One critical element for all digital marketing campaigns is SEO. Finding a professional SEO company is challenging. This guide will help you do just that.
Around 90% of content receives no traffic from Google. Hence, it doesn’t matter how much you are currently spending on content creation. If you aren’t opting for SEO, people browsing Google won’t find your website.
The competitive landscape and the continuous updates in the Google algorithm provide both opportunities and challenges for organisations. Besides, SEO is complex. It requires companies to have dedicated and expert SEO support.
Here comes the role of an SEO firm. You can find several SEO agencies in the market, but the tricky part is choosing the right one. Knowing how to hire the best SEO company can save your time and give you a greater return on investment.
Before we jump to learning the most effective tips to hire the best SEO agency and avoid the wrong ones, let’s first understand why going for an SEO firm is essential. Towards the end, you will also know the overall cost of hiring an SEO agency.
Why hire an SEO Agency?
Businesses are spending an estimation of over $80 billion on SEO services. The question is, why?
Well, apart from being a cost-effective way than having an in-house SEO team, hiring an SEO agency benefits you in the following ways:
- Expertise: They have the required knowledge of the best tools and strategies to keep up with the ever-changing SEO landscape.
- Save time: An SEO agency performs time-consuming tasks, such as keyword research, meta-data customisation, LSI keyword check, content optimisation, internal link optimisation, and monitoring your website for indexing problems.
- Experience: SEO agencies know what to look for to avoid big issues, such as black-hat attacks, bad backlinks, manual actions, or security vulnerabilities.
- ROI: They help you generate sales and drive revenue by targeting keywords that lead to concrete sales and optimising CRO and CTR to get the best results.
11 tips for hiring the best SEO agency
Before you blindly hire an SEO agency, here are eleven tips that will help you in your quest to find a reputable agency partner.
1. List down your SEO goals
The first step is to define SEO goals so that your SEO agency knows your expectations from the SEO campaign. For example, driving qualified traffic to your website or boosting revenue through sales.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you sell your products or services directly, over the web, or through leads established online?
- Does your organisation require direct sales, traffic, or branding?
- Is your organisation subject to potentially harmful content (I.e., reputation management)?
The best agencies try to understand your organisation’s goals and can build result-driven and strategic SEO campaigns. Setting up your SEO goals also helps you to see if an agency aligns with your goals.
While defining your goals, stick to the SMART method, which is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Basing your goals on historical data will help you to set realistic and achievable goals.
Here are the goals that you can adapt to start the process:
- Increase organic traffic by X%.
- Get the website ranked for a selected number of keywords.
- Acquire high-quality backlinks.
- Improve domain authority.
- Maximise page speed.
- Capture more featured snippets.
- Reduce bounce rate.
- Increase visitor time on page.
- Optimise internal linking.
2. Improve your knowledge of SEO
The process of hiring the best SEO agency can turn out to be daunting if you are not familiar with SEO yourself. Before you can interview the SEO agencies, you need to brush up on your SEO knowledge.
As per a recent survey by Search Engine Land, around 10% of business owners are not familiar with SEO and related terminologies.
There is a need for considerable education about SEO and its techniques before you start researching SEO agencies. A few types of questions that you should try to answer are:
- What are the terms related to SEO?
- How to measure SEO success?
- How to approach keyword research?
- What are backlinks?
- What is link building, and why is it important?
- What is page speed, and why does it matter?
- What are meta tags, and why do they matter?
- Which SEO factors are not in your control?
- What are some black hat SEO practices to avoid?
- What are rich snippets?
Understanding key terms and knowledge of SEO trends allows you to ask more relevant questions to an SEO firm.
3. Identify SEO agencies that are inadequate
There are several SEO agencies out there in the market. However, you will find that there are more lousy SEO agencies than reputable ones.
Hence, it becomes crucial to be aware of such inadequate agencies and choose the right one. Here are some warning signs to look for that will help you to identify a shady SEO agency:
- Keyword stuffing: Is a spammy approach that manipulates search ranking results by stuffing keywords into a web page’s meta tags, content, or backlink anchor text. Avoid any agency that has a history of using this technique. Here is an example of keyword stuffing on a page:
- Over-promising: Any agency that offers dead giveaways, such as guaranteeing a number 1 Google ranking or promises to triple your traffic in 3-4 months, should be avoided. The search algorithm is ever-changing, and rankings constantly shift. Improving your ranking is a natural process that takes time.
- Poor content on their site: Please do not go for an agency with thin or poor content on their website. The logic is simple. How can an SEO agency do the same for you if they cannot create solid and valuable content?
4. Know whether you need an SEO consultant or an SEO agency
Once you have defined your goals and understood the types of SEO service providers to avoid, you should recognise if you need an SEO consultant or an SEO agency.
An SEO agency is a firm that has a large team of multi-talented individuals in the field of SEO, such as semantics, keyword research, site design, link building, and content. On the other hand, an SEO consultant is an individual or an independent expert.
Here are the some of the pros and cons of an SEO agency:
- Qualified experts handle your website.
