Searching for Search Specialists

What to Watch for While Hunting For an SEO Expert

Any specialist in the game will tell you that the best SEO is done in-house. However, the amount of time it takes to learn the ropes and hone the craft is simply not feasible for many companies, so they choose to outsource these duties. With so many search engine optimization shops around, how are you supposed to choose the perfect organic search partner? Whether you’re the experienced company that has been burned by SEO “experts” in the past or you’re the start-up looking to make an organic search splash, here are some of the top questions and qualifications to consider when seeking an SEO expert!

Define What Digital “Success” Means to You

Before you even start searching for SEO pros, make sure you know what you actually want. What matters more to you: being #1 in the search rankings or an increase in leads through the website? (Obviously, we’ll be the first to tell you that more leads is the ultimate goal for almost every single campaign.)

Be sure to ask yourself these questions before jumping in:

  • What counts as a web conversion – is it a phone call, form submission, PDF download, purchase or something else?
  • How much is each new lead worth to your company?
  • How many new leads or purchases would it take to cover your digital marketing overhead?
  • How are you benchmarking current site performance?
  • Do you have Google Analytics installed?
  • Have you performed dedicated SEO in the past? (If so, have the details ready.)

Should a Good SEO Company be #1 for “SEO?”

Nope – not necessarily. This is an arbitrary factor. A strong SEO agency doesn’t need the greatest search engine presence. Why? Because, if you’re good, you retain clients. If an agency is carrying each campaign for more than a year, you can bet your digital marketing budget they know what they’re doing. And if that agency is killing it, you know their clients are referring them to other businesses. They don’t necessary need organic search leads. That being said, it’s definitely not a bad thing to be ranking high for SEO terms and phrases! After all, at any given time, you can search “SEO Columbus Ohio” and we’ll be up there. Don’t let this make or break the deal.

Best SEO directories aren't great sources

Are SEO Directories a Reliable Source?

“Best of” lists are often just pay-to-play directories. The creator of the site will call around to different web agencies, talk about their free listing and ask if they want to be featured in their top agencies list. If your web agency says yes, you pay a fee and sit on the list. If you say no, they call your competitor with the same pitch. It’s a great way to make money and create competition, but it honestly adds very little value to customers. The only ones who win here are conglomerates with colossal marketing budgets who can afford to be on every list. Once again, most of these do not reflect service quality, rather if someone is scared enough to pay a monthly listing fee.

Beware of Low-Quality Pitches and “Secret Sauces”

Search engine optimization ranking factors

Here you are: you’ve been shopping around, you’ve got a list of top contenders and you’re reaching out to set up discovery calls to see who will be the best fit. Don’t fall prey to the “proprietary SEO” pitch. All too often, SEO agencies will talk about how much money they will make you and how many more leads you’ll get, but they won’t discuss the nitty-gritty. What are they actually doing? They have “in-house experts” that “do the heavy lifting,” but what the Hell does that even mean?

Any SEO specialist worth their weight knows the roughly 200 ranking factors that go into search algorithms and they should openly walk you through the most pertinent components.  An agency won’t tell you the ingredients to their super secret sauce? Walk away. An agency won’t tell you why they chose the ingredients that they did? Walk away.

Not only should the SEO company be transparent in their approach to your success, but they should also show their work. Why do they choose backlinking over local directory listings? Why do they believe 500 words on a page is necessary? Why do they keep saying “image-to-text ratio?” Ask for the details and, hopefully, you’ll get more information than you know what to do with.

Want to experience a high-quality pitch? Then step up to the plate!

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What Questions Should You Ask Each Agency?

You’re getting ready to call up that first company, phone in hand. Keep this list of questions handy throughout the conversation to ensure you hit on all the important topics before hanging up or signing something you’re not quite ready for. If you face hesitation or the classic “we don’t offer that information,” raise a red flag. This agency is your organic digital marketing team – you should know what they’re going to do for you.

“Are we locked into a contract?”

Are these services month-to-month or do you sign a 12-month deal? In the SEO world, agencies like to lock down clients as a source of recurring revenue. Don’t let this happen to you. Any contract that eclipses 4 months should be avoided. You want to stick around long enough to see success, but you also need to be able to pick up your ball and go home.

“What’s the average tenure of an SEO client?”

How long does a typical SEO project last? This will tell you a lot about the agency. The longer, the better. Instinctively, you may think “If this campaign lasted a year, doesn’t that reflect poorly on their ability to put together an effective strategy?” But in reality, if someone continues to stay on with an SEO campaign, month-to-month, you can bet your bottom marketing dollars they’re pulling in some results. We’ve seen plenty of clients double down on their SEO success and watch as it pays off.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask why others have left in the past. For instance, we had a client leave us previously because they literally took up the top 5 spaces and their site was converting at a crazy high rate. They didn’t need us! So they gave us a thank you, a hug and we opened up our resources for a new client.

“What’s your reporting look like?”

Monthly reporting is a huge facet of our services, because we believe a client should know what the heck is going on with their campaign. See if you can get your hands an actual report. If not, see if you can just get a blank template. Ask why they choose the data they choose.

Read about the most relevant pieces of data in Google Analytics here.

What will you actually do each month?”

This is the big one. Too many SEO agencies will sign you up, lock you down and then not…really…do anything. They may put you on a directory listing aggregate system or install Google Analytics, but they aren’t enhancing your on-page SEO. They’re not backlinking. They’re not writing blog posts or posting on socials. So what are they actually doing? Hash out an example battle plan to know that it’s real.

“When can we expect to see success? 3 months? 6 months?”

If any of your top contenders promises SEO success within a certain amount of time, kick them to the curb. It is impossible to predict 1) search engine algorithm shifts, 2) heightened regional competition and 3) user behavior – at least to such a substantial degree. However, look for the agency that says things like “we typically see success within X days.” They should have stories upon stories about this stuff. So many that they know it’s impossible to promise success, but highly probable that they can make it happen, captain.

“If we don’t see success by that time, how will you amend the campaign?”

Rarely should one month look exactly like another. Testing, analysis and action are all parts of the SEO scientific method. There are no written rules of what will work; it’s experience, anecdotal evidence and research-based decisions that create a cocktail of SEO exploration. Each client is unique. Every competitive landscape, a different beast. Seek the proactive team. Don’t settle for the reactive bunch or, even worse, the passive guys.

How to choose an SEO Agency

The Decision: Compare Quality & Transparency, Not Price

When all is said and done, you need a company that will not only learn your business in and out, but also provide you with seemingly infinite transparent data. You need an ally in the fight for organic search traffic and digital leads. You need an expert in the field that will continuously make advantageous changes to your campaign. But you also have to, unfortunately, consider pricing. Great SEOs aren’t cheap and cheap SEOs aren’t great. In fact, by shopping for the lowest price, you run the risk of wasting money or, much worse, being driven into Google penalty for spammy SEO tactics. Ask all the above questions. Cross-examine those answers with your gut-feeling.

In our industry, it is better to run with the guys who have a comprehensive plan, transparent sales pitch and higher price tag than it is to roll with the crew that promises everything for next to nothing. Go with the SEO company that can confidently say that they don’t have all the answers, but are constantly researching, testing and learning. Failure is not an option for the dedicated student of digital marketing. That specialist takes your success to heart.

Have additional questions about what you should look for in an SEO agency? Get in touch with ForeFront Web today!

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