Whether we like it or not, search engine optimization is a constantly evolving technical skill. What worked yesterday may fall completely flat next week. Constant research and updates are the meat and potatoes of every SEO agency.
Search engine companies, for their part, continue to update their algorithms to provide a better user experience. Frequently, they will release an algorithm update into the wild without much in the way of advance notice.
To better understand how successful SEO tactics really work, it might help to check out the 2014 film “The Lego Movie.” In that cinematic masterpiece, the protagonists Emmet and Wyldstyle elude their murderous pursuers by constructing a high-powered getaway vehicle out of random bits of Lego as they run at full speed down an alleyway. At the last possible second, the engines snap into place, and our heroes launch themselves to safety.
Putting together a successful SEO campaign and keeping it afloat is only slightly less harrowing. Any number of factors can influence the results showing up on search engine results pages (SERPs). Given the ever-shifting terrain of SEO and your need to focus attention elsewhere, hiring an agency can be a somewhat daunting, albeit necessary, task.
Ideally, you will partner with an agency that will grow organic traffic to your website. They’ll work to improve your search rankings and help you generate more leads. Should you elect to go this route, there are several questions you can ask that will help you determine if potential agencies really know their stuff and can help you move ahead in your market niche. Listed below are nine to consider.
1. Can you guarantee specific results?
Be wary of anyone who answers “Yes.” Why? Because it is almost impossible to promise a specific ranking status. If the company you are considering “guarantees” a certain number of visitors to your website, a percentage of increase in sales, or a specific ranking position, you might be hearing more hype and hustle than anything else.
Most agencies will tell you they’re confident of the results they can produce based on past clients. However, anyone who promises a specific ranking or traffic level is not being entirely truthful. (Let’s just say it that way.) Instead of being drawn in by extravagant promises, focus on doing business with companies that commit to following search engine protocols established to provide benchmarks for quality of work. Go with verifiable “best practices” rather than pie in the sky.
2. How long will it take to see results?
Committing to effective SEO practices represents just the first step on a journey. Again, if anyone you are considering promises overnight results, they are showing you that they haven’t been working in the SEO niche very long.
First, your digital footprint must have a solid foundation and strategy. That foundation often takes the form of reliable, high-quality content on a well-maintained and mobile-optimized website. After that, you’ll need that onsite content to support your link acquisition goals. Once you have a stable platform, you can begin securing link acquisitions.
Anyone who promises instant results isn’t using sustainable techniques. Simply stated, they aren’t being honest about the realistic possibilities or working with SEO.
However, that reality shouldn’t prevent an experienced agency from giving you an estimated time frame for results. You should generally expect results from reliable providers within six to twelve months, depending on how demanding your goals are. Any number of factors can rise up to skew your hoped-for results. It all depends on the competition, your site’s domain authority (DA), and how difficult it is to rank for your specific keyword.
Some niche businesses may see results within a few months. Others could take significant time to see any return. Keep in mind that many third-party factors lie outside anyone’s ability to control. This is all part of the SEO process. Consequently, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
3. Have you ever worked with a similar company before?
One of the best ways to know if any SEO agency can handle your project is if they’ve already achieved similar results in the same niche as your company. If they have, they’ll already know some of the strategies it takes to get results. They should be able to explain clearly how taking you on as a client wouldn’t result in a conflict of interest.
However, if they haven’t previously worked in your niche, that shouldn’t immediately disqualify them, either. Many of the tools and tricks that work for one niche are transferable to another.
What you’re trying to learn through this question is whether or not your company is a fit with their agency and vice-versa. One positive sign is the courageous sales rep who is transparent about never having worked in your niche.
4. How has SEO changed within the last few years?
Be careful if an SEO agency you’re considering explains that SEO is more or less the same today as it was a few years ago. While it is true that the core fundamentals haven’t changed much, many specific tactics have been updated to keep up with changes.
Recall that search engine companies frequently announce significant changes to how they index websites. As the online marketplace shifts attention from one highlighting metric to the next, these algorithm changes can’t help but affect site rankings and SERPs.
If you want to walk in better prepared, spend at least a few minutes charting the various updates to the Google search algorithm over time. Take notice if the people you’re talking to can’t walk you through specific updates and demonstrate how they’ll impact your business. You need an SEO agency that can speak both technical and business in understandable terms. If, on the other hand, you feel your head start to spin in technical jargon, that’s not a good sign. Say something about it and gauge the response this request receives.
5. What metrics do you think are most important to measure?
Rankings, traffic, and backlink numbers are all essential to monitor constantly. However, leveraging effective SEO tactics means doing more than simply increasing rankings, decreasing bounce rates, or improving traffic levels. People spending more time on your website means very little if that loitering traffic never actually purchases anything. Rankings matter most when they’re helping your business generate qualified leads.
