Related insights

Most modern businesses know how critical search engine optimisation (SEO) is to their success. When a potential customer is looking for a product or service that you offer, the first place almost all of them will go is Google, so it’s vital that your website ranks high on the search engine results page for relevant terms.

But the importance of SEO doesn’t make it any less confusing. There’s no rule book; and that’s just how Google likes it. It stands to reason that if people knew the rules of SEO, they’d be able to game the system. Google keeps its algorithm a tightly guarded secret, and companies must try to figure out exactly what it wants.

It’s a big job in a complicated and ever-changing field. Which is why most organisations hand the responsibility over to a professional SEO firm.

Do SEO companies really work?

SEO is a complicated discipline. To succeed you’ll need to combine marketing expertise with technological nous. You’ll need to learn how to use specialist tools. You’ll need to develop an understanding of SEO-specific terminology. You’ll need to keep abreast of the latest trends and changes in a field that is in a constant state of evolution.

The competitive nature of SEO means that it isn’t something you can pursue half-heartedly. You can be sure that your competitors will be investing the time and resources it demands. If you fail to do the same, you’ll inevitably fall behind.

But you may not be in a position to take SEO on as the full-time, 40-hour per week job that it is. If you don’t have the resources to employ an in-house professional or team, you’d be wise to hire external help. It’s just a matter of separating the good from the bad.

Good SEO firms don’t just push you up the search engine results page (SERP). They get you ranking higher for the most relevant queries. They present your business to your ideal customer. They consider your situation to focus on important areas like eCommerce and local SEO. And they do all this in a sustainable way – one that will have you enjoying a steady stream of organic visitors from Google for years to come.

But how do you find the right agency?

How to choose the right SEO company

How do you choose the right SEO company for your business? What does a good SEO company look like? Let’s take a look at six considerations you should make when shopping for SEO services.

1. Identify your goals before you shop

Before you speak to any SEO provider, you should understand exactly what you’re hoping to gain from search engine optimisation. These goals can’t be vague either. If you are a Christchurch plumber whose goal is simply to ‘increase organic traffic to our website’, an SEO agency could technically meet that objective by getting you ranking really well for ‘Auckland financial services’. They might point to the visitor numbers and tell you that traffic is up. But the problem isn’t quantity – it’s that the quality of the traffic is rubbish.

You should instead look to be as specific as possible (and reasonable) with your goals. Examples of specific SEO goals include:

  • Boosting sales of certain products/services by ranking for specific keywords.
  • Increasing click-through rate (CTR).
  • Increasing time on site.
  • Reducing bounce rate.
  • Maximising page speed.

Before you shop around for an SEO partner, ensure you have clarity on what you expect from your SEO investment, and the SEO services you’ll be looking to take advantage of.

2. Ask to see their portfolio and case studies

What better way to work out the effectiveness of a search engine optimisation company than by checking their work? Ask who they are currently working with, then Google a few search terms associated with those businesses to see how – or indeed if – the websites rank on Google.

An SEO agency or digital marketing company might have a portfolio ready for you to browse, or a few case studies that show what they can do. These will understandably paint the company in as flattering a light as possible, so where possible you should try to get in contact with the customers themselves, to find out how they found the experience.

Ideally you’ll find current customers who run similar businesses and have similar SEO aims as you do. This is something that you can ask the provider directly: have you previously worked with a client in the same situation as me, with goals similar to mine?

3. Check their reviews

Perhaps more revealing than examples obtained from the agency itself are the words that come directly from the mouths of their customers. Check Facebook, Google and other review sites to get a sense of the reputation of the agency. Sure, a smart digital marketing agency will look to curate these ratings and reviews as much as possible, but the realities of working with the company will inevitably present themselves.

Remember that a bad review or rating isn’t a deal breaker. As anyone who deals with customers will know, some are simply impossible to please. What is more important, and far more revealing, is how an SEO firm deals with this type of feedback. How a business replies to bad reviews gives you a better sense of what they’re about than any number of good reviews.

4. Beware of big promises

The Google algorithm is a closely guarded secret. No one knows exactly how the company ranks its search results. This means that if an SEO provider is promising to get you to the top of the SERP, you should instantly be suspicious. No one can promise such specific results.

At its core, SEO is about earning trust from Google. You need to show that you’re worthy of a high ranking. This process takes time; it’s something that is measured in months or years. If a provider says that you can expect to get to the pointy end of the SERP in days or weeks, they will most likely use black hat SEO techniques to do it: the deliberate manipulation of the system for short-term (and unsustainable) gains.

The same can be said for super cheap providers. Those that promise big results for a low low price, say a couple of hundred dollars a month, tend to use dodgy tactics which will result in long-term damage to your online reputation.

In short, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

5. Look for transparency

Further to the above, when big promises are underwritten by questionable SEO strategies, an agency won’t be keen to tell you exactly how they make the ‘magic’ happen. They might instead talk about their ‘secret sauce’ or some other vague term that covers for the fact that they may be engaging in untoward practices like black-hat SEO. Companies that refuse to pull back the curtain inevitably have something to hide.

To choose the best SEO company you should look for those who are happy to be an open book; who will walk you through their methods and explain the finest details of their approach. The best will also put a focus on important KPIs, which offer a clear measure of the success of SEO efforts. Some of the most critical include:

  • Organic visitors: The most basic and arguably most important KPI in SEO, this metric tracks how many organic visitors click through to your site from the Google SERP. Associated KPIs include time on site, page views and unique visitors.
  • Keyword rankings: This KPI tracks how well you’re ranking for the keywords you’ve targeted as part of your SEO.
  • Conversion rate: This KPI measures the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action, whether that’s buying a product, providing their contact details or engaging with a piece of content.
  • Bounce rate: Do a large percentage of your visitors leave certain pages as soon as they arrive? A high ‘bounce rate’ can indicate any number of things, from slow load times to a lack of alignment between SEO strategy and page content.

Reporting on the KPIs mentioned above should be regular, and should be delivered in a language you understand. Speaking of which…

6. Communication is key

You’re not an SEO expert. That’s why you’re employing professionals. And these professionals should be capable of condensing the most important information into layman’s terms. They should understand what you’re trying to achieve with your SEO investment, then explain, in plain language, how they will work to help you meet those goals.

If your SEO service provider uses high-level language, talks in abstract ways, or doesn’t talk much at all, they may have something to hide.

Choosing a good SEO company is about finding one that will update you regularly on your progress, and will work hard to ensure you understand where you’re at at every stage of the process.

It doesn’t take long to get a sense of how well a provider communicates, and gut feeling can count for a lot in these situations. If you’re struggling to get a hold of them by phone, or if you have to nudge them a couple of times to get a reply on email, it doesn’t bode well for the relationship in the long term.

But if they’re responsive, enthusiastic and show an ability to communicate clearly, you’re in good hands.

Ready to choose an SEO company?

At Traction, we have built a reputation for ticking each of the boxes mentioned above. We help you to identify your SEO goals. Our portfolio offers a complete suite of case studies, and we encourage our customers to do their research on us before they commit. We only promise what we know we can deliver, and we pride ourselves on our transparency and ability to communicate.

You shouldn’t feel intimidated when you hire an SEO agency. You should feel excited. An investment in search engine optimisation is one of the most important that a modern business can make. When done well it can deliver you a consistent, significant stream of high-quality leads, which you won’t have to pay Google a cent for.

Share this article