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Hiring a SEO Agency? 45+ Experts Weigh In On What to Look For and Avoid!

Hiring a SEO Agency? 45+ Experts Weigh In On What to Look For and Avoid!

You’re reading this because you’re interested in hiring a top SEO agency that can exceed your company’s marketing KPI’s.

Look no further, we’ve outlined practical tips and actionable insights for selecting the right search engine optimization company.

We’ve asked 45+ of the best SEO agency owners across the globe their input on the topic:

What should in-house marketers look for when hiring a SEO agency and what should they avoid at all costs?

Enjoy the answers and feel free to share the post across your social channels. And, if you are looking to hire a SEO agency, please do not hesitate to contact us and receieve a free search assessment!




James Reynolds James Reynolds

~ Dubai-based entrepreneur. I tweet about #marketing #seo and #business – Contributor to @Entrepreneur and @GulfBusiness

Veravo.com // Twitter

Here are several things client’s and in-house marketers should look for when hiring an SEO agency.

I’ll start with the things to avoid:

Excessively long or short service agreements

Short contracts encourage tactics that will likely be detrimental to a site’s long-term health. Long contracts are mostly employed by agencies who are never going to get you a result, no matter how long you give them (which is exactly why they use them).

I recommend service agreements of around 6 months, by which time you should be seeing significant improvements regardless of where your website starts.

Going cheap

I often hear business owners say “I’ll go with the cheapest option and if it doesn’t work out , I won’t have lost much. I can upgrade to a better supplier later.”

Unfortunately, the cheaper end suppliers are forced to take shortcuts, like buying links from ‘fiverr.com’, or using link farms or automation scripts. The repercussions of such could be catastrophic for your website.

Ranking guarantees

Despite the fact no-one can be sure of getting a number one ranking for your business, many SEO providers do offer it. Ranking guarantees are not only unethical but they are also dangerous.

Most SEO guarantees I’ve seen state a specific (high) result in a short span of time (months) which encourages shady crash and burn SEO. For more on this, check out this post on SEO guarantees and why you should avoid them.


When you stay clear of these things you will be well set. Now let’s turn our attention to the things you should look for:

Proven results over long periods

The best way to know how an agency has performed in the past is to speak with their current and past customers.

Ask them how their experience was, and what results were achieved. You should call several clients, relying on the opinion of one will not provide an accurate assessment.

Dedicated research and development

SEO as we know it is an ever changing landscape. I strongly recommend you work with an agency who has a dedicated resource and development department team.

The R&D’s job is to monitor changes in the algorithm and tests various scenarios in order to maximize your results.

Sizeable client base

An agency with many clients has access to more data and learning than an agency with just a few clients.

Exposure to many websites and markets (along with the experience that comes from that) gives an agency an advantage. That said, make sure they have the resources such as people, processes, and infrastructure to handle a large volume of customers.

For more on this topic, I created this infographic that explains some of the steps you should go through when selecting an SEO agency.



Chris Dreyer Chris Dreyer

~ #SEO specialist and CEO of http://www.attorneyrankings.org

AttorneyRankings.org // Twitter

Niche Expertise

Example: If you’re an attorney, is the agency you’re looking to hire familiar with the legal industry?

Do they know the ins and outs in regards to how to successfully promote a law firm?

No matter the industry, you should look for an agency that has expertise in your sector. They know how to leverage assets that other generalized law firms do not.

Also, by working in only one industry it’s easier to identify what works and what doesn’t. These can be determined with time but time is money and time should ultimately be utilized as much as possible for promotion.

Go with someone that already knows how to market successfully for your business.

Social Proof, Testimonials, Reviews and Case Studies

When someone is looking to hire you to help them, this is a transfer of trust.  They need to be able to trust you and your methods to get them to the end result.

Take a look at the bios and read them, do they have the experience to do the job well?  Read their testimonials and investigate yourself to see if those clients are ranking well and have visibility.

Also, be sure to read the reviews from 3rd party sites like Yelp, Facebook, Google, BBB.org, etc.

Lastly, do they have case studies you can read to get in the mindset of the agency so that you can get a feel for how they work and if this process is something that you feel would be beneficial to your organization?

Communication & Deliverables

Ask questions about how they communicate progress.

Do they provide deliverables, answer emails within 24 hours, have an assigned dedicated account manager, do they use project management like asana or basecamp, do they have a timeline and deliverables for transparency?

Do they have a plan? How do they execute it?

Measure Success

Trust is lost when the client is in the dark with what’s going on. They may be getting amazing results but there has to be a set method of measuring success.

There are many methods of accomplishing this but they need to be determined at the beginning of the campaign. Take baseline reports so that you can hold the agency you hire accountable for delivering results.


davidjenyns David Jenyns

~ Founder of http://melbourneSEOservices.com , http://MelbourneVideoProduction.com.au , http://AuthorityContent.com and http://SystemHUB.com

MelbourneSeoServices.com // Twitter

Here are my top considerations to think about when hiring an SEO agency:

#1. Experience and reputation.

It’s true, bad SEO can hurt you and since your website is the most important asset within your business, choose wisely! Take your time, do your research, ask for referrals, look for reviews and ensure they’re their own best example.

#2. Transparent & happy to share.

Look for an SEO that will help train you and your team so that you can bring some of the core activities back in house.

This helps to ensure your content remains on brand and everything is done as cost effectively as possible. As your team’s knowledge grows, they’ll ask better questions, provide better support for you SEO and get better results.

#3. Avoid contracts.

It’s typically a red flag if an SEO is looking to tie you and your company into a long term contract.

I believe SEOs should be performance based and you should only want to continue working with them because they provide good value… not because you’re locked into some contract.

#4. Regular, if not weekly, updates.

Your SEO should be able to provide you clear, transparent documentation as to what they’re working on.

Don’t just wait for your monthly report to see a data dump of your Google Analytics account.

Ask for links, examples and documentation… if they’re running a good operation they should be able to provide regular updates.

#5. Trust your gut.

Often times you get a “gut feeling” if someone knows their stuff and is helpful and honest. If an SEO exhibits all of the the previous points mentioned and you get a good feeling about them… trust your gut!


Brock Murray Brock Murray

~ Entrepreneur & Digital Marketing Specialist @seopluscanada

SeoPlus.ca // Twitter

When hiring an SEO company, the biggest thing to look for is a transparent process, concrete deliverables, and clear expectations.

Any company worth working with should be able to clearly explain their process and what actions they will take to improve your search engine rankings.