What you’ve defined as your business needs should drive which yardsticks you use for measuring success. It’s essential to look at various metrics based on specific goals you might have. For example, some metrics could include the ranking position for a keyword or how much traffic a site is getting for that keyword. Tracking these metrics will help you understand the progress being made and if an agency fully grasps what you mean by success.
Ultimately, you want an agency that can tie its SEO efforts back to your bottom line. You need an agency that can visualize the big picture and articulate that vision to you. An SEO agency’s success metrics should be based on your personal business goals. Individualization of statistical reporting will be critical for your review sessions.
6. How do you choose the keywords to target?
Effective keyword research requires considerably more effort than most realize as they begin their initial foray into the world of SEO. The overall relevance of any selected keyword is crucial, of course. However, trying to understand the default headspace — a.k.a. “search intent” — of the person conducting an internet search is equally as important.
What’s typically going on in the thinking of someone who might have at least some interest in your products or services? What terms are these people likely to type into search engines? That might sound like an impossible question to answer, but it isn’t. Meaningful statistics can be harvested and brought to bear, providing a solid starting point.
Make sure any potential agency you’re considering refers to search intent as their basis for crafting your SEO campaign. They should also be taking into consideration keyword difficulty, as well as search volume. Not all keyword targets are created equal, so a good agency knows the balance between what is achievable and worthwhile and what isn’t.
Ask them to speak at some length about the specific tools and techniques they use to determine keyword intent. If the entire conversation revolves around the number of searches for a keyword they’ve targeted for your needs, they’re more than likely operating on outdated SEO practices.
7. What’s your link-building process?
Some SEO agencies will promise to build thousands of links on your behalf within a short period of time. However, the unpleasant reality is that those links may not be valuable if they originate from a bunch of low-quality, low-DA sites.
Your conversations should focus on building quality links over a large quantity of links. You want to ensure that the links you receive come from sites with some authority in their niche and that the content your links are in is relevant to the site where they are placed. If you’re a health company and an agency secures you a link in a home renovation site in content that has no connection, it may not be relevant. While you can’t stop anyone from linking to you as they wish, you’ll get more positive backlinks when you publish consistently excellent online resources.
Online users are quick to click away when a link doesn’t yield anticipated results. Modern link-building practices favor those who provide high-quality content relevant to the site on which it will be published. You probably won’t move the needle if you’re not getting that.
8. How should SEO be incorporated into our overall marketing strategy?
The most successful SEO initiatives are integrated into an overall marketing plan. SEO goes hand in hand with content marketing, public relations, and social media activities to create effective links. Your potential SEO agency should be open to collaborating with marketing, web development, and sales teams and your existing marketing initiatives.
The alarm bells should start to go off if the SEO agency you’re talking to ignores or downplays what’s worked well for your company in the past. The number of successful companies that need to “chuck it all and start over from scratch” are infinitesimally few. Instead, an SEO company that knows its stuff will take the base you’ve established and elevate it to new heights.
Properly understood, successful SEO is a blend of onsite content, link acquisitions, and even some aspects of digital PR. Strategic link acquisitions from external publications are also a vital piece of the SEO puzzle. Typically, well-regarded publications agree to link to your content using a specific keyword. Keep in mind that high-DA sites are only interested in linking to high-quality content as they realize that their linking practices affect their credibility.
External digital PR that mentions your brand helps signal search engines that you are recognized as an authority on a specific subject. Incorporating digital PR and boosting your domain authority will provide another shot in the arm to help you rank well.
9. What do you need from clients to be effective?
Reliable SEO agencies should have a long list of questions and needs. To conduct their work effectively, they’ll need detailed information about your audience, industry, and goals. Pay attention to their eagerness to interview you just as much as you want to interview them. You can take that as a bad sign if you sense they’re going through the motions.
SEO agencies need flexible and cooperative clients to make SEO-focused site changes. The clients who tend to see the most success are willing to let an agency guide onsite strategy and link acquisition strategies. Clients should be able to keep the high-level goal of ranking for a specific keyword as the focus of the relationship.
In a more traditional commercial transaction, you pay money to acquire a product or service. The extent of your commitment is cutting a check. Working with an SEO agency will require making payments, of course, but it’s also better to think of the process as a relationship rather than a transaction. Both you and the agency have a vested interest in making sure you see results from the relationship.
Your goal is to make an informed decision when choosing an SEO agency. Hopefully, the questions above have laid the groundwork for that. It might initially feel intimidating to ask a lot of questions about different SEO options. However, asking the right questions at the outset will only set you up for success.
Agencies that know what they’re doing will be open and honest about their processes. With a bit of homework on your part — and a willingness to walk away if you have misgivings — you’re more likely to find an agency that delivers what you need by asking them these questions. Factor in some after-action time to evaluate their answers to determine the best fit for your niche. Knowing the techniques and policies an SEO agency employs before you dive in will serve you well as you seek to own the industry you operate in.