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Technical SEO

What Marketing Departments Need to Know Before Hiring An SEO Agency

  • Written by Reva Russell English


What does a marketing department need to ask, consider, and understand before hiring an SEO agency? 1. Get clear about your goals. 2. Understand that simple on-page optimization and data-driven recommendations are not the same. 3. Not all link building is created equal. 4. There are very few true technical SEO agencies out there. 5. Quick wins do not equal long-term success, plus how to go about the process of finding a good SEO company.

Every marketing department worth its salt understands that SEO is important. How to translate that understanding into action, however, is another story. Because high-quality SEO is esoteric and requires deep and changing technical knowledge and skills, many marketing departments choose to outsource their SEO needs.

But how do you know what to look for in an SEO company? How do you avoid spending money on a firm that doesn’t actually have the chops to achieve lasting and meaningful results? The intricacies of top-notch search engine optimization takes years to properly grasp. Thankfully, though, good sense still applies when you’re wondering how to choose an SEO company. 

So what should you do? 1. Listen to the experts. 2. Do your homework. 

Here’s a closer look at what marketing departments need to ask, understand, and consider before hiring an SEO agency.

1. Get clear about your goals.

Search engine optimization, as every good SEO will tell you, isn’t a magic trick, and there are no SEO guarantees. To start your search for a good SEO company, you need to know exactly why you want their help. 

Are you looking to get more business through local search and Google My Business? Is your slow page speed hamstringing your search ranking and your user experience? Would you like to increase organic search traffic? Do you just need the visitors who are already coming to your website to convert more often?

Whatever your SEO goals are, make sure you keep them in the front of your mind as you start to research and interview SEO agencies. Not every SEO firm holds industry-recognized expertise in technical SEO. Not every agency offers content marketing strategy and content creation. Not every SEO agency offers implementation services. By knowing exactly what you need from an SEO management company, you’ll be able to weed out the companies whose offerings don’t line up with your needs.

2. Understand that simple on-page optimization and data-driven recommendations are not the same.

On-page optimization, or on-page SEO, is every action that can be taken within a particular website that will improve its position in the SERPs (search engine results pages). Improving title tags and meta descriptions, adding heading tags and internal links, publishing relevant content, and optimizing for mobile are all examples of on-page optimization. 

While essential to improving your search rankings, there’s a lot more to search engine optimization than what’s “on the page.” If the agency you’re considering doesn’t offer data-driven and off-page SEO recommendations, alongside on-page SEO, you’ll probably end up with less than stellar results. 

Be sure you understand what the SEO agencies you’re considering really offer. Many web agencies, digital marketing agencies, and even some SEO agencies claim to offer full SEO services. While on-page optimization and other less technical SEO can have a positive impact on SEO outcomes, their strategies and tools can only scratch the surface of what can be accomplished by a good, technical SEO company with a data-driven SEO strategy.

3. Not all link building is created equal.

Link building, a.k.a the seemingly simple act of getting other websites to link back to your website, is essential to good SEO. Why? Because it signals to Google and other search engines that your site and its content is authoritative and relevant enough to be referenced outside of itself. Good SEO always includes good link building.

But not all links — or link building — are good. Having thousands of backlinks provides you no benefit at all if the backlinks are low-quality. In fact, crummy backlinks can be detrimental to a site’s search rankings. Good link building includes an effective network of quality links from other quality sites that offer real value to your organization. 

A good SEO agency will only go after quality backlinks, even if that means a change to content strategy and content creation. It’s work that takes time. Make sure when you’re considering what to look for in an SEO company, that quality link building is at the top of your list.

4. There are very few true technical SEO agencies out there.

Few agencies, even those that offer SEO services, are trained and adept in technical SEO practices. What is technical SEO? LOCOMOTIVE Agency’s Senior Director of Technical SEO Research, JR Oakes, defines it this way, “Technical SEO has traditionally been about crawling, rendering, information architecture. Over the last few years, it has expanded into areas involving these, but adding data science, modeling, forecasting, automation, and, as Russ Jones put it, anything sufficiently technical that has the goal of improving organic results.”

If you want to get the most of your SEO agency experience — and budget — make sure you go with an SEO agency that can address and improve your website’s performance (including site speed, responsiveness, lean code, etc.), crawlability, indexation, and other search engine optimization concerns that are more technical in nature.

5. Quick wins do not equal long-term success. 

While there can be some effective quick wins in a good SEO strategy, being successful long-term takes continual work. So beware any agency that promises impressive results right out of the gates. Good search engine optimization takes longer to work than, say PPC, because Google and other search engines take into account scores of factors in their search results. Many of these factors, like link building, take time. 

