There’s no shortcut to good search engine optimization (SEO) — but the right agency can help create a strategy that will have a lasting positive impact on your brand.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What questions to ask a prospective SEO agency
  • How to set realistic expectations
  • A few agency red flags to look for
  • Why aligning on core values is key

Rubik’s Cubes. The Saturday New York Times crossword. Creating a viral TikTok when you’re over 30 years old. These are all things that can be hard to master. 

If you’re stuck on page 20 of search engine results pages (SERPs), maybe the same can be said for your company’s SEO.

The good news: Partnering with an SEO agency can change all that by helping increase your visibility in search results, boost your credibility, and more. But before you sign on the (virtual) dotted line, keep these success secrets in mind.

1. Know your SEO goals

First things first: before you go through the process of connecting and vetting SEO agencies, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re up to speed on where SEO practices stand today. 

The industry is evolving rapidly, so even if you’re familiar with the concept of SEO, there could be a development or two you’ve missed.

Having a firm grasp on the latest SEO methods that are most used today will help you be better prepared to set proper goals, ask all the right questions, and know what to focus on when optimizing your site and content.

person writing and working at laptop

Multiple factors determine good SEO, and search engine algorithms constantly change with little to no warning.  (Image via Unsplash)

2. Prepare for a full site and strategy audit

Before a consultation, many agencies will perform a brief SEO audit of your website. This gives them a clearer idea of where your company currently stands. A typical SEO audit will pinpoint things like:

  • Site structure issues
  • User experience (UX) issues
  • Content gaps
  • On-page and off-site issues

The depth of the audit will depend on a few things, including the size of your business and how much content you have. As a result, depending on how familiar you are with your site’s SEO, you may want to discuss internally with your team ahead of a consultation. 

This way, you can determine things like:

  • How SEO is currently being implemented
  • What SEO processes are currently in place (if any)
  • How SEO is currently being tracked and measured
  • If an SEO audit has ever been conducted in the past

3. Set realistic expectations

Alright: this success secret is a big one:

If an agency tells you they can get you from page 42 of Google to page 1 quickly, run

Sure, best practices can be implemented relatively swiftly, but to see real results? That takes time. The reasons mainly boil down to the fact that multiple factors determine good SEO, and search engine algorithms constantly change with little to no warning. 

As SEMrush reports, SEO often takes anywhere from 6-12 months or so to start showing real results.

There’s no shortcut to building an authoritative brand with high-quality content. You can set measurable goals, but it’s a consistent practice, not a one-and-done task. A good agency will be upfront about that.

Pro tip: While building up SEO takes time, a seasoned SEO agency should be able to offer you a few quick wins right off the bat unless you’re doing everything absolutely right. (In which case, pat yourself on the back!)

4. Ask to see case studies, stats, or testimonials

A good agency will tell you how amazing they are. A great agency will show you, with stats and testimonials to back them up. 

During the vetting process, don’t be afraid to ask about references, case studies, or stats garnered through past SEO work. You can also do your own independent research and check out any public reviews the company has on review sites or its social media pages, for added context.

Interested in how HawkSEM can take your SEO to the next level? Request a consultation here.

open sign

You can get a sense of a company’s values by posing questions like, “What would past clients say about you?” (Image via Unsplash)

5. Understand their values and process

This success secret may not seem as important as the others, but it’s on this list for a reason. Finding an agency with core values that are similar to your own can be a helpful indicator in determining if a partnership will be successful.

In addition to straight-up asking them, you can get a sense of a company’s culture or values by seeing how they talk about themselves on their website and posing questions like, “How do you describe your company in one sentence?” or “What would past clients say about you?”

But just because SEO takes time doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a clear, actionable plan in place. Don’t be afraid to ask for details when it comes to their SEO process. They should have a good roster of specific steps they take. 

Looking to up your SEO game? Check out our guide: 10 Quick Tips to Improve Your SEO Today.

6. Make sure pricing is clear

When partnering with an SEO agency, as in most other business cases, you get what you pay for. That means that if a company promises the moon and stars for a rock-bottom price, it may be too good to be true. 

These agencies often employ “black hat” or shady tactics, which can actually end up hurting your SEO rankings.

When looking at pricing, you want to be clear on what’s included in the SEO agency’s rate. Some may simply optimize your site and content or provide recommendations for your developer and marketing team to carry out. 

Others will take the time to understand your goals, help you create a targeted keyword list, and write optimized content for you. Ideally, they’ll also work closely with you to implement their recommendations.

Pro tip: Communication style is another key thing on which both of your teams should be aligned. Make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to how you’ll be communicating (via emails, video calls, Slack, etc.) and how often you’ll be doing check-ins or status updates.

7. Remember: It’s a partnership

Sure, you’re partnering with SEO experts because you want them to take the reins and ensure your business is performing the best it can in search engine rankings. But it’s still a partnership.

The most effective SEO agency partnership will include plenty of involvement on your side — to the benefit of your overall brand.

Once you figure out a solid communication style and cadence, align on goals, and put a strong plan in place, regularly scheduled calls or check-ins are a great way to keep everyone on the same page.

The takeaway

A well-rounded SEO agency can be a game-changer when it comes to growing awareness and exposure for your business. The above tips will help you feel confident when entering into a partnership with an agency.

This article has been updated and was originally published in October 2019.

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