How to Vet An SEO Agency (and Prevent Failure) by @AdamHeitzman

Finding the right SEO provider is important. It also can be a lot of hard work. This is why vetting SEO agencies is so important.

You want to make sure your SEO agency is:

  • Easy to work with.
  • Going to deliver real value to your business.
  • Consistent.
  • Knowledgeable about the industry.
  • Within your budget.

The stakes are high. In most cases, SEO can make or break your business.

Choose the right SEO agency and your business could start generating more traffic and revenue than it’s ever seen.

Choose the wrong SEO agency and it could lead you to failure. We’re talking wasted money, penalties, and countless lost opportunities (e.g., rankings, traffic, and revenues).

Although there are many honest and reputable agencies to choose from, there are still a few scam artists and dishonest agencies looking to exploit unknowing businesses.

Frustrated woman in front of computer

The SEO Agency Horror Show

As the head of an SEO agency, I’ve seen the success stories. It’s always great to see clients grow and succeed because it helps us take pride in our work and showcase what SEO can do for businesses.

But I’ve also heard some horror stories.

One frustrating aspect of being an agency is hearing stories from businesses that come to us wary and frustrated from bad experiences they’ve had with unreliable SEO agencies.

In speaking with such clients, there seems to be a common crescendo that leads them to their unfortunate breaking point, and it goes like this:

A business decides SEO is the next step in their growth plan, so they seek out and speak with an agency about services.

The agency sells them potential results of successful SEO and makes guarantees about what they can achieve for the business.

The business thinks it sounds great and takes the agency at their word. Ultimately, the business signs a contract with the SEO agency and gets locked in for an extended period of time.

Fast forward a year or two later, and some businesses find themselves drained of money with little to show for it, or in some cases, with penalties that have made their online performance worse.

An Insider’s Guide to Vetting SEO Agencies

While it’s no fault of the client, what I often take away from hearing these SEO horror stories is that there were ways in which it could have been prevented.

Businesses can protect themselves from and prevent sticky situations like this by asking the right questions on the front end.

That’s easier said than done when you’re new to SEO and unsure of what you need to be asking an agency,

But this guide will help with that.

3 Tips for Vetting SEO Agencies

The advice and questions that follow are what businesses absolutely must consider and ask while vetting SEO agencies from an actual SEO agency’s behind-the-scenes perspective.

Tip 1: Develop a List of Criteria

Having some criteria beforehand will make you think critically about your expectations, protect you from going in blindly, and keep you in charge of what you want.

Think about things like:

  • Budget.
  • Desired contract duration.
  • Whether you want a local service provider or if you’re OK with a remote agency.
  • Reporting frequency.
  • Any other potential deal breakers.

Tip 2: Talk to 3 Different SEO Agencies

It’s smart to talk to at least three SEO providers before you make a decision.

Aside from this being a generally good idea for the sake of knowing all your options, it also helps give you some leverage for possible negotiations regarding prices, services, and contract stipulations.

Tip 3: Make a List of Interview Questions

Asking the right questions before signing a contract can prevent the majority of SEO horror stories.

Have the questions ready to ask each agency you speak with, so later you can compare answers and have plenty of information to help guide your decision.

32 Questions to Ask an SEO Agency

Ask the right questions

Any honest and well-established agency will happily answer your questions and address the concerns or reservations you have about SEO.

Pay attention to how receptive they are to providing answers.

Most importantly, don’t sign a contract with an SEO agency without asking these questions first:

  • Can you guarantee that my site will have a top ranking position?
    • Start with this question, because it’s a quick way to weed out shady SEO agencies. Legitimate SEOs will never guarantee a client a top ranking position because they know there are no guarantees with SEO.
  • How do you handle penalized sites?
  • Does your agency ever deviate from Google’s best practices?
  • Has your agency ever bought links?
  • How do you build links and what kind of links do you build?
  • How many links can I expect to have built per month or over the duration of my contract?
  • How much on-page, off-page, and technical work can I expect to be done and what specific practices do you do for each?
  • Which tools do you use to achieve results and carry out SEO services?
  • Do you edit and/or optimize existing content on my site?
  • Is any of the work or content outsourced? If so, who does it?
  • How does your team handle content strategy and development?
  • What specific content pieces will be done for my site?
  • How do you plan to optimize that content?
  • Do you have any examples of work you’ve done for a similar business?
    • Successful SEOs are quick to provide case studies or examples of other businesses they’ve helped, so if you hear “that’s classified” or “we don’t share the results of other clients” in response, be wary.
  • On average, when do your clients start to see results?
  • How many active client accounts do you have?
  • How many people on your team are working on them?
    • If an agency has 500 active client accounts and only 30 people on their team, chances are they’re either stretched thin at the expense of quality or outsourcing some of the work.
  • Do you work with businesses that would be considered competitors to mine?
    • This isn’t always a bad thing, but if a direct competitor hires the same SEO company and has a bigger budget, you could be in trouble.
  • How often do you run site audits?
  • What specific metrics do you track and report on?
  • How do you handle reporting and tracking of my account?
  • How often can I expect to receive reports and updates, and how will you communicate them to me?
    • Ideal answers to these questions will include information on conversions, rankings, traffic, campaign and outreach updates, etc. Most agencies provide clients with access to reporting software so they can view a dashboard with trackable metrics.
  • How many people will have access to our website?
  • What steps do you take to ensure the security of our website?
  • Will you be making changes to the structure, web design, or coding of our website? If so, is that handled in-house or outsourced?
  • Who would be my point of contact, and how can I contact them if I have questions or concerns?
  • Can I meet the people who work on my account?
  • What will you need from my end?
  • How much time per month is needed from our end?
  • Can you itemize the pricing package by specific services and hours spent working on each?
  • What separates you from other SEO agencies?
  • Overall, what results can I expect for my website?

Conclusion

A lack of preparation makes you susceptible to being taken advantage of dishonest and shady SEOs. Do your research and prepare beforehand so you can easily identify the right SEO agency when you find them, and from there they’ll help you determine the best strategies to address the needs of your business.

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Author: Adam Heitzman

onpage seo

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