Choosing the right SEO agency

The why, what & how to find your perfect SEO Agency

Choosing an SEO company is always a daunting task. The SEO industry is so saturated now that companies feel the need to sell extra hard to grab what business they can. The reality is, although the SEO industry is saturated, it doesn’t mean that it is flooded with quality companies.

A good quality SEO agency is a lot harder to come by than one may think. When you finally take the plunge and start enquiring to SEO agencies you’ll be instantly bombarded with both high and low quotes and some outrageous promises.

Some will quote you the cheapest rates for guaranteed rankings and others will quote you the highest prices with no guarantee on what ranking you will achieve. One seems too good to be true and the other seems like an expensive risk, so which one do you choose?

This guide will take you through how to spot a good SEO agency, what are the signs that you are working with a bad SEO agency, how you can reduce your overall monthly costs; and other great advice to dispel some of the SEO myths.

Who’s this guide for?
Anyone who is considering an SEO campaign and needs insight into what’s involved and an understanding of the common problems and pitfalls to look out for.

So what is search engine optimisation (SEO)?

Search engine optimisation is a digital marketing technique used to increase the amount of visitors to your website by making sure your website achieves a high ranking in the search engines (Google, Bing).

A search engine optimisation agency or company would be tasked with understanding the keywords your business should appear for. They will then ‘optimise’ your website by ensuring those keywords are in all the right places on each page, which the search engine then picks up on.

Your search agency would also look to promote your business online, in the form of links from other websites. This in turn improves your rankings for your keywords as the search engines understand that your online business is an important company that people are talking about and recommending.

Keywords / keyphrases are the words that you would like to appear high for in the search engine.   For example if you were selling socks online, a keyword would be “socks” and a keyphrase would be “buy white cotton socks”.
black hat SEO refers to the use of aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience, and usually does not obey search engines guidelines.
Websites are built in a way to help the search engine (google, bing) understand your business better and specifically which keywords/keyphrases on your website should appear in certain search engine results.  This is called optimising.

An example of this would be the “title” which is an opportunity to write about what your web page is about and is a strong indicator to Google which keywords you should be ranked for.   You can see it at the top of every page of your website and is written in the code at the top of every page with <title>This is the description of your page</title>.

However, although I have explained it quite simply (I hope), the truth of the matter is that SEO is complicated because it is fundamentally about manipulating the search engines.

Whether it’s white hat, black hat, grey hat or any other kind of hat you can think of, you are looking to manipulate the search engines so that you can appear high in the rankings and get more visitors.

So why it is complicated?  Because you are trying to manipulate Google, and Google is big, powerful, smart and also doesn’t like being manipulated. They can ban your site altogether if they feel you are doing something they don’t like.

What’s the difference between a cheap SEO agency and an SEO agency?

One of the main differences usually lies in the quality of the work done both on the website and away from it. If you think about it, a company charging a lower fee fundamentally has less money to spend on the resources to get your campaign ranking.

What happens when using a cheaper SEO company in comparison to a competitively priced SEO company, is that they will tend to cut corners and buy content and even links from outsourced providers in India or the Philippines at a very low cost.

The content, for example, will be easy enough to read, but will very likely not be well researched, engaging or very well optimised.

Another example of the difference between a cheap SEO company and a competitive SEO company will likely lie in the customer service you will receive. Cheap SEO companies typically tend to have their account managers based overseas. This can be an issue for two reasons:

1. There can be a language barrier, leading to a breakdown in communication. Breakdowns in communications can be detrimental to an SEO campaign as you need to be sure that your account manager fully understands your needs. You also need to fully understand the feedback being given to you on the campaign performance.

2. The time difference. If they aren’t working on the same time zone as you, then it can cause delays in getting things done, which can also affect campaign performance. Competitively priced SEO companies can usually be found in your local area and are often more than happy to come out and see you for face to face meeting on a regular basis.

Further differences are that a cheaper agency may choose to build cheaper, lower-quality links. This again goes back to the issue of budget.

High-quality link building done correctly isn’t cheap and if a company isn’t given the right budget to work with, they have no option but to build lower-quality links that may give you results initially, but also run the risk of having your site penalised by the search engines or even completely de-indexed. This could be disastrous for your business.

Not only does the budget issue relate to the resources they can buy, but it also relates to the staff you’ll have working on your project.