They should also be able to demonstrate and explain the work that has been done so far at any checkpoint you request.

SEO is an on-going process and requires many adjustments, constant monitoring, and a lot of hard work.

This transparency holds the agency accountable for the work and ensures that the primary objectives remain front and centre.

Do not trust a company that promises too-good-to-be-true results with no plan of how to deliver them.

Otherwise, not only do you have no guarantee of results, you may even be penalized for black hat techniques that the company took to secure results unethically.

The last thing you want with SEO is to be left in a worse position than where you started, because penalties are very difficult to recover from.

There are far too many agencies out there who will promise anything in a bid to secure a contract, with no plan of action or intention of ever delivering. Avoid such agencies at all costs.


Chris Burgess Chris Burgess

~ Passionate tech geek. Co-founder of Melbourne-based digital agency http://Clickify.com , @marketingcomau, and WordPress Editor at @sitepointdotcom

ChrisBurgess.com.au // Twitter

Some of the things to look for would be an agency that wants to understand your business and objectives, combined with a good mix of experience, honesty and transparency.

Excellent communication skills are also critical, since this will lay the foundations for a solid long term working relationship.

You want to find people you enjoy working with, who want to understand your needs and where both parties push themselves to always do better. That’s when the real magic happens.

When hiring an agency, avoid anyone that feels “spammy” and doesn’t clearly explain the type of work they do.

Spam is a major issue for search engines, as well as the digital marketing industry as a whole, and there are still a large number of agencies that don’t follow best practice.

High risk strategies and tactics can hurt your marketing efforts, be wary of those that focus too much on outdated terms such as blog commenting, private blog networks (PBNs) and social bookmarking – anything that feels unnatural or that could be automated.

These activities are not only ineffective, but can also cause penalties.

Some other red flags to look for are agencies that promise guaranteed results, especially without truly understanding your unique business goals and challenges.

When it comes to succeeding online, the bar is constantly being raised. Low quality work and outdated practices will hinder your marketing efforts, so find good people.

Seek recommendations from other businesses you know of who are already working with an SEO agency. There are plenty of agencies that do great work, so take the extra time to find them.


DEJAN Dan Petrovic

~ Australian Search Marketer

DejanSeo.com.au // Twitter

In-house marketers should consider what they’re trying to achieve.

If they’re under pressure to perform quickly and their management is willing to take the risks then a sound business decision might be to go with a more aggressive SEO company.

They tend to offer guarantees, may use unsafe, risky tactics or short-term benefit practices. Some of them actually bring good results. The risk is moderate though.

In all other cases my recommendation is to understand the company and their process and see if it makes good sense.

For example whether they make their decisions strategically, based on data and logic or act on a “piñata marketing” level, blind to data, whacking around hoping to hit targets at random.

Secondly it’s good to set goals, but remember that goals are something to aim for, and not something to get upset about if it wasn’t met 100%. Understand the reasons behind both success and failure.

Lastly, speak to the people that will be working on your campaign and communicating with you on a regular basis. Do you like them?

Can you communicate effectively? A company is only as good as its people so make sure you can get a long with the people that will be working on your campaign.


Casey Meraz Casey Meraz

~ Founder of Juris Digital & Ethical SEO Consulting. Moz Ranking Factors, Local Search Top Contributor, Author, Speaker #SMX #Stateofsearch #bigdigitaladl

EthicalSeoConsulting.com // Twitter

Over the years I have worked with a lot of in house relationships and have also heard the horror stories clients have told me.

When an in house marketing team is looking to hire an in house agency it’s important first and foremost that they mesh and the communication is solid between the teams.

If you have trouble communicating during the sales or on-boarding process that’s probably a red flag  that means trouble down the road. You need to like who you’re working with and feel 100% confident working with them.

Once the trust and communication is there it boils down to KPI’s and expectations.

In house marketers need to have a clearly defined goal instead of a broad one and hold their agency partner accountable to the milestones and KPI’s.

No matter what the relationship seems like at the beginning if there are not clearly defined goals and the agency isn’t willing to work with you to define those or be held accountable for them, then run for the hills.


Jake Bohall

~ Technical SEO | Link Development | Google Penalty Recovery | Search Marketing Strategies | VP at http://Angular.Marketing (Formerly Virante)

Angular.marketing // Twiter

Overall, I think the biggest thing a marketer should look for is a company that seems to have a deep understanding of your issues and can quickly provide and relate potential solutions based on past experience.

Things like being Moz recommended, having an A+ BBB rating, etc.. is should be common sense, but engaging with an SEO that easily understands your problems and can help you solve them is most important, especially as SEO becomes more specialized in different areas, you need an SEO that is an expert in topics related to your needs.

The biggest thing to avoid will always be companies that guarantee top rankings, don’t have an established presence in the search community (speakers, contributors on moz, etc.), and provide strategy recommendations without having knowledge of your prior SEO efforts or having reviewed analytics and search console data.

Ask the company about their ethics policies and the type of companies they work with.  You don’t want a company that seems “greedy” for clients, but one that has passion or interest in your products or services.


James Norquay James Norquay

~ SEO & Content Marketing Consulting Director from Sydney Australia. Work with Big Brands, Funded Startups and B2B’s to drive huge growth online.

ProsperityMedia.com.au // Twitter

If you are an in-house marketing team picking an SEO company you need to look for the following things –

Some positive signs (How we do business)

1. 100% transparency on work completed – The agency need to show you 100% of the links acquired and work completed on a monthly basis.

2. Setting KPI’s – For organic search and sets goals for the business to track.

3. Strong industry specific case studies – Look for agencies who have experience in your niche.

4. Valid current testimonials – Look for agencies who have testimonials where you can call past clients and ask for a reference.

5. Ability/ knowledge to tackle technical and advanced SEO – Ensure you have a list of questions for your SEO agency to ensure they can tackle advanced areas of SEO.

6. An agency who works within Google Guidelines 

7. Passion – Is the agency passionate about SEO? Do they actively talk at industry events and conferences?! Do they produce GREAT blog content?

