A website can be a very powerful marketing tool for start-ups and small businesses. An effective site helps smaller firms to reach out to a huge audience of potential new customers and take on bigger rivals.
However, the battle to be found online can be fierce, so if you want your small business website to be successful, you will need to look at search engine optimisation, or SEO as it’s commonly referred to.
With SEO becoming more complex and specialised, many small businesses look to outsource the work to an agency. But with so many practitioners and firms out there offering SEO services it can be tricky to find the reputable providers.
To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, here are the 5 questions you should ask an SEO agency before you think about hiring them.
SEO has changed
The SEO landscape we know today is almost unrecognisable from that of years past.
While the underlying SEO principles have remained the same, the way in which the objectives are fulfilled requires an entirely different approach. The old ‘get rich quick’ style SEO tactics are now, for the most part, dead and buried; to triumph in today’s competitive online world, businesses must stand up and earn the attention of their audience.
Therefore, when it comes to appointing an SEO agency, there is much to consider outside of the obvious things like location, cost and reputation. You need to be sure whoever you choose can help you achieve success by using tactics that will not only work now, but also years down the line.
But tactics and techniques are really just the start of it, as there’s so much more to consider when choosing an SEO agency to work with. To help ensure you pick the right partner for your business ask them these questions;
1. Who will be managing our account?
Typically, the first person you speak with at an agency will be a sales or new business person. Rarely will these people be responsible for managing your account or delivering the work.
An agency is only as good as its staff, and therefore, if it hasn’t already been proposed, request to meet the individual or team who will be managing your account day-to-day.
These are the people who will ultimately be responsible for getting stuff done, so you need to feel confident in their abilities. It also helps if you actually get along with these people too – nothing good ever came from a bad relationship.
2. What other services do you offer?
It’s rare to find an agency that offers just SEO, in the traditional sense. As highlighted at the beginning of this article, the digital marketing landscape is ever-evolving, and SEO nowadays requires a holistic approach.
Activities such as PR, social media and CRO (conversion rate optimisation) all play an important role in SEO, yet despite this, they are often siloed and treated as different disciplines entirely. Even paid, or ‘outbound’ marketing activities such as PPC (pay per click) advertising, display or email marketing can play their part, albeit indirectly, in the sense they help build brand awareness and trust.
Therefore, not only should you ask “what other services do you offer”, you should also ask about how these services can be used collectively to bolster the performance of your website.
A good agency will advise which services you should consider based on your specific circumstances. You may approach them to enquire about SEO exclusively, and come away with SEO and PPC, for example. It doesn’t matter, so long as it’s right for your business at the time.
There are also benefits to keeping all of your outsourced digital marketing activities under one roof, the most obvious of which is the fact it’s simply easier to manage. The one downside to this, however, is that if the agency under delivers, all of your eggs are in the same basket, and likely under delivering on all fronts.
3. What does success look like?
Chances are you’ll already have a pretty good idea about what you think success looks like, prior to meeting with an agency. It is up to the agency to manage your expectations from the outset, and work with you to set realistic goals within realistic timeframes.
Crucially, you must both be completely aligned on these goals from the word go; it’s no use them reporting back to you about apples if all you really care about is oranges.
When discussing goals, the topic of search rankings will inevitably be raised – they are an inherent part of SEO, after all. But this is a subject that should be considered carefully, as invariably rankings alone only tell a small part of the story.
Contrary to belief, SEO is not just about better search rankings, or even generating more website traffic for that matter, it’s about generating more business. Any professional worth their salt will talk about the importance of quality over quantity where traffic is concerned.
Search rankings are a good barometer for measuring the overall impact of SEO activities, but they are not the be-all and end-all. Therefore an agency that talks about rankings exclusively is probably best avoided.
Further still, an agency that makes promises about rankings is definitely best avoided. Only the team at Google itself knows what the future holds for SEO (and even they’re not entirely sure), so the truth is no one can truly promise results.
4. What will you need from us to make this work?
In order to get the best out of an agency relationship, you should consider them as an extension of your current team, rather than treat them like a supplier on the outskirts. Simply, the more ingrained in the business they are, the more they’ll be able to help you.
Logistics wise, you’ll likely be asked to provide access to tools such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console and your site’s CMS (content management system), amongst other things. Day-to-day tasks like sticking to agreed deadlines, signing things off promptly, and generally making time to talk, all contribute to a healthy working relationship.
By asking upfront what it is the agency expects from you, you’ll be well prepared when requests are made of you down the line.
5. Can I speak with some happy clients?
Written testimonials are great, but nothing beats a five minute chat with an actual person. By asking an agency if you can speak with some of their clients, you’ll likely get one of two responses:
“Sure thing”: in which case, great. They are evidently confident in their own ability and relishing in the fact said happy client is about to sing their praises to you down the phone.
“’Fraid not”: in which case, not so great. The most obvious conclusion for not allowing this to happen, other than requested anonymity on the client’s part, is that they have something to hide. There may be another logical explanation for this, but an agency that is confident in their work should jump at the opportunity, as nothing beats a good recommendation.
While no means an exhaustive list, the five questions featured here will all help when it comes to sourcing an SEO agency you can trust. To reiterate; SEO is always evolving, so you need an agency that can evolve with it.
About the author
This guide has been written for ByteStart by Matt Batterham, Senior Account Manager at Browser Media. Browser Media was born as an SEO agency but has embraced the ‘inbound marketing’ philosophy. The agency has always practiced a PR-led approach to search engine marketing and modern SEO is now proving itself to be based on building authority rather than keywords and meta tags.
More on being successful online
You can find more help and advice on being successful online in these other ByteStart guides;
- When to get SEO for your website, and when not to
- A Practical guide to Content Marketing for small business owners
- Taking your business online – A Digital marketing guide for small business owners
- 7 Mistakes you could be making with your website
- Turn your ecommerce website into a deadly selling tool with these 5 steps
And here’s how you can use social media to promote your website and your business;
- 10 Top tips for small businesses starting out with social media
- Tweets that get you followed and your business noticed – How to build a loyal following, 140 characters at a time
- 5 steps to building an online army of fans and advocates for your business
- How to use Facebook to grow your small business
- Marketing your small business through YouTube – The 4 essential steps to success