An onsite audit by a technical SEO specialist carried out correctly can take hours, even days to complete. You will receive a full manual report and recommendations. Working with cheaper companies, the chances are that you are not getting a thorough report. They will simply be running your website through a basic crawling tool, looking for minor errors and fixing them with the basic skills they have.

The issues I have mentioned only apply to SEO agencies.

SEO freelancers, on the other hand, are a cheaper alternative and you don’t always get low-quality work.

Hiring one directly can be a good way to save money. A lot of technical SEO’s become freelancers because they can earn more money this way, and they know the industry inside out. Therefore, you can usually get SEO freelancers at a lower cost, but they still provide quality work.

You won’t have the luxury of being able to visit them in their office and have a meeting using their projector, but if this doesn’t concern you, they may be the best option.

Other downsides to using an SEO freelancer is that they don’t have a fixed office line and location, so they may not always be the easiest to get hold of. Many freelance SEO’s choose to work remotely and travel a lot, as they can work anywhere from their laptop.

Why is choosing the right cheap SEO Agency so difficult?

It’s difficult as you’ll likely have to make a trade-off between saving money and getting quality work. If you want to save money by using a cheap SEO company, the likelihood is, you won’t be getting the highest quality of work.

Many lower cost SEO companies will also make a lot of promises that seem too good to be true. In these cases, it’s best to just stay away. It’s likely they’re just looking to take whatever payments they can from you, without focusing on getting results, until you finally pull the plug.

Why is SEO so important for an SME?

The Google search engine is such a powerful platform to have a presence on. Being on the upper half of page one of Google search can transform businesses by bringing them a constant flow interested people to their website. Once you’ve established your dominance in one of the top positions in Google search, the reward of staying there outweighs the added cost.

Although you might be spending £1000 per month to maintain their ranking, if that’s the only lead generation you need, then their marketing spend suddenly looks very affordable (this varies depending on industry).

Nowadays, anybody that wants to find information, a service or items to purchase, goes straight to a search engine. Whereas in days gone by, people would look for contact information in the Yellow Pages book or a similar directory, now they will load up Google, often on a mobile device, and ask the question.

If you don’t invest in SEO nor have a presence on the first page of the search engines, you’re missing out on a huge number of potential customers whose lifetime value can be the difference between your business succeeding or failing.  Hence why so many people are competing for the prime real estate that is Google page one.

Pitfalls and Problems – before you hire an SEO agency

1

(SEO Copilot) – SEO Agency Sheffield

Falling for SEO agencies that guarantee results

Often, with these companies, there’s no accountability when your campaign fails and nobody to complain to or file legal action against when you get nothing in return for your money. This is not tarring all overseas companies with the same brush, some are great.

But professionals will not offer you any guarantee on results because they know that SEO is a very tough game.

SEO’s don’t control Google and its algorithm, and they simply cannot make those kinds of promises because there are so many factors outside of their control.

2

Choosing cheap

Going with a company just because they are cheap. You should go with the company that is offering the best value for money. Find out what is included in your package and compare it to what you have been quoted elsewhere.

3

Falling for pay on results campaigns

Pay on results campaigns offer to work for free until they get you ranking on page one for a % of your agreed keywords, then you start paying your monthly fee and you’re contracted-in.

What usually happens, in this case, is you’ll have a mixed bag of easy keywords and more difficult keywords to rank for. Naturally, the more difficult keywords have all the search volumes, but the easy keywords have a low number of actual searches.

An unscrupulous company may try to get you ranking on page one for the very easy keywords so that you start to pay them.

Then you are contracted in with keywords on page one that are unlikely to bring you much, if any, extra business.

Reputable, professional companies will never make these kinds of promises or guarantees. They’ll be honest with you and advise on how much you need to spend to compete for your big keywords and lay out a solid strategy to get there.

Usually, these promises come from the cheaper companies who are looking to lock you into a contract and get as many payments out of you as possible.

4

(Custard online) SEO Manchester

Don’t be afraid to forget the technical and see SEO as PR

SEO is about promoting your business online and then telling Google which pages you want to be ranked for. Thinking that you can manipulate the search engine using a cheap technical SEO agency is like thinking you can attack a bear armed with a toothbrush.

