In the world of SEO, it can be hard to separate mirage from metrics.
A key way to optimise your SEO success is to hire an agency to manage your SEO for you.
But what sort of things should you expect from an SEO agency?
What is an agency red flag?
Here are some key factors we think are important when selecting your SEO provider, from reporting style, to customer service.
SEO reporting that suits your needs
Without reporting, you'll be flying blind.
You want an agency who are able to give you meaningful SEO reports, and respond to reporting queries speedily and accurately.
Without reports, you won't be able to keep track of rankings progress.
Some hallmarks of a good SEO report:
- Metrics are annotated and explained, not just copy-pasted from Analytics.
- Effort has gone into explaining rankings and keyword movements.
- The report is honest and not skewed towards only showing you 'the good bits'.
- There is a strategy behind the report: it's not just random data clipped together.
Be honest with your agency if you don't like, or don't understand, their reporting style.
Tell them what matters to you and what you need to see, and go from there. A good SEO agency should be able to adapt their reports.
Word of warning on SEO reporting:
Some agencies may try to use excessive reporting as a way to consume your client retainer hours with them.
If you are getting loads of unnecessary reports, flag this up to them.
Quality, not quantity, is a good maxim in reporting too!
Customer service is important to them
A good SEO agency will be available to talk to you over the phone, as well as answer any emails and concerns promptly.
Having said that, there are some customer service boundaries that you should also respect - like calling and emailing during office hours.
After a sale has gone through, an agency might go quiet on you if they aren't really that bothered about keeping you on beyond the minimum period.
Or maybe an internal miscommunication has led to an account manager dropping the ball for a second.
If you are not happy with the levels of contact, talk to the agency immediately to give them a chance to fix the problem.
Things to ask:
- What is the agency's preferred contact method?
- How often are customer emails/phone calls answered?
- Who's the account manager? Who is actually doing the work?
Agencies may outsource part of their SEO services like writing and translation, but customer experience should not be impacted by outsourcing.
Low churn rates and high client retention rates
An SEO agency that operates with a 'churn and burn' attitude won't be looking to convert you into a lifelong customer, and you might be exposing yourself to risky tactics and half-finished projects.
How to spot one?
They won't have a lot of longstanding customers and all their testimonials will be from the last few months.
A new SEO agency or consultant may not have built up a visible loyal customer base yet, but even they should have a track record of working with some sites and clients for a while.
Ask them if you are not sure. Trust your instincts. And, if they have lost clients in the past because of a change in the SEO market, make sure they have actually reformed their ways.
Honesty about rankings
You want an agency who are ready to accept the realities of SEO, not reel you in with unrealistic rankings promises.
The number one rule of sustainable SEO is not to market your services as "We can get you to number 1 in Google in X weeks/days/months".
It might be possible in some niches, but nothing is ever guaranteed.
An agency marketing themselves this way is being irresponsible and unrealistic about the real nature of SEO.
Lurking behind a rankings promise is often an incredibly niche keyword phrase, with no real commercial or search value, which the agency can then easily rank you for.
Being ranked for a useless term is useless.
SEO integrated with your business plan
SEO intersects with other online disciplines like web development, design, content marketing, CRO (conversion rate optimisation), and UX (user-experience) optimisation.
A good SEO agency should be able to give you advice and recommendations on all these digital principles, not just SEO.
Your goal is to have a better online offering across the board, and your agency should support you in this.
Good SEO also looks at your wider business landscape and takes into account any existing marketing activities or company events.
SEO should be part of a brand PR campaign, or support a new product launch, just as much as other marketing channels.
Range of SEO tactics
SEO is not just about getting one type of link over and over again, it's about being reactive and creative and going after many different types of links.
A good SEO provider should be able to prove their SEO salt by providing you with a range of backlinks and services.
What you need from an SEO agency
- Evidence of a good client portfolio: proven SEO track record and honest customer reviews and testimonials.
- Robust Service Level Agreement: contact details for all key members of staff, information on business hours, liaison, and response times.
- Open lines of communication: whether it's reports, emails, messages, or a shared cloud drive - the format may change, but the principle of open communication shouldn't.
- Commitment: a willingness to get to know you and your business, and take on board your larger business goals.