Some possible warning signs –

1. Agencies who will NOT show you the links they are building.

2. Agencies who lock clients in for a long term such as 12-24 months.

3. An agency who does not set up Google Search Console and Analytics at the start of the project.

4. Limited reporting only showing favourable data.

5. Anyone who guarantees a specific number of links each month.

6. Anyone who guarantees rankings is a warning sign.

7. Any agency who is difficult to get work from and has poor quality account management.

Additional information on picking an agency can be found here


jessicabowman Jessica Bowman

~ Enterprise-level SEO consultant, Specialize in SEO Strategy, Technical SEO & Evaluating Processes for SEO…Kick butt at Connect Four

SEOInHouse.com // Twitter

Obviously you have to find someone who is truly an expert, but beyond that, you need to ensure they’re going to identify the issues and tell you how to fix the issues in a document you can forward in your organization.

The reason this is important is that documents have legs.

When I was an SEO manager I received audits in PowerPoint that required a narration to understand – I couldn’t easily forward and when I couldn’t recall something, there was nothing to reference. It required us to use more consulting hours, thus eating up budget.

Now, when doing audits for clients I make sure that audits contain what the issue is and how to fix it, often with alternative options in case the recommendation is too complex for their world.

If you’re an organization that needs to do SEO in-house, you need deliverables that will:

(1) educate the entire organization on the issue

(2) tell them why the issue is a problem for search engines

(3) Itemize exactly how to fix it

(4) Give alternative options when the solution might be a too extensive or grandiose for your world.


John Doherty John Doherty

~ Founder of @getcredo. Growth marketer. @distilled/@zillow/@hotpads alum. Speaker. Husband. Kingdom follower. Caffeinated. Outdoorsman. Lab owner.

JohnFDoherty.com // Twitter

There are as many types of businesses as there are types of SEO. Therefore, what one company needs to grow their SEO traffic can vary.

There are three main things that businesses should look for when hiring an SEO agency, and three main “gotchas” off of those.

Complementary working style.

Most businesses don’t think about how they will communicate with their consultant or agency, and different people have different working styles.

If you like working 9-5 and unplug in the evenings and weekends, working with an agency that is emailing you all the time may become stressful for you.

Or if you appreciate quick email responses yet your agency takes two days to respond, then there may not be a good fit there.

At a minimum, ask the questions ahead of time how to best communicate and figure out how everyone gets what they need.

Experience with your type of website.

Because so many types of businesses exist, there are various SEO tactics and strategies that will work or not work depending on your site type and industry.

You should make sure that your agency or consultant has experience with sites of your type, both industry (eg fashion), size (eg small or large), and the technologies your website uses.

Services vs consulting.

Some agencies are “strategy” agencies in that they put together the strategy for you, in collaboration with your team, and then rely on your team to implement with their guidance.

Others are more “full service” and can not only put together the strategy but also execute on the work themselves instead of relying on your team to implement.

In order to know which type you need and how to ask the right questions, you first need to know if you have the ability and team internally to do the work or if you need your agency to do the work themselves.


Marcus Miller Marcus Miller

~ SEO Consultant specialising in technical SEO. Wearer of a silly hat. Husband, father of 3 kids. Lover of my family, board games, video games & the Rocky movies.

BowlerHat.co.uk // Twitter

It is always tough to answer these kind of questions in a general way. We often have very specific needs yet a very high level or general question.

Ultimately, when you are hiring an agency you have to ensure they are a good fit.

SEO in and of itself is a very umbrella term. If this is your first step into the world of SEO you need some consulting initially to know what is practical and achievable.

It’s all good and well thinking you want to rank for terms thrown at you by the board but is this achievable? If so in what time frame? Strategically is this correct?

No business wants SEO when it comes down to it – SEO is just a marketing tactic.

The business has a specific objective and the first job an SEO agency or consultant should do is determine how organic search can be used to help you achieve your goals.

If the agency has integrity, they will give feedback on if they think your goal would be best suited to social, paid search or some other activity.

Ultimately you want a proven agency that can demonstrate long-term results with similar projects and that operates with complete transparency – this should not be too much to ask.

Which of course leads us directly into what you should avoid, which is that there are plenty of agencies out there that will promise the world and never deliver the goods.

There is a whole spectrum of problems here from SEO agencies that have no real grasp of marketing strategy to those that are (still) using out of date and frankly dangerous strategies to rank your site.

All too often smaller agencies will fly a white hat / ethical SEO banner whilst focusing on strategies like PBNs that are easy to scale yet risky and clearly against Google’s guidelines and all too often can be easily labeled as a link scheme.

Somewhere in the middle, we have the graphic design agencies and the like that just bolt on SEO as an extra revenue stream and outsource it to the lowest quote.

There are so many problems with the link building side of things that really educating yourself as to how this should and should not work is just so, so important.

So in many ways who to hire and who to avoid are related. You are looking for an agency with a solid reputation. An agency that won’t use black hat strategies.

An agency that operates with complete transparency. An agency that has demonstrable experience and consultants who clearly walk SEO like they talk SEO.

Also, where possible, look for an agency led by someone known and respected within the industry which never hurts.

You then have to just map this to your own requirements – are you a big ecommerce firm that needs technical SEO? Are you a small business that needs local SEO?

Are you a national that needs digital PR and authority building?

Understand your requirements and do your homework and you won’t go far wrong.


Marie Haynes Marie Haynes

~ Completely obsessed about Google Penalties and algorithm changes…Penguin, Panda, Unnatural Links and diagnosing the reason for a site’s traffic drop.

MarieHaynes.com // Twitter

My work with sites that have been penalized or demoted by Google’s Penguin algorithm has shown me what happens when a company hires an ineffective SEO company.

Many times I have heard a business owner express regret that they did not do their research before hiring an SEO to help promote their business online.

I have a small handful of SEO companies and individuals that I personally trust to do good work. For those who are vetting out new companies, I give the following advice:

-Ask for references.

A good SEO company will have several businesses who are raving about them.

Don’t let them hide behind an NDA. With that said, I’d only ask for references once you get to the point of seriously considering hiring this company.

It takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the SEO company to get clients to give a reference.

-Ask them for examples of what they will do to help promote your site or perhaps what they have done to help other sites.

If the answer is filled with marketing speak but nothing concrete, that’s not a good sign. If they can’t give examples of links that they have obtained for other clients, then it’s possible that they are not getting links in Google-approved ways.

-Ask them what types of things they will do to improve your site’s quality.

If the company only focuses on links, that’s not a good sign. A good SEO has to be knowledgeable about what makes the site better overall as well.

-Ask them how they plan to communicate with you.

One of the biggest complaints that I hear about SEO companies is the lack of communication.

The other advice that I can give is to be patient. Good SEO takes time and you will likely not see significant results until they have been working for you for a few months.