By thinking about your SEO efforts as PR, you’ll understand the importance of creating content that is newsworthy. It will also open up other great ways to promote your business, for example; creating tools, providing promotions and offering discounts.

Think about how you would like to promote your business online and then give the SEO company the opportunity to promote it.

Think about what you can offer a customer that makes you stand out from the crowd. If you wish to use the industry lingo, the term for this is called a lead magnet.

Lead Magnet – noun – an irresistible bribe offering a specific chunk of value to a prospect in exchange for their contact information. The goal of the Lead Magnet is to maximise the number of targeted leads you are getting for an offer.

The golden rules – before you hire an SEO agency

Before you hire an SEO Agency, there are 6 golden rules to follow. They will help you to avoid the pitfalls and problems that you could face, saving your business time and money.

1

SEO Companies that sell “link bundles” are blackhat specialists and you could be penalised by Google

If you ever go onto an SEO company website and see that the company clearly shows you how many links you get and for how much.  Then this is blackhat and you better know what you are doing.

blackhat

Blackhat is not ALL bad as SEO is fundamentally about manipulating the search engine, just be aware that if you are buying links there is a possibility of Google finding out and penalising your website.

The companies that get penalised by Google are not the companies that do blackhat, they are the companies that just do blackhat.

If you are going to do it, make sure the websites you choose have a high domain authority (website ranking score) and are relevant to your industry.  The moment the SEO company can no longer provide those two things you must stop using them.

Blackhat SEO is just a way of saying that you are not focusing on links to attract a human audience to your website; you are doing it to simply focus on your ranking in the search engines.

It’s blackhat because google & bing don’t want you to appear high in search engines by not attracting a human audience to your website, so most blackhat strategies do not obey search engine guidelines and therefore run the risk of being penalised.

Like a kilogram is a measurement of weight, domain authority is a measurement of how authoritative a website is to google.  Its ranking goes from 0-100 and anything over 40 DA is considered a good, solid website to link from.
2

(Fingo) SEO Agency Surrey

Your SEO proposal can lie about your potential monthly traffic

Before you look at your SEO proposal in amazement at how high the monthly search hits are (and thinking about how many sales you could make if you just appeared at the very top) make sure that the data on your SEO proposal is not a lie, or at best a different version of the truth.

ranking

The problem with SEO proposals are that your monthly searches can be in either BROAD, PHRASE or EXACT.  They have hugely different numbers as they mean completely different things.

This example above shows that “BROAD” monthly searches for “what is SEO” is 11,100,000 when the PHASE number is actually 9,900 and the EXACT number is 2,400.  Meaning a swing difference of 11,976,000 between them all.

The best way of getting an accurate figure is to speak to your SEO agency and ask for your estimated keyword traffic to be “EXACT” not “PHRASE” or “BROAD”.

EXACT is the number of people who type in the EXACT keyword or keyphrase into google on a monthly basis.  PHRASE is the number of times people type is close variations of your keyword or keyphrase and BROAD is the volume of ANY word or keyphrase.
3

Hiring an SEO agency might not even be worth it…yet?

Do you know that there are a number of companies that have never even used an SEO agency and have achieved great results in Google?  In fact, they see SEO agencies as a pointless entity.

But how do they do it?  They do it by actually calling up businesses they would want to be associated with online and ask politely if they can be included on their website to help with their promotion.

They sit down and research businesses websites they feel their business would benefit from appearing on.  What a novel approach, they actually do proper marketing!  You see, SEO can get so technical that your head could spin but it applies to the most simple of things.

Find great businesses to partner with, Google will notice and will want to put their customers in front of your business and Google does that by moving you up the rankings.

So here is a list of situations when hiring an SEO company to build links and promote your business might not even be worth it…yet

  1. Your competitors have done very little SEO and therefore hiring an SEO agency is not necessary
  2. Your keywords are not competitive enough
  3. You haven’t tried to find strategic business partnerships first
  4. You have not got a unique selling point (USP) or discount code that you would like to promote online yet
  5. You have not decided how your business can be a thought leader in your industry
A thought leader is someone who is considered the “go to” person in their industry for a specific field of expertise.

You may notice when hiring an SEO agency you are told that you need to create a lot of content.  This process can be very expensive, so to maximise the value of your content, you can specialise in being a thought leader and write engaging articles, views and opinions in your chosen field that not only can bring traffic in through SEO but can engage and entice your visitors into becoming potential customers.

