Deciding whether to hire an SEO company can be a difficult decision for many business owners and marketers. SEO done right can significantly improve website traffic, leads, and sales. However, low quality SEO can often do more harm than good. This comprehensive guide covers key considerations when evaluating SEO agencies to help you make an informed decision for your business.
When do you need professional SEO services?
If you have a new website, hiring an SEO company can help ensure the site architecture, technical SEO, content strategy, and link building are optimized from day one to accelerate results. For an existing website, bringing on an agency may make sense if:
- Your website traffic from organic search has plateaued. An experienced SEO company can uncover new opportunities to improve rankings and traffic.
- You lack expertise in-house. SEO requires specialized skills like technical audit, competitive analysis, content optimization, and link building that your team may lack.
- You have been hit by a Google algorithm update. SEO agencies keep up with Google’s frequent algorithm changes and can pinpoint and address issues to recover lost traffic.
Generally, larger companies with more pages and keywords to optimize stand to benefit greater from an ongoing SEO retainer contract. Small businesses may see results working with an SEO specialist on a project basis or training staff to handle foundations in-house.
How to vet potential SEO agencies
Not all SEO agencies are created equal. When researching firms, vet them thoroughly on these criteria:
Proven expertise and results for your industry. Carefully evaluate case studies and examples of actual client results achieved. Ask for references you can contact.
Ethical, “white hat” techniques. Stay away from agencies promising quick results from questionable tactics. Ensure they follow Google’s guidelines.
Custom strategies, not “one size fits all.” The agency should take the time to understand your business, target audience, and goals to craft a strategy tailored for you.
Transparent reporting and communication. They should explain their approaches in detail, provide regular progress reports, and be responsive to your needs.
Fair and competitive pricing. Balance cost versus expected ROI when comparing agencies. Be wary extraordinarily cheap offers which may signal low quality work.
Questions to ask prospective SEO companies
- What is your experience optimizing websites in our industry? Can we speak to some of your current clients?
- What specific strategies will you use to improve our organic rankings, traffic, and leads?
- How can we track the effectiveness of your ongoing work month-to-month?
- What distinguishes your approach from your competitors?
- Can you guarantee top rankings or traffic levels? (Any vague claims could indicate scams)
- How do you stay up-to-date and compliant with Google’s algorithm changes?
Typical SEO pricing and contracts
SEO costs vary greatly depending on your location, the size of your site, competitiveness of your market, and the agency’s pricing model. Typical pricing models include:
Monthly SEO retainers: Ranging from $750 up to $5,000+ per month based on inclusion of content writing, links, and reporting complexity. Long term retainers allow for better strategic optimization.
Project-based pricing: One-time strategic plans or consulting calls cost ~$500 to $2,000+. Short term tactical link building or content writing has variable pricing per project, page, or word.
Larger agencies with more overhead tend to have higher pricing. Specialist freelancers or boutique agencies typically offer more competitive rates. Make sure to get detailed proposals outlining exactly what is included before signing any contracts.
Common SEO scams and red flags
Unfortunately, the SEO industry also has its fair share of predatory scammers seeking quick paydays. Here are some common warning signs of SEO scams:
- Too good to be true claims. Guaranteed first page rankings within weeks or other fast results claims signal snake oil. Achieving lasting SEO gains requires strategic, long term investment.
- Overuse of “black hat” tactics. Heavily spamming low quality links or keyword stuffing could lead to penalties. Avoid any shifty tactics that violate Google’s quality guidelines.
- Lack of specifics or custom strategy. If a company won’t explain in detail their optimization plan tailored for you, proceed with caution.
- Requests for large upfront payments. Reputable SEO firms earn your trust over time. Never pay 100% fees upfront or take out loans for SEO services.
- No performance tracking or reports. Ensure transparent tracking of meaningful metrics like organic traffic, leads collected, and sales driven by SEO. Lack of visibility could hide lack of results.
If an agency ever pressures you to employ questionable tactics or pay unusually high fees, walk away. Investing in quality SEO strengthens your brand for the long haul.
Should I handle SEO in-house instead?
Some businesses choose to optimize their own websites by having staff study SEO fundamentals. Handling search optimization internally can work well for some scenarios but also comes with downsides to consider:
Pros of in-house SEO
- Save on agency fees by leveraging existing staff and their knowledge of your products
- Build lasting search marketing skills into your organization
- Maintain full control and access to your website
Cons of in-house SEO
- Substantial time investment to achieve real competence across technical and creative SEO areas
- Lack capabilities of a dedicated team solely focused on optimization
- Miss out on an outside perspective to identify growth opportunities
If your business cannot justify a full time staffer dedicated to SEO, partnering with a specialist agency may make sense. A hybrid approach of having in-house staff handle basic technical SEO and content foundations while contracting an agency for advanced link building and competitive research can deliver cost efficiency with expanded capabilities.
Best practices for optimizing web content
Creating compelling, keyword optimized content remains crucial for SEO in addition to technical factors. Here are best practices any business can apply to better optimize their website content:
Conduct keyword research
Identify terms and questions your potential customers are asking around your products and services. Prioritize keywords by search volume and difficulty to determine focus areas for unique pages and blogs.
Create useful, engaging headlines and titles
These make the first impression to convince searchers your page merits a click. Aim for 50-60 characters optimized with your focus keywords.
Write the meta description
This 155-160 character snippet under the title tagline serves as your pitch stating why searchers should click to your page instead of competitors.
Structure content with LSI keywords and related terms
LSI (latent semantic indexing) looks at contextual meaning not just exact keywords. Help search engines better comprehend your content’s focus by working other semantically related words throughout the body text.
