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Choosing the right SEO marketing agency requires finding one that aligns with your goals. While determining the right digital media agency is a fairly straightforward process, there are many ways SEO can go wrong.

You’ll want to partner with an agency that has a track record for success, a foundation in white hat SEO strategies, and a thorough knowledge of your industry. They will help you shape a comprehensive strategy, report on their work, and give you the next steps for success, which is why you want to invest in the right team.

Here’s how to choose a vendor that will do just that.

Hire Based on Experience and Success

The right SEO marketing agency will willingly provide a history of success. When companies offer this early in the sales process, you know they’re confident in their approach and are willing to be scrutinized.

Ask for at least three years-worth of results. If you’re working with a new company with an experienced team, ask for data from their previous company. Even if it’s sanitized without the company name and other identifying information, it can still provide the right context.

While internal data is important, you should also ask for reviews from other clients. This provides you insights specific to your side of the agency-client relationship. Results and testimonials are typically provided through case studies, which offer a background on the company, as well as the agency’s strategy.

What Should Be in an SEO Case Study?

An SEO case study should include a few key data points as well as context. The data shows the results, while the context provides additional value. Providing a period of six months as context can make a data set more impressive, while improvements made over two years may not show as much growth.

Look for these core sections in a case study:

  • Company background
  • Objective
  • Process
  • Client testimonial
  • Results

By reviewing an SEO agency’s successes, you can ensure you’re partnering with a team that can deliver the results you need.

Creating a Personalized Strategy Matters

Your company is different from others in your industry, which means your SEO vendor should offer a personalized strategy. This will be built on best practices, industry knowledge, and your company’s needs, budget, and preferences.

Be prepared for an in-depth strategy session. Don’t fear it! This is when you can share how your operations work, pain points, and your sales process. The better an agency understands your needs, the greater the number of high-quality results they can provide.

A supportive SEO vendor partnership will focus on the strategy as much as the results. The vendor that listens to your goals and concrete methods to reach them paired with balanced performance estimates is a vendor that is worth working with.

Look for an agency that knows the value of strategy and the importance of customization, and your company will see long-term success. If an SEO vendor isn’t willing to listen to your strengths and weaknesses and offer personalized suggestions, they very likely won’t offer the results you want. And when you’re investing your hard-earned revenue, you want to be sure it’s working. Which brings us to your SEO vendor’s ROI.

Providing a Measurable ROI

Your SEO marketing agency should honor your investment, especially if you’re a small business and just starting to prioritize SEO. Proving a return on your investment is possible with tracking and Google Analytics, and your new vendor should have the tools in place to show whether their efforts are working.

Proving ROI with SEO can be shown in a variety of ways. Your agency:

  • Should have the ability to read and understand a Google Analytics
  • Use tracking codes to evaluate where traffic is coming from
  • Monitoring keywords over time to show how content is affecting your ranking

Many companies have this as a standard part of every agreement, because it ensures that when their strategy succeeds, you’ll be motivated to retain them. However, not every agency has the necessary tools, so it’s always worth checking before signing on.

Another essential in any worthwhile SEO vendor? Amazing customer service.

Excelling in Customer Service

You want an SEO vendor that knows the strategy and technology, but they should also offer excellent customer service. When your agency genuinely cares for you and your success, it shows.

This includes proactively communicating concerns, actively strategizing to improve, and answering all questions in a timely manner. Look for 24 hours maximum. Ideally, most concerns will be addressed within a few hours, whether with a definitive answer or a message confirming they received your email and a time when you can expect a response.

If a potential SEO marketing agency isn’t responding to your answers quickly before the contract is finalized, that’s not a good sign. Oftentimes this can be difficult to gauge before starting work, which is why references are so valuable. These companies can offer insight into the real working process, which also includes reporting.

