Search engine optimization (SEO) helps lift your website from the crowded digital landscape to the top of search engine result pages. Many businesses outsource SEO to specialists, and there’s no shortage of agencies and consultants to choose from. If you’re not familiar with SEO or haven’t worked with an SEO provider before, it can be challenging to find the right team to support your business goals.
Before you invest in search engine optimization, you’ll want to do your homework and know which questions to ask to find the right partner for you.
This comprehensive SEO FAQ will give you a broad overview of how to find a trusted SEO partner, what’s involved in an SEO campaign, and what to expect when partnering with an agency or consultant.
Read on for tips on making an informed decision about the best SEO specialist for your needs.
Part I. What is SEO & Do I Really Need It?
Let’s start with the basics of search engine optimization and why you may want to hire someone to create and implement an SEO campaign.
What is SEO?
SEO is a digital marketing strategy that gives your business more visibility on search engines.
Reputable SEO specialists follow industry-standard practices to demonstrate to Google and other search platforms that websites are:
- Meet the needs of users keying in specific search terms
This highly specialized field goes beyond adding a few keywords to your website. It requires a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of user behavior, search analytics, and the ranking factors used by search engines like Google.
How Do I Know If I Need SEO?
The bottom line is that virtually every businesses benefits from improved search engine visibility. In fact, about 90% of web pages generate no traffic at all from Google searches – if you don’t currently do SEO, you can guarantee your website is part of that statistic.
This is a vital statistic because, while your website may get some traffic through social media, word-of-mouth, or pay-per-click ads, organic search drives more traffic to websites than any other digital marketing channel. According to recent data, search engine results deliver 68% of trackable website traffic.
Part 2: How Can an SEO Agency Help My Business?
By optimizing site architecture, content, and links, an agency can help you rank higher on search engine result pages (SERPs), generating:
- More website traffic
- Better quality leads
- Improved conversions
What Services Do SEO Agencies Offer?
SEO agencies offer a range of services to evaluate your site performance and identify new opportunities to improve your website’s online visibility.
An SEO audit and website analysis is a detailed examination of a site’s structure and content. This deep dive can reveal hidden obstacles that might cause search engines to overlook your website. Audit results will inform concrete recommendations for search optimization.
Keyword research analyzes the questions search engine users type into a search bar to find what they’re looking for. An SEO strategist can identify keywords your competitors rank for and pinpoint opportunities for your business to rise in SERPs. Keyword recommendations should be fact-based and data-driven, striking a balance between broad, high-volume keywords and less competitive, long-tail keywords.
An SEO agency will use its site audit and keyword research findings to build a content strategy for your business. Recommendations might include search-optimized landing pages, product descriptions, blog articles, and service descriptions.
A trustworthy SEO provider will match intent-targeted content recommendations to your buyer’s journey.
Backlinks to your site from respected sources demonstrate your site’s trustworthiness to search engines. In addition to cleaning up low-quality or irrelevant links that drag down your rankings, SEO link building services provide links from high-authority sites that are critical to your site ranking in search.
When Should I Hire an SEO Specialist?
It’s never too soon, or too late, to bring an SEO partner into the fold.
When Launching a New Website
During a Site Redesign
Maximize the impact of a site relaunch, and protect your existing web traffic by consulting with a strategist when you update or migrate a website.
When You Want to Increase Organic Traffic
Bring in an SEO agency to help you improve site traffic and boost leads, conversions, and revenue generation at any time to get the most out of your digital presence.
Maybe a competitor is usurping your market share, or sales have been flat — optimizing for search can improve your company’s bottom line.
Part 3. How Do I Choose an SEO Expert?
Search engine optimization is a growing field with providers of all sizes, structures, and experience levels. You can choose from SEO agencies, digital marketing firms, integrated marketing agencies, and freelance consultants.
Let’s look at some of the options out there so you can find an SEO provider that meets your needs.
Should I Use an Agency or Freelance Strategist?
You’ll want to find someone with the right blend of skills and experience to help you meet your SEO goals.
