How to Find the Right SEO Agency: Part 2

A three part series of red flags and green flags to help you choose the best SEO agency for your company.

Now is the winter of our disconnect made glorious summer by this clarity of a safe SEO program! Welcome back to our three part series on how to find the right SEO agency in 2016 (with bonus mangled quotes from the War of the Roses quartet.) In these articles, we are discussing why it’s important to be careful in hiring an SEO, Google’s 2015 Webspam Report, and how to evaluate a potential partnership with a new digital marketing agency.

In Part 1 we looked at your first contact with an agency; when they email or call you with some problems they’ve noticed on your website and ideas on how to fix them. You need to know immediately  if the agency is trustworthy enough to listen to. Ergo, Part 1 discussed ways to evaluate an agency based on their promises – like, do they guarantee sky-high rankings (red flag) or do they offer comparative case studies (green flag)?

Let’s say that your prospective agency aced the phone call: they’ve done their homework, identified some real holes in your marketing program, and provided concrete and realistic solutions. You accept their holepunch and set up a meeting with the owners to walk through their presentation. What’s next?

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Part 2: Evaluating a good marketing agency based on relationships

How to recognize a bad SEO agency: They don’t offer client testimonials.

Before hiring an agency you want to make sure they’re a good fit for you not just on budget and performance, but also on a cultural and personal level. A really good way to judge all of those considerations is to speak to their current clients. Other companies in your vertical will speak honestly about what they like, what they’ve gotten out of the program, and any problems. (After all, a problem for them could be a bonus for you: “They budgeted us far fewer hours per project if they also hosted with them” is not only a sign that they’re conscientious but also a good web developer if you’re in the market.)

Your agency should provide those client contacts to offer testimony. If they don’t, that means:

  • They have a really terrible relationship with everyone they work with. Obviously, don’t hire these people. 🙂
  • They can’t offer client testimonials, because they churn and burn before the client can catch on to the black-hat tactics.

Now sure, every company has to start somewhere, so you could reasonably be their first contact in a new industry. But there has to be someone to confer with. If they refuse to provide a name and phone number with a smile, run far, far away. (And as awful as this is, do run the research to make sure this contact really is the VIP of Marketing at Widgets, Inc. and not the bad SEO’s obliging uncle.) Likewise, don’t just read the reviews page on their website.

I encourage you to ask for two or three contacts, maybe even one outside of your vertical just to get a sense of the whole experience. Look for positive feedback that meshes with what you’re looking for and don’t be afraid to ask for specifics like “do you get enough out of their reporting?” while being sensitive to the fact that one company may not want to reveal all of their tactics.

What to look for in a good SEO agency: People like them.

The obvious good sign is that people like them and want to recommend the agency to you. (In fact, some of the best relationships we at GLI have built are based on personal referrals from one client to another.) But personal feedback isn’t the only “proof of concept”.  Snoop around on their LinkedIn profile: are they the right size to meet your needs? How long have they been around? Have employees churned in and out or do they have a stable, loyal team base? And do those employees have the experience you need?

Checking on certifications and a Google Partners profile isn’t an automatic ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but is a strong signal that the people there care about and are trying hard to do SEO the right way.  Good feedback could include:

  • Google Analytics Certification
  • Google Adwords Certification
  • Google Tag Manager Certification
  • Google Partners Profile
  • Google Preferred Partners Profile
  • Bing Accredited Professional

A Bing and Google badge are very trustworthy signals – they mean that not only do customers like the agency, but the main search engines do too. The other certifications mean that your marketing professionals are well-trained on advanced marketing tactics in the way search engines want to see them done. Now that doesn’t mean, 100% of the time, those agencies know the right way and are doing SEO the right way. But the agencies I’ve seen without these search engine relationships are behind on the times; the agencies with them I’ve seen doing their very best.

All of this relationship reviewing provides two benefits. One, it weeds out the “fly-by-night” black hat SEO’s effectively. Two, it identifies the agency you’ll work best with – after all, these are people you’re going to be developing complicated business strategies with and just chatting with on a weekly basis. You deserve to get along and even like them!  So after evaluating the agency’s relationship with other clients, with their employees, and with the industry, you feel ready to walk through the proposal. Are you ready to sign the contract? Find out in Part 3: Evaluating a marketing company based on their engagement.

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