One of the things we often see from business owners and in-house seos are questions concerning how you determine whether an seo agency is worth the cost. This is easier to determine if you have worked at an agency or had some form of agency experience, but it can be difficult if you're new to seo or agencies in general. Since we have experience working at agencies, we'll break down a few things to be on the lookout for so that you can make an educated decision.
Quick Tips for Hiring an SEO Agency
What is OK
The first thing you should look for is the location of the agency. A good many agencies will likely have a physical location, but not all of them will (one of our Mentors and his team all work remotely, so you won't find an actual place). It’s well-known in SEO circles that most of the spam and poor SEO services come from companies based in rogue nations that target the United States. We’ve seen time and again the damage these “agencies” can cause when companies employ them because they think $200 a month is a good bargain. These agencies typically reach out with emails telling you how terrible you are doing and how you must act now in order to save your website. Some try to use scummy tactics telling you that you’re in violation of your domain if you don’t sign up now. All in all, keep your wits about you. Do a search on the company and see what information you can find. In general, we recommend going with an agency that's a little closer to home or in a reasonable time-zone window.
The sayings “you get what you pay for” and “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” are apt here. Digital marketing services are often expensive, and the price goes up when you start getting into the areas of outreach and content creation. When someone is offering you SEO services at a lower monthly price than some local competitors, be on your guard. It's not uncommon to see hourly rates of $75-$200, but a monthly rate in the $500 or below rate often means you aren't getting what you pay for. We've known people from agencies who told us they had around 100 clients who only received reporting. That means they are paying to see how their website is doing, but no actual work is performed to get more customers to their website.
Now keep in mind that if you're a local business, a local agency may charge somewhere in that range, so those prices don't guarantee that you'll be ripped off. Do your due diligence and find out what you're getting for the cost. If you can actually see results, go for it.
Another red flag involves promises of page 1 ranking terms. We’ve been in the game for years, and we don’t guarantee ranking targets for terms despite often hitting them. Usually an agency will take two different approaches to this. There may be more, but this is what we’ve seen in our time.
The first is the promised rank 1 terms are set by the agency and are typically low volume, low value keywords. It’s an easy target to hit, but it’s not something that's really going to bring in any qualified traffic. You’re really just paying for something worthless, but they keep you on the hook by saying how many rank 1 terms you’ve gotten. If you aren’t making money off of those terms, you’re getting ripped off.
The second tactic involves higher-risk, “blackhat tactics”, that only have a short term effect and can have long term detrimental impacts. The moral of the story here is do not trust anyone that says they will guarantee your rankings and if they even mention that, run away as fast as possible.
If an agency offers to create the analytics profiles for you, be wary. We've seen agencies kick clients out of their own analytics once they drop the agency. With Google Search Console this isn't as much of a problem, as once Google starts collecting data you can still get access to it by going back through the verification process. With Google analytics however, that data is tied to the account. Once you lose access to the account, there’s no way to get it back.
Final Thoughts on the Warnings
Now this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of what to pay attention to when you’re looking for an agency, or you’ve been approached by one. We want you to be able to make smart decisions, because unfortunately you’ve got a lot of snake oil out there when it comes to SEO. Since most of us are SEOs, this bothers us because it puts a bad light on the entire industry. If you have an agency or a consultant you are vetting and you want a second opinion, you can reach out to us and we’ll tell you our honest thoughts. If we think they might be the type of agency that would harm you, we’ll tell you. If we think they know their stuff, we’ll tell you that also. And because we don’t want to violate your trust, we won’t pitch you on an agency to use unless you want guidance in choosing one.
Signs of a Good Agency
It’s easy to just tell you what to watch out for, but we do have a few signs of a good agency as well. Many of us at Search Mentors work for or have worked for an agency in the past, so we’ll tell you what stands out to us, having been on the inside.
Whenever talking with a prospect, I would always lay out a general timeline of what they can expect in terms of work. This typically covered a few months that showed what would be done (Month 1: Audit, Month 2: Content Audit etc.). This allowed prospects to get an idea of the type of work they would receive, instead of just being left with a vague idea that SEO and other digital marketing help would be done. Any good agency will be willing to tell you what you’ll be receiving and answer questions about those services. You should be able to exit a meeting and know what you’ll be receiving and when.
Most agencies and consultants should be able to provide a list of references if you want them. Keep in mind that sometimes clients don’t want to be a reference, even when good work has been provided. References shouldn’t break a deal, especially if the agency is ticking all of the other boxes of what makes a good agency, but if they have them, check them out.