 Ross Taylor

~ SEO and Internet Marketing services in the SF Bay Area and Dallas, TX. Tweets about SEO, Marketing, and Tech

Alamedaim.com // Twitter

My answers for an in-house marketer would be much the same for any business who wants to work with an SEO Agency.

Here are three quick points:

1.       Be very wary if they called you first. 99.9% of the so-called “SEO Experts” cold calling your business are going to end in a bad experience.

2.       Claims of “Google Certified” or “Google Partnerships” refer only to the Google AdWords service. No SEO agency has a special relationship with Google to help you in organic search.

If an agency calls themselves a “data provider for Google”, avoid at all costs.

3.       Do they take their own medicine? Look to see how the agency ranks themselves. SEO is a competitive space, so make sure they have a decent rank in their home city at least.

Can you find reviews or mentions of them online on independent review sites? Look at their Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds. If their updates are sparse or unrelated to their business, you don’t want to work with them.


rjonesx Russell Jones

~ I love my wife Morgan and daughters Claren, Aven and Ellis, I do SEO, I’m a twin, a Christian and a Democrat

Moz.com // Twitter

1. What to look for:

– Thought leadership: Read their blogs and their community interaction to see if they are ahead of the curve.

– Upfront Risk Assessment: The agency should tell you the risk in each tactic/strategy they propose.

– Previous Client Recommendation: Ask them to speak to a previous client of theirs, not a current one, for a recommendation. This will allow you to hear from someone who has been through the whole process with the agency.

2. What to avoid:

– Avoid any company that claims to have a special relationship with Google

– Avoid any company that guarantees rankings (even if they cracked Google’s algorithm, there are competitors to deal with).

– Avoid any company that won’t show you the links they build for you.


Shari Thurow Shari Thurow

~ Search & findability geek; information architect; website usability, UX, & search-engine friendly design pro; love London but Iceland ROCKS!!!

Search-Usability.com // Twitter

(1) Remember that SEO is optimizing for people who use search engines. SEO is not optimizing for search engines only.

If the consultants at the SEO firm are overly focused on the technical aspects of SEO, then I would not hire that firm.

(2) Don’t be swayed by a confident sales pitch. Even the best SEO experts do not know what “the” algorithms are. I, personally, have listened to many of my colleagues’ claims about algorithm knowledge.

They are misguided (and even wrong) more often than not.

If you need to hire an SEO agency to help you with algorithm recovery (i.e. losing web traffic due to an alleged algorithm change), that is a different story.

If an SEO agency had done its job properly, then any algorithm change would have little or no effect on website traffic. If the SEO agency was the cause of that traffic drop? Then you are wasting your money on an agency that engages in cat-and-mouse games.

You want to work with an agency that understands searchers and search experience optimization (SXO).

You want to work with an agency that also understands the evolution of search technology. Often, the agency will have a team of experts. Make sure that knowledge base is in the agency’s team.

(3) SEO pros should work well with other teams. Good SEO experts are often hybrids in terms of web knowledge.

The most common SEO hybrid is an SEO/developer. This group of people are web developers who also have SEO knowledge.

Most of their knowledge is technology based. If your website has technical issues, this is a good type of SEO hybrid to work with.

However, please be aware that technical SEOs often lack knowledge, education, and experience in other areas such as:

  • Information architecture
  • Navigation systems and design
  • Usability and UX (user experience)

You might find that the agency’s team also has an SEO/UX hybrid. This hybrid is not as common as the other SEO hybrid, but it is a very valuable role. The goal of an ecommerce site is to sell.

The SEO/developer hybrid might know technical ranking factors, but he/she might not know how to appeal to both search engines and buyers.

The SEO/UX hybrid should have knowledge of how users interact with a website. How does the target audience locate and discover desired information?

What are target audience’s main goals and how do they complete them? What are common roadblocks? What are common indicators of trust?

The SEO/UX hybrid should know the answers to all of these questions and know the usability tests to conduct to learn those answers.

Quick tip: If the main tests the SEO agency conducts is A/B tests, then I do not recommending hiring that SEO agency. One of A/B testing’s main weaknesses is that it provides only a short-term picture of users’ initial behaviors.

Businesses and organizations should understand users’ short-term and long-term behaviors. Supplementing A/B tests with qualitative tests gives a fuller, and more accurate, picture of user goals and behaviors.

Usability is a part of UX. An SEO/UX hybrid should understand the usability part of SEO.

(See Peter Morville’s searcher experience honeycomb here)

The SEO agency’s should have a thorough knowledge base to work well with your sales, marketing, technical, design, and UX teams. An effective website is usually the result of team efforts. Make sure you have a great team.


Joel Widmer Joel Widmer

~ I help thought leaders create amazing content. http://bit.ly/fluxe-blog

FluxeDigitalMarketing.com // Twitter

Hiring an SEO agency isn’t just about getting backlinks to your site anymore. Of course you can still do that but it won’t keep you at the top for long. Additionally you must look at these 3 things:

Backlink quality & relevancy – Not all backlinks are created equal – far from it. Ask for examples of backlinks the SEO agency will get for your site.

The backlinks should always have a higher domain authority and be from websites that are complimentary to your industry.

Another good thing to do is ask them for a few of their clients and URLs and put those into a tool like Ahrefs.com or Moz.com to see what backlinks they actually got for their clients and if they’re quality.

If you see a majority of subpar directories and random forums backlink to their site, avoid them at all cost.

Metrics and deliverables – The dirty secret most average SEO agencies have, is they lock you into a long contract, do 80% of the work in the first two months and virtually nothing in the months thereafter.

To avoid that, ask for a sample of a monthly client metrics report. Do they define keywords and track them showing progress? Do they keep the client updated on deliverables? What are those deliverables?

The biggest thing to look out for is if they are task-based or outcome-based. Task based SEO’s will give you a list of things they do each month such as “submit your site to 10 local directories and optimize 5 pages of your website”.

Those are fine but there is zero accountability for the SEO agency. Avoid those at all cost.

Instead look for outcome-based SEO’s who set deliverables based on your goals. Say it’s ranking for a few key phrases, a good SEO will give you specific metrics related to that and keep you updated on progress each month.

Integration with your in-house marketing team – How will your SEO agency work with your existing marketing efforts? Look for agencies that are interested in working with your marketing team to amplify your current strategies.

SEO and marketing are not separate strategies and should not be treated in silos. If they don’t care about what you’re doing, chances are they are task-based and mediocre and will do more harm than good.


