This is the second part of the series about SEO services. In the first part I wrote about choosing between an SEO agency and in-house SEO specialist, so if you haven’t considered that option, it would be wise to first read that article.

In case you have opted for the SEO agency, there are three big steps ahead waiting for you. These are: setting the goals, the choice of an SEO agency and negotiations with the chosen agency.

Setting the goals

In the first part of this series I wrote about establishing the goals. It is very important to define your aims as clearly as possible in order to avoid common mistakes.

If you have an online shop, for example, that is pretty easy. Your goal is higher conversion, and there is not much doubt about it. The problem, however, is when you don’t own an online shop.

In that situation, the conversions aren’t so easy to follow. Sometimes you can measure them offline, e.g. by using the number of calls or the number of email enquiries and so on, but you can never tell with certainty just how big a percentage has found you via your website.

In case you decide to have keyword ranking as your goal, take care that these are only those words that potential customers type with the intention of purchasing a product or a service.

If you have set the visits as one of your goals, let that be the visit for searches with the intention of buying the product or hiring your services (only the organic visit, i.e. the visit via Google and other search engines).

If you believe you need more content on your website, or more links (which may be the case if you possess some SEO knowledge), then you should define what kind of content you want and what type of links, as well as their number per month. However, you should be aware this does not guarantee any results.

After all, your final goal should be the feeling that you have increased your sales. If you have invested only in SEO, it will be easy to determine whether you have any gained any profit from the money you invested. If you are investing in other kinds of marketing, this will not be so simple. Nevertheless, what is good about SEO is the fact that you can monitor how much the site is visited, where the visit originated from, what searches brought it here, as well as the progress over time. Therefore, certain conclusions can be drawn.

Choosing an SEO agency

The most logical step would be to type “SEO agency” (or “SEO services”, or “SEO package”) into Google and hire the very first company that appears at the top of the page. Nevertheless, there is one tiny hiccup. Sometimes, a person who hasn’t got a lot of work assigned by their clients will have enough time to dedicate to building SEO for their own site, thus ranking better than the agency which has more work and has no time to dedicate to its own website.

Another option for a poor company to come up first or among the first in the search is by using the “black hat” (unethical) methods which Google still hasn’t noticed. Their site is among the top ones at one moment, but only for a short while, and you don’t want your company’s website to be in the first place for a week or a month, only to later disappear from search options.

For this reason, instead of doing so, enquire about the most reputable SEO companies (locally or globally). Don’t put your trust into every single internet article, since they are often either paid for, or written by those very same SEO companies. Therefore, only trust the reliable sources and ask around via different SEO communities or forums. Even better, connect with the companies which were using their SEO services. Make an appointment with a couple of them, negotiate and opt for one.

Questions for the SEO agency

This is an extremely important phase, because even if you have made a mistake in one of the first two steps, this is where the mistakes can be corrected. I have seen a lot of wrong questions during negotiations with companies which wanted to hire SEO services, and I have always tried to point out the essentials.

The first step would be to get to know them – they should tell you something about themselves, how long they have been in SEO business, how many employees they have, what kind of clients they work with, and so on. This is where certain trust is built between the agency and the client (of course, longer SEO experience and renowned clients add to the agency’s trustworthiness).

The next question would be if they have had clients of your size, and from your industry, too. Why this matters? In a situation when you have a million page website, and the SEO agency only deals with small sites (100 pages max), this could certainly represent a problem (and also be a sign of an unreliable agency).

Do they have your competitor as one of their clients, and what would they do in case your competitor wished to hire them? Basically, this needn’t be a very big issue, but the question remains what they would do if they had an excellent idea which is applicable both ways. Who would have the advantage…? After all, this is not so much an ethical question. SEO can be observed as a football league. Everybody wishes to be the first, and managing two clients is the same as managing two teams.

What resources has the agency got? Do they have the designers, writers, developers, tools necessary for SEO? The answer to what tools the agency is using can also speak volumes about the agency type. In SEO industry there is a plethora of tools that are more or less necessary for analyzing the competition, researching the backlinking opportunities, keyword research and so on. The number and quality of these tools can tell you a lot about the seriousness of an SEO agency.

It is essential to ask whether an SEO agency has its own developer capable of implementing technical SEO recommendations, or your company is expected to do so. Even a good company may not have a developer at hand who would dedicate themselves to implementing technical recommendations, but at least they will emphasize that it is expected from you to take care of it.

What ways of helping you does an SEO agency have in mind (what is the weakest link of your current SEO strategy)? This is a good question not only because you will find out what they deem is necessary, but you will also see how they think. If by the time of your appointment they haven’t even taken a glance at your site, that is not such a great sign (of course, it goes without saying that you have contacted them prior to the meeting and introduced them to your website).

Do they have some case studies to share with you? No agency is going to create a case study of a bad campaign. Every respectable agency will already have some case study to show you. If they don’t, then it’s definitely a bad sign.

