Deciding on an SEO provider can be a daunting task. The majority of business owners and Marketing Managers have a general understanding of SEO, and realize they need help. But interviewing multiple SEO providers often causes doubt about what is true and what is just smoke. Like a five tool baseball player, a top SEO agency will have a number of traits that stand out. But sometimes it takes the right scouting eye to pick the real player out of the prospects. The list below will help the novice think along the right path when deciding on search marketing services.

The Signs of a Winner

  • Strategy focused. SEO is not a black and white process. It takes time and strategic maneuvering. A successful SEO agency must have the ability to think critically when working on a website. No two projects are the exact same. Some SEO providers will tell you it is all cakes and roses, a few backlinks here, title tags shortened, keywords on pages, BOOM. First Page. While this may work for a small business or two, this will not be successful for the complex services and customer base of your company.
  • Targeting the right keywords. The term “keyword” often invokes ideas of spammy practice for newbies looking for search engine success. However, any search marketer will tell you that keyword phrases are still the core of success on the engines. The difficult part is selecting the right product areas and phrases to target. Make sure that any SEO company you work with is spending considerable time on the keyword research process.  For a top agency this includes search trend analysis, competitive analysis, profit center analysis, and conversion analysis. Not just selecting phrases with the highest number of searches.
  • Content is Critical (because ‘Content is King’ is overused). This includes two parts. First, make sure that your SEO agency is tuned in to the importance of fresh, relevant content. Some SEO providers brush it off entirely, focusing on link networks and meta-data only. The very intelligent nerds at Google have spent the last 5+ years updating the Google algorithm to read content more effectively. Google wants to make sure that pages with high quality, up to date content are served to searchers. The SEO provider of your dreams will understand the importance of great content, and will be an expert at creating that content.
  • Open about link building techniques. This is to avoid agencies that are buying links or using other black hat link building techniques. Link building is still an important part of the process, but must be done correctly. Disclaimer: The correct way is time consuming and difficult. A top agency will be honest that link building is a time consuming process, and will give ideas about how it is done i.e. blog content, journal and news publications, top industry influencers, social media. Any SEO provider that promises a ton of links quickly is probably going to hurt your site in the long run.
  • ROI is at the forefront. Thanks to analytics and CRM systems, Return on Investment (ROI) for a search marketing program can be quite traceable. I admit, the final figures look very different from business to business, but website and traffic statistics are always at your fingertips. These statistics allow site owners to see if the search traffic being brought to your site is the right kind of traffic. Make sure that the company you select is focused on generating the right kind of traffic. Traffic that leads to sales and profit.
  • Ongoing partnership. Unfortunately, SEO is not a one-time thing. Many SEO providers, specifically those focused on web development, will promise that a one-time run through is all that your site needs. This may help your site in the short term, but will not give you the long term success you are hoping for. True optimization will take constant content addition, link generation, and strategy improvement. Not to mention the Google algorithm changes that occur on a regular basis. The partner you select should be invested in the long term success of your business. This includes continually updating strategies to build your search traffic.

Questions to Ask

  • Can you get my site to the top of search results quickly? Do you sell link-building services? These are both scare questions. You do not want to work with a company that offers “quick fix” link building tactics or guarantees instant results. SEO takes time. Improving the link network and page rank of your site is no exception. Link building is still a necessity, but make sure that the correct techniques are being used.
  • Is content important? Google has spent years making its algorithm more geared towards high quality, relevant content. Content is incredibly important. Simply fixing the Meta data, throwing in keywords, and building links will not get it done anymore. A true search marketing expert will understand the importance of quality content and will outline a number of ways to improve the content on your site.
  • Who have you won for recently? References are important for all professional service companies.  SEO is no different.  Make sure that your SEO provider has won for clients similar in size and scope to your company. A great question is, “who have you had success for in the last year?” An agency might have great references from 5+ years ago, but the SEO landscape has changed dramatically. A good agency will be winning for companies now.