- An agency provides SEO auditing services, link building services, local SEO assistance, image, and video optimisation.
- Offer better commitment to the success of the project.
- More costly than hiring an SEO consultant.
- Limited to business hours in some cases.
Here are some of the pros and cons of an SEO consultant:
- Able to provide support outside of business hours.
- Cheaper than hiring most agencies.
- Specialist in a particular domain.
- Tendency to take more time to complete a project.
- Generally, they do not have a range of skills.
But the question here is how to make your choice?
The first step is to look at the scope of your projects and company goals. Understand your current state of SEO. Analyze whether you need a lot of optimisation and content development or little work to be done. Plus, be sure to consider your budget.
5. Look at their team
Confirm whether an SEO agency has a diverse team of specialists, designers, and developers. There are many steps involved in executing SEO for a company, which require skilled and experienced talent.
An agency with dedicated teams for different tasks, such as link building, on-page optimisation, content writing, and technical SEO, proves beneficial. An SEO agency can deliver all your company needs with an entire team of writers, expert SEOs, skilled link builders, and developers.
A reputed SEO agency also specialises in running value-driven SEO campaigns for small businesses. Look for your SEO agency team, have a chat with them, visit their office, and realise whether you are handing over your business website to the right people.
6. Ask for a summary of the SEO processes
It is good to ask about the SEO process or approach an SEO agency takes to refine a website and drive traffic. A good SEO agency can always explain its SEO process and how it can support the overall success of an organisation.
Knowing an agency’s SEO process helps you spot any red flags in its strategies. Several agencies use black-hat strategies, such as content automation, doorway pages, hidden text or links, keyword stuffing, sneaky redirects, or rich snippet markup spam. These strategies can give you good SEO results. But it can also penalise you for violating the search engine’s terms of service.
Quality SEO companies follow a tested process. They define their winning process to provide organisations with an overview of how they deliver results. Below is an example of an SEO agency in Sydney that outlines its SEO process on its website. It is a characteristic of a good SEO firm.
Ensure that you are aware of the SEO processes that an agency will implement for the success of your business.
7. Demand full transparency
Select an SEO agency that is transparent about its tactics and does not keep it a secret from clients. Sometimes, a lack of communication between the client and the agency worsens the transparency issues.
While hiring an SEO company, you have the right to demand full transparency. Here are some reasons why you should ask the agency to be transparent with you:
- Be aware of what you are paying. If an SEO company is deliberately hiding or refusing to provide information, it is a sign of shady practices and overbilling.
- If an agency is reluctant to be transparent, then it can put you at risk. An agency that is not transparent may indulge in using black-hat practices that can impose significant penalties on you for violating search engines’ terms of service.
- It limits your ability to track your progress. If an agency does not provide you with weekly, quarterly, or monthly reports and KPIs, it becomes difficult to calculate your ROI. Also, it becomes tricky to determine whether the agency is working towards achieving the results or not.
It does not make any sense to settle for anything less than 100% transparency.
8. Check their reviews
Always check reviews of SEO firms before you hire them for your digital marketing campaigns. Reviews and referrals are the most compelling proof of the services of an SEO company.
Most organisations, particularly, small businesses find SEO service providers through referrals, Google searches, and online reviews.
As per a survey by Backlinko, around 30% of small organisations find SEO agencies through word of mouth, 26% use Google, and nearly 20% through online review platforms.
Companies may lack experience hiring the best SEO agencies; they often rely on the experiences of their friends.
The above survey also shows that referrals and previously established relationships play a key role in deciding whether to go for an SEO service provider or not.
However, there are certain aspects that you need to take care of when going through reviews and getting referrals:
- Give importance to both negative and positive reviews.
- Get referrals from friends, verified clients, or trusted sources.
- Connect with the SEO agency to clarify any concerns found in the review.
- Explore their website and reviews. See what their employees and clients are saying about them and their services.
Here are some of the best platforms to search reviews of top SEO companies in Australia:
- The Manifest.
These platforms provide a list of the leading SEO agencies which can be the right provider for your SEO needs. They rank companies using client interviews, in-depth industry research, reviews, and ratings. These platforms help you to compare the top agencies to find one which is best for your projects.
9. Review their case studies
If you want to see the history of an SEO agency, then case studies are more meaningful. Around 15% of organisations mentioned evaluating past performance, such as case studies and testimonials, before hiring an SEO company.
These case studies present the overall journey of a client from start to finish. These studies also provide vital statistics, such as the year-over-year growth in organic traffic and conversions.
Any leading SEO agency that has experience in providing SEO services to various clients should present you with different case studies to showcase their past work. Thus, you have an idea of their proficiency in your business niche.
Here is an example of an SEO agency in Sydney that demonstrates success stories on its website.
Due to privacy reasons and non-disclosure agreements, many SEO companies cannot share a complete list of case studies or client names. While asking for their case studies, you should also consider asking for:
- Case studies related to your industry.
- Case studies that present growth statistics.
- Video case studies (if they have any).
