How to find & select a reputable SEO Provider

A lot of people ask me – is word of mouth really the only way to find a reputable SEO agency?

Here are my quick thoughts on the matter.

I will start with a statement, which I believe to be important: SEO has become a synonymous for Digital Marketing – which really only solid Digital Marketeers or Digital Agencies can do.

With that in mind, in order to answer the question of what is a “reputable SEO company”, we need to explore the attributes and/or components that constitute a high degree of proficiency in this field as it currently stands or as the market currently requires. In my opinion, these attributes (in no particular order) are:

Branding

iStock_000002098320SmallA lot of people think that this is fonts, colours and logos – this is not the case. Branding is a way a business presents themselves to the marketplace. Any business needs to articulate their brand in their marketing and advertising. If they don’t or can’t, it will mean that whichever message is being articulated won’t resonate with the audience. A quick example of this is trying to advertise products and services as a premium brand where the said services/products are not – we’ve ALL been victims of this.

Copywriting

To ensure that the content is engaging, on-brand, linguistically correct, dressed-up, etc.

Graphic Design

To help create content such as infographics, banners, tiles, etc. To ensure brand style is maintained throughout all communications. This becomes more important the bigger the business is – someone like Nike or Apple is mega particular in how their brand is reflected in any communication or campaign. If someone misses the mark they get fired.

Web Development

Ability to constantly adapt digital touch points such as websites, landing pages, EDMs, etc. to changing Search Engine Algorithms and market conditions. These change and pivot and everything needs to adjust to these changes to keep their effectiveness. Examples of this include Mobile first, AMP, HTTPS, Structured Data, Location Detection, etc – all of these require a web developer to refactor and change stuff. And it was next to impossible to forecast that these were going to be major factors – therefore, it was impossible to pre-build everything included in the original projects.

Campaign Management

Ability to run organic and paid campaigns that amplify said organic channels. This is your Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, Programmatic – the list goes on. This skillset is also required to maximise/maintain the client’s budget efficiency. This capability would also be responsible to report to clients on a regular basis the results of said paid or organic campaigns – what has been gained (or lost).

Digital/Channel Marketing Strategy

This skillset is the most important and is required to defineTop-5-Content-Marketing-Tools-feature and constantly adjust the direction of all collective campaign activities for a client. The defined strategy should also address specific client requirements. Examples of such requirements are:

  • Traffic increase of 10% quarter-on-quarter;
  • Conversion increase – say from LEADS (someone who clicks stuff) to PROSPECTS (someone who calls or submits an enquiry).
  • % Increase in top-line revenue

The biggest challenge being – create a strategy with the right mix to deliver against the client’s requirements, WITHIN the budget that the client can spend/allocate. And believe-you-me it is always superHARD!

Now, if we assume that A particular vendor, possessing competence in the above proficiencies IS a REPUTABLE vendor – then all we need is a mechanism to measure the competence in each one of the above areas – simple’z!

In my view (and this is somewhat debatable based on the specific client’s circumstances) the three simplest ways for a client to test the capability of a professional or an agency in all of the above.

  • Request & Review past strategies that the expert/agency has developed for their clients – then check with the clients for whom those strategies have been created and executed. Talk to these clients, go as deep as you can in those conversations. Discuss each of the above – branding, web dev, whatever is important to you. Ask for links – “Can I have a look at the Blog that they created for you”.
  • Get the potential vendor to create/propose a strategy for your requirements – this may be paid or if you’re chicky can you try to squeeze a free one out of some vendors. (Be careful with this one – only people/vendors who don’t value their time will give this away for free). Review theSeo Provider proposed strategy against all the above categories. Get a 2nd opinion on the strategy – they should be fairly similar EVEN between different vendors. The strategy should also be executable by other vendors – this is easy to check.
  • Run the proposed strategy with a professional/agency as a pilot for a period of time sufficient for the vendor to be able to hit some of the objectives that you set for them. IMHO – this should be at least two quarters (6 months). Review progress every month with them, in order to measure and understand how they are improving things in their strategy as it is tailored to you as a client and their learnings.

This is in no way definitive process, and everyone may need to tailor their own based on their specific business and/or sector – but I feel it would make a good start.

As you can see – this is a large amount of “stuff” that needs to be considered, discovered, analysed, tracked, trafficked, implemented, written, optimised, built, blah!

This isn’t easy, I currently require a fairly large team of people to be able to do all of that effectively for a few dozen clients. Based on this experience I am forced to conclude that if you’re an owner of an SME – you will find it extremely difficult to be able to do all of that for a business of any size, with sizable competition in the marketplace. Sure, one can build a website and write a few b1B-CONTENT-MARKETING-PROCESSlogs – unfortunately, it will not be enough. You may even try to hire all those competencies in-house – but it won’t be feasible for an SME IMHO, even if you outsource to low-cost geographies. You won’t know how to hire or manage these resources locally or overseas. There are plenty of horror stories we’ve all seen.

I would like to close this post with the statements that I started with – SEO in isolation does not, and cannot work. The main reason for this is that Search Engine providers such as Google have gone to extraordinary length for their search engines to mimic human behaviour and surface good, relevant and popular content first, and remove as much of the technical manipulation (link building, keyword stuffing, etc.) from these systems, even penalise websites for engaging in these practices.

Subsequently, if someone is looking to hire an SEO expert today – they are really looking to hire a Digital Marketing Expert. SEO is still an important component (which the Campaign Manager does) – but it’s only a component.

Hope this helps.