How to find an SEO provider that actually works for your business (and what to do when you’ve found them)
Manchester, England. It’s 10pm on a Sunday. I’m staring out at the bleak Piccadilly landscape, forcing down a lukewarm brew (Azera, nothing but the best round ‘ere) and responding to a couple of leads that have trickled through over the weekend.
I’m up replying to leads that have come from partnering with development agencies and freelancers across the North West, who vouch for us first before I even get to speak to the client. I get requests through from potential clients who already know what to expect, and know what they need.
Anyway… What has this got to do with you, the business owner? The person looking for SEO services from a (hopefully) reputable freelancer or agency? It means that you need to have an idea about SEO before even beginning the process of getting in touch with a provider, especially if no one has vouched for them beforehand.
This will help you find the correct team for your business, whether a freelancer or a 30-person agency. Below I’ve listed a couple of points around what you should be asking your potential SEO provider, and a few ways to weed out the less than reputable amongst us. This post should also show you that we’re not all the Del Boy’s of the digital world…
- Strategy Is Everything
An introductory strategy at the initial stages of contact should be expected, but don’t expect the provider to give away everything for free. Typically, you should at least expect to see a top-level overview of the current performance of your website, a brief analysis of competitors and tasks which are of a top priority to action once the work begins.
Anything that seems too generic, probably is. Let’s look at a common task that we would start with on a new client… a website audit. Just saying “we’ll do you an audit of your website” is not enough, we need to justify why your website needs that specific task in the first place. Has the site been hit by a manual penalty? Are you migrating platforms and don’t want anything to be lost in the migration process? Are you worried that there’s something holding your site back?
Doing tasks for the sake of doing tasks just won’t cut it. You need to know whythese tasks are being outlined, and you’re right to question why.
2. SEO… and?
If you’re paying a premium for SEO services, you should expect that the very definition of the managed SEO service does not just include SEO in the simplest sense.
Google has forced SEO’s to become marketers, brand builders and crafters of authority for their clients, and it takes an integrated approach to do so.
Your chosen SEO provider should also be working on digital PR, copywriting, analytics and the technical aspects of SEO to ensure your site is getting the continued analysis it needs to grow in the SERP’s.
Anything less is, in my opinion, just SEO consultancy. Which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for, but it won’t get you as far as an integrated strategy. Look at the world of digital PR for example, your competitors websites and the links they have pointing to them. How did they get quality features? You can bet that the legitimate sites have some kind of digital PR work going on behind the scenes.
Anyone can buy you a sponsored post. Anyone can get you a guest post. It’s the integrated SEO and digital PR approach that does incredibly well in securing, relevant, high-authority features that your competition cannot get.
3. Seems a bit expensive? Good.
This gives you more of an excuse to pry. If you’re looking for a fully managed SEO service, consider the expense behind developing this kind of a strategy and maintaining it. Many freelancers will suggest more of a consultancy-lead approach to keep prices low, as proper outreach and link building doesn’t come cheap.
This is great if your website already has a strong domain authority, and already has a good amount of links and traffic before starting a campaign. Otherwise, if you know that getting seen online will drive a positive ROI for your SEO investment, then it’s worth going for a justifiably expensive option.
This is why many agencies can provide a ‘full-service’ approach, but needless to say the monthly management price will reflect that!
For example, I run a remote team of UK-based freelancers (alongside my own SEO services) and below are just a few of my recurring expenses:
- Digital PR — I don’t have a little black book of media contacts. Even with tools and journalist resources, the likelihood of getting a reply from a national press journalist is slim. And link building at scale is much more effective when you have someone that does. And it works wonders (especially with a remote team).
- Copywriting — Resources, blogs, product content, category copy, internal link development… The list goes on, and it should be a continuous list at that.
- Tools! Enough said…
However. You could just be talking to an agency or freelancer with sky-high, unjustifiable prices (rare, but always worth considering), so consider asking the below to get more of an idea about where your monthly fee is going:
- How many hours/days will you be working on my website?
- What will this work look like (the more detailed the breakdown, the better)?
- Do you have a team or utilise freelancers (fairly obvious if you’re speaking to an agency or a freelancer)? If so, what kinds of services will they be working on as part of the monthly strategy?
- Is there a link building budget included within my fee, or will this be an additional cost?
Let’s be honest… Any reputable agency or freelancer will have told you this already, so really there should be no worries here.
An overview of the types of tasks you’ll see as part of a monthly managed SEO strategy
This is a bit of a generalisation, and will massively vary based on both the side of your business and team, and that of your chosen SEO provider. But, for the sake of this post, let’s look at a few of the mainstays in any SEO plan that you should expect to see:
- Weekly site crawls & technical SEO health-checks
- Copywriting and content creation
- Link building
- On-page SEO development & recommendations
- Link auditing
Briefing your chosen provider
SEO is no longer done by buying a bunch of directory backlinks and writing keyword spam. This seems obvious, but many business owners often miss the mark on what SEO actually is, particularly in 2019 where just writing content and hoping for the best doesn’t cut it in the eyes of Google. Here’s what you need to know:
- It’s not instant — This isn’t a lie, I’ve had business owners ringing me pissed off after 24 hours because they were not at “the top of the Google” for their chosen keywords. Even the best spammers in the world would struggle with this, and if someones tells you any rankings in SEO are instant then it’s simply not true.
- SEO builds authority — Becoming an authority in your sector or niche is the most natural way to see your organic visibility grow. As you produce quality content, gain natural backlinks and ultimately put out resources that are useful, you will be rewarded. An integrated strategy works best (there’s no use relying on one of the above points and just hoping for the best).
- Dips Happen — This is very niche-dependant, especially if you’re running a website that is dominated by spammers online. But, ultimately there will always be some degree of fluctuation in the results pages. When it happens, your SEO provider should let you know and, if the keywords are profit-drivers, the dips should be immediately addressed.
Hopefully this post will help you out when either looking for SEO services, or when considering to go with your chosen provider. We as SEO’s also need to readdress how we sell SEO… It’s not about selling the lone service anymore, it’s about an integrated approach across digital disciplines to build authority and a reputable online presence for our clients.
But that’s a post for another day…