Within organizations, some very smart people want to understand enough to know whether their SEO agency is doing a good job. While good results are pretty easy to define, what's more concerning to these folks is that it's unclear how their agency is achieving results; and that carries risk.
Why should it matter about the quality of the work when you’re getting results?
If you care enough to ask the pivotal question, then you’re more than likely working for a credible, sustainable business that has a reputation to consider. As such you’re likely to be investing in additional marketing services from brand advertising, to PPC (pay-per-click search advertising) and maybe even print advertising, TV or billboard depending on the size and nature of your business and investment capital. If that’s the case, then it is important to be sure that the methods that any one of your marketing teams/suppliers employs won't jeopardize the total effort and investment.
SEO may be a little different in that there’s no dedicated industry regulatory body or code of conduct as such; but if your SEO agency is using poor quality tactics that contravene a search engines’ guidelines, then your business presence in the search engine index is at risk. Imagine if you sign-off on a drive-time radio ad which tells listeners to search for [brand name], and then suddenly you’re nowhere to be found!
Why Are Methods Unclear?
You’re paying good money for a service. You have every right to know exactly how that service will be provided.
Even if your agency uses proprietary technology such as a tool to identify a list of bloggers suitable to approach for outreach projects, they should be able to explain how the technology searches and identifies targets, and how such identified targets would be qualified and approached; without disclosing the proprietary element.
If methods are unclear, request a minimum ToS for communications, such as a meeting every two weeks. If you can set the time aside to listen to your agency you may be pleasantly surprised by how much they want to talk to you. You may also get faster results the more content and information you can share with them in these updates.
Is Language Used to Illustrate or Obfuscate?
Image Credit: Memegenerator
SEO is full of abbreviations and technical terms, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Every profession or academic discipline has its own language of specific or technical terms that convey a deeper or more precise meaning to the initiated; and herein is the problem, in that to the uninitiated to avoid technical language may come across as patronizing.
If your doctor said to you, “I’m afraid you have an ouchy between your toes and I must refer you to a foot doctor” they would probably go down in your estimations in terms of credibility and professional capability. Instead we would expect to be told “I’m afraid you have a neuroma between your toes and I must refer you to a podiatrist.” However, we would expect to have our condition and course of treatment fully explained to us, including any words we may be unfamiliar with.
Your SEO agency should use whatever technical language is required to describe the work they are doing for you. At the same time, they should check if at any stage you require anything explained in more detail.
If you suspect your SEO agency is using technical terms or acronyms to try to intimidate you or obfuscate what they are actually doing, then you should never be afraid to call them on it. A good agency should be all too happy to break down and explain the mechanics of what they are doing. It may even have been the case that they were previously worried about boring you with the details.
However, beware: if your agency says that they can't fully explain their language or methods due to any form of “special relationship” with any search engine, then it's time to review your supplier.
Are They Refusing to Provide Any Proof of Work?
If your SEO agency is tasked with growing links to your website, then they should be
- Transparent about exactly how they do this, including making you aware if they recommend any tactic that is outside of any search engine guidelines.
- Able to show you where they have succeeded in securing links regardless of method.
Some good quality SEO agencies may choose to provide a representative sample of links placed if they have managed to place a number within a given time, so as to reduce time spent reporting or focus reports more on results than method. If so, that’s just a reporting convention and should you wish to see the full list of links placed, then you should be provided with one. If your SEO agency refuses to provide proof of links placed yet continues to take your money, then it’s time to look elsewhere.
If It Ain’t Broken Today, It Might Be Tomorrow
I can understand why it may be more difficult or daunting to assess the quality of work your SEO agency is providing as in many situations we may use the adage “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” However, this principle lacks merit when applied to business.
Progress, change and extraordinary success don't come without challenge; but it can be difficult to challenge an agency providing a service which has generated some results. If you feel uncomfortable, listen to your gut feel and think about how you would accept this service arrangement when applied to another discipline.
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!