More so than any other form of online marketing, there is one discipline that is especially skittish and unpredictable – SEO.
Big brands and companies are continuing to invest heavily in search engine optimisation techniques, which will continue to be the case as long as competition increases and other forms of marketing such as pay-per-click, and social advertising become costlier.
Establishing that SEO is the most cost-effective way of producing leads for a website is one thing, but the question is: how can your business take advantage of this fact, and find the right partner to move your company forward?
SEO is a specialist field, and it’s common to lack an employee with that particular skill set, which is why many businesses outsource to a third party.
However, it’s much easier said than done, given that there are probably hundreds of agencies near you. So, how does one separate the wheat from the chaff?
Red Flags: What Does a Bad SEO Agency Look Like?
Picking a bad SEO company can sometimes be more harmful to your business than ignoring SEO completely. We’ve detailed some of the red flags you must be on alert for when choosing a provider.
Red Flag #1: Promising You the Earth
You hire an SEO company because you’re looking to increase visibility and therefore traffic to your website, so if you’re new to the industry and someone tells you, ‘you can be at the top of the tree in a month’, it can be a really enticing prospect.
But, don’t get carried away, SEO is your classic, don’t run before you can walk, kind of deal and anyone who claims they can promise to take your website from zero to hero in no time at all is deserving of a bit, fat red flag.
It’s unfortunately quite commonplace within the industry for a business owner to promise certain rankings within the first one or two months.
That promise may as well be written on a napkin, for all it’s worth.
Sure, it may be possible, but how can someone promise something to you that they have no control over? Most reputable companies won’t even risk it.
Red Flag #2: Disconnected from Your Business Goals
If a company has no interest in understanding your business goals, how can they align their SEO strategies with your aspirations?
It’s all very well generating a tonne of traffic, but if it’s not targeted traffic, once again it means nothing.
Red Flag #3: They Don’t Practice What They Preach
If you’re going to entrust someone with taking your website to the next level, then why settle for a company who don’t practice what they preach?
If you’re unimpressed by their website content (such as infrequent blog posts), design and it’s difficult to find them for key search terms, such as their company name for example, then move on – it’s not worth your time.
Red Flag #4: Poor Communication
Starting a relationship on the basis of poor communication is doomed to failure from the outset. Before you hire an SEO company, sound them out a little. Send an enquiry using a contact form and note how long the reply takes, if this is to your satisfaction, schedule a call or a meeting to ascertain whether they’re on the level or not.
If things are moving slowly or you don’t hear back, then move on. Just remember you’re trusting your livelihood to people you’ve never met before, which means that you need to be able to communicate effectively with them.
Before you commit to a provider, it’s important to sit down and decide on what you want to achieve, for example:
Driving More Traffic – One of everyone’s goals is almost always more traffic and in order to do that you want an SEO company to target a specific range of keywords and phrases that a potential customer will type into search engines.
Perfecting the Sales Funnel – You require more qualified, warm leads coming through your sales funnel – and, hey, doesn’t everyone?An SEO company needs to understand your conversion path so they can tweak it and improve it.
More Sales – Of course driving traffic and understanding the sales funnel leads to more sales. But how many sales do you want – understand how figure X leads to Y outcome.
Have your wits about you while you’re researching SEO agencies. So many companies have similar business models and websites that it can be hard to tell one from the other.
Be wary of those that try to blind you with technical jargon – the best companies are those that break everything down into language that even a novice can understand.
Once you’ve identified goals, it will be much easier to find the right partner for you. You should pick the company that best aligns with your goals; for example, a small local consultant won’t have the resources behind them to properly service your goals if you’re looking to target nationally.
Ask the Right Questions
It’s vital for every party involved to understand the expectations of the SEO process and the provider from the very beginning.
You should keep your expectations in check and reassure those around you that SEO is not an overnight process; it’s a long-term investment.
An initial meeting is ideal and allows you to ask the following questions:
These questions must be answered honestly, even if it’s something you don’t want to hear. Most reputable SEO companies won’t take on a client that they don’t believe they can get results for.
A good SEO agency will be able to answer your questions and help to resolve any internal concerns about the direction of the project with a useful and long-term view in mind as well.
Green Flags: What Does a Good SEO Agency Look Like?
So, we’ve spoken about how to identify a bad SEO agency, but on a more positive note: how can you define a good one?
Green Flag #1: Walk the Talk
When they say something, they follow through. Everything they tell you can be backed by data, case studies, and the success they’ve delivered for previous clients. The best SEO teams will be able to show their experience without you even needing to ask.
Green Flag #2: Great Communicators
As we’ve mentioned, relationships become very brittle without a backbone of trust and communication.
They don’t leave you hanging on for an answer for days, and any performance related issues (good or bad) will be communicated to you via a phone called, email, face-to-face meeting or in-depth monthly report.
The best communicators make things easier.
Green Flag #3: White Hat Evangelists
There was once a time when SEO was easy; a case of throwing a few dodgy links together to confuse Google’s algorithms into ranking a website near the top. These days, black hat techniques are just asking for trouble.
Choosing an SEO company that create links naturally and ethically is the only option for you. Sure, black hat strategies may bring short-term gain, but once Google has catches wind, you could be about to enter a world of pain.
The results of black hat SEO can be very damaging for your online presence, and your livelihood and these penalties may prove to be fatal.
Green Flag #4: Verified Analytical Data
Any real SEO provider will be able to answer your questions using the data they’ve collected from Google Analytics. The company should be able to analyse your data and apply what they’ve discovered to create actionable steps to improve web performance.
These figures are absolutely crucial when it comes to measuring and tracking performance during the course of an SEO campaign.
Green Flag #5: UX & Conversion
An SEO professional realises that user experience and conversion go hand-in-hand. Again, traffic is significant, but a prospect doesn’t want to have to work hard to be able to buy the product they desire.
Green Flag #6: KPIs
Once you’ve told a company what your goals are, you can work together to put together a reasonable and logical set of KPIs.
Going from 4oo product sales to 10,000 in the first month is in no way realistic. But an SEO expert can work with you and your forecasts to suggest something that is achievable and profitable for both parties.
Green Flag #7: Professional
If you turned up to a meeting wearing a suave suit and polished shoes and your counterpart arrived in dirty trainers and a pair of tracksuit bottoms, you’d probably be a little worried.
And okay, your counterpart doesn’t need to be rocking up in a brand-new Armani suit (that sets alarms bells off too), but so long as they are presentable, friendly, well-spoken and knowledgeable, then it’s a good start.
Green Flag #8: Flexibility
SEO changes on a near daily bases – goal posts move and tactics that worked on day one won’t always work on day thirty-one.
SEO’s must be willing to switch up their tactics. There’s a difference between holding on to your convictions and grasping on to something for dear life through a sheer lack of ideas.
You can always sense a company’s approach if you look at the case studies on their webpage from previous clients. If they mention changing up strategy from time-to-time, that’s excellent news.
When you’ve completed your evaluations, and you’ve met with each company that suits your business, you need to make a decision.
There are a lot of companies out there these days, and this number will only increase, but it will come down to whether this company is trying to understand you, your business, your goals and your industry as a whole.
At POD Digital, we believe in synergy and relationships. Our holistic approach means that we sit down and study your options to see how we can piece together the jigsaw.
If you’re looking for an expert in the field, then why not give us a call on 01455 560 170 or contact us through email.