When you hire an SEO company you are taking on expertise that you don't have in-house. This often means you are placing complete trust in them to be professional, know what they are doing and deliver real results for your website. The problem is that when you place your trust in an outside agency, unless you know what they are doing through your own knowledge or understand what they are doing through engagement with them, things can go bad very quickly.
With online presence such a key part of most businesses nowadays, to have your website destroyed in the search engine rankings through poor practices and tactics can sometimes be fatal. In this blog post I'm going to tell you the key things you need to check to ensure that your SEO company of choice is helping your business, rather than destroying it behind your back.
Engage from the start and set standards
Right from that first meeting you have to understand exactly what they are going to do for you and then touch base with them regularly to ensure that is happening exactly as was described.
Especially over the first few months, you should be engaging with them weekly. You should be looking to see that they have delivered what they said they would. You need to see data and other proof that they have performed the tasks they have said they would. You need to see any results and challenge on them.
It should set alarm bells ringing if what they show you differs from what they described, or if they don't really have clarity in what they are showing you. Even worse, if they don't want to show you anything at all.
The key point here is to not just look at ranking changes. Even a bad SEO agency employing shady practices can get a site to rank higher in the short term. But once Google begins to un-pick what they are doing, it can lead to a negative ranking penalty being applied later on. What you need to be looking for is evidence of the exact practices they are using.
Make sure your chosen agency asks for access to things
A good agency will want access to your website so they can make changes that can benefit your on page optimisation. Or at the very least they will want to deal with the person who makes those changes in your company.
They will want access to your analytics, webmaster tools and social accounts, they will want to discuss keywords and targeting to landing pages.
They will want to know who else you worked with, the history of your business and the website, and other key information that will help them.
If they don't ask for any of this, it could be they are just building links to your site. This often means low quality links from a network of spam sites they may own themselves. If your chosen agency doesn't seem bothered about integrating with you then that should set off alarm bells.
Ask them to share what they are doing around key strategies
When it comes to ranking a website higher, there are several key strategies that will help. On page optimisation, link building and content marketing being three of those key strategies employed.
Always ask them what they are doing with your website when they are changing things on it. What keywords are being targeted and why?
When it comes to link building, what anchor text are they using. One big warning sign is if they do an analysis and your link profile does not contain many optimised anchors. So you discuss keywords and then a month later your link profile suddenly contains hundreds of links containing keyword anchor text. That is not good for your website, link building should be slow and natural, with a good mix of keyword and random anchor text.
And in terms of content marketing, ask to see where the content they have created that will link back to your website is. Does it look good, or is it machine generated rubbish. Your business will not benefit from having thousands of pages of rubbish pointed at it, both from the point of view of Google, and potential customers.
Look for steady traffic and conversion growth over the long term
Even a cowboy outfit can get your rankings up in the short-term, and using a variety of shady tactics to grow traffic to your site. This will look great on their initial reports.
But what you should be doing is looking longer term. A good agency will not deliver reports that show wild fluctuations in traffic and conversions. Although there will always be peaks and troughs, over several months you should see a steady growth in rankings, traffic and importantly conversions.
If this is not the case then warning bells should ring. One point to make here is that traffic might go down but conversions go up. This doesn't mean the agency is failing, it could mean they are just refocusing your online presence to get more targeted traffic that converts better. So always make sure that you don't just focus on growth, but always look at conversion rates as well and make sure you discuss this with them.
Finally, educate yourself
Although you want to trust people to do the work for you, it can never hurt to make it a team effort. Either you or someone else in your business should be in contact with your chosen SEO company regularly.
That person should have some knowledge. So keep in touch with the SEO industry and best practices, by reading and keeping up to date with current news.
Relationships between clients and SEO companies often fail due to a lack of communication (or communicating in different languages!). Whilst we always aim to provide a plain-English, jargon-free service, we always encourage clients to learn the basics for themselves, offering training if required.