could help you increase brand awareness, improve customer retention, or simply drive more revenue. Defining what these goals are will help you and the prospective partner agencies to work on the right strategy.

Once you have this clear in your mind, the search should begin.

Image via Pixabay

Ironically, perhaps the worst way you can start is by searching [seo agency] on Google.

The agencies that show up in top positions may well be demonstrating their ability to rank for an important keyword, but many of the best agencies apply these efforts to help their clients rank rather than their own business.

As such, anything you find from this search will be inconclusive. The same goes for the paid search results for [seo agency]; ranking via PPC shows that they can use AdWords, but it doesn’t demonstrate anything other than their desire to sell SEO services to you.

We want an opinion we can trust, which can be hard when it seems like everyone has a vested interest in selling something.

You should assess which kind of agency you want to work with based on factors including:

  • Your budget: Agencies can charge from hundreds of dollars a month up to six-figure monthly retainers for complex, international engagements.
  • The services you require: This will typically include technical SEO, SEO strategy, content production, link building, and many other services for larger brands.
  • Agency culture: Does their culture align with your brand’s values?
  • Expertise: This applies both to SEO as a discipline and to your specific business vertical.
  • Agency size: Some brands prefer a smaller agency, while others want to work with large agency brands. Both come with their own lists of pros and cons.
  • Reputation: Ask colleagues and any SEO industry contacts to recommend agencies based on the requirements you have selected above.

In essence, if you can cut through all the self-promotional noise and get an opinion from an industry insider that you respect, that can be a great way to start drawing up your list of agencies to contact.

Having a very targeted view of your SEO goals and an idea of the kind of agency you want to work with will help refine and expedite this process significantly.

The pitch process

It is normally helpful to have a discovery call with each agency on your initial list to learn a bit more about their company and culture. From here, you can decide which companies you would like to invite to pitch for your business.

Take all of your decision criteria and create a scoring sheet that each stakeholder at the business can fill in. This helps to remove some of the biases that cloud judgement and establishes a level playing field. Running a pitch process can feel like herding cats at times, so you should ensure there are concrete reference points and milestones along the way to keep all parties organized.

How to hire the right SEO agency

Image via Pixabay

That applies internally and externally; everyone at your business should be aware of the expectations from the process, but the agency should also know how long the entire process will last and what will be needed from them.

Pitching for new business requires a lot of input from an agency team, so it is best to be transparent about things so they can plan accordingly. This can apply to letting them know how many other agencies are in the running, providing detail on what is required at each stage of the pitch, and the dates on which you will announce your decision.

There are a few important points to keep in mind throughout the pitch as you try and decide which agency would make the best business partner.

Questions to ask:

  • Can you talk me through the first 10 days of a typical engagement with a new client?
  • How would you define a ‘good’ backlink for our business?
  • Do you think Google’s ranking algorithms weight factors differently depending on the nature of the query?
  • How do you ensure that your technical recommendations are implemented, and how do you measure their impact?
  • Can we meet our account team?
  • Do you outsource any of your client work to freelancers?
  • How much time will be spent on the account each month?
  • Have you ever had to push back on a client? How did you go about doing this?
  • What role do you think SEO plays in wider business strategy?
  • If we sign up with you, how long will it be until we see results?
  • What if things don’t work out between our companies? How would you approach that situation?
  • How much resource will be required from our side to make this partnership a success?

In the answers to these questions, it is important that the agency is honest – even if that means telling you something you perhaps didn’t want to hear. Client-agency relationships can involve constructive disagreements at times, which is fine if the agency is acting in your best interests.

Every agency will have had difficult conversations with clients; the good ones will have come out of these with their reputations enhanced in the long term. Bad agencies end things on less than civil terms and blame the client for any failures.

You should also note their ability to think on their feet and approach challenges with an open mind.

Potential red flags:

  • Promises of dramatic short-term results. There are ‘quick wins‘ in SEO, but progress for competitive industries takes time. Take it from Google: a good SEO needs at least 4 months of activity to deliver a sustainable impact.
  • Watch out for agencies that plan to outsource a lot of work to transient freelance networks. If they do plan to do this, be sure to get full transparency on who will be handling your company’s sensitive data.
  • An inflexible approach to disagreements, either in your discussion or in anecdotes from past client engagements.
  • References to ‘buying backlinks’ or any euphemistic representation thereof should be automatic grounds for disqualification.
  • Agencies that claim they can start right away. If you are asking for a lot of services, an agency can only start immediately if they are really struggling for business or if they are planning to under-deliver. It will typically take a few weeks, at least, to get an agency team in place for a medium- or large-scale project.

Agency selection

By the end of a rigorous pitch process, there will hopefully be a unanimous decision on the right agency. There are quite a lot of good SEO agencies out there, which is why it is so essential to begin with a clear idea of what you are looking for. Combined with a standardized approach to agency evaluation, this will create a clear framework for the ultimate selection.

When certain agencies have been ruled out, let them know as soon as you can. Most agencies put a lot of time and effort into their proposals and the wait for feedback can be excruciating. Even if it’s bad news, they’d rather know than wait around longer for an answer.

As for the winning agency, set up an initial kick-off meeting with them to introduce all the key individuals who will make the project a success!

Does your website need an SEO audit?

Websites are like cars: they need maintenance. That may come in the form of updating the CMS, security or plugins. The same goes for SEO.

A great SEO strategy will always need reviewing and constant scrutiny of analytics, in order to ensure that you remain on the intended path.

To garner the most success from search engine traffic, a fully-fledged campaign is the best bet, where an individual or team can dedicate the correct amount of time to deliver results.

