Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most important factors for success when running almost any online business these days. Having the ability to ensure your customers can go to a search engine and easily find your business's website is absolutely invaluable in both B2C and B2B markets.
For many, the answer is to hire an in-house expert and ensure that their recommendations are followed. However, for many -- especially in more competitive online industries -- the risk and costs of employing the one expert or even a small team is outweighed by the reassurance of using an agency and benefiting from service level agreements, broader knowledge bases, and insight from other SEO campaigns in different markets.
So what are the key factors in choosing an SEO agency and why are they important? These are my top five tips.
1. Look for an agency to show examples of using different SEO techniques to bring results.
Every client will have different requirements in order to achieve great results. For some there will be major content requirements; for others the focus may be on improving their link profile.If your agency can show examples of achieving quick results by using a range of different on-page and off-page techniques then you can feel secure that they will be able to diagnose changes accurately and act appropriately. It will also mean that if results aren't improving, they won't simply carry on doing the same things in the hope of a change of fortune.
2. Find an agency that will be able to work closely with your developers, content teams, and other agencies.
Your agency should be like an extension of your team. With SEO a range of elements will lead to success. Your agency needs to be able to work closely with tech teams, creatives, as well as potentially with your paid search, PR, display agencies, and more.
3. Don't underestimate the value of sector knowledge, but also ensure you won't get the same approach as taken for another client (see point 1).
An SEO agency that knows your market can be valuable for a number of reasons, including having an understanding of appropriate keyword strategies, competitor insights, and an idea of how to engage with relevant link partners. What's important to remember, however, is that you'll need an approach that isn't exactly the same as everyone else in the market.
4. Try and avoid any agency that claims to have a 'network' of their own sites for link building.
The ability to affect your client's link profile quickly and cost effectively can be of huge value. But if you're looking for an agency and they believe that one of the biggest selling points they have is that they have their own network of sites they can call on for links, that is generally a bad sign.
There are numerous examples of sites that link out exclusively to clients of the same SEO agency -- this isn't something you really want as part of your link profile. It's better to use a range of different techniques to build links, not just the one.
Also, a network can be used as a way to force you into using the agency. Leave them, and they kill your link profile and lower your rankings.
5. Look for an agency that is willing to be completely transparent in how they work.
If you can find an SEO agency that's happy to show you exactly what they do in building links, in investigating indexing issues, in understanding competitor site profiles, etc., then you can be more confident in seeing the value that they're adding, and be sure that there will never be any hidden issues or any use of black hat techniques.
So, those are my recommendations based on my experiences both client and agency side. There are literally hundreds of individual questions you could look to get an SEO agency to answer but these are the areas I would suggest any in-house team focuses on when looking to appoint an agency.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!