4

Don’t fall for the private blog networks (PBN’s) line

If you are still building private blog networks to help with your link building, then they have become way too expensive to manage and deliver less and less value for your rankings.

Most companies, whose business it was creating PBN’s for clients, have stopped doing this mainly since 2012, as they realised that with the new Google algorithm change, it became too difficult to manage and too expensive.
blog-network
If you are still doing it then make sure that you add regular content and try and improve your systems to speed up your processes.

For businesses that want to gain a competitive advantage in google rankings, many created multiple PBN’s (industry specific websites for targeted keywords).  This could be between 1-400 websites that all point back to their main website making the company appear incredibly important and can also drive traffic to that website.
If you have a WordPress website go onto www.managewp.com which will allow you to manage multiple WordPress websites in one dashboard.  It will allow you to update your website easier and the support is pretty great.
5

There is a difference between hiring a web design company and an SEO specialist

A web design agency that does ongoing SEO (in general) does not have an in-house SEO specialist to work with, so will choose to outsource (otherwise known as white labelling).

Web design companies universally offer the worst SEO service because they outsource their SEO to the cheapest “white label” service.  But they can build pretty looking websites.

An SEO agency is about getting good rankings in Google and not about creating “beautiful things”.  They normally do their SEO in-house and will hopefully be able to offer a much more personalised service based around content creation and gaining links with trusted websites.

You can check by looking at the standard of website your online business appears on.  Think to yourself, “Will anyone be able to find this piece of content”?  Is this website a trusted source?  If you on a spammy website, you can always tell by the website your links appears on having no social media profile although claiming to be a huge website.  Big giveaway!
6

Don’t use Google to find cheap SEO services

The very worst way to find cheap SEO services online is to type into google “cheap SEO services” or “affordable SEO services”.

The reason for this is because most of the companies who appear at the top of the search engine for those results only do so for 3 months and then they are banned from Google.

They are banned from Google because they use “blackhat SEO” which allows them to the create thousands of links a month, which gets them to the top of Google in a matter of weeks.

Please see below an example of the volume of links a current SEO company has built to achieve a top 3 position for a “cheap SEO” key phrase. 

cheap-seo

Google tracks unethical link building patterns, so any pattern similar to this will always be banned.

These companies then move the website across to another URL and repeat the practice.  They do this because people trust a high position in Google, but never investigate whether that approach will lead to their website being banned.

Go onto www.ahrefs.com and view your potential SEO agencies link building history.  If you see similar referring domain reports you will know that they are using very unethical practices.
7

Don’t be fooled; SEO is an investment, not a cheap marketing method

If you are thinking about starting SEO as a cost-saving marketing method, forget it. It’s getting more and more pricey, so make sure you have other ways of generating revenue in your back pocket that will support your SEO efforts for at least a year.

I’m not one to say that all cheap things are bad. I have shopped in Lidl before, and some of their stuff is great, but in SEO, cheap isn’t just bad.  It’s dangerous.

You could lose your entire website and have to start again.

So, before you begin on your journey make sure that you have an SEO budget set, so you don’t have to make cheap decisions that are simply a waste of time, effort and resources.

8

Give your SEO agency something to work with

Today, SEO and PR are incredibly similar.  If you’re looking to promote your business online, you need to think about what you’re going to say.  You need a hook, a promotion, a tool, a bit of gossip, something that an SEO agency can use to help promote your business.  Something of interest, something of value.  The correct term for this is called a “lead magnet.”

Another area to consider is to provide your SEO Agency with a specific task.

Now when I talk about a specific task, I am not talking about getting to position 5 for a certain keyword.  This is fool’s gold and will leave you fixated on rankings, which just drives you crazy.

Here are a few examples:

  • I want to appear on 10 industry specific blogs which have a domain authority of over 40.
  • I have a list of certain websites that I want to appear on; please focus on those only. You can spend some time researching others but only x hours and please send me through the list so I can review it.

By setting specific tasks, you can monitor them, and you give the agency a strict goal they can work towards, making the working relationship a much more targeted and happier one.

Like a kilogram is a measurement of weight, domain authority is a measurement of how authoritative a website is to google.  Its ranking goes from 0-100 and anything over 40 DA is considered a good, solid website to link from.