- An agency may be a good choice if you’re launching a comprehensive SEO campaign that requires different areas of expertise.
- A freelancer may be an option for a narrowly defined project, for example, assistance with keyword research or optimizing a series of product descriptions.
Keep in mind that every agency and freelancer is different. A consultant with years of experience under their belt may offer more competitive services than a young agency that’s only worked with a handful of customers.
You’ll want to question search engine optimization experience, resources and reliability as you investigate potential SEO partners.
Questions to Ask When Evaluating SEO Options
1. Does the agency or consultant have the infrastructure and resources to meet your needs?
Agencies typically have specialists in precisely defined roles, ranging from SEO copywriting strategists to professional link builders. Team members have in-depth knowledge of their area of expertise and focus on precise execution. There’s usually one point person who manages each customer’s campaign — keeping the lines of communication open and making sure that all of the elements come together to support your business goals.
2. Does the SEO provider have relevant experience?
Agencies usually have the infrastructure to tackle multiple projects of different scopes in various industries. This structure provides a wealth of case studies and statistics to draw upon, including first-hand knowledge about which strategies have been successful for specific types of business and which haven’t.
Some freelance or agency providers might have carved out an SEO niche in a particular industry, however, giving you the benefit of specialized knowledge.
3. Does the SEO resource fit your budget?
SEO agencies generally cost more than freelance consultants, but it’s important to shop around.
A few years ago, Ahrefs published a survey based on an SEO questionnaire sent to agencies and consultants. They aggregated data about the average costs of different services among all types of SEO providers. Take a look at their data, but view it through the long lens of time. The prices in the study are outdated, but there’s value in comparing the general cost of different flavors of SEO partners.
In terms of getting what you pay for, there is some truth to that old adage. Sometimes you get what you pay for. On the other hand, sometimes you don’t get as much as you paid for.
Cost should be an ancillary consideration rather than a primary one.
If an SEO provider checks all the other boxes of a good partner, their services are probably a worthwhile investment.
Is it Better to Use a General Marketing Agency for SEO?
Marketing is a vast and varied discipline, with all kinds of firms dipping into SEO. If you use an agency, you might choose from:
- General marketing agencies
- Digital marketing agencies
- SEO agencies
Each of these agencies will have a different level of dedication to SEO.
General Marketing Agency
A traditional marketing agency offers non-digital services such as branding, graphic design, advertising, and public relations. A full-service general marketing agency may provide add-on SEO services, but they will be random tactics to support marketing campaigns, as opposed to a fully formed SEO strategy itself.
Digital Marketing Agency
Digital marketing agencies handle an array of website marketing services. They might manage pay-per-click, social media, and email marketing campaigns, as well as offer SEO services.
However, as many as 68% of digital marketing agencies outsource their SEO activities to specialist agencies, so you might yourself several degrees removed from the people actually working on your SEO.
This lack of access to dedicated SEO strategists can create lag time in requests, miscommunication, and a weaker sense of investment in your success from the people you’re counting on to care about your business.
An SEO agency specializes in search engine optimization. Specialists have precise knowledge of techniques and strategies that they’ve gained through the experience of managing a high volume of campaigns over several years.
With in-depth data, tools, and partnerships to draw on, SEO firms can customize solutions at a granular level and target their efforts to move the needle on your specific business objectives. In most cases, you work directly with the specialists overseeing your website optimization.
While it may be tempting to have your general marketing agency do your SEO for you, beware that they might not have a deep bench of experts who can bring a wealth of experience to your optimization efforts. An SEO company, on the other hand, is adept at building an annual SEO strategy that works alongside your marketing plan.
The best of all worlds is hiring an agency specializing in SEO to work in concert with your marketing or PR agencies — the more communication and collaboration between them, the better.
How Do I Find an Agency I Can Trust?
SEO is a long-term investment, so take time to consider whether an agency is a good fit for your business needs.
