Search engine optimization, better known simply as SEO, is a regular term tossed around in marketing meetings and office chats nowadays. While SEO is commonly talked about in the business world, there’s still a mysterious quality to it that can leave otherwise highly capable business owners unsure of how to proceed—or make them susceptible to being lured in by a bad sales pitch.
The unfortunate reality is that there are black hat SEO “experts” out there that are eager to take your money and provide little to nothing in return. At best, hiring such bad actors will be a major waste of your money. At worst, it can result in your website being penalized by Google.
With that in mind, we wanted to share some important qualities to look for when hiring an SEO company or agency to handle your company’s online marketing strategy.
Quality #1: Talent diversity
Search engine optimization isn’t a one-stop skill that you hand off to a single person and expect them to excel in all facets. A good SEO strategy is multi-faceted and requires a lot of diverse talent.
For starters, writing high quality content is imperative to a successful SEO strategy. Google has to deliver its searchers the best possible answers to their queries and your content has to stand on its merits in your industry. This means you need someone who knows how to write well in long-form.
Social media engagement is another powerful signal to Google as to what is good content and a good website. If a post, video or landing page is being repeatedly liked and shared, Google’s spiders take notice and presume that their own searchers will probably value the content as an answer to their query. This means you need to hire an SEO expert who understands social media best practices—and that’s likely to be a different person than who writes your long-form content.
On-site technical optimization is also imperative. Your website structure should conform with Google’s best practices and your site must not be messy on the backend. For example, let’s say you find useless code on one of your pages. A visitor to your site might not notice it, but the Google spiders absolutely will. Or consider broken links. For these and other reasons, you need a techie to build your site right and keep it clean.
Link outreach means increasing the number of places your website is linked to from other sites. Outreach can man submitting to directories, guest posting, and contacting other sites for link-sharing arrangements. It’s exceptionally tedious work and you need someone ready to get in the trenches and do the professional equivalent of going to the dentist on a regular basis.
Do you plan on running a paid search campaign with Google Ads? This works hand-in-hand with SEO, but requires the ability to mesh keyword research, the ability to write extremely short ad copy and do a deep-dive analysis on campaign metrics. Google Ads aren’t cheap, so you preferably want a veteran running the show.
These are just 5 areas where your SEO company must excel—and each has very different skill sets. Make sure the company you hire has the staff, availability and resources to do them all, and do them well.
Quality #2: Willingness to listen and learn
In this case, we’re not talking about you. Although learning more about SEO is always a great idea, your SEO company should be willing to learn about you and your exact needs. If you get a canned, generic pitch on how much traffic they’re going to bring you, that’s not a good sign. Traffic has different value for different types of businesses, and every company’s website serves its own unique purpose.
The SEO company has to be ready to listen and learn in the initial meeting. They should ask questions like:
- What are the pain points of your sales prospects?
- Where are your sales prospects to be found—are they local (ready to walk in the store after finding you online), or are they found anywhere in the world?
- Are you looking to close business on your website (i.e, an e-commerce store)? In other words, is your site a lead generation tool or does it serve the more intangible goal of raising your visibility?
If the first thing an SEO company does is talk about themselves (beyond some basic biographical material to break the ice), that’s not a good sign.
Quality #3: Realistic expectations and results
If an SEO consultant walks into your office and immediately tells you that they’ll have you on page 1 of Google for a highly competitive keyword within a month, you better pause (especially if they haven’t even asked you what page your currently ranking on). Good SEO takes time.
Google rewards companies that take the long view and produce valuable, shareable content on a nice clean structure. Google does NOT reward companies that take the short-sighted view of keyword stuffing, duplicate content and other black-hat SEO tactics. You might get away with it for a little while, but the Google spiders will hunt you down eventually and the long-term consequences will outweigh the short-term rewards.
In the initial meeting with an SEO company, find out how they plan to define success—which goes back to their willingness to learn about your business and goals. See if they understand that good SEO has to be holistic in its need to serve your overall business structure and profitability.
And make sure they don’t get hung up on vanity metrics like website traffic. Sure, it feels good to tell people your website traffic went up 600 percent in the last 3 months, but it might not be moving the needle for you on revenue if conversions aren’t improving as well.
Quality #4: Planned communications
You should never be left hanging after signing the contract. A reputable SEO firm will want regular time with you to report results and suggest changes to your custom strategy. In fact, you might say that a good SEO company will probably be a little bit of a nag by proposing changes to your website, asking to get feedback on content (or ideas for content), and pushing your entire company to up its game in the digital world. Embrace the challenge.
Quality #5: Contract structure
While the bottom line of cost is an important factor when hiring an SEO company, the structure of the contract will be more revealing. Is the SEO company looking to lock you in for a long-term deal, like a cell-phone provider? That’s not unusual, but there are companies that will work on shorter-term contracts, including month-to-month.
While you should allow at least 6 months to start seeing measurable results, an SEO firm that’s capable and confident won’t try and pin you into a long-term arrangement.
Hiring an SEO company is a big investment with substantial future revenues at stake. With these tips in your pocket, you can find a reliable consultant that will help you achieve the results (and ROI) you ultimately desire.