Still, most companies who hire an SEO agency should begin to see initial results in about six months. From there, traffic, rankings, bounce rate, and more should all keep improving. If you hire an SEO company, and after six months, haven’t seen at least some proof that their efforts are having measurable results, you probably need to cut bait and move on.  

6. Finding a good agency.

Armed with the knowledge above, here is a little more insight to help ensure your success when you start your search for a good SEO agency.

  • Price. Good SEO is never cheap. Depending on what your company needs and a particular agency’s pricing structure and service offerings, you should expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000 a month or a project. It’s a wide range, but then again, SEO itself is wide and ranging. One thing to look and listen for regarding price: Be wary of any SEO firm or expert that doesn’t talk intelligently about ROI. A good SEO agency is well worth the money, and they should be able to illustrate — whether through case studies or client testimony — how their work generates leads and increases revenue for their clients.
  • Beware firms that offer strategies without looking at your data. SEO is never a one-size-fits-all approach. When an SEO company tells you their strategy recommendations before they take a look under the hood, you can be certain that they will miss pertinent and valuable data, because they aren’t even looking for it. 
  • Beware guarantees or false promises. Rank #1! Double landing page conversions! Increase revenue by 50%! Real SEO agencies never offer guarantees or make promises that sound too good to be true. Why? Because they know they can’t guarantee anything in the wild world of search engine optimization. The best SEOs are students of a system that keeps shifting, and they will pour their expertise into a strategy best suited to your business, your customers, and your goals. They might get you to #1 on the SERPs, but they’re definitely not going to guarantee it.
  • Beware firms that want to lock you into a year-long contract. Most top-notch SEO firms work on a per project or a month-to-month basis. If you’re considering hiring an SEO company that wants a 12-month commitment, hit the brakes. Yes, it takes some time for SEO to show up in your analytics and reporting, but a good firm will be in regular contact with you each month, so you know your money is being put to good use.

What’s the process for hiring an SEO agency?

Now that you’re familiar with what your marketing department needs to know before hiring an SEO agency, it’s time to parse out the process for actually hiring one. 

1. The interview. Regardless of how you find the SEO firm in question, you’ll want to get a feel for how they talk about their services, how they conduct themselves in a conversation, and whether or not communication with them is smooth. Pay close attention to whether they pay close attention to you. Are they interested in your business? Do they ask questions about your customer base? Your goals? Expertise is only one part of what you need to screen for when you’re wondering how to choose an SEO company. You also need an SEO firm with good business sense, excellent communication skills, and a desire to see you succeed. 

2. Check their references. In addition to case studies, ask for a list of current and former clients who are willing to talk with you. You not only want to find out if their experience was positive; you also want to hear any tips that will help get the most out of the relationship should you decide to hire the firm in question.

3. Ask all the questions. Seriously. Leave no question unasked, no matter how trifling or insignificant or foolish it may seem. 

Some standard questions to pose to any SEO agency you’re considering include:

  • What tactics will you use and tools will you employ to improve my search engine rankings?
  • Do you or your employees hold any certifications?
  • Do you always adhere to search engine guidelines?
  • Can my dev team implement some, or even all, of your suggestions? 
  • Can your team implement all the SEO work you recommend?
  • What is your experience with improving local search results, and do you have examples of clients you’ve helped in this way?
  • What metrics do you use to measure the success of your SEO campaigns?
  • Can you guarantee my website will rank number one on Google or any of the other search engines?
  • Will I know about all the changes you make to my website? Will you freely share that information with me?
  • How often will we communicate and in what format(s)? Am I free to reach out whenever I have a question?
  • What is your pricing structure, and what are your payment terms?
  • What will reporting look like, so I know we’re on track?
  • What happens when our client-agency relationship comes to an end?

This list is by no means exhaustive. If there’s something you don’t understand or something you’d like further explanation on, speak up. Good SEO agencies care about their clients and will take the necessary time to answer every question and concern you have. They want a successful business partnership just as much as you do.

4. Make a decision. No matter how big your budget, bringing on an SEO partner can feel both daunting and exhilarating. If you did your due diligence, however, you have nothing to worry about. Lean into that exhilaration. It will take time to see the results of your efforts, but soon enough your online marketing efforts will begin to show real improvement.

Choosing a good SEO company is well within your control, so long as you keep these recommendations in mind. If you’re looking for top-quality SEO services from an award-winning SEO company, reach out to LOCOMOTIVE Agency. From technical SEO and local search to content strategy and link building, our SEO experts can help your marketing department, and your company, rank higher and get more leads.