1. Is the Agency a Good Partner?
To craft a successful SEO campaign, an agency needs to understand your work: the purpose of your website, your key products and services, and who your target audience is.
Get a sense of whether the agency is trying to get to know your business and customize a plan or simply wants to fit your company into a template, add some keywords, and move to the next project.
Questions to Ask a Potential SEO Partner:
✓ How can you help us meet our goals?
✓ What’s our biggest obstacle?
✓ What can we improve today?
✓ Do you see opportunities in this space for us?
✓ What opportunities are we missing?
2. Does the Agency Have Relevant Experience?
Ensure the agency brings solid SEO experience to the table and past successes to draw on. Reputable SEO agencies will have case studies that range the length of time they’ve been in business. Many will also give you a list of customer references so you can speak directly to other marketers who have used their services.
Questions to Ask About Relevant SEO Experience:
✓ How long have you been in the SEO business?
✓ Do you have customers in our industry?
✓ Have you worked on similar websites?
✓ What results have you seen?
✓ What’s your biggest success?
(Does their definition of success align with your needs?)
✓ Can you walk us through relevant case studies?
✓ How did you approach similar SEO challenges on other websites?
✓ How has your process evolved over time?
✓ Do you have references?
3. What’s the Agency’s Process?
Try to get an understanding of how the agency works. They should be transparent in the process they use and the way they approach SEO. If they can’t answer your questions in clear, jargon-free language, that might be a red flag. Either their processes aren’t on the up-and-up, or they won’t be able to explain their activities to you in a way that you can communicate to other stakeholders.
Questions to Ask About SEO Processes:
✓ What steps would you take to optimize our website?
✓ Who would make up our team?
✓ What resources and information do you need from our company?
✓ Can your team implement the recommendations and create content?
✓ How long will the campaign take?
✓ When can we expect to see results?
(SEO takes time. Take it as a red flag if they’re not upfront about that.)
✓ How will we define a successful campaign?
4. How Communicative is the Agency?
The ideal SEO partner readily answers your questions and provides updates, especially since visible results might take time. You don’t need to know the minute, day-to-day details, but you should understand what the agency is trying to accomplish and where they are in the process.
Questions to Ask About SEO Agency Communication:
✓ Who is our contact person during the campaign?
✓ How often can I expect to hear from you with check-ins?
Watch Out for Disreputable SEO Providers
Carefully vet potential SEO partners. Some companies use unsavory SEO techniques to “game the system” and create rapid, artificially-inflated results that will eventually tank your rankings via penalty. If your site is flagged for poor practices, Google can issue a manual penalty, damaging your site authority or eliminating your content from search results entirely.
Learn more about the warning signs of bad SEO.
Part 4. How Will I Pay for SEO Services?
How much you pay for SEO will depend on the scope of your project, an agency’s experience, and the pricing structure your partner provides.
A retainer is a monthly fee paid in advance for SEO services.
Retainers are the most popular pricing model and are used by 75% of SEO providers.
For the duration of your contract, the agency performs agreed-upon tasks that might include adding optimized content, monitoring website traffic, building links, and making technical recommendations to improve your search results.
Some agencies require a commitment of 12-24 months.
Although some providers will offer a month-to-month option, a short-term agreement inevitably leads to short-term decision-making, which can have either no impact on your goals or negative consequences for your business (see the Penalties above).
A flat or project-based fee covers a precisely defined scope of work. The agency and client agree to specific deliverables at a set price. The fee remains the same regardless of the time it takes to complete the project. You may, for example, pay a flat fee for a technical site audit or for optimizing a set of product descriptions with keywords.
Agencies that charge hourly rates track the time it takes to perform tasks and invoice you at the end of a billing cycle for the total time put in by the SEO team.
A significant downside of hourly SEO billing is that it encourages a task-oriented approach to your campaign rather than a strategic one.
A customized SEO strategy requires monitoring and adjustments. It’s not simply a matter of ticking off tasks on a checklist.
Part 5: What Can I Expect From an SEO Campaign?