Brandon Doyle Brandon Doyle

~ I love my family, bologna, oreos, marketing, travel, TV, wallaroos, SEO, startups, sports, & stocks. Founder of @wallaroomedia

WallarooMedia.com // Twitter

Hiring an SEO agency can be tough. If they have pre-made pricing, stay away. That shows lack of knowledge, minimal research, and no commitment.

Every client is different and every SEO package should be customized.

You should be looking for a tailored, unique approach to your business! Also, ask the agency some questions that will force them to do in-depth research in order to provide you with good answers.

That way, you’ll really know if they care about you as a client.


Carrie Hill Carrie Hill

~ I’m passionate about search, social media, and Schema Markup! Tweet me to talk about it!

IgnitorDigital.com // Twitter

I’d say look for someone who has a proven track record, will give you references, comes recommended, understands your role/limitations as an in-house liason, and keeps on top of emerging trends and technologies.

Stay away from anyone who uses the word “guarantee.”


Glen Allsopp Glen Allsopp

~ I run a number of successful niche-focused online marketing agencies and provide solutions for others to build their own.

viperchill.com // Twitter

My answer would be:

If they guarantee any kind of results, find another SEO company.

If they talk about having some connection with Google, find another SEO company.


Sean Smith Sean Smith

~ Co-founder & COO @SimpleTiger & @CleanCanvasCo. Marketer, wordie, design & adrenaline junkie, cinephile, caffeine craver, fitness fanatic, husband, very happy.

SimpleTiger.com // Twitter

In-house marketers should really look to hire an agency that both leverages the capabilities and assets of the in-house team, while also autonomously add to the team themselves.

Agencies that try to do everything without getting help from the ground-level in-house team really kneecap their potential performance, while agencies who can’t do anything without the client’s input really struggle to have any results at all.

There has to be cooperation and coordination on both sides, and the agency that the in-house marketer hires should know and understand that.


 Tyson Downs

~ Online Marketing Consultant, Helping Dentists, Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants Grow Their Practice. Health care Web Design & #SEO Company owner.

TitanWebAgency.com // Twitter

When looking for an SEO or internet marketing company, you need to look for one that you can trust. It all starts with trust.

This means that as you search for an SEO company, you need to do your due diligence.

Check out the SEO company online in social media, and in Google searches. Look for reviews.

Ask if you can speak to any of their clients.

Read their blog posts.

Do they know what they are talking about? Can they be trusted?

Trust is key. If you don’t feel good about the company marketing your business, then keep looking.


Gabriella Sannino Gabriella Sannino

~ International Marketing Consultant & SEO Strategist | Si, sono Napoletana | ENFJ

Level343.com // Twitter

SEO isn’t a one-time fix. If you interview an SEO agency that talks about a one-time fee, or talks about optimization like it’s the magic bullet, run. These are the snake oil salesmen you hear so much about.

Optimization takes time, it takes resources, and it takes effort.

So what should an in-house marketer be looking for?

First, an agency that talks about optimization like a long-term process. It’s an investment. The agency will get information about a site before they ever start talking about “campaign”.

Second, an in-house marketer should consider whether they want an agency to just focus on the assessment or take on the solution, as well. Can they be involved in the campaign they recommend?

A well-rounded SEO agency is capable of a rainbow of services: all inclusive and driven by the elements of SEO.


Dan ShureDan Shure

~ SEO/marketer, biz owner, podcaster, musician, husband, @moz associate. Idea lover. Marketing Podcast: http://danshure.link/Podcast

EvolvingSeo.com // Twitter

They should look for understanding of the BUSINESS and good communication. It’s a very personal thing, you may want to try a project 1st.


 Andy Drinkwater

~ UK based Freelance SEO & UX consultant, part-time gym goer & Southern Comfort lover. I live and breathe #SEO, #UX, #CRO, #Content and #Digital Marketing.

IqSeo.uk // Twitter

The in-house marketer faces many issues when looking to hire an external SEO agency.

My biggest tip to anyone in this situation, look to ensure that if they are a big agency, that their communication of changing SEO trends is quickly passed down the line to the marketing teams for them to action.

There is nothing worse than Google releasing an algorithm, and suddenly the agency clients suffer because the people at the top have not researched and passed this information on quickly enough.

In some cases, it can be many weeks and months before this happens.

So what should you look for? Clear communication lines.

What should you avoid? Don’t sign on the dotted line straight away – the agency that tries to quickly tie you into a 12 month agreement is probably trying to just get churn numbers through and can often be very forceful with their approach.

In these circumstances, I would be tempted to walk away, or at least do your due diligence and look into their claims and past success stories.

Don’t just assume that a nice list of logos means that they have actually done much for them – or indeed anything!


Tommy Landry Tommy Landry

~ President, Return On Now: SEO, SEM, Content Marketing, Social Media, Public Speaking, Business Coaching, Blogging. Entrepreneur & Certified Master Life Coach.

ReturnOnNow.com // Twitter

Depending on the size of the company seeking SEO or digital marketing help, the right choice for an agency partner can vary. However, there are a few areas that you should focus on no matter what your business size is.

Did They Promise the Sky?

SEO is no magic wand. You can’t just throw a few keywords onto a website and miraculously jump into the top spot on the SERPs unless you run an uber-authoritative website like Amazon.com.

Realistically, there’s no reasonable way an SEO agency can guarantee anything – not a ranking spot, not a specific traffic volume increase, and certainly not a concrete number of conversions or leads from a campaign.

Can they promise improvement? Absolutely. Can they realistically guarantee a 25% lift in organic traffic within three months? Not in good conscience.

If it appears too good to be true, trust your gut. It almost certainly is being oversold.

Are Their Strategies Rational And Well Thought Out?

Ask for examples of their work or a full outline of the strategies they want to implement on your behalf. And I’m not talking about a list of areas they’ll focus on.

What happens month 1? Then what’s next? Is there a rational order to the work they’ll do? Can you understand what will happen and why that’s included?

Ask questions and demand real answers. You wouldn’t hire an auto mechanic to “fix whatever on my car.” Why would you hire an SEO agency and let them just “do SEO”?

Know what they’re planning to do and why you need it before you agree to the services. Otherwise, you’re taking the risk that you’ll pay too much for too little (or nothing), and it will be your fault for not asking. Caveat Emptor applies here.

Do You Trust Their Sales and Spokespeople?

If you’re comfortable that the services aren’t being oversold and the plans make sense, the last check and balance is whether or not you feel they are trustworthy people who you are comfortable doing business with.

