As a business owner, you need to optimize your online presence to acquire and retain customers. Even if you run a brick and mortar shop, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is still necessary for your business. However, if you are like most business owners, you don’t have time to dedicate to SEO, or the expertise to do it yourself.

Lucky for you, Search Engine Optimization is a big industry ($65 billion and counting!) with lots of options. Unfortunately for you, SEO is a big industry with a lots of options!

Trying to choose an SEO agency, freelancer or SEO tool is a big decision and you need to base your decision on something more than just price.

So what I have here for you are 7 quick and easy ways you can evaluate a potential SEO agency or freelancer before deciding to hire them.

1. Do They Provide the Service You Need?

There are different types of search engine optimizers who might specialize in one of the following:

  • Technical SEO
  • Content marketing
  • Link analysis and link building
  • Social media marketing

Or they might be generalists or full-service agencies and provide solutions for all four areas. Whether you go for a generalist or specialist will depend heavily on what solutions your website needs.

If you’re just getting your website ready to launch, you would likely go for a technical SEO rather than a social media specialist. If you’re starting a brand new campaign you’d probably want to look into content marketing and/or link building service. Or, if you have the money, you could find one agency to do it all.

The point is, you should evaluate your options based on which marketers understand your needs and propose solutions that will meet them. Don’t get sucked in by a flashy presentation and proposals that pitch more than what you need.

If you’re not sure what you need, look for an SEO agency that will assess your situation and tailor their service to your specific needs and not just send you their template proposal.

2. Do They Promise Realistic Results?

Yes, ranking high in Google search results is the ultimate goal of all SEO efforts. But there’s really more to it than that. Thanks to newer algorithms like Hummingbird and RankBrain, SEO is as much about audience targeting as it is link building and keywords.

Any SEO service you consider should understand the ways SEO has changed in recent years and make the necessary adjustments to overall strategy.

No matter how badly you want to show up in the top spot for ALL your targeted keywords, that’s simply not something any reputable SEO agency can promise. In fact, anyone making this promise should be viewed with suspicion. It’s possible they engage in black hat tactics that could land you in a deep hole later on. Or it’s possible the keyword rankings they are promising are for search phrases that are rarely searched! I see this all the time from SEO agencies. What good is a page 1 ranking if it gets 10 searches a month?

Of course, it is possible to rank number one for a meaningful search query on Google – someone has to be number one after all. But there’s too much out of the marketer’s hand for them to reliably guarantee a ranking.

Anyone promising or predicting a top ranking is doing so just to win your business or is engaged in less than reputable SEO strategies.

3. Do They Have Case Studies Featuring Past Work?

Case studies are like an SEO resume. What websites have they worked on, how have they helped improve a website and how have those improvements achieved business goals?

Think about it. You’re trusting these people with exposing your business to your audience. You really should see examples of how they have done that in the past. This will help you decide if their services are worth the fees they’re charging, as well as prove they have the skills necessary to back up their promises.

4. Are They Open About What Tools They Use?

There are lots and lots of SEO tools out there: keyword trackers, website review tools, analytics tools and much more. These tools are all available to you (some even have free versions that are pretty good) if you want to use them. The fact is – the SEO professionals you’re looking to hire are likely using these tools as well.

When considering your options for SEO help, ask them about what tools and services they use. The good ones will be open and transparent about what data they have available to them. After all, you’re not paying for the tools. You’re paying for the expertise to use them correctly.

Don’t get too caught up in hiring the people with the best tools, though. Better tools doesn’t necessarily mean better results.

5. Do They Have Professional Certifications?

Much like a case study, a professional certification is another sign that these marketers and agencies know what they’re doing. You should look extra hard for these certifications because they are usually third-party certifications of expertise.

If, for some reason, agencies don’t list members’ certifications on their websites, check out their LinkedIn or other professional marketing directories.

6. Is There a Trial Period?

If you’re looking for a specialist or freelancer, a trial period will be pretty unlikely. The same goes if you’re looking for a managed service from an agency. However, if you’re looking at SaaS solutions or a newer startup agency, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to try it before you buy it.

Take advantage of this trial period when you sign up. Spend as much time as you can with the tool or service, evaluating how it works and if it satisfies your particular SEO and digital marketing needs. This is the best opportunity you have to make sure you aren’t buying something you don’t really need.

7. How’s Their Customer Service?

Nothing works perfectly 100% of the time. And that’s ok. A few bumps in the road are to be expected, especially if you’re working with an agency or freelancer for the first time. What really matters is how they respond when you raise issues or concerns.

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to evaluating an agency’s customer service and relationship management. There are some guidelines you can follow, though:

  • Response time: How long does it take them to answer a question you’ve raised? Or, if they have to do some additional digging, how long does it take them to acknowledge your email and how well do they keep you up to date on the progress toward the solution?
  • Reporting: How well do they report their progress toward your goals? And by “well” we mean are their reports easy to read and can you pick out the important insights quickly?
  • Transparency: Not every marketing campaign goes perfectly. In fact, almost none do. What matters is that the service provider is open about where they’re struggling to gain traction and what they’re doing to address those struggles. You want an agency to bring you solutions, not problems.

Author:

Greg Snow-Wasserman

Content Maestro at WooRank. He has more than 7 years experience as a reporter, market researcher, and digital marketer.

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