When looking to invest in online marketing or web development for your business, it is important that you receive the best service and end product possible. While there are many good businesses out there dedicated to providing you with a quality product at a fair cost, there are countless others notorious for offering the moon and then reneging on promises after taking payment for services that will never be rendered. In our business dealings, we regularly hear online marketing horror stories from our clients where previous SEO companies failed to achieve decent rankings for their site, over-charged them for services, or even harmed their sites rankings through poor practices. Given that it can take months to correct these problems, it is important that you find an SEO agency dedicated to serving your needs while also representing your business as well as possible to achieve both contentment with their product and financial success for your business.
This guide was conceived as a means to help you spot the truly decent, hard-working online marketing companies who will provide solid results for your business. We have provided some questions below to ask yourself when consulting with SEO agencies so you can better predict whether their services will achieve the results you are looking for.
- What does an effective SEO campaign entail?
Any SEO company worth their salt will make some reference to the following items as important factors of any SEO campaign:
- Connections (links) with high-quality, authoritative and relevant websites
- Website registration and citation campaigns
- Slow and steady, lasting results that will not backfire on your website in the future
- Manual approach (as opposed to automated approach) to work being done on your website
- Unique content created by professional writers
- Absolutely NO auto-generated content
They might also make reference to press releases, video promotions, social media marketing or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing. These are generally secondary marketing options in the grand scheme of things, but they suggest a well-conceived and professional SEO company that has experience in every facet of the industry. It is a good idea to ask whether the company offers these services “in-house” or whether they sub-contract these services out to other companies.
- How much does an effective SEO campaign cost?
There is no all-encompassing answer to this question. Each and every SEO campaign must be tailored to your specific business needs. That being said, there are general rules when it comes to pricing out your online marketing needs. To one degree or another, the price depends on the following factors:
- Keyword selection
- Level of keyword and market niche competition
- Geographical scope of the marketing campaign
- Man-hours involved to achieve results
- Time frame of the SEO campaign and results
- Cost of content
- Additional charges for programs or sub-contracting needs
There is no formula for determining the cost of your online marketing campaign. As a theoretical example, however, a well-structured national campaign for a list of medium-competition keywords might run anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per month or more, depending on your market niche and major competitors. Online marketing can be an expensive business decision, and must be considered in the light of profit margins, or returns on investment (ROI’s) before you go ahead with a binding contract.
- How long will it take to see results from my SEO campaign?
There is no definitive formula for tracking the completion of goals for an SEO campaign. That being said, a reasonable time frame for acceptable results is generally somewhere between 4 and 8 months after initialization. Some companies are capable of achieving noticeable results within 3 months, while others take a long-term approach and achieve your goals over the course of 6 to 8 months. The thing to remember is that online marketing is a slow and steady process geared towards producing long-term, repetitive positive results. There are no “quick fixes” when it comes to promoting your business through online methods.
- What are the hallmarks of a professional SEO company?
We have listed some questions below to help you choose an SEO company geared towards your specific needs. If your prospective SEO company fails to answer any of these questions to your satisfaction, it should be treated as a red flag during further consideration. At the end of the day, you want the company representing your online business interests in a professional, thorough and efficient manner.
- How quick are they to quote you a price?
If a company is able to price out a project immediately after you contact them, they should be treated with suspicion. At the very least, they should conduct preliminary research on your business niche, your preferred keywords and asked for specific goals you wish to accomplish (greater traffic, conversions, brand awareness, etc.). If they are quoting a price before getting to understand your needs, they are probably best avoided.
- Have they done research on your business niche?
If an SEO company cannot tell you a bit about your business niche in the online marketing world, then they are probably a poor choice to represent your company in the future. They should at least be able to provide you with keywords specific to your business niche, expected levels of traffic they can gain for your website, and prospective ROI’s based on the degree of service you are requesting.
- Are they focused on your specific goals and needs?
It goes without saying that a professional marketing company should be focused on their customer’s needs first. They should start by setting up a list of realistic goals and objectives with you before producing an overview of the services they believe would be useful for you to use in order to build up your website (through traffic, domain authority, conversion rates or brand awareness).
- Are they open about on-site SEO alterations that must be made to your website?