Most of the clients my agency closes tell us they chose to work with us because they like what we have to say and what we stand for.

If they are aggressive or unresponsive in the sales process, what do you expect they will do once you are a paying customer locked into a six month or annual contract?

I only like to work with people who I trust and like working with. It’s a good policy, and it completely applies with SEO providers.


Steve Wiideman Steve Wiideman

~ SEO Expert and Consultant, savvy with Universal Search and internet marketing. Call (562) 732-4417

Top10SeoTips.com // Twitter

When hiring an SEO agency, references and reputation are going to be paramount. Ask for them, search for them, or hire a third party to handle the due diligence on your behalf.

There is no secret sauce in search engine optimization.

Transparency to what is being worked and by who is critical; the agency should add your business to their project management system (or visa versa). Lastly, you’ll want to see detailed case studies of beginning to end work.

Did they create a solid plan? How was the content optimized for users and search engines? What type of links and mentions did they earn? Were the links natural or paid?

How have the non-branded SEO efforts improved leads and sales?

Avoid agencies where you’re final call before hiring them is with a salesperson and not the people managing the work.

Avoid guarantees, nobody can control Google search results.

Avoid agencies not willing to share at least one case study.


Bill Ross Bill Ross

~ Leader (with a background in Psychology) of an all-star team who create websites that allow users and Google to effectively & efficiently find information.

LinchpinSeo.com // Twitter

There are many unethical SEO companies and individuals, who are just looking for a quick buck, and don’t have any vested interest in growing your business.

Beyond the basics of making sure they have the skill set to provide high-value SEO, it is just as important to make sure they also have the following attributes.


We always talk with potential clients who have received quotes from other agencies – it’s just how business works.

When we start to talk about our SEO process most are taken back, and tell us that when they asked other prospective agencies about their process, the agency responded with “it’s top secret” or “we don’t give away our secret sauce”.

These responses are BS! They either mean that the SEO company doesn’t have a process and methodology, or the one they do have is built upon spam tactics.


One of the things that most spammy SEO companies do, is only show you the end result. They won’t provide insights into the details that lead to the result; such as links they’ve earned, or the value that their marketing strategies have provided.

But why would they not want to show you how awesome they are, and the awesome links they have earned for you? Simple, they didn’t earn anything of value and they are hiding the spam – which is usually only uncovered when your site rankings and traffic tank.


Doing a introductory SEO training seminar can be a great way to get to know your SEO company and the team members that you’ll be working with.

This should always be part of the overall SEO process, and only bypassed if it’s something that you as a business don’t want.


Knowing who will be working on your account, and their role in the agency, is important.

Many times agencies don’t cast a client team based on the experience that each team member brings to the table. They usually cast a team based on:

1. Who has free time.

2. Or to keep their cost down and profit high, they will assign junior people to your account.

Neither are inherently bad, but it’s your right to know who will be working on your brand before signing the contract.


When using testimonials to influence your decision, make sure the SEO company has:

1. A diverse set of reviews from authoritative people.

2. The names and titles for each of the people who have given a testimonial – feel free to look these people up on LinkedIn to make sure they are real.

Anyone can get their friend to write them a review.


This is probably the hardest thing to fake, and can be the thing that separates fly-by-night agencies from the quality shops.

It is important that they know why they are doing what they are doing, and not just blindly offering services.

So what does it mean to have a belief system or higher purpose. Here is a hint, it’s not a boilerplate “mission statements” such as:

1. We provide leading internet marketing solutions to businesses on a global level.

2. We are at top rated SEO company that gets you #1 rankings.

3. We are a global marketing firm that builds custom marketing solutions that drive bottom line results.

4. Our custom built solutions will help transform your business and help you engage with user.

5. We offer our clients leading customer service and digital solutions.

What do these even mean?

So what is a belief statement?

Belief statements define the culture of a business, and must prevail against all adversity and challenges. They should be the backbone that all strategies are derived from and lead by.

As stated in the Ted talk by Simon Sinek about the Golden Circle:

Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP.

But very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose?

What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it’s obvious. – Simon Sinek


Finally, I am sure you’ve seen an agency website and wondered why the design was so bad, why the content was stuffed with keywords, or why they’ve not earned many links or social shares for their content.

You’ve probably also asked them about this, and got an answer like, “we focus on our clients and don’t have time to SEO our own site.”. This statement is BS!

One of the easiest things you can do when determining if you think a company will be a great fit as your partner, is to examine how they take care of their own website.

Things to look at are:

1. Do they have content that has earned social share and links?

2. Is their website experience well thought out?

3. Is their website well designed?

4. Do they have a blog that they publish in-depth content to, or is it just thin 500 word articles?

5. Are their title tags and content optimized for both users and search engines?

6. Do they stuff keywords in their content and title tags? We often see this spam tactic, even from “reputable  SEO companies”.


Barry Adams Barry Adams

~ Dutchman in Northern Ireland. SEO polemicist, speaker & lecturer, humanist. Founder @PolemicDigital, editor @StateofDigital. Occasional breaker of Wheaton’s Law

PolemicDigital.com // Twitter

What all in-house marketers should do is ask for examples of previous successful projects. An agency that can’t or won’t show successful projects cannot be trusted.

Some agencies will say their projects are all under non-disclosure agreements, but this is a bogus excuse – no agency does only NDA projects.

Also ask for client contacts that you can check with and ask about their experience dealing with the agency. Again, a good agency will happily provide client contacts for you to get in touch with.

A good agency should have dozens, if not hundreds, of great client projects and positive client relationships that you can check and get a feeling from.

That way you can make an informed decision if the agency is right for you, and if their way of working suits what your business needs.


Ken Lyons Ken Lyons

~ Heavy Meta Hero, Co-Founder of Cornerstone Content/Measured SEM.

MeasuredSem.com // Twitter

Look for an agency with a track record of delivering results in competitive niches. And by results I mean they’ve been able to:

Grow qualified organic traffic on a consistent and sustained basis

Grow qualified leads from organic traffic on a consistent and sustained basis

Also, ask them how they intend to grow organic traffic for your company.

If they talk about focusing exclusively on on-site optimization inputs (like tweaking existing copy and meta tags) but content marketing isn’t part of the plan, move on. Content IS the engine of growth for sites, and also critical for attracting the kinds of key trust and authority signals (links, brand mentions, etc) you need to rank well organically.

