When 70-80% of consumers actively ignore paid advertisements, ranking highly in organic search results is vital to your business.
SEO isn’t magic. It takes time and dedication, which means it may be smart to hire someone else to take care of it for you. But how do you know who to hire or where to start?
Here are 15 tips to help you choose the right professional SEO firm for your business.
1. Understand There Isn’t a Fix-All Method
Before you seek an SEO firm, it’s important to know that there is no “secret sauce” for SEO marketing.
A low-quality SEO consultant will tell you they have secret optimization techniques that beat the algorithms. This isn’t true.
If you ask a potential firm how they drive results and they say it’s a proprietary method, run away. SEO is an open field and there are various techniques marketers use to improve search rankings. If a company’s method is veiled in secrecy, consider it a red flag.
2. Don’t Trust Google
This might seem like an oxymoron, but don’t automatically trust the first result on Google when looking for a high-quality SEO consultant.
A good SEO company will rank well if they know how to do their job. But the best SEO companies are so overwhelmed by doing good work that they don’t need to worry about optimizing their websites.
Great SEO firms have loyal clients that refer even more loyal clients to them, so they don’t spend resources to gain new clients if they don’t have to.
Many companies that rank well are focusing their energy on ranking well because they don’t have clients. Not that there aren’t any good SEO companies ranking well on Google, but don’t blindly trust Google without doing your own research first.
3. Establish Your Goals First
Before deciding who to hire, know what you’re after. Establish clear goals and share them with the SEO firm in your consultation.
You can’t just say “I want to increase traffic to my website.” Here are examples of good goals:
- We need to boost revenue through new sales and hope SEO will drive those sales.
- We want to promote email sign-ups by offering free trials.
- We want to improve the reputation of our brand by pushing bad reviews down and bringing good reviews up.
The more easily you can measure metrics for it, the better the goal.
4. Define an SEO Budget
Know how much you want to spend before you go after any certain SEO company.
Ask about specials and package deals early on to determine whether a firm’s services are within your budget. Most will be willing to piecemeal their services to work with you.
When selecting a package, always defer to the goal you made in the beginning.
5. Make a List of Options
From your budget and a list of goals, come up with 3-4 good options to choose from. Then, have conversations with each consultant or firm to determine which is the right one for your business.
Good sources for this include personal and professional networks, similar (non-competitive) companies, and industry insiders.
6. Ask Good Questions
Never go into a consultation without a list of relevant questions. They will help guide the conversation and determine whether the firm is a good fit.
Here are some helpful questions to ask:
- How will you improve our search engine rankings?
- Can you share information on past clients and their results?
- Will we have to commit any internal resources?
- How will you keep me informed during the process?
Write out these questions as you make your list of goals and bring them with you to the consultation.
7. Consider In-House SEO
In the middle of your search for an SEO firm, you might have the urge to bring SEO in-house. Your employees know your business better than any consultant ever will. And if your communication is good, it might be worth a shot.
Or, you can always try the consulting thing for a while and determine whether your team can do it. Contract their services for a year, then let your in-house team handle it.
8. Ask for Advice
If you have your heart set on an SEO firm that you can’t afford, ask if they can advise you on the work. Then someone in-house (or someone new you’ve hired) can work under them as an apprentice to learn.
If you go this route, you’ll have an in-house employee coached by the experts, which may be the best of both worlds.
9. Know When to Let It Go
SEO is difficult and extremely competitive. Over 75% of people never click past page one of the results on Google. As such, you need to decide if spending time and money on SEO is worth it.
You may not see much value going from page six to page two. Unless you want to commit and give it your all, SEO may be something you focus on when you have more resources down the road.
10. Ask for Testimonials
If you’re looking for unbiased opinions about an SEO firm, look for reviews. Reading through testimonials and unsolicited online reviews is a great way to find a reputable firm.
Find these reviews by searching for them on Yelp and Glassdoor. Some agencies will provide references and case studies if you ask. Case studies will show you what the company is capable of.
A great firm should have no problem putting you in direct contact with a former client so you can talk with them about their experience. If the company says no to this, it’s not a good sign.
11. Don’t Go Local “Just Because”
Yes, supporting local businesses is always a good thing, but not always with SEO.
SEO can be performed remotely from anywhere. There are many options to choose from, so you’re not stuck with your local SEO agency.
Just be careful about choosing SEO companies in foreign countries. Unless your target audience lives in that country, that may not be a good move.
12. Watch out for Questionable Practices
Be on the lookout for black hat SEO practices. Companies that use “shady” hacks to improve their search results can cause damage to your rankings that take years to recover from. This damage is because Google punishes sites that they catch using these practices.
If an SEO firm makes unrealistic guarantees about results, look elsewhere. Some practices to look out for are:
- Buying links from low-quality, random websites
- Using a program to generate web pages
- Scraping content from other sources
- Using fake press releases to spam links
If you’ve used any of these techniques, let your SEO expert know. They can help you clean up your website so you don’t have a run-in with Google.
And just to be safe, don’t enter a business agreement with anyone who wants to keep copyrights to the metadata they create, edit, or analyze for your website. If you give them this right, they can legally bar you from your site if you leave them for a competitor.
13. Check out Digital Marketing Agencies
Don’t forget to include digital marketing agencies in your search for an SEO firm.
SEO can work seamlessly with pay-per-click advertising, social media marketing, and conversion rate optimization. Some companies offer all of these services at once. If you’re focusing on SEO alone, you may miss these companies that will help you meet your business goals.
14. Familiarize Yourself with Common SEO Tools
Don’t blindly trust anyone you have a consultation with. Before hiring an SEO company, familiarize yourself with common SEO tools and tactics.
Some tools are better than others, so do your research. This way, when you ask what they’re using, you’ll understand their knowledge of SEO. Plus, the more tools they use, the more capabilities they have—this is a win for you.
15. Pay Attention to Their Proposed Timeline
SEO is an ongoing activity that takes patience and time to implement and achieve success. Be wary of any company that promises success with an unrealistic timeline.
A reasonable SEO timeline will outline the firm’s plan from beginning to end. The timeline will probably range from several weeks to months. Make sure they know what you expect as well, so you can work together with a common goal in mind.
It’s Time to Hire a Professional SEO Firm
Now that you’re equipped with these tips, do you feel prepared to hire a professional SEO firm?
You can’t go wrong if you set realistic goals, follow a budget, and ask the right questions before signing any contracts.
If you want to learn more tips for SEO beginners, check out the rest of our site.