Golden Rules of Picking An SEO Agency

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The internet is a wonderful tool. It’s great for researching, video gaming, socializing and finding a business or service. Millions of small to medium size business are trying to compete on the internet for your dollar or you’re reading this trying to get noticed by thousands of potential consumers in your community. As a SEO professional who works with over two hundred clients in the Chicagoland area annually, some of the biggest questions I get asked are how do I show up on Google, Yahoo and Bing and why should I choose you to help me get this done. So I compiled a list of questions, observations or golden rules that I’ve had in my years of experience that will help you determine who to choose:

What To Expect From Your SEO Agency. Most SEO agencies that work with small-medium size businesses can’t produce any tangible evidence of SEO in month one. So don’t sweat it if you’re not on “The Google” rankings right away. Remember that SEO is a long-term strategy. Most SEO agencies consider month-1 as an audit month. You should start seeing results in months 4-6 on keyword position and hopefully even better positioning 6-months+.

DO NOT respond to those unsolicited emails about SEO. I have hundreds of customers in the Chicagoland area that I work with every day in regards to their marketing portfolio (both digital and print). One of the constant emails I get forwarded from them are “SEO” companies who gave a “Free Analysis” of their site and how everything’s wrong and that THEY’RE the company to fix it. All of this is, is SPAM. It’s like getting a postcard in your mailbox at home. It’s most likely automated SPAM. Think of this as direct email and just toss it out with the Viagra and Nigerian Prince emails. Although one day my banker in Nigeria will finally release that money through western Union and I won’t have to work anymore…..

Be Careful of Link Building. There are dozens of websites who claim they can get you on thousands of websites for a low/rock-bottom one-time price or monthly fee.  These are link farms that use websites you’ve never heard of in foreign countries. I had a client that did that without my knowledge and his website traffic started to decline. Search Engines want you to link up with other websites. It helps gain your credibility but Search Engines DO NOT want you to link with thousands of websites that have no correlation to your business or real need to in foreign countries that has no value to your website. These link farms are disastrous to a company’s website and can ultimately doom a website, or even worse, get you put in Google’s Time-Out Sandbox.

Can they get me on the front page of Google? If you have ANY agency promise you front page placement, TURN AROUND AND RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!  There is no company, let me repeat this, NO COMPANY, that can guarantee placement on search engines. Nobody has a guy at Google. Nobody has a special relationship with Search Engines for SEO. I once had a company tell me that the CEO of Yahoo came from their hometown in Wisconsin and she was going to help him with organic results. Yeah, it’s that bad. Partnerships with Google are PPC only and even they don’t mean that they will ever help out with any SEO activity. No SEO agency has the algorithms. Nobody knows when the algorithms will change, and penalties to your website can be triggered at any time. RUN AWAY if someone tells you differently. Consider this a huge red flag if they tell you they have insider information and can control or work with SE’s to appear higher or lower in the results page.

Do you guarantee results on  the search engines? This is the same answer as getting on the front page of Google. No company can guarantee results. It’s best to find a company that has a great track record and can show you specific strategies they use to make sure they are working to get you on Search Engines.

Can you show me keyword rankings for an active client? Make sure that the SEO firm can show you specific examples of great SEO reports for their other clients. Nobody should keep this “secret sauce” away from their clients. SEO is about partnership. If you find a company is not willing to tell you how they are going to position your website and just say “trust us” then you need to look into another company. You should be able to see current trends or rankings on a website’s and there are professional programs that a proper SEO agency would install on your site to view this.

How much should an SEO agency cost? Obviously cost is a huge factor for most small/medium size businesses. You will want to learn if you’ll be paying the SEO agency on a per project basis, hourly basis or monthly basis. Most reputable SEO agencies are based on a monthly basis and range between $500-2000 monthly depending on the scope of the work. A higher-end project should range between $2500-5000 monthly. An hourly rate typically runs between $76-200 per hour.

What’s your percentage of On-site vs. Off-site SEO? Here’s the reality. If you’re spending $200-500 monthly on SEO currently, the majority of the work is off-site SEO. The reason being it’s the cheapest way to optimize your website for SEO agencies. It’s also not the fastest way to climb up organically. Working on-site with SEO takes time and a person knowledgeable person to actually implement SEO tactics on the website. Paying a expert to do the work costs money which lowers profit margin for SEO agencies. So the more you spend, the more On-site optimization you will receive.

How long is your minimum contract? Make sure you are clear on how long of a window you’ve given your SEO agency time to see results. The average contract duration for SEO is 6 months in the current online industry but many are going towards 12-month commitments. Some companies offer month-to-month evergreen contracts. The biggest question you should ask an SEO agency in regards to contracts is how many clients have signed up or have been active for more than a year or have signed multiple renewals.

What would you do if you failed to provide results on an agreed timeline. Understand that all SEO work is not guaranteed. Because no company has that relationship with SE’s that tells what the algorithm actually is, nobody actually knows 100% how to optimize a website. SE’s have included guidelines to follow to make sure your website has the best practices. Everyone in the industry agree that even if the work and results can’t be controlled, they can be at least justifiable. This being said, you should negotiate an agreement for contract-based credit if they do not deliver. The benefit of month-to-month contracts is that if you are unsatisfied, you can leave the company/agreement. These types of contracts rarely give a credit in any situation due to the nature of the contract.

What are some quick things to look at for my website to make sure it’s been optimal? Here are some things to look at in a website to make sure you’re doing best practices. Remember that this should be for every page:

  • URL Keyword structure
  • Page Title Tags
  • Meta Description
  • XML sitemap creation and distribution to Google & Bing Websites.
  • Google Analytics + Webmaster Installation
  • Alt Tag (Image Tags)
  • H1 Heading Tags (H2, H3 etc.)

SEO can be a daunting task for any business trying to optimize their website with little knowledge from SE’s directly in how to do so. It’s frustrating for the small-medium size businesses because they want direct answers and there are none. It’s an ever-changing algorithm and impossible to solve. But knowing these simple steps to do it yourself or by asking the correct questions to your potential SEO agencies can help you find someone or a company that can take your website to the next level.

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