Search Engine Optimization (SEO) takes expertise, time, and resources to generate a positive return on investment, especially for a big website. As the workload increases, you may consider hiring an SEO agency to manage it.
However, hiring an SEO firm can be intimidating. It takes months for SEO to show results, so you will lose thousands of dollars before realizing that you hired an inefficient agency. There is a huge opportunity cost associated with hiring an SEO company.
In this post, we will explain the 4 steps of hiring the right SEO agency for your business. There are 4 steps to it.
- Set goals for your SEO agency.
- Establish criteria for selecting an agency.
- Audit your website to find the loopholes.
- Ask the SEO Agencies these evaluatory questions.
Alright, we have a lot of ground to cover. Let’s get started.
How to set SEO goals for the agency?
Before you interview the agency, you must decide what you want them to achieve. You can not have a vague goal like: I want the agency to generate more revenue. You need to be more specific.
How do you want them to generate that revenue? By increasing sales? By building your subscriber list? Or something else?
And to what degree do you want the sales to increase? Suppose you already generate 100 new subscribers every month from organic traffic; what number would you like the agency to scale it to?
By when do you want to achieve those goals? If you have a high-traffic website, you may ask the agency to hit the goal within a few months. However, if you have a new website, it may take a year to see results.
By combining these factors, you set a goal for the agency. For instance, you can tell the SEO agency, I want you to increase my new monthly subscriber count by 50% within the next 6 months.
But be sure that these goals are realistic and achievable – no agency can grow your subscriber list by 50% in 1 month. In fact, you should not hire an agency that promises such results.
You need to set SEO goals for the agency so that:
- You know what you are looking for, so you decide the SEO metrics that the agency must track.
- The negotiation stays under your control. When you meet SEO mumbo-jumbo, you can refocus the conversation towards your goal.
- You can put your negotiation terms around this goal.
How to evaluate and shortlist an SEO Agency?
There are 4 steps to evaluating and shortlisting an SEO agency.
Set a Criteria to Evaluate the Agency
Physical Location of the SEO Firm
SEO is an online business – you need not meet the agency representative in person. This lets you pick any SEO firm across the globe. However, if you prefer human interactions with business associates, you should hire an agency from your town.
Here are some benefits of hiring an SEO Agency in your town:
- The agency follows the same tax system as your business.
- You both fall under the same legal purview.
- The agency will have a better idea of your audience. This will help with Local SEO.
- The agency will write content aligned with your local audience.
- You can go with a payment system cheaper than Paypal.
On the contrary, you save money by hiring an overseas SEO Agency.
SEO Agency’s ability to rank for keywords
Ranking your website for competitive keywords is essential to drive relevant traffic to your website. Check if their website ranks for at least one competitive keyword.
Also, try to find which keywords their clients rank for using the ubersuggest tool. Once there, plugin the homepage URL and Services Page URL and let the tool do its job. It will populate a list of keywords that the page ranks for, along with the rank.
However, a new agency might not rank for top keywords yet. But they should rank for some long-tail keywords to prove that they know how to research keywords.
Industries that the agency serves
SEO involves creating quality content. If the SEO Agency does not have experience in your industry, producing top-notch content will be difficult.
Try to find if an agency that has handled clients from your industry or a related industry.
Your SEO agency will edit the web pages for on-page SEO. Plus, they will optimize them for conversion rate optimization. It’s certain that they can’t design your website better than their own.
So you must analyze their website design and see if you like it. Check if they are stuffing keywords, or if they are using blackhat SEO practices. If they do that to their own website, they will do the same for yours.
Blogs drive traffic to websites and help you rank for new keywords. Check if the SEO agency maintains a blog post. Also, do their blogs address pain points? Are they aligned with search intent? Or are they bland and generic?
Often, many businesses write content that their competitors have covered. Those posts add no value to the visitors as they are refurbished pieces, syndicated from other websites.
Also check if they use high-quality images and if they create a variety of collaterals like PDFs, Videos, EBooks, etc. You don’t need agencies that craft poor-quality content.
A website’s health depends on the quality of backlinks. Look up the backlink profile of the SEO agency using the Ahref backlink checker.
What type of links do they have? Are they mostly forum links or citations from directories? Google doesn’t value such bad backlinks.
A good SEO agency should build you relevant backlinks from websites related to your industry.
Online reviews reflect how an SEO agency treats its clients. Do they respond to negative reviews? How many 1 star reviews do they have on their Google maps listing?
However, reviews can not be considered good proof as some agencies get bad reviews from competitors. But they sure can give a general idea about the business. It tells you how responsive they are and how much they value their reputation.
Alright, now that you have established criteria, shortlist some agencies that meet your checklist. But before you reach out to them…
Audit your own website to find the loopholes.
You must know the SEO health of your website. There are many tools like seoptimer that provide a detailed SEO audit within minutes.
You can gather critical information like – website render issues on mobile devices, issues with social media integration, website health, etc.
To take it a step further, you can conduct a page speed audit using Google Pagespeed Insights or GTMetrix tools. These tools provide detailed suggestions to improve your page speed in their audit report.
Typically, SEO firms audit your website using the same tools. When you connect with them, they should suggest edits based on this analysis.
In the next step, reach out to these agencies, share your website URL, and ask them some qualification questions.
Evaluatory questions to ask an SEO agency
What changes would you recommend to my website?
