Throughout my 10+ years in the SEO industry, I’ve heard hundreds of horror stories about working with SEO agencies. I sympathize with anyone who ended up wasting their money paying a dishonest SEO agency for services that didn’t amount to anything.
I wish I could just snap my fingers and all these fraudulent black-hat agencies would disappear, but I can’t. At the same time, they would go out of business if people simply stopped working with them.
I am sure there are many ways to provide high-quality SEO services. I also know that before you start paying anyone for SEO services, there are many red flags that you should look out for — maybe too many to count.
So, instead of listing the things that should turn you off, here are four things you should expect from a technical SEO agency that you might want to work with.
Working with your KPIs
If your SEO partners don’t ask you about your business goals before you start working together… run.
Some SEOs will try to make you believe that improving SEO metrics like rankings or organic traffic is a good business goal by itself.
Don’t get me wrong. I like opening my Google Search Console account and seeing the line go up. But organic traffic and rankings measured in a vacuum are vanity metrics. Technical SEO can (and should) play into CRO, it should align with your UX goals, it shouldn’t collide with your content strategy — in other words, it should support and adapt to your current KPIs.
It should go without saying that even if you do want to improve your rankings and traffic, you have to focus on keywords and users that will actually translate to conversions for your business.
With that said, I’d say there are many more exciting (and fundamental) SEO metrics that you should consider working on.
For instance, if you’re a retailer and your main objective this quarter is to increase your Average Order Value, you should absolutely communicate that to your SEOs. They should prepare a technical strategy that supports your goals, and they might focus on things like:
- Internal linking (so you have meaningful products to upsell),
- Crucial web performance metrics on your key user flows (so it’s more enjoyable browsing through your products, adding them to cart, and so on),
- Information architecture (so you can target long-tail keywords with pages that match user intent).
And that’s just one example. The point is that you should treat SEO just like any other business activity — expect results that will directly impact your bottom line. Intermediary metrics are absolutely fine, but your SEO partners should be able to explain how they will impact what truly matters.
An initial audit isn’t a full-scope review of all aspects of your site. An initial audit should simply contain ideas for where your website could be optimized to improve your KPIs. Of course, it’s impossible to prepare a convincing initial audit without getting to know your business goals first.
Before you sign a contract and start paying for SEO services, you should understand where your website is currently lacking. You should also expect the initial audit to be understandable without extensive SEO knowledge. Not only that, you should be able to understand how the SEO aspects included in the audit reflect on your business metrics such as traffic, conversion rate, or revenue!
Statement of work
A detailed statement of work is a sign that your SEO partners know what they’re doing. It’s proof that they understand the priorities, have a plan for your website, and know how to execute it.
Here’s exactly what you should expect or ask for:
- The exact scope of the services that the SEO agency will provide explained in great detail and justified in business terms,
- A schedule for all activities throughout the course of the project,
- Details on communication: how much time you and your partners agree to allocate for communication (it might also be a good idea to specify the tools and persons that will be involved in the communication),
- Form of cooperation: how your SEO partners will provide their services (which tools will be used to coordinate work, how often you’ll meet for ad-hoc consulting, etc.),
- Access, permissions, data sharing: you might be required to provide access to various tools such as Google Search Console, Google Analytics, your server logs, and so on,
- Price and payment terms.
In some cases, it’s totally OK to consult an external SEO agency and ask them for a long-term strategic document that you’ll crack open every now and then to see if you’re on the right track.
However, we’ve been gravitating towards a completely different approach with our clients. We’ve been getting much better results from working hand in hand with the client’s development team.
SEO gets tricky, and technical SEO even more so. I think it’s absurdly dangerous to go through a deeply technical project, like website migration, with an SEO agency that prepares an audit with some recommendations and then leaves your developers to it.
If your SEO project involves any changes that your developers (or content team, although we don’t really work with those) are supposed to execute, you should expect your SEO consultants to regularly check if their recommendations were properly implemented (unless you specifically agreed otherwise).
Working in Scrum lends itself to this purpose particularly well. If we as your technical SEO agency can join your PM tool and be involved in your sprints (even by consulting the product manager weekly), it gives us the opportunity to review the completed tasks, suggest improvements, analyze the results, and prioritize work more efficiently.
It’s not my goal to enforce my own standards on the whole industry. But it is my sincere belief that the four things I listed above are absolute must-haves for any SEO agency that really wants to help you with your website. Ask for them and don’t take no for an answer!