Focuses on Transparency and Reporting

Because not all SEO vendors are created equal, transparency and reporting are essential. A transparent vendor willingly provides in depth analysis on their work and shows how they’re obtaining the results. A white hat approach means there’s nothing to hide, which is why, aside from intellectual property on their part, they should offer transparent updates.

Reporting is an obvious integral piece of an SEO agency, but many don’t realize what a good report includes. Without a thorough report, you aren’t able to distinguish what’s working. And more importantly, what isn’t.

Every SEO report should include:

  • Your predetermined KPIs.
  • Comparisons to last period’s results. (To show improvement or decline.)
  • Notes on how improvements they’ll make based on results.

That third piece is key. A proactive SEO agency doesn’t wait for you to ask questions. They present the news (good or bad) then offers ways to improve, implements, and adjusts as needed. Because SEO is a long-term solution, reporting and expectations are tightknit.

Offers Appropriate Expectations

There are no shortcuts to great SEO. Even an aggressive white hat strategy with a large budget requires a minimum of three months to see substantial results. It could take up to six months if you’re in a competitive industry, have a limited budget, or both.

The right SEO vendor will provide a timeline and manage expectations based on your needs. It’s tempting to want to cancel a contract when there are no results, but it’s essential to keep in mind that this is a long-term strategy and that by stopping work, you’re delaying the results.

Beware the Smooth Selling SEO Vendor

As you can likely tell by now, SEO vendors are not created equal. If you’re in a meeting with anyone who promises 100 backlinks your first month and reaching the first page of Google for a coveted search term in the first 30 days, run. Quality SEO performance never occurs overnight. These low-quality SEO companies are bending the rules, and your website will see the consequences.

While today’s algorithms are better at detecting black hat tactics, low-quality SEO vendors will still provide questionable methods for their clients. The biggest clue are those backlinks. With almost complete certainty we can guarantee those 100 backlinks are not going to be relevant, which can bring you to Google’s attention. (And not in a good way.)

White hat agencies, though, will take the time-consuming way to success: quality backlinks, tracking, and a long-term approach. They’ll also begin with an audit that shows areas for improvement. This creates a priority list for work so that together, you focus on the right options for your needs and budget.

Provides Pricing Clarity

White hat SEO takes time, which is why this can be a significant investment. To ensure you’re getting the best value from your investment, an SEO vendor needs to demonstrate the work they do for the price they state.

There are two pricing models for SEO marketing agencies:

  • Hourly
  • Flat fee

An hourly rate can at times be beneficial, though during startup and busy seasons it could increase significantly. A flat fee is a common choice for many agencies, though they need to offer a detailed scope of work. Be sure to ask for a fee structure for work that falls outside of it.

Working with an SEO vendor that has a clear pricing structure helps minimize concerns regarding what work is being performed and at what rate.

It’s important to note that an SEO marketing agency that keeps all work in-house will be more expensive, but will very often produce a better work product than those that hire overseas workers. Because much of this work requires high-quality content production, native speakers provide the best long-term value. These full-service SEO marketing agencies with in-house teams also offer superior results.

Choosing Full Service vs. A La Carte SEO Services

SEO is a complex web with many variables, making full service agencies a wise choice. It can be tempting to choose an agency with a la carte SEO services, but that won’t produce the same results as one offering a comprehensive strategy.

As long as they are molding the strategy to fit your unique needs, an agency that has the resources for on-site and off-site optimizations provides better results. This includes strategies like tracking codes on your site, correct backlinking techniques, and content development and optimization.

Choosing one of these is like only boiling water for coffee without grinding the beans or grabbing a mug. You’ll end up sad, and no one likes sad companies. Instead, invest in a full-service contract that gives you the right mix of every element to create something great.

Use these steps as a guide before signing a contract with an SEO marketing agency. After an in depth look at how they produce results, price their services, and gain traction for their clients, you can determine if it’s the right fit or not. And remember: always choose the white hat. The results may not be as glamorous right away, but you were meant to shine and white hats will get you there.

Start shining with us by sending us an email and we’ll get back to you right away.