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How to Choose an SEO Agency: 6 Questions to Ask When Vetting a Potential SEO Partner

Chris Kirksey
Chris Kirksey

CEO, Direction.com

SEO Agency vetting
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Selecting the wrong SEO agency can sink your rankings, but the right one can skyrocket your visibility and transform your online business.

Knowing how to choose an SEO agency is crucial for improving your website’s search rankings and driving business growth. But with so many agencies promising the world, how do you determine which one is the best fit?

This guide will walk you through the key factors to evaluate when researching SEO companies. By asking the right questions and doing your due diligence upfront, you can find an agency that will deliver lasting results through ethical techniques, while providing ROI that will skyrocket your business growth..

We’ll cover the SEO services, pricing, and capabilities to look for, questions to ask during the interview process, and ways to spot the warning signs of a low-quality or sketchy provider. With the proper vetting, you can partner with an SEO expert that will visibility, traffic, and revenue for your business.

Why Vetting SEO Companies Is Critical

The majority of SEO agencies out there have industry experts who know their stuff. Yet, there are digital marketing companies out there who have a business model that’s based on ‘churn and burn.’ These companies will work with a customer, get them quick results, and then the client will burn out and move on.

(Pro Tip: A simple Google search to see and read reviews will do the trick to filter these bad agencies out.)

These results are usually based on what’s called “black hat” SEO methods. There are white hat SEO methods and black hat SEO methods. White hat SEO is based on a long-term strategy that falls within search engines’ terms and conditions.

Black hat SEO relies on gaming the system using old methods that used to work over ten years ago. Things like using awkward sounding keyword phrases like “mortgage broker CO” dozens of times on one page is an example. Another example of black hat SEO is to funnel low-quality links to your website to increase search result rankings.

Search engines have evolved to detect these methods, but people still resort to them to get a quick result.

Think your business is immune to such efforts? Think again. Even large companies like J.C. Penny get caught using black hat SEO methods.

That can hurt your business, your brand reputation and get your site penalized or removed entirely from search results.

How to Choose an SEO Agency Based on Qualifications

When evaluating SEO agencies, you need to look beyond promises and flashy proposals. The qualifications and expertise of the team will determine whether they can actually deliver results.

Here’s what to look for when vetting an agency’s capabilities.

1. Proven Experience Optimizing Websites in Your Niche

Find an agency with a track record ranking websites in your specific industry.

For example, if you run an real estate brokerage, you want to see case studies for clients in this sector. An agency experienced with your niche will understand the competitive landscape and have proven strategies that work (and results to back that up).

Ask for referrals from past clients in your field and check out their website examples. An SEO firm can tout expertise, but case studies prove they can actually drive results for businesses like yours.

2. Strategic Expertise with On-Page and Off-Page SEO

A quality SEO agency needs to be well-versed in both on-page optimization and off-page optimization.

On-page means they know how to optimize elements within your website code and content, like titles, headers, URLs, alt text, and more.

Off-page refers to building authoritative backlinks, earning citations on directories, leveraging social media, and other external ranking factors.

A strategic agency will audit your site, identify improvement areas, and execute customized optimization tactics to boost your rankings. Both on-page and off-page factors are critical, so ensure the agency has expertise across the board.

Pro Tip: A live, strategic audit of your website during a discovery consultation will reveal whether the agency you’re vetting is qualified to execute this type of work.

3. Transparent Reporting and Campaign Analytics

Make sure the SEO agency provides transparent reporting and analytics access. You want regular updates on important metrics like keyword rankings, website traffic, lead generation, and ROI.

A quality agency will share reports each month highlighting progress and results.

Even better is granting you access to analytics platforms like Google Analytics so you can check data anytime.

Transparent reporting builds trust and allows you to track SEO campaign performance. Insist on an agency that makes optimization insights and results readily available.

Direction.com Client Reporting Setup

At Direction.com, we outfit all of our SEO clients with a custom campaign portal where they can track keyword rankings from Ahrefs and Semrush, review Google Analytics and Google Search Console Data, and track their campaign deliverables in real time. 

We always meet monthly to review these KPIs, but also allow our clients to see directly into their campaign as it unfolds.

Direction.com client reporting dashboard

4. Certified In-House SEO Experts

Verify that the agency has fully in-house SEO experts on staff. They should employ certified professionals, not freelancers or outsourced contractors.

Certifications through respected organizations like Google Academy demonstrate up-to-date knowledge.

Beyond certifications, the team should actively stay on top of Google algorithm updates, industry best practices, and SEO innovations.

Ask about their ongoing education and training. An invested agency continuously hones their in-house team’s skills to deliver the best optimization strategies for clients.