As with any professional service, your SEO specialists should be able to explain their process both in detail and in “layman’s terms”. This suggests that they not only know their industry inside and out, but that they are capable of interacting with you in a way you understand, keeping their activity transparent. While most companies will insist on a privacy agreement protecting their interests before they begin work, this does not mean that you should be kept in the dark with regards to what they are changing on your site.
- Do they promise “too much”?
While it might sound good to be promised the moon, read between the lines when it comes to discussing business with your prospective SEO. Remember the golden rule of business: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the company is promising a cheap rate for SEO, with a quick turn-around time and enormous ROI, all while promising sweeping changes to your website, it is best to err on the side of caution. No professional company will ever make promises they cannot keep.
- What is their time frame?
Related to the above point, if the company promises quick results, there are good odds that they will be employing questionable SEO practices in order to achieve your goals. In the short term, these results might seem exceptional. However, as search engines become aware of the problematic behavior of your website, they will institute penalties that can negate your gains or even leave your website in tatters. Remember that SEO is a time-consuming and labor-intensive industry which takes time to come to fruition.
- Do they mention a “maintenance campaign” for after you achieve your stated goals?
The unspoken corollary of any effective SEO campaign is to understand that after your goals and objectives are achieved, you must make a consistent (though less intense) effort to maintain them. Any professional SEO company will have a plan for maintaining your hard-won rankings and traffic after you have gained them, and this should be discussed well before they begin working on your site directly.
- How much of their vocabulary is dominated by “buzz words”?
Every industry contains “buzz words” that are useful in describing a general concept or idea, but fail to lend substance to the conversation at hand. It is all well and good for a company to use the words “traffic increases”, “better conversions” or “brand awareness”, but if they do not expand on these ideas by explaining how they intend to achieve them, they remain words on a page instead of concepts that will help you expand your business. Most professional SEO companies will spend some time determining whether you prefer in-depth reviews or “layman’s terms” when it comes to explaining the work they are doing for you. They will then alter their statements to reflect your preferences. Stay away from companies that rely on generalizations to get their point across.
- Are they a registered business? Is it easy for you to contact them?
It is relatively easy to determine whether a company is legitimately registered as an SEO business. Regular contact is part of the SEO process and you should expect swift replies (24 hours is the accepted maximum) to any questions and concerns you have.
- Do they have a legally bound contract for you to sign before work begins?
Any company that operates without a legally-binding contract is bad news. You should each be clear on your respective responsibilities well before any work is begun. A well-conceived contract will address:
- Goals and objectives
- Time frame of work
- Cost of work
- Responsibilities of client and SEO
- Limitations and disclaimers
- Strategy to achieve stated goals and objectives
There may be other factors involved if your SEO company is also responsible for content creation, press releases or web development. These should be considered if they are factors in your business relationship.
- Is “No” a part of their vocabulary?
While it does not sound like a truly beneficial point, any professional business will know exactly what they are capable of and what they cannot do. If your SEO simply does not say “no” to any of your requests, this can be because they are the most truly gifted SEO on the planet, or it might mean that they are leading you on with false promises. In our experience, the latter tends to be the case. That being said, they should attempt to take your points under consideration and do their best to address your concerns in a manner that is acceptable to you. They should be able to adjust your requests in a way that both satisfies your needs and does not compromise your SEO campaign.
- Are their prices realistic?
As with most business decisions, cost is a primary factor in determining whether a solution is attainable in the long-term. Understand that online marketing is both costly and labor-intensive and therefore can seem like quite an investment of capital. You should expect a considerable ROI from effective online marketing, and your SEO costs should reflect this. For example, a monthly bill of $2,000 is a small price to pay if their work is likely to bring you $5,000 to $10,000 in business. A professional SEO business should be able to quote you generally accepted industry costs of services they offer, and should explain why their prices are higher or lower if they differ by a significant degree from those industry standards. Remember, if your SEO is quoting prices far below the industry standard there are good odds that they are either cutting corners or performing poor SEO practices which can hurt your website in the long term.
At the end of the day, you are allowing an online marketing company to represent your business on the web and should expect professionalism and a personalized approach. The company you choose should reflect your business and should make some attempt to customized their strategies to your needs. A well-conceived business strategy put into practice by a professional company at a slightly higher cost than industry average is definitely preferable to a secretive strategy implemented by a shady organization for an extremely low rate. If you take nothing else from this article, remember this: It is better to have no SEO than to have poor SEO work done on your website.