Your SEO provider should customize your campaign to match your budget, priorities, and marketing goals. You also want your SEO agency to be nimble enough to pivot your campaign in response to changes in your industry or the economy.
When your campaign meets its initial goals, a worthwhile SEO partner will help you redirect your campaign resources to fresh objectives — exceeding the expectations set at the beginning of your contract.
What Are the Steps in an SEO Campaign?
SEO experts typically follow these standard practices:
Keyword Research & Site Auditing
A well-planned SEO campaign begins with research and data collection to understand how your website performs and how it can be improved.
This groundwork includes:
- A technical audit to determine that search engine robots can crawl and index your site
- A content audit to establish that content is purposeful, meets search intent, and is optimized with keywords that are relevant to your target audience.
- Keyword research to determine what queries searchers might use when they have a problem your product can solve or a question your business can answer.
- A link audit to analyze the quality of links to your site from elsewhere.
SEO Strategy Development
Once the research is complete, your agency will report its findings and develop SEO strategies that align with your overall business goals.
This SEO strategy is the game plan for strengthening your search engine presence and exploiting opportunities for higher rankings.
Some of the steps for optimizing your website may include:
- Improving site navigation and architecture
- Boosting site security
- Fixing broken links
- Ensuring your site is mobile-friendly
- Improving loading speed
- Adding or optimizing meta titles and descriptions
- Creating, updating, repurposing, or removing content to improve user experience
- Addressing spammy backlinks
- Adding links to and from high authority websites through guest posts, citations, and reviews
- Enriching your pages with keywords that will draw in high-quality traffic
SEO Campaign Implementation
Once your agency provides their strategic recommendations, you can start implementation.
Implementation of some elements of the campaign will always be provided by your SEO agency, such as link building or manual actions in Google Search Console. For others, you’ll be able to decide based on your own resources and budget where it makes sense to invest implementation time. Implementing search optimizations should be a partnership between you and your agency. For example, if your SEO agency provides new page titles for your product pages, you will be able to change and update those page titles on your site.
Monitoring & Reporting
Your SEO agency will track your campaign’s impact by monitoring traffic, ranking, engagement, conversions, and other metrics. Reports should be provided on a regular basis and objectively evaluate progress toward your goals. Check-ins should allow space for dialogue about campaign adjustments if needed.
Will an SEO Agency Customize a Campaign for My Business?
A successful SEO campaign is always customized to the needs of an individual business. A good SEO agency understands that companies have unique objectives, marketing plans, budgets, target audiences, and competitors. Your SEO agency should review your goals and tailor your campaign accordingly.
If I Work With an SEO Agency, Can I Pick Keywords to Rank For?
SEO agencies will ask about strategically significant keywords for your industry, especially if you operate in a specialized niche. The agency will then conduct further analysis to find related search terms.
Recommended keywords are prioritized based on competitiveness, opportunity, customer behavior, and search volume.
You might even find that the keyword research conducted by your agency uncovers a segment of your target audience that your own market research left undiscovered.
Can I Do SEO if I Don’t Have In-House Staff?
SEO agencies can assist with as much or little of an SEO campaign as needed. If you don’t have staff resources or expertise, some agencies can handle the implementation of your campaign, including technical changes to your website and content creation. Just make sure you’re requesting these services from the beginning, so your SEO company knows to budget that into your scope-of-work.
You can also outsource tasks as needed. You may want your own webmaster to optimize the technical aspects of your site, for example, but use an agency’s writers and editors for SEO content creation. Most agencies can personalize services to your needs.
Do SEO Agencies Offer Local Search Services?
About 86% of consumers use a search engine to find a nearby business or service, with 46% of all Google searches conducted to find local information. It’s critical for businesses that rely on customers near home to appear in SERPs for keywords such as “near me” or “in” a particular city, so it’s critical for SEO agencies to also provide local SEO services to optimize sites to appear in local search, Google 3-packs, and Google and Apple Maps. They can even help optimize your Google My Business profile to improve customer engagement and local conversion rates.
