How to choose an SEO company

7 questions you must ask before trusting your business to an SEO company

I’m sure you’ve had the phone calls. And the emails. Someone promising they can boost your business by getting your website onto the first page of Google, or better yet, to the very top.

They are right about one thing. It’s very important for your business to be there. If your site is not up there in the search results, you’re missing out on a lot of business. Consider these stats:

  • Over 80% of consumers research online before making a purchase (Source: Cisco)
  • The first page of Google gets over 90% of the clicks (Source: Chitika)
  • The top 3 results on that page get over 60% of the clicks

Clearly, a high ranking on search engines is good for business. Choosing the right search engine optimisation (SEO) company or consultant can help you get there, but the wrong choice can send your business spiralling in the opposite direction.

Who are you trusting your business to?

When it comes to looking after your car, you probably use a trained mechanic. For your finances, a qualified accountant. However when it comes to looking after your business’s online presence – its lifeblood in this day and age – who would you trust?

The online marketing industry is relatively young and it’s almost totally unregulated. Anyone can call themselves an SEO consultant or start an SEO company; there are no formal qualifications required and there’s no recognised certification program that customers can turn to for assurance.

As a consequence, mixed in with the many diligent, quality-focused specialists are dodgy operators with little experience but lofty claims. Often based in (or outsourcing to) countries where labour is plentiful and cheap, these companies frequently use risky tactics like link building to try to boost Google rankings, sometimes delivering the opposite result – a Google penalty that can lower your search rankings or have your site blacklisted altogether.

The constant emails and phone calls from these companies give the SEO industry a bad name, but as Rex E. Lee, the late United States Solicitor General famously said (of lawyers in this case):

“It’s a shame that an entire profession should be maligned because of two or three hundred thousand bad apples.”

A good tip here is to stick to local companies – and the ones that don’t need to tout their services are the ones that are busy due to referrals and repeat work from happy clients.

Doing nothing is not an option

Because of a lack of understanding of how SEO works or suspicion of the constant phone calls and emails, many businesses opt to do nothing. While this is often better than hiring a bad operator, it’s leaving your business standing still while your competitors race ahead online.

In my experience as a website optimisation consultant, nine out of ten websites can be improved upon, often with some simple changes, to increase search rankings, visitor engagement and customer conversions. The challenge for business owners is to identify potential partners who are able to work with them to understand their business and their customers, and help develop strategies and tactics that will result in long term online success.

The 7 questions to ask an SEO company before hiring them

Without a certification scheme to go by, how do you choose an SEO consultant or agency that you can be confident will get results? Here are seven questions you need to ask:

  1. Can you see examples of their work in your industry or comparable industries? Call those business owners and ask for their feedback. Did they get lasting results? Were they good to do business with? Would they recommend them?
  2. Ask them how they will approach your project. What strategies and tactics will they employ to improve your online presence? Why will they use those, and what risks are involved?
  3. What keywords are they planning to target with your campaign and how do they identify those that are most important? Ask them to walk you through their list of target keywords and their relative levels of search traffic so you know that they are relevant to your business and will deliver lots of potential customers. If they plan to use link building as a tactic, read this article first.
  4. Will they do a complete audit of your site to identify issues and opportunities for improvement in content and technical factors? Are they able to action those changes themselves? Can they provide content services such as copywriting, design or photography to help with visitor engagement and conversion on your site? Ask for samples of this work.
  5. Where does the work get carried out? Many local companies outsource the actual work to countries like India, Pakistan and the Philippines where labour is cheap but English can be poor and understanding of your local business environment is non-existent.
  6. How do they charge? If it’s a recurring monthly fee, what do they do each month? How does the ongoing work benefit your business rather than theirs? What reporting will they provide? Ask for monthly keyword ranking reports to demonstrate continual improvement.
  7. Is there a contract? What happens when the contract ends? Some SEO agencies will even go as far as undoing all the work they have done if you terminate their contract, effectively crippling your website. Legal? Yes. Ethical? Not very.

Perhaps more important than any question you can ask them, is what they ask you. The right company will ask the right questions to learn about your business, your online goals, your customers and their needs, your offline marketing activities, and your long term business goals. All these should be taken into consideration when planning online marketing work.

Get informed

The best way to ensure that you get the optimal outcome is to get informed. By understanding the basics of how SEO works, you’ll be much better placed to ask the right questions, interpret the answers, analyse the results and measure your return on investment.

Your online presence is so important to your business success, spending some time on learning the basics is perhaps the best investment you can make. A great place to start is Google’s own SEO Starter Guide, and this Beginner’s Guide to SEO is the best 3rd party information source out there.

This article was first published by me on the Real Time Minds blog and on LinkedIn.