How to Find the Right SEO Agency: Part 3

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

“And thus,” Richard III hisses, “I clothe my naked villany / with old ends stolen out of holy writ; / and seem a saint, when most I play the devil.” Sound like any bad digital agency you’ve run into? Your online presence is a huge if not predominant part of your brand, and so having a safe SEO agency – an agency that will help you attract the right customers rather than get you wiped out from  search results – is a total must in 2016. The difficulty in choosing the right agency is why we’ve written this three part series (that also abuses Shakespeare).

In Part 1 we discussed campaign promises and in Part 2 , client relationships.  Today, before you sign that contract, let’s consider – do they know what they’re talking about?

Part 3: Evaluating a good marketing agency based on their educational engagement

How to recognize a bad SEO agency: There’s nothing to learn from them

A black hat or  underperforming marketing agency isn’t interested in keeping up with the daily trends – because it’s a lot of work.  (Seriously: a lot.)  How do you know if they’re doing the necessary work? When looking at webspam and low-value websites, Google pays close attention to a measurement they call “Your Money Or Your Life”. YMYL is an internal quality guideline/mission to hold websites that impact people’s safety (like medical or financial decisions) to an extremely high standard. They’re not just asking “does this website have a proper title tag” or even  “do they use a security certificate”. Google is asking, is this website trustworthy.

In the same way, I encourage you to look at a potential agency with that question: do they seem trustworthy. Does this agency care about not just their work, but their industry? Are they actively engaged? Are they sharing this learned expertise with agencies and clients alike?

A bad SEO agency’s engagement is non-existent or outdated. What they are sharing doesn’t match up with a quick search on safe sites like Search Engine Land and Moz. Their social media profiles are stale and their profession doesn’t seem to recognize them – there’s no buzz, no awards, no shared articles. And there’s nothing they’re offering you: a newsletter sign-up or encyclopedia of jargon to get you involved with their work.

In short: If there is no attempt to educate then stay away from this agency. They aren’t worth it. It is, after all, your money, and in some ways it’s your company’s life – because zero search presence and bad user experience and poor branding is a conversion and loyalty killer.

What to look for in a good SEO agency: They’re involved

Engagement with the marketing world signifies that an agency genuinely cares about their industry. And importantly, they’re also sharing information with the wider world: a case study aimed at other agencies to explore the effect of a specific tactic, or an email to their client about an upcoming mobile algorithm change. Some of that is easier to see  after the contract is signed (it’s hard to know beforehand if they’re going to keep you in touch with algorithm updates) so here are four factors from three avenues to review:

Client Education: Are they focused on explaining to you why they do what they do? This could include:

  • Whitepapers: Specific case studies and stories that exemplify their research, experimentation, and focus on results.
  • Ebooks: In-depth information about an aspect of their work or how marketing affects a particular industry (ideally, yours).
  • Video or Podcast: Interactive information that not only illustrates their expertise but their personality and employees.
  • Blog articles: Frequent stories that share the latest news and how they understand those changes. Now, whether a company chooses to focus on a whitepaper or podcast depends a lot on their focus and internal resources. But if they don’t have a blog, don’t bother.

Industry Education: Not all information learned by an agency is going to be immediately spun out to you the client – for the very good reason that a lot of it is pretty technical and boring and you have better things to focus on with your time. That’s why you’re hiring experts in the first place. So how do you know your experts are engaged with the industry?

  • Speaking at marketing conferences: Always a good sign if they’re trusted by other marketers to speak about marketing. Plus, asking about this could find you the perfect team within the agency, putting the individual skills you need on your campaign.
  • Speaking at your conferences: If they are trusted at conferences for the industry you work in, that’s even better.
  • Attendance at conferences: Of course, you don’t need the spotlight to justify a trip. Do they give their employees the time to learn, even if that’s just watching a webinar from a conference room?
  • Awards:  Awards are good.

Social Media: Most agencies offer social media, as presence is one way to showcase and sell their product. But it’s more than that. And it’s more than showing you they share and care. It’s a way to get a real feel for who they are as people, which is vital before they become part of your remote marketing team. Check on:

  • Frequency: How fresh are their accounts?
  • Engagement: Do they only share their own news, or also what they’ve found?
  • Personality: Does their attitude fit yours?
  • Accounts: You can expect an SEO agency to have a LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter account. More is great, but less would be suspicious.

“Sound drums and trumpets! Farewell, sour annoy; For here I hope begins our lasting joy!” As King Edward IV hopes for his country, so I hope for you. (Shakespeare spoiler alert: I hope it lasts longer for you than it did Edward IV.) These three red flags to watch out for and green flags to push you ahead – campaign promises, feedback and testimonials, and industry engagement – should help you find the safe SEO agency that’s just right for you.

(Because it is very important that you find a good one. No one wants their company to wind up in the Tower.)

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