SEO audits are a slightly different beast. Audit. A word associated with redundancies or the tax man knocking at your door. It’s a word devoid of happy connotations.

But don’t be afraid, they can be very helpful. So where do they fit into the SEO ecosystem, and how can you tell if your website needs one?

What’s involved in an SEO audit?

Carrying on with the car metaphor, not all cars are the same.

The fundamentals might be the same: cylinders, internal combustion, suspension, gears, wheels. But a Lamborghini is not the same as a Skoda.

In the same vein, not all SEO agencies are the same, and SEO audits can differ greatly between agencies in their complexity and depth. The results will therefore differ according to the content of the audit. However, let’s presume that an SEO audit will look at:

The aim? To give an overview of the health of your website with regard to SEO. You should also get a multitude of actionable points according to the strategy, which either you or the agency should implement.

An SEO audit can act as a first point of call for developing an SEO strategy if you don’t already have one, or if you do, as a valuable second opinion that potentially flags up critical issues with your existing strategy. Let’s look at how an SEO audit could benefit your business in each scenario.

Starting from scratch

You have a website, but you don’t feel that you’re getting much in the way of traffic or conversions via search engines. You may or may not have conducted SEO work in the past, but you definitely want to be making more of the potential that search engine optimization offers.

Great! An SEO audit is a fantastic starting point and will provide you with an initial strategy to implement.

It should be noted that the first weeks of an SEO campaign will cover a lot of what would be included in an SEO audit, so you don’t necessarily stand to lose out. The audit should cover the major points of an SEO strategy, leaving you to either implement it yourself or continue the work with an agency.

Why is this a good option? Well, it means that you can test the waters. It is unfortunate that the SEO world is somewhat marred by the presence of black hat practitioners, making the paying client somewhat wary of engaging with an agency, especially if their knowledge is limited or they have previously had their fingers burnt.

The SEO audit should allow them to review the quality of the work produced by said agency and decide whether the working relationship is worth following. In certain scenarios, implementing thorough on-site SEO can result in a jump in rankings* therefore acting as something of a litmus test or a less costly alternative for the budget-conscious.

*This is not to say that an audit will produce the same results as a full campaign. It should, however, (if properly completed and implemented) demonstrate value.

Second opinion: In-house & agency

At Yellowball we like to use the metaphor of the coal face. It is a difficult task when you are at the coal face to take a step back and take a breath. We see this with really good websites. The client will look at it on a daily basis for months which inevitably results in them getting bored of the designs, regardless of whether the new business that they want to attract thinks it looks great.

On the other side of the coin, you can be so involved with something (i.e an SEO campaign) that it is very difficult to take a sense check. Confirmation bias can creep into analytics reviews, and data-driven decisions can turn into more emotional decisions due to the time you’ve already invested into the campaign.

An audit provides a fresh set of eyes. It can bring new ideas or a slight tweak to the strategy that can refresh the campaign and deliver increased results. Depending on whether your SEO strategy is executed by an in-house team or an external agency, there are a couple of ways this can play out:

Audits for in-house teams

The eternal battle between in house teams that know the company and industry inside out compared with agencies that have arguably more up to date SEO knowledge and techniques. Audits can upskill in house teams or refresh an ageing strategy.

Audits for agencies

Monthly retainers put pressures on agency teams to fulfil what was laid out in the proposal. Campaigns often roll on past the original proposal length without pause for breath. An audit will provide an agency with the time to review the campaign’s successes and failures, the original strategy and make amendments.

Depending on how long the campaign has been running this audit can provide valuable insight and amendments which in turn become greater results as you move forward.

Regardless of whether your SEO campaign is run in-house or outsourced to an agency, it is worth considering an audit as a sort of half-time break. A period where you can make your substitutions, change formation and go out into the second half to win the game… Sorry about my excessive use of metaphors.

Second opinion: Audits can solve critical issues

Let’s take a look at a situation where things are not going right. Ditch the rose tinted glasses. Not the easiest situation to be in but one that requires action and one that definitely happens:

You are a business that has been running an SEO campaign in house or with an agency. Great. Except for the fact that it ain’t working. How can an audit help you here?

Close the skills gap

Sometimes there are critical issues which are caused directly by a skills gap. The individual or the team running the campaign just don’t have what it takes. That might be in the form of writing truly awesome content. It might be their ability to approach other websites to provide value and gain links. It may even be a developer who doesn’t have the technical skillset to implement all of the onsite optimization required. Whatever it is, you know that it is holding you back.

This is where you can give very specific instructions to those conducting the audit. They should be able to provide a strategy, guidance or even the specific skillset to solve this critical issue. Solve the problem and the results from the campaign could be drastically different!

Dare we say it, get you out of an expensive contract

This point is likely to be pretty controversial, but we would be lying if we said that the SEO industry was squeaky clean. There are pirates out there. The reality is that digital marketing agencies are a dime a dozen.

As a byproduct, a portion of those businesses that instruct an agency will make the wrong choice. They will go with an agency that promises the world and under-delivers. Worse, they spam the website. The business wants to pull the ejector, but there is a 12 or 24 month contract which they themselves have signed.

Hopefully the contract will dictate the work that was supposed to be carried out on your site, and an audit will provide the evidence to show that this work has not been completed to a satisfactory standard, therefore making the contract void.

It’s not something that we like to talk about, but important nonetheless, and potentially very useful.

So there you have it. An audit can set the initial strategy, provide second opinions for in-house teams and agencies, or even help solve critical issues.

If you can see the value in audits, we would highly recommend scheduling one in; they should be viewed as a positive step to a more lucrative SEO campaign!

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The post The State of SEO Agencies 2014: An In-Depth Study by linkbird [Infographic] by @krnshrm appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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