What Do I Have to Provide to an SEO Agency?
Your agency needs insight into your business to develop an effective campaign. You can expect to share information about your:
- Business objectives
- Preferred keywords
- Current and planned marketing initiatives
- Previous SEO campaigns and audits
Can an SEO Agency Fix a Manual Penalty?
Yes – the most knowledgeable SEO agencies have dedicated teams for fixing manual penalties. Google issues manual penalties if pages aren’t compliant with Google’s quality guidelines. The resulting action can lower your rankings in SERPs or entirely omit your content from search results.
SEO specialists can help you determine why your site has been issued a penalty, address the issue, and request a reconsideration review.
Once your site meets Google standards and the penalty has been removed, you can launch an SEO campaign to reestablish your search ranking and rebuild site authority.
Part 6: Getting SEO Campaign Results
Will an SEO Agency Help Me Set Campaign Goals?
Your SEO campaign goals should be based on your business objectives. Do you want to raise your profile as an authority in your industry, generate leads, or boost sales?
A valuable SEO partner can help you establish campaign goals that will move the needle on these objectives and recommend metrics to serve as KPIs, such as impressions, traffic, conversions, and revenue generation.
How Does an SEO Agency Measure Campaign Performance?
SEO agencies have an array of tools to track performance and can deliver regular reports to show the progress of your campaign. Some quantitative measurements you might see in these reports are:
- Movement in organic search rankings
- Organic impressions
- Click-through rates
- A breakdown of traffic sources (organic, referral, direct)
- Session duration
- Time on page
- Conversions (registration, subscriptions, sales)
When Can I Expect to See Results From an SEO Campaign?
It takes an average of four to six months to see long term results from the implementation of an SEO campaign. This time frame may seem long, but a lot is going on behind the scenes as backlinking and content optimization helps your site build authority and search relevancy.
Campaign success also depends on factors such as:
- How long you’ve had your domain and how it’s currently ranking
- How aggressive your competition is
- How competitive your keywords are
- Adjustments you make during the campaign
- Industry changes or shifts in the economy
Can an SEO Agency Guarantee Fast Results?
Search engine optimization involves so many variables that no reputable SEO provider will guarantee immediate results. There’s no way to control what your competition is doing or how search engine updates might impact rankings.
Quick results in SEO are often fleeting. By focusing on slower long term growth in search results, you will benefit from compounding returns over time. An SEO agency that guarantees fast results doesn’t understand this foundational premise of SEO.
Will an SEO Agency Get Me to Rank Number One?
Google has over 200 ranking factors that come into play when generating search engine results. Not only is it a complex process, algorithms are constantly being adjusted to improve the search experience.
Google doesn’t give any companies the inside track to organic rankings. If an SEO specialist tells you they’re going to secure you the top ranking, it’s best to consult another SEO — and this advice comes directly from Google.
Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a ‘special relationship’ with Google, or advertise a ‘priority submit’ to Google. There is no priority submit for Google.”
How Long Should I Commit to an SEO Agency?
Your SEO campaign has gained momentum, and you’re basking in the benefits of its success, including greater visibility and a healthy return on your investment.
SEO is a long-term process. Even when you reach your campaign goals, rankings can change over time.
- New business appear in your vertical
- Your competitors adjust their strategies
- Search engine ranking factors evolve
- Consumer habits change
A good SEO agency helps you refine your efforts as the search landscape shifts. You may even need ongoing adjustments to your campaign as your business evolves or responds to changes in your industry.
Once you’ve optimized your website architecture, content, and links, it’s easy to monitor and adapt your campaign to keep it on course.
What Are Some Warning Signs of Bad SEO?
I’m glad you asked! Here’s a list of 15 signs that you might be on the receiving end of bad SEO.
Got More SEO Questions? We’re Here for You
There’s a lot to think about as you consider adding SEO to your digital marketing portfolio, but a trusted partner can guide you through the process. Victorious has a full suite of SEO services and a team of specialists ready to answer your questions. Request a free consultation to learn more.