Customers often ask us for recommendations on hiring an SEO firm to further optimize their website. While the websites we build for insurance agents are built with SEO in mind, and follow Google's Best Practices in terms of a well-built, easily indexed, user-friendly website, we don't claim to be SEO experts, and so we often work with SEO companies for their expertise in this area.
Google is constantly adjusting their algorithms to provide the most relevant results for searchers. An SEO specialist spends a great deal of time researching those changes and developing strategies for getting a website to rank higher on Google. They also provide guidance on how to best optimize for the markets, locations, or products you want to target, whether it's small businesses in Atlanta or new homeowners in San Diego, as well as what channels you might consider (organic search, paid search, social media, etc).
It's critical to do your research when choosing an SEO vendor. There are lots of angles to consider, and in the end, you'll want to choose someone you're comfortable working with and who best understands your needs and how to achieve your goals.
Below are some questions to ask any potential SEO vendor you are considering:
- Do they have a proven track record of success in similiar markets you’re interested in or for the challenges you’re facing?
- Are they willing to provide client reference(s) that will chat with you and tell you what it’s really like to work with them?
Transparency and Accountability
- Do they provide easy-to-understand reporting on month-to-month results? Ask to see a sample report.
- Are they willing to provide you with a detailed list of work completed each month? (You should know what you’re paying for.) Again, ask for a sample.
Can you easily verify the work that is completed?
Be wary of any company who says they "cannot" share with you what they are doing because it's a "trade secret." If you're paying for the service, you have a right to know the details of the work they are doing.
- Will you have a point of contact at their company that can be easily reached if you have questions or concerns?
What are their contract terms? Do they have a service level or results guarantee?
Be wary of any company who makes promises that seem too good to be true. No SEO company can guarantee a first-place ranking on Google (if someone could do that, they would have retired, fat and happy, long ago).
Familiarity with Your Industry and/or Business Model
- Have they worked with others in your industry?
- Do they understand your industry’s unique goals and challenges?
- Do they have a solid grasp of the competition you’re facing in your market?
On-Site vs. Off-Site SEO
On-Site SEO is the work that is done to your website (think content, page structure, blog posts, meta descriptions, etc).
Off-Site SEO is the work that is done to get people referencing you on their own websites (think social media, local business directories, partner website links, etc).
- Do they include both on-site and off-site SEO services as part of the package they are selling?
Who Will be Responsible for Doing the Work?
- Will someone at their company be performing the SEO work, or will they simply be providing you (or your staff) with training and tools to execute their recommendations?
Note: Receiving training is not a bad thing – it can be very very valuable to your understanding of digital marketing and provide great long-term value. But if you're hiring an outside firm to do SEO for you, be sure that's what you're getting. Again, it's just important to know what you're getting for your investment.
- What part does social media play in their SEO strategy?
- Will they be managing your social accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google+), or will that be up to you?
Website Access (or Social Media, Analytics, etc)
- What level of access will be requested and/or required for them to complete their work?
- What analytics package will they require be installed on your website? (Google Analytics is the standard - it's free and universal.)
- Will they require that they host your website, or can you keep the website you have?
If they will be managing your Facebook page or Twitter account, will they be starting from scratch, or using the one you already have set up?
Be wary of any SEO firm that will only optimize your site if it's built and hosted by them. If you have a well-built website, there's no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some SEO companies will insist on this simply because it results in a higher profit for them.
Watch Out for These Red Flags
Every company is going to offer different strategies for your website optimization. This is great because it gives you a variety to choose from, and the ability to find the company that really fits your needs. However, there are a few red flags to look out for – these can indicate a company that isn't a good fit for anyone, and can result in a bad experience, or even a negative (and sometimes long-lasting) impact on your website rankings.
#1 Ranking, Guaranteed
Even Google warns to stay away from SEO vendors who make outlandish claims about getting you to rank #1 in a short period of time. Honest SEO with long-term value takes time. It simply takes time to build your website’s authority to rank well.
Reputable SEO companies won’t risk your website’s long-term stability by using shady tactics that are against Google’s policies for short-term gain.
Stick with a company that does things the right way, and understand that it can take anywhere from three to six months to start seeing the definitive results.
SEO is a long-term strategy and there are no shortcuts. Slow and steady wins the race.
Getting a Deal Too Good to be True
As with anything else, you get what you pay for. If you find a company offering SEO services for much lower than the industry norm, it means you're either going to receive sub-par work, or you're going to be getting much less for your money.
Most reputable SEO companies we work with charge anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per month. If you find someone willing to do (what they claim is) the same work for $100 per month, chances are it's not the same work, and you'll get very different results.
[Really] Long-Term Commitments
Stay away from companies that are eager to lock you into a contract for an extremely long period of time (anything more than one year). It's fair to give any SEO vendor that you hire at least six months to prove themselves (remember, it can take awhile for the results to show), and to make sure that you enjoy working with them.
Anything longer than one year should raise some suspicion. Three years? Walk away.
Secrets, Secrets Are No Fun
We've had clients working with SEO providers who were super secretive about their off-site optimization strategies. (I'm sure they were also secretive about on-site changes, but since we hosted the websites in this case, we were involved in all on-site changes). They justified their refusal to share their practices by stating it was all trade secrets and they didn't want others figuring out their methods.
As a paying customer, you have the right to know what is being done to promote your brand. What if their strategy is to get a lot of inbound links to your website coming from adults-only sites? Wouldn't you want to know if your SEO company was associating your brand with thank kind of content?
If an SEO company tells you their practices are secret, and they won't provide any reporting on the off-site (or on-site) work they will be doing, walk away.
If the cost of an SEO vendor has you hesitating, you can always try your hand at it yourself (or have someone in your office take a stab at it). We're always encouraging agents to be empowered to learn and do more digital marketing themselves. You can check out a few articles on our blog to help you get started, attend a workshop or webinar through Safeco Bricks & Clicks, refer to Google's best practices, or simply do some online research with other sources (there are lots) to learn even more.