What is the percentage of the clients who didn’t achieve the desirable goals and for whom the SEO investment was nothing but an expense? Don’t expect an honest answer to this question. Firstly, an SEO agency probably doesn’t even have that data; secondly, they wouldn’t give you an honest answer even if they had it. The sole purpose of this question is for you to see how they are going to react to it. There isn’t an agency in the world which hasn’t had an unsatisfied client, or a client who hasn’t had a refund. If someone claims otherwise, stay away from them.

Can you show us some creative campaign examples that you did for one of your clients – if they start telling you a story about creating content or getting organic links, or anything similar, this is the question to be asked. Just because an SEO agency or consultant is doing a great job for their own promotion, that does not necessarily mean they are just as capable to do the same for a client. If they give you an example, ask for a few more examples, and particularly demand the examples from your own industry. There are a lot of those who will use one successful campaign as the proof of their creativity, which in no way can guarantee that they will be able to do the same for you.

What do we get for our money? – a question no agency wants to hear. Some will reply to it with a number of links and contents, others will talk about the hours invested in the project, while some will mention an increase in visits. The answer I would provide in this case is that for the money invested, your company gets my (or our) knowledge and dedication within reasonable limits. An SEO agency should limit how much time an employee may dedicate to a client, so that the clients could get even attention (in this case, the maximum number of hours per client’s campaign). The number of links and contents shouldn’t be a matter of discussion. Even one really high quality article or some other kind of content can suffice on a month level. The same goes for backlinks. It’s better to gain one really good link in one month than to get 5 mediocre or 20 bad ones. Just be careful that someone does not trick you by representing the mediocre or bad ones as the good ones…

The following are some useful extra questions:

  • How much time per month are you planning to dedicate to our campaign?
  • How many people will be working on our campaign?
  • Which person is held responsible for our campaign?
  • Can we expect some backlinks, and how many  (and what kind, i.e. of what quality)?
  • Are you going to create any content on a monthly level, and what kind?
  • What kind of communication are we going to have, and of what frequency? Certainly, you will prefer to communicate with the SEO agency on a monthly basis, to be rest assured everything is going according to the plan. The agency must not avoid communicating with you.
  • Are there any hidden costs? These can include content writing, creating graphic content, paying for links or promotion and the like. All this is fine, especially if the agency introduces you some good paid options during the campaign, but it is necessary to define everything before you sign the contract, both for your sake and the realistic price service price.
  • How long are we signing the contract for? In SEO industry, contracts are usually done on a monthly basis. Some will prefer long term contracts in order to keep you for longer, but any agency that is confident in its own abilities has no need of doing so. Still, bear in mind that the results won’t be visible on the same day, and don’t expect to get visible results in a week.
  • When can we expect some results of our SEO campaign? The SEO results won’t be visible very soon. Implementing technical recommendations will be effective relatively quickly, whereas the backlinks will get their real value only in about 10 weeks from their creation. So, what is done today will be noticeable in 3 months’ time, and in most cases it is most probable that it will take you several months or even years to reach the level of your competition. You can read more about that here.
  • What guaranties do you offer (What do you guarantee?)? This too is a very important question. Some guarantee the first place in Google search, and in that case, feel free to run like hell away from them. Basically, no one can guarantee you will get the first place for the keyword you want. Still, it’s worth asking the question, and not only that one, but you should also ask what they can name as the guaranty. Therefore, the answers to this question can once again be the number of links or the time spent on your campaign, or perhaps a bigger visit (subquestion: how big are we talking about, during which period, and for what types of searches?). Some agencies offer a refund if you are not satisfied with them, but this is really rare. There can hardly be any guaranties, but it would be nice if there were  some.
  • What happens if the goals aren’t reached and we are not satisfied? This is the question related to guaranties. Perhaps they will offer to give you your money back, or another campaign month for free, or breaking the contract earlier (if you signed a long term one). To sum up, it is not bad to know what to expect.
  • Do we get the campaign reports, what kind, and how often? In SEO industry, it is common practice to get a report for the previous month once per month. The report should contain all the vital campaign indicators (KPIs – key performance indicators), such as the organic visit (Google visits) during one month, as well as comparisons to the previous month and the same month of the previous year. If the conversions are being monitored, are they also compared, as well as the time spent on a monthly campaign and all the progress made during one month (gained links, created content, implementation of technical recommendations and so on).

There are plenty of other questions you could ask an SEO agency, but these should be more than enough. It would be best if you did as much research as possible about the SEO agency in question before you set up an appointment, or even hired an SEO consultant to participate in the negotiations with the agency.

While talking to an SEO agency, you should remember one thing. An SEO agency has not one good reason to hide anything from you. SEO principles are well-known and available to everyone wishing to get informed. Those who hide their work principles are either using unethical methods, which can get you penalized by Google, or they are using unimaginative, spammer techniques they are ashamed of, and they have a very poor SEO effect. Either way, when an SEO agency is completely open, it is a positive sign.

 
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