There are few in the digital marketing world who wouldn’t include SEO in their strategy, with organic search being the dominant channel (gaining 53% of web traffic in 2019). These days, businesses look to SEO experts to run their campaigns. But in a realm where effort doesn’t necessarily guarantee return on investment, it’s important to tread carefully when choosing an SEO contractor or agency, and wise to keep your expectations in check.

What is SEO and why does it matter?

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) comprises a number of tactics that encourage traffic to your website. These include ‘on-page’ and ‘off-page’ SEO activities. On-page SEO includes HTML code optimisations, title tag and meta description improvements, and adding quality content to your website. Off-page activities include setting up organic channels on YouTube, setting up your business in Google My Business, and link sharing across social platforms or via quality blog posts, to encourage customers to stumble upon your site.

SEO is one of the most important digital marketing tools you can use, because unlike Search Engine Marketing, which requires you to fork out for online exposure, SEO lets you optimise your website so it appears in search results organically. You can potentially increase traffic to your website, improve site ranking in SERPs, and increase customer conversions and sales, without spending a cent. And the results with SEO can be long-lasting, whereas with SEM, as soon as you stop paying, your ad disappears and you’re back to square one.

Is SEO truly free?

If you have plenty of time and energy, you can execute an SEO strategy for your website yourself, for free. There are many online guides available to help you, and if you want to keep on top of changes in the SEO space, there are blog posts, podcasts and YouTube tutorials to enjoy. 

The problem is, you probably have enough on your plate managing a business, and don’t have time to become an SEO expert on top of everything else. Therefore, outsourcing at a cost makes sense.

Why employ an SEO agency?

While basic SEO tricks are easily learned, running a broad and effective SEO strategy requires experience and in-depth knowledge. You need to be adept at using a variety of SEO analytical tools, understand how to evaluate the results, and know how to create strategies to make impactful changes to websites. 

Whilst you can make a small SEO improvement to your website that may pay dividends over the long-term, some SEO adjustments need regular monitoring and updating, to ensure the strategy works. This ongoing work is something SEO agencies should be old-hands at.

It’s also worth mentioning how often the SEO landscape changes (constantly). For example, Google changes its algorithm regularly, and it’s a challenge for SEO agencies to keep up with the various iterations, let alone lay people who dip in every now and again.

So, it makes sense to get an SEO agency to do the work for you. You just need to find an agency you can trust.

Tread carefully when choosing an SEO Agency

Once you make the decision to put your SEO in the hands of an agency, there are a few things you should consider before deciding who to go with.

With recent media coverage about disreputable SEO contractors and agencies who’ve failed to deliver promised results, there are measures you can take to avoid wasting money on a sub-standard SEO campaign.

Do your research

Whilst there are many good SEO contractors and agencies out there, the digital marketing industry has been likened to the ‘wild west’ in that it contains operators who fail to deliver. The industry is also unregulated at this stage, so if you don’t receive the work you expected, you may find it difficult to be recompensed.

So, speak with agencies on the phone. Read testimonials on their websites. See if they’ve done work for respected businesses, and even better, repeat work. Ask other businesses they’ve worked with about their experience. 

Whatever you do, don’t just put out a call and go with the first ‘SEO expert’ who responds.

Be clear about your goals

You need to understand what it is you want to achieve before you can know what to ask for. If you are wondering, what is SEO and why does it matter, then do research. If you’re considering an SEO agency, see how willing they are to talk you through their method. (It’s a good sign if they do.)

Beware of promises

SEO is a delicate beast. While you can make a number of adjustments to a website, you can never truly guarantee the results you wish for. It’s always something of a gamble, so the best thing you can do when working with an agency is to agree on deliverables, and co-create a clear strategy. 

What an agency should be able to guarantee is:

  • The amount of time they’ll spend working on your account
  • What exact tasks they’ll perform as part of the SEO strategy (a clear breakdown should be provided)
  • How often they’ll monitor the strategy and relay results to you.

The best agencies won’t make promises they can’t keep. Instead they’ll give you realistic expectations, be able to explain their strategy to you in a way you can understand, and clearly demonstrate the work they complete for you. 

Carefully read your contract

It’s best to avoid contracts that ask you to pay an agency for a long-term period. You don’t want to get locked in if the agency isn’t delivering results. 

A rolling contract, with fortnightly or monthly deliverables, is the safest bet. That way, if you don’t see positive outcomes, you aren’t bound to that agency beyond the short term. 

In saying that, it’s important to keep in mind that some SEO tactics do take a long time to show results (positive results may not become apparent for a number of months, if not longer). Regardless of this, it’s better to not lock yourself into a long-term contract if you’re not confident.

When you’ve worked with the agency in the short term, you should get a sense of whether or not their SEO strategy is working, and can always request to change the terms and extend.

Richard is an experienced tech journalist and blogger who is passionate about new and emerging technologies. He provides insightful and engaging content for Connection Cafe and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest trends and developments.