10. Consider the price of their services
SEO cost is considered an investment and is not always an indication of quality. Some agencies offer great results at lower prices, while companies underdeliver but charge high fees. The charges might vary for several reasons.
Cheap SEO packages might sound lucrative; however, they are not always the best option. Performing competitive analysis, researching keywords, acquiring links, on-page optimisation, etc., requires knowledge, skill, and time.
Not all agencies that offer their services at cheaper rates are bad, but here are some of the reasons why they underprice themselves:
- They may participate in low-grade tactics, such as obtaining black hat links.
- They may have outdated SEO knowledge.
- They may employ black-hat SEO tactics.
One of the best ways to differentiate between a good and a substandard SEO agency charging the same price is by checking what they offer.
Here is a comprehensive SEO services list that a good company should cover:
- Keyword research.
- Competitor analysis.
- Backlink audits.
- Competitor benchmarking.
- Meta description and title optimisation.
- Basic on-page SEO.
- Speed optimisation.
- Mobile-friendliness testing and fixes.
- Google My Business (GMB) optimisation.
- Content creation and blog writing.
- Technical on-page SEO optimisation.
- Consistent content marketing and creation.
- Link building and outreach.
- High-level schema markup.
- Redirect management.
Here are some factors you should be mindful of while checking the prices:
- Get a detailed checklist of deliverables that an SEO agency is planning to achieve from the campaign.
- Ask for a detailed breakdown of the fees they are charging.
- Check whether an SEO agency tailors packages to your individual business needs.
- Ensure that the prices are understandable and do not have excessive hidden fees.
- Discuss payment and billing methods.
A good SEO agency will plan your pricing and work towards your target KPIs to achieve desired results.
11. Marketing practices and Google guidelines
Search engines improve and introduce new factors in their ranking algorithm regularly. At present, Google has more than 200 ranking factors and is continuously creating new factors to rank pages.
In 2021, the most crucial Google ranking factors are:
- Referring domains.
- Organic click-through rate (CTR).
- Domain reputation.
- Mobile usability.
- Dwell time.
- The total number of backlinks.
- The referring domain (RD) ratio to backlinks.
- Content quality.
- On-page SEO.
Since it is ever-changing, an SEO company needs to understand the current trends. Ask these agencies questions related to Google guidelines, algorithms, and emerging methods to improve websites.
Google also discourages certain SEO practices that are against its rules. Therefore, you need to ask SEO agencies whether they follow these rules and carry out white-hat SEO.
Check if there is any resemblance to the following black hat methods as SEO agencies explain their process and knowledge of current trends:
- Create unoriginal or duplicate content.
- Keyword stuffing.
- Link schemes.
- Hidden text.
A reputed SEO service provider knows the Google guidelines inside out, and they adhere to them to avoid any negative impact on their clients.
What is the cost of hiring an SEO agency?
The cost of hiring an SEO agency comes down to the agreed price and their pricing model structure. An agency can charge you on an hourly basis, project basis, or retainer basis.
In Australia, the cost of hiring an SEO agency can be between $1,400 to $10,000 per month. It depends on the scope of your projects. A retainer model or a once-off SEO model costs you around $3,500 to $10,000.
Pricing can also vary depending on the number of pages and the target keywords. In the case of enterprise SEO, monthly service fees often exceed $30,000 per month.
A recent survey by Ahrefs shows that the popular per-hour pricing tier among SEO agencies in Australia and New Zealand sits at around $101 to $150 per hour.
Some factors that impact the cost of SEO services in Australia are:
- Type of campaign: Local, national, or international campaigns.
- Type of market: Local or global.
- Type of contracts: Fixed price contracts or open-ended agreements.
- Experience level: If the agency is new or an established business.
The average cost of hiring an SEO agency in Australia based on business size:
- SEO cost for small business: $1,400 – $2,500 per month.
- SEO cost for medium business: $1,600 – $7,500 per month.
- SEO cost for a large business: $2,500 – $10,000+ per month.
- SEO cost for enterprise: more than $7,500 per month.
SEO is a valuable investment for the success of your business. It provides you with an opportunity to build your brand. Thus, hiring the right SEO agency can help you pull quantitative and qualitative traffic.
Finding the most suitable SEO agency is the tricky part. But using the right strategy and tips to find an SEO agency is helpful. Look at the value proposition and not just the bottom line. Before you make the payment for the SEO services, decide your goals and KPIs.
As a micro agency, we can deliver high-end work for a fraction of the cost of what more prominent agencies would charge. That’s because you work directly with me and perhaps a few other carefully selected people making us a highly skilled and super lean operation. Get in touch with Earned Media to find out why we excel at what we do.
Founder of Earned Media. Nick specialises in SEO and he has been working in the industry for over 12 years. He is a recurring digital marketing expert guest on Kochie’s Business Builders on Channel 7 network TV. Nick is a member of the Entrepreneur Leadership Network and regularly contributes to many top business publications. Nick has also guest lectured on SEO and content marketing at the University of Technology Sydney.