SEO agencies can vary in terms of their quality of service. That means a large number of brands and organizations have been burned at least once.
Additionally, many agencies look and sound the same – just swap out the logo and branding. Yet, they offer varying levels of depth of experience and expertise.
SEO agencies aren’t one-size-fits-all, and getting into a bad-fit relationship can be costly in terms of both dollars and time lost.
I’ve been involved in this process for a long time as an agency leader. It probably sounds self-serving that I’m writing this article. But, let me be the first to say that I don’t want to work with every brand, and my agency isn’t the right fit for everyone.
- Develop and define goals
If you haven’t translated organizational, sales and marketing goals down to SEO specifically, now is the time to start thinking about it.
Good agencies will ask you pretty early on what your goals are whether those are tied to ROI, conversions, or whatever your measure of success is. (Beware if someone wants to do SEO for you without getting into the topic.)
Regardless of what you know or don’t, be clear on what success looks like in making money or achieving your goals. Have as much of it as possible before you start your SEO agency search.
2. Evaluate internal resources
You’re likely looking for an SEO agency because you don’t have the internal SEO expertise or time resources required to succeed. Whatever the case, there will be some level of collaboration or effort by you or your team to have a successful agency partnership.
3. Consider your budget
You can hopefully find some budget parameters to work from by taking the combination of goals and knowing what ROI looks like, plus the internal resources or existing partners you can lean on.
Even if you want to hear the first number from the agency, knowing your budget parameters will help you qualify faster and filter the ideal agencies in terms of size, scope, and fit.
For example, if you can get some ballpark pricing quickly and know what arena you’re in, you can move on if it is way above (or concerningly below) your estimated budget.
4. Do your research
As you look at websites, talk to those referring you to potential agencies, or get into any initial outreach, be mindful that specific dimensions matter.
That includes the size of the agency compared to your organization. Or, more importantly, how capable they are of serving your company. The stage of your company’s growth and lifecycle might be another factor to consider.
Great ways to do so include:
- Seeking out case studies, credentials, references and thought leadership content pieces.
- Looking at the mix of clients they work with currently.
Do your homework and be prepared to ask about or challenge any contradictions or mixed messages you see.
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5. Have an interview plan
Often, I get a lot of really good questions from prospects I talk with. Other times, I don’t get asked enough, so I end up answering questions I wish were asked or assume that my potential clients want to know.
The more organized you are in the questions you ask, the more objective your comparison can be at the end of the agencies you are considering.
Plan questions related to anything and everything important to you, whether that is tied to:
- Their focus (or aspects of #4 above).
- Their approach.
- Ways you’d work together.
Be prepared, especially if you have some internal resources that will own copy or content, dev, or other things that require a tight partnership and collaboration.
6. Evaluate fit
Do your personalities match?
I’m not talking about just you and me, the president who is leading the conversation at this point (or whatever sales or account representative).
I’m talking about between those on your team and the agency’s team who’ll be working together in the trenches.
7. Be clear on the agreement terms
Don’t sign something that you haven’t read! If you don’t understand the agreement’s contents, have a lawyer or advisor familiar with SEO look over it.
Beware of long-term agreements, sticky cancellation clauses and work ownership claims. None of those things are wrong, but you want to know what you’re getting into.
Long-term might get you cost savings and commitment from both sides in the relationship. SEO does take time. However, you want to avoid the following scenarios:
- Having your work product, content, or properties to be held hostage.
- Working together a couple of months in only to get hit with change orders.
- Assuming that other areas (such as content, dev updates, CRO, etc.) are covered and part of the agency’s responsibility, only to find out they weren’t.
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