Don’t settle for an agency that outsources technical work or relies on freelance contractors.

5. Strong Client References

A reputable SEO agency should have no shortage of happy clients willing to vouch for them.

Ask for referrals and case studies from current or past clients. Reach out directly to those references and ask about their experience.

  • Did the agency deliver strong ROI?
  • Were they responsive and strategic?
  • Did they meet or exceed expectations?

Client testimonials on the agency’s website are nice, but having the contact info to follow up with references is crucial. Quality agencies want you to hear directly from satisfied clients so you feel confident choosing them as a partner.

6. Competitive and Transparent Pricing

Only consider agencies with fair and transparent pricing. Steer clear of vague quotes, hidden fees, or rigid long-term contracts. 

A trustworthy agency will provide a detailed breakdown of services and fees upfront. If the agency can’t show you exactly what services you’re paying for, then don’t move forward with the partnership.

Look for contractual agreements that allow you to adjust your campaign deliverables or cancel if need be.

Competitive pricing aligned with the market also indicates value. An agency should be flexible and affordable without compromising expertise.

Quality SEO doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but be wary of dirt-cheap options too. Optimal pricing strikes a balance – not the cheapest but not outrageous either.

Direction.com SEO Quotes

In all of the SEO quotes we send to prospective clients, we clearly outline the types and quantity of deliverables and show you exactly how much you’re paying for each service month over month. 

We believe you should know exactly what you’re paying for so we clearly articulate this in our contracts.

6 Questions to Ask When Vetting an SEO Agency

Now that you know the qualifications to expect from a quality SEO agency, it’s time to frame some questions to pitch during your discovery.

Use these questions as a guide to vet an agency.

1. What Are Your Initial Thoughts About Improving My Site’s Rankings?

When you contact an SEO agency, they’re going to want to know more about your company. They’ll do a little background investigation into your website, and understand where SEO fits in with your strategy.

You want to see that the SEO agency does their homework and they have a process in place to get results.

2. What Will I Need to Do to Support Your Efforts?

SEO doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a team effort. You are hiring an SEO agency to improve your site’s results, but that doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook.

There are some things that you may be responsible for to improve your site’s rankings. For example, you might have to produce regular blog posts, have your website design updated, provide the agency with photography of your business and/or products, etc.

You’ll want to be clear as to what’s expected from you to maximize your return on investment.

3. How Do You Stay on Top of Digital Changes & Trends?

Search engines evolve and become more advanced every single day. Google is said to tweak its search algorithm 600 times each year to produce the best search results for its users.

The way people search has changed, too. In one sense, we’ve evolved from using the yellow pages to find businesses to find the information we need on our phones. Voice search and assistants like Siri and Alexa will continue to change how people search.

You want to ask this question to make sure that the SEO agency you use is using the best practices now and is ready for the future by knowing what the SEO trends are.

Here at Direction Inc., we start the day off by reading a new article on Search Engine Land or Search Engine Journal, then discuss what each of us found internally.

4. Do You Have Case Studies and Referrals?

An SEO agency with a credible track record will have proof that they’ve been able to help businesses achieve success in search results.

They may not be willing to provide their entire book of clients to you, but they should have a few clients that you can call or documented cases studies to show that they can do the work. 

5. Do You Even Rank, Bro?

Ok, maybe you can leave out the word “bro.” But, see if the agency you’re vetting ranks for their own services. If they’re local, it’s easy to type in “SEO + CITY” and see who’s at the top there.

6. Do You Guarantee Results?

It’s pretty much impossible to guarantee your business will rank #1 for any particular keyword. There are so many variables at work in SEO that it can be challenging to predict the end result. If someone claims that they’ll get your business to the top of search results in a month, you should run as fast as you can from them.

That’s a clear sign that that’s a firm that is using black hat SEO methods to get your business results. What the top SEO agencies will say is that “there’s no guarantee to get results, but based on our experience, results, and expertise, we’re confident that we can get your business to rank high for certain keywords and grow your brand.”

They’ll also be upfront about which keywords are likely to be a challenge, especially if they’re highly sought-after or competitive keywords.

They’ll also be honest in terms of a timeline. You don’t want to see a sprint to the top of search results. You want to see small increases month over month.

Hire the Right SEO Agency the First Time

You know that getting your business to rank highly in search engines is necessary if you want to grow your business. Your customers are using search engines to research and buy products and services.

That’s why it’s essential to know how to choose an SEO agency that’s a good fit for your business. It can play a huge role in your success… or frustration.

Want to know how we can help your business get the most out of SEO? Contact us today to find out.

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