Fact is, you can’t grow organic traffic in a meaningful, consistent or sustained manner by injecting keywords into title tags, optimizing site architecture or cleaning up 404s or low value pages, etc.

Sure, those inputs can move the needle initially but the ONLY way to see consistent, sustained growth is to publish informative, high-value content targeting strategic topics on a regular basis.

Finally, stay away from agencies that talk about guaranteed rankings for specific keywords. They’re likely engaging in high-risk SEO tactics that will eventually get your site nuked.


stefaniaboleso Stefania Boleso

~ #Marketing and #Digital strategist. University lecturer. Passionate about disruptive thinking and #innovation. Sincerely curious.

StefaniaBoleso.com // Twitter

In-house marketers should first of all understand how the agency works.

Never trust agencies that promise big results without taking the time to analyze and understand in depth first about the company itself, its business objectives, its past, present and future marketing activities, as these agencies won’t be able to deliver what they promise.

As in every area of business and marketing, the analysis is the first step on which you build the whole strategy. The better the analysis, the better the strategy (and the bigger the success).

SEO is a long term activity, which needs to fit into the whole marketing plan, if a company wants it to be successful; for this reason, marketers should stay away from agencies that propose “one shot” activities to rank high in the SERP, as it is simply not possible, or agencies that propose “copy and paste” activities, which have been proven successful with some other clients.

Good SEO takes time and effort (and of course resources) and I believe it also needs to be custom made, as no company has the same story, needs, business and marketing objectives.


Kevin_Indig Kevin Indig

~ SEO BU Owner @dailymotion in Silicon Valley, former @Searchmetrics @uniquedigitalDE @thereachgroup

SearchMetrics.com // Twitter

When it comes to outsourcing, there are a couple of factors you should pay attention to:

1)       Delivery

2)       Quality
3)       Service

Of course you want to make sure the agency has a good reputation and experience with your problem.

If the agency has never dealt with your particular problem, you run into the risk that they might actually try things out, which can go well or not so well.

But what is really important is that the agency delivers on time, in a way that you can understand it and in a way that you can execute on it.

Therefore, the agency must understand how your business works, how your technical backend works and what resources you have at hand.

What you should avoid at all cost are agencies that simply run your site through some tools and provide out-of-the-box recommendations.

Every website is different and has to be treated as such! You should also pay attention to the value of the recommendations the agency provides.

Optimization is nice, but it has to pay off in terms of rankings and traffic! That’s why smart marketers and good agencies measure the ROI of the recommendation against the effort it takes to implement it.

You should be suspicious, if the agency doesn’t ask you questions about your technical set-up, resources, strategy, KPIs, analytics, etc.

Lastly, a good agency always communicates things like how far in the process they are, if there are delays and so on. If it takes them more than one day to come back to you, that should be a red flag.

Even if the answer takes a little longer, good communicators confirm they’ve received your message and they’ll come back to you. That’s good service.


 Aaron Agius

~ Search, Social & Content Marketing Expert, Managing Director at Louder Online

LouderOnline.com.au // Twitter

What they should look for:

An agency that measures their success on the actual dollar value ROI to the client instead of simply focusing on unnecessary metrics as success of the campaign.

Focusing on things like rankings & traffic, while are positive indicators, are not enough to prove that the work is actually providing value to the client from an ROI perspective.

Things like leads, conversions and sales should be tracked to prove the value of the work.

You also need to check a number of other credibility indicators such as, case studies of client success, the brands they’ve worked with, how long they’ve been in the industry, how much they contribute to the industry as thought leaders and content contributors, and also check referrals by calling some existing clients.

What they should avoid:

Run the other way if agencies make guarantees against first page rankings.

I would also run the other way from agencies offering to charge you only once you hit the front page of Google for specific keywords.

It’s too easy to manipulate by choosing easy to target keywords with low search volume and low competition, or the agency could use manipulative tactics in order to get fast rankings so they can start charging the client.

I’d definitely avoid agencies that do mass spam through LinkedIn and other channels offering to do SEO  – and I’ve written about that here in detail on Moz.


Harris Schachter Harris Schachter

~ Content Marketing & SEO @CapitalOne. Owner of OptimizePrime™ LLC. Hybrid marketer, mountain biker, technologist, fan of caffeine & #PrimesPicks

Optimizepri.me // Twitter

When looking for an agency, it is just as important to take into account their working style and their likeability and demeanor as much as their actual expertise.

Because in-house folks need to navigate an often political environment as well as a very complex one, agencies who can understand this and sympathize with them will be most successful.

All too often agencies assume that their primary customer or point of contact is lumped in with the rest of their organization, but don’t understand how siloed teams can be within large corporations.

If an agency not only gets it, but can help you through it, they’re a winner in my book.

All of this is especially crucial for SEO because the discipline crosses into so many different organizations: the business team, information technology, marketing operations, and more.


Jason Mun Jason Mun

~ SEO & Search Engine Marketer based in Melbourne. Co-founder of @bespoke_agency

BespokeAgency.com.au // Twitter

In-house marketers are exactly what their name suggests, they are client-side and fully embeded within the company/brand.

Most of the in-house marketers that I have dealt with are generally SME’s (subject matter experts) within the organisation.

If and when they require external or agency help is when there is a specific issue that is too big for them to handle themselves, they need additional resources to follow through with a campaign, or simply want a second opinion.

If and when you decide to hire an external agency, putting together a robust brief is going to help with the process. Within the brief, ensure that you cover objectives, expectations, scope of work and KPI’s.

Once you have this ready, agencies can generally provide a solution/proposal to respond to the brief.

Once you start receiving proposals back, here’s what I would look at:


Has the agency demonstrated transparency throughout the proposal? Have they clearly articulated how they would be helping you achieve your objectives and KPI?

On-size fits all

Does the proposal feel and look templated? Have they accurately answered the brief? Did they clearly outline what the deliverables are and a rough estimate of timing?

If there are any mention of packages (bronze, silver, gold) – that should be an immediate red flag that they are a churn-and-burn agency.


If the brief covers any link building activities, question them and ask them the hard questions. Question their processes and most importantly, ask for examples of links built for other clients.

A good agency should have no issues showing you examples and should be proud of links that they have built.

If their recommendation include things like article submission, content spinning, web 2.0 setup or link pyramids, avoid them like a plague.

Ask for references

Always ask the agency for references. If they have nothing to hide and have done good work for other companies/brands, they should not have an issue providing you with references for you to validate.

Accountability & data driven

The best way to evaluate how accountable and data driven an agency is to evaluate the way the report on performance.