Break up blocks of text with relevant photos, graphics, videos, charts and tables. Mixed media engages visitors and can enhance pages’ meaning for search bots.
Check mobile friendliness
With over 60% of searches now happening on smart phones, ensure information is easy to read and navigate in mobile views.
Optimize page load speed
Faster loading pages earn higher rankings. Compress images, minimize HTTP requests, and enable browser caching for snappier performance.
Producing Strategic, Search Friendly Content Takes Time
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are the coveted first page rankings all SEO agencies chase. Be wary of any company guaranteeing quick results through manipulative tactics which could hurt long term performance. Invest your efforts into creating quality pages searchers will keep coming back to for years to come.
- Hiring an SEO company can accelerate website traffic and sales if properly executed
- Vet agencies thoroughly on industry experience, techniques used, custom strategies, reporting, and pricing
- Legitimate SEO focus on long term results through ethical tactics optimizing for site visitors
- Handle basic technical SEO in-house while outsourcing advanced link building to balance cost savings with expanded capabilities
- Optimized content remains crucial. Apply core SEO writing best practices to improve pages
- Rankings take significant time. Avoid agencies promising quick fixes
Thousands of SEO agencies exist to choose from if you decide external expertise could benefit your organic growth. Do your homework vetting firms to weed out low quality players from legitimate professionals who demonstrate their value over time through tangible results, transparency, and customer service.
The right guidance can profoundly expand an organization’s visibility and success. I wish you the best with enhancing your web presence and achieving your dreams through Search Engine Optimization.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What does an SEO company actually do?
SEO companies run technical audits examining site architecture, optimizing pages for speed and mobile-friendliness. They also conduct competitor research to identify new link building and content opportunities. Ongoing optimization includes creating search-friendly new pages and blogs, acquiring backlinks, and fine-tuning pages for better crawlability and rankings.
- What is White Hat vs Black Hat SEO?
White hat SEO refers to ethical tactics following Google’s quality guidelines to earn links and traffic legitimately over time. Black hat uses manipulative spammy tricks to try ranking quickly, often violating Terms of Service agreements which can incur penalties. Always select agencies using White Hat SEO.
- How much does SEO cost for a small business site?
Typical SEO pricing runs from $750 to $5,000+ per month depending on project scope. Average small business sites may invest around $2,000 monthly for an ongoing campaign including content writing, publishing, and some link building. One-time project fees like website audits or blog packages can start around $500+.
- Can I learn and handle SEO in-house?
With dedication to master technical factors plus creative content skills, businesses can optimize their own sites. Be prepared to research extensively and invest substantial time. If lacking the bandwidth, outsourcing to experts may better accomplish your goals. Many brands use a hybrid model engaging agencies just for specialized areas like link building.
- How long does it take to see SEO results?
Dramatically moving the needle on organic rankings starts taking effect in 6 to 12 months after an initial ramp up period to deploy optimizations. However, rankings fluctuate constantly. Focus on steady, long term growth over trying unsustainable quick fixes.
- How do I choose an SEO company?
Thoroughly vet agencies on their specific experience with sites similar to yours, the individual strategies they will implement for you, all-inclusive transparent pricing, properly tracked reporting metrics, and guarantees they offer. Meet in person when possible and call references to confirm capabilities.
- Can SEO generate more leads?
Absolutely. WE websites enjoying the largest visibility in search results tend to receive the most visitor traffic. Higher qualified visitors directly translates into increased business leads and sales. Strong technical SEO also boosts lead conversion rates from better site speed and mobile optimization.
- How quickly can my site be penalized if my SEO agency crosses the line?
Google aims to protect search users by enforcing guidelines discouraging spammy manipulations. Their algorithms scan websites constantly. In some cases penalties can be assessed overnight resulting in catastrophic drops in rankings and traffic if caught excessively over-optimizing pages. Vet agencies thoroughly and stick to ethical White Hat techniques.
- Should my SEO company register my business on online directories like Google My Business?
Registering and optimizing your Google My Business listing as well as industry-specific online directories can definitely complement an organic search strategy. However, more niche local SEO firms specialize exclusively in citations and aggregator profiles. Many general SEO agencies focus instead on driving traffic directly from higher search engine rankings.
- What SEO pricing models are most common?
Project-based pricing quoting costs for specific deliverables like website audits or individual link building campaigns are popular for limited scope engagements. Monthly retainers scaling costs based on needs from basic technical SEO to full service with content writing tend to work better for larger brands interested in ongoing optimization.
- Is it bad if my agency outsources some of the work?
Reputable agencies often collaborate with specialized partners under strict quality control to enhance their service offerings. For example, an firm might outsource content writing or link building to proven partners while managing the overarching strategy in-house. Ask for specifics on any outsourcing to understand who contributes to your results.
- When should I expect my new content to start ranking?
Realistically, it takes anywhere from 2 to 4 months after new pages are first indexed for rankings traction to start gradually building through ongoing promotion. Landing on page one for competitive commercial keywords can take 6 to 12+ months. Google needs to establish trust in new domains over time through ethical participation.
- Can I get in legal trouble for black hat techniques?
While exceedingly rare, some egregious examples like stealing copyrighted content or hiring click farms to falsely inflate traffic metrics could potentially prompt lawsuits in addition to search engine penalties. Usually over-optimization just harms your own rankings. Focus on building high value pages the right way over chasing shortcuts.
- What happens if my agency suddenly goes out of business?
Reputable agencies generally only “go dark” due to merge and acquisitions or the founders moving on to new projects. In these common scenarios, most firms either transition existing clients smoothly to a new organization or individually offer consulting services. Get documentation detailing exactly what access and deliverables would transfer to you for stability.