Every day, 3.5 billion searches take place on Google, which is just as many opportunities to get your product or service in front of a potential customer. When someone goes to Google with a query, you want to be the answer they find, and this is what makes search engine optimization (SEO) such an important, attractive inbound marketing method.
Study after study confirms that you won’t be found if you don’t appear on the first page of the search results. Because more than 90 percent of people don't ever click to the second page. In fact, one of our favorite jokes at First Page is that the second page of Google search results is a great place to hide a dead body. #inboundmarketinghumor
So, how do you get to the first page?
If you’re like many companies, you may have realized the concept of SEO is complex, and thus made the call to hire an SEO agency. Or, someone you thought was an expert. Several months into the engagement you’re beginning to question whether you picked the right agency, asking yourself questions like:
Is the agency delivering on their promises?
Is the agency worth what I’m paying them?
Am I seeing a real return on marketing investment (ROMI)?
How do I know if I made the right call with hiring an agency vs. hiring internally?
To help you answer those questions, here are four key signs that could determine you need to hire a new SEO agency.
1. The SEO Agency Lacks Transparency
Search engine optimization is a vital component of any marketing strategy in today’s digital world. So, why is it that we accept having such little transparency into an important driver of success?
Your SEO agency likely sends reports monthly or weekly. Sure, there are many important metrics, but those all provide no value if you can’t understand what they mean and how they translate into sales.
Your keyword rankings, organic traffic and click-through rates are all down, but conversion rates, local visibility, and pages indexed are all up. Great, but what does that mean for your business? You didn’t just hire an SEO agency to look at reports – you hired them to help you achieve your marketing objectives.
Mountains of data don’t necessarily equate to a transparent process. Transparency means taking the time to explain what everything means, how the numbers impact your business, and what the opportunities are for success. An impactful SEO agency should provide you with an education as a part of the service they’re providing.
Furthermore, if the numbers they're reporting on aren't what you expected or what they promised, they should be transparent about this, why, and how they're going to get the numbers where they need to be. Say no to "agency spin" and yes to honest and open marketing.
2. The SEO Agency Doesn’t Have A Strategic Plan
Now let’s say you understand the data that’s being presented to you and the agency is explaining how to interpret it. What do we do about it? SEO is complex and requires time and resources, and that’s why you’ve likely decided to hire an SEO agency in the first place.
That agency must have a plan in place to improve upon the metrics they’re reporting, and not just a tactical plan. Solutions shouldn’t be about getting 15 more inbound links in a week’s time or improving the speed of a landing page by 10 milliseconds. Yes, these things should be addressed, but your partner should be discussing the overall strategy and vision. Ask your SEO agency questions such as:
How will you help establish my business as an authority in the field?
How will you improve the overall user experience of my website to drive visitors down the funnel from interest to purchase?
How do your SEO activities fit into the broader strategy amid the other inbound marketing methods you’re employing?
How do you plan to get me to the first page and keep me there?
What is our content strategy that will drive keyword and traffic growth?
3. The SEO Agency Has Poor Ethics
There are many techniques that can be applied to websites to improve organic metrics. Unfortunately, not all these techniques are completely above board. The terms white hat, gray hat, and black hat are used to refer to these different types of SEO practices.
Always Use White Hat SEO Practices
White hat means the practitioner completely abides by the guidelines and best practices of search engines like Google, working to improve the usability of a site, create great content, or make a site more compelling. There is never any reason you should agree to or hire an agency that promises results outside of white hat practices. Chances are Google will catch you, and your complete website and brand authority will tank.
Never Pursue Black Hat Practices
Black hat means the practitioner chooses to ignore what search engines deem a violation of their guidelines, pursuing higher rankings or traffic where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve. If you’ve discovered black hat behavior from your SEO partner, it’s time to cut bait and hire a new SEO agency immediately. If you don’t, the consequences can effectively eliminate SEO, one of the most effective inbound marketing methods, from your toolbox.
Be Cautious with Gray Hat Practices
And gray hat means the practitioner falls somewhere in between, straddling the line between using techniques that both do and don’t benefit the user.
Ideally, everything your SEO agency does should be white hat, because it’s your brand and website that’s at risk. In the search marketing industry, it’s common for even the most reputable companies to engage in some form of gray hat activities to ensure they’re keeping up with the competition, but agencies must tread lightly. Google is constantly on the lookout for those who engage in black hat SEO techniques, seeing all sorts of web spam techniques from keyword stuffing to link schemes. As a result, they continue to modify their search algorithms to both improve their search results and filter out websites that use unethical techniques.
Have a conversation when you first hire an SEO agency about your tolerance for risk and what you consider to be an acceptable risk/reward tradeoff. An ethical agency should be willing to have an open conversation with you about the risks that different techniques carry and the potential rewards you can reap from each. An agency that’s willing to use a black hat technique for a website other than their own is unethical.
Staying white hat will ensure that as Google modifies their algorithms, your rankings are minimally impacted. Using gray hat techniques may speed up the time it takes to see results, but they carry the risk that your rankings could fall off the first page.
4. The SEO Agency Doesn’t Understand Your Brand Needs
Any company that decides to hire an SEO agency is ultimately looking to increase their bottom line through more organic channel traffic and conversions. Naturally, you understand the importance of strengthening the organic traffic funnel and converting more leads into sales.
Your SEO agency needs to understand your business goals for them to be effective. The agency isn’t just there to boost stats or get you to the first page of search results – they should be on board with deliver results, and there must be a return on the investment you’ve made.
For the professionals you’re working with to improve your ROI, they need to have a broader understanding of how your business operates and how SEO fits as one of several inbound marketing methods that you’re employing.
If a potential customer comes to your site looking for a solution to their needs and instead becomes confused or frustrated, then no value has been added to your business. Therefore, your agency must understand the value of high-quality content and authenticity, with thed aim of building an online presence that accurately reflects your values as an organization.
To ensure your SEO agency has content and quality in mind, ask yourself these questions for any given page on your site:
Does my content provide original information or is it taken from another source?
Does my content provide a substantial or comprehensive description of the topic?
Does my content offer insightful analysis or interesting information?
If my content draws on other sources, does it avoid copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide additional value and originality?
Does my page title provide a descriptive summary of the content?
Is my page the sort of content I’d want to bookmark or share with a friend?
Would I expect to see my content in a magazine or book?
Get the SEO Success You Deserve
Hiring a new SEO agency is the right decision if your current or former agency meets any of the four signs we’ve discussed. Handing the reins to a specialized team in this rapidly evolving field will allow you to focus on your areas of expertise.
It’s important that you work with the right agency to ensure that you’re set up for long-term success. The wrong agency could have you spending money with no return, or even work against you by getting your site penalized or removed from search results. The right agency, however, can catapult you to the success you deserve.
Because a strong SEO strategy can be tough to manage on your own, it’s a good idea to hire an agency with effective inbound marketing methods. Get a free SEO/content analysis from First Page Strategy and our audit will tell you what to change and why. With our help, you’ll be better able to keep up with your competition and bring new visitors to your site, all at a fraction of the cost for an in-house marketing team.