Ideal Answer: We will need to make some on-page changes to align content with search intent. Also, some more changes to optimize for technical SEO.
Their answer must confirm that they audited your website. They should mention some modifications suggested by audit reports in the last step.
Which SEO KPIs do you track?
Ideal Answer: We track these SEO KPIs.
Some agencies track vanity metrics that make it look like there’s progress. Essentially, any metric that is not integral to conversion rate optimization is merely a “feel-good” metric.
The complete SEO campaign must be focused on generating quality leads that your sales team can convert.
How many leads can you generate per month?
Ideal answer: There is no guaranteed number, but this is the best-case scenario and this is the worst-case scenario.
Unlike PPC, nothing is guaranteed with SEO. No one can assure Rank 1 for a competitive keyword, nor can they determine how many leads they generate. They can only offer a ballpark.
Get a minimum estimate and see if it’s worth the investment. For instance, if an agency claims they can generate at least 5 leads a month and can convert 2 leads worth $4000 while paying $2000 to the agency, it’s a fair deal.
How long will it take to see results?
Ideal Answer: We have analyzed how competitive your niche is, we can’t promise a number but typically it takes 4-8 months to see results in your niche. Also, your website is not brand new so it might take less time than average.
Remember, any SEO agency that promises results in 1 month does not know how SEO works. Google first crawls and indexes new websites, and then tests these websites for their usefulness to visitors. The process takes months. That’s just how search works.
Also, you need to understand the basics of Google search to know what to expect. To get started, go through this simple explanation of the Google Algorithm where we compare Google search with the functioning of a book library.
Have you served clients from an industry similar to mine?
Ideal answer: Yes indeed, we have other clients from the same industry OR we did not work with clients from your industry before but we have worked with clients from a related industry.
Content is a big part of SEO. As a part of your SEO campaign, the SEO firm must write quality content in the form of blogs and eBooks to help you rank for more keywords.
When they do not have experience with your industry, it’s difficult for them to identify pain points and use the parlance of the industry.
What aspects of SEO do you outsource?
Ideal answer: We do not outsource anything, everything is managed in-house. OR We outsource only x service to our long-term partners and we review everything they do.
Outsourcing is common in the SEO industry. Agencies often outsource backlinks or content creation.
However, if a huge chunk of SEO is outsourced by the agency, it becomes difficult to craft a brand voice. Also, some SEO tasks require the agency to access your CMS, you do not want anyone other than the agency to access the backend.
What is your backlinking strategy?
Ideal answer: We do set-up outreach campaigns through our network in your industry. However, we focus on generating natural backlinks through top-quality content.
Backlinking is always a tricky proposition that dangles between whitehat and blackhat practices. If you get poor quality, irrelevant backlinks to your website, they either get ignored by Google or downright penalized. If you get a manual action on your website, it takes months to reindex it on Google!
Some agencies follow the old-school method of building links from content farms, blog comments, or forums. Such backlinks do more harm than good.
Also, backlinking requires a sizeable budget. It takes time to build links naturally, so agencies need to pay bloggers to publish guest posts. This costs around $20-$3000 per post. So, any agency that promises tons of backlinks in a short time and at a low cost, is either buying poor quality backlinks or generating them from shady sites.
How do you research keywords?
Ideal answer: We would find long-tail keywords for your business, those that have decent search volume but less competition.
Picking the right keywords is a skill. You can’t pick overly competitive keywords as they are hard to rank for. Your agency needs to find long-tail keywords that have lesser search volume but offer a greater chance of ranking your website first on Google.
Will I keep access to my analytics profiles and CMS?
Ideal answer: Yes, of course, you own all your accounts and assets.
If you have to fire this SEO firm in the future, you need to keep your accounts secure. That way, you can’t be held ransom to unscrupulous SEO agencies.
Make sure you maintain full admin access to your CMS, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and other accounts.
Can you walk me through the results you achieved for a client from a similar industry?
Ideal answer: Sure, what time works best for you?
When an agency is willing to walk you through a case study, you get a confirmation that they indeed worked for a similar client, and you get a much better idea of what to expect from them.
How much to pay an SEO agency?
Steps to calculate the monthly fee should pay the agency.
- Get a minimum and maximum estimate on the number of new monthly leads the SEO agency can generate.
- Take an average and determine how many of those leads you can convert.
- Calculate the average lifetime value of each lead.
- Pay a certain percentage of that value.
For what services should I hire an SEO company?
Your choice of services depends on your budget and security concerns. For instance, if you do not have a very big budget, you can hire technical SEO services alone, or maybe content writing services.
Similarly, if you outsource only backlinking services, you’re sure to keep the website secure.
Also, if you do not want the agency to access your CMS and analytics tools, you can outsource backlinking and content writing alone, while managing on-page and technical SEO optimization in-house.
How do I negotiate a discount with SEO firms?
There are 2 ways to ask SEO firms for a discount –
- Ask for a discount in return for a long-term contract.
- If the agency fails to meet the goals in the agreed time, you can ask for a discount till the time the goals are completed.
Hiring an SEO agency is surely a daunting task, especially if you got your pocket burned before. However, it need not be a disaster again.
In this post, we covered the steps you need to take before hiring an SEO company. We hope you find the best SEO agency that meets your needs.
Any questions? Put them in the comments section below!