If they have not provided examples, ask for it. The example reports should give you a level of comfort that they know what they are talking about.

Most importantly, it should be useful and helpful enough for you to use the data to report back to the business.

More importantly, the agency should give you a level of comfort that they will be a “partner” and not treat you as just another client within their portfolio.

The best way to evaluate this is to talk to them and have face-to-face meetings to get a gauge of their personality.


Paul Warren Paul Warren

~ Founder & CEO http://Insiteful.com.au – eCommerce Agency. Getting ready to launch http://eCommerceClub.com.au in late 2016. Sold http://Warcom.com.au to (ASX:SHP) in 2014.

PaulWarren.com.au // Twitter

Here is a short video I created for this expert roundup with my response.

What to look for when hiring a SEO agency..


Jim Stewart Jim Stewart

~ Specialist in SEO – CEO of https://Stewartmedia.biz http://au.linkedin.com/in/jimboot

StewartMedia.biz // Twitter

Obviously this depends on your requirements and what has prompted the search for an external firm.

Broadly speaking I would encourage  marketers to find a firm that has experience on their platforms and transparency in their processes.

SEO firms will all work differently from each other and depending on how their firms have evolved, they may have specialist skills in certain areas.

For instance some may have better experience with ecommerce sites or have a very strong content department. Some will be a better cultural fit with your organisations than others.

I would always ask for references but also I would also ask for examples of sites that they have worked on.

Most SEOs will be reluctant to share phrases of clients that they have worked on but if you can have a look at some of the sites, you should be able to work out what they should rank for. Then simply do your own checks.

If on the other hand you have recently seen a drop in Google traffic you may want to find a firm that has experience in not only detecting causes of traffic drops but how to fix them quickly.

We would normally identify the cause of the drop in the bidding process as it would dictate what resources are required for the project.

I would avoid firms that have a “build backlinks first” strategy. This approach in my experience is bad for the client long term for two reasons.

Firstly it ignores the really important activity of building your audience rather than backlinks. It maybe a subtle difference but it is an important one.

By focusing on building your audience you end up with backlinks as a by product of the activity.


Andy Crestodina Andy Crestodina

~ Co-founder of Orbit Media (@orbiteers), marketing speaker and author. See you at Content Jam, Chicago’s content marketing event, Aug 4 http://contentjam.com

OrbitMedia.com // Twitter

Ask questions about their approach.

Which of these do they spend the most time on for typical clients?

  • Technical SEO (programming changes)
  • On-Page SEO (choosing and using keywords)
  • Link Building / Attraction (increasing domain authority through outreach and PR)


These are very different actions, requiring different skill sets and achieving different outcomes.

Most companies should focus on one of these areas. Which one depends on their specific issues and challenges.

The key is to find an SEO firm with skills that align with your challenges.

Lastly, ask them how long a typical engagement lasts. In my experience, you don’t need to keep paying your SEO firm forever. Get as much value as you can, then move on.


Barry Feldman Barry Feldman

~ Focused on effective digital marketing #content marketing consultant #copywriter #creative director #social media advisor #author #rock n’ roller

FeldmanCreative.com // Twitter

Look for a marketing-savvy partner.

The majority of so-called SEO experts simply want to start chasing rankings for your website or content with outdated link building tactics.

The SEO agency that can actually help you with your marketing will insist on a collaborative and strategic approach beginning with a thorough examination of your marketing objectives and how search can help achieve them.

Today, search and content development are bedfellows.

Your content optimization objectives must map to your specific business challenges. More simply, you want to generate traffic from specific prospects with a high propensity to convert.


Ryan JonesRyan Jones

~ SEO Manager @ SapientNitro – 2006 Time person of the year – CEO http://WTFSEO.com – As is, with all faults.

RyanMJones.com // Twitter

They should look for an agency that feels like a partner or teammate, not a vendor.


 Chris Lake

~ Co-founder @EmpiricalProof, writer and @econsultancy alum. I mainly tweet about ecommerce, content marketing, SEO, CRO, design, CX, UX, SaaS and startups.

EmpiricalProof.com // Twitter

What to look for?


This is the number one characteristic that you’re looking for in any kind of agency. Have they done their homework?

Do they understand your business, the things you need to do to attract the right kind of customer, and the way you like to work?

If they don’t ask the right kind of questions in the pitch then you shouldn’t move forward with them.


Both at agency and individual level. Ideally at least a decade of experience is preferable. Any less than that and I’d want them to demonstrably prove their know-how in practical terms.

They should have experience – or be able to provide real insight, at least – into your sector too.

Proven skills. And lots of them.

T-shaped search marketers might not be enough.

These days you’re looking for deep skillsets across a range of areas, especially in core search disciplines.


For search, and for business more broadly. Folks with entrepreneurial flair tend to go the extra mile for you. It’s worth digging into people’s back stories – especially the people who you will be directly working with.


Anybody can buy links but bagging them organically is hard work.

Honesty and transparency.

Because people who take shortcuts often get found out, and the results can be messy. The agency should have a clean record.

Ultimately I think a healthy attitude towards risk is a good thing, but the client must be aware of the pros and cons.

Mindset and approach. You’re looking for a good cultural fit. Trust your gut instincts on this one.

What to avoid?

  • Anybody who drinks too much Kool Aid.
  • Anybody who believes everything Google says.
  • Anybody who can’t answer a question in a direct manner.
  • Anybody who doesn’t easily understand your business goals.
  • Anybody who hasn’t done their homework.
  • Anybody talking about olde worlde SEO tactics that no longer work.
  • Anybody sketchy.


James Gurd James Gurd

~ Owner of Digital Juggler, Ecommerce + Digital Marketing consultancy & co-host of #EcomChat ➲ weekly ecommerce discussion on Monday.

DigitalJuggler.com // Twitter

First and foremost you need an agency that understands your business strategy and model, goals and customers.

You can’t be effective in any form of digital marketing if you don’t have a good handle on context and where the channel fits in to the overall strategy.

Beyond this, you need to have a clear understanding of what outcomes you want the agency to deliver, and then map the skill set that is required to enable this.

Only then can you objectively evaluate the agency’s capabilities.

For example, if you’re a global retailer looking to replatform and require a technical consultant who is experienced in handling large migrations, then you have to drill into the agency’s expertise in migration planning, site architecture and indexation controls.

An agency with a brilliant content marketing and outreach team but limited technical SEO experience would be the right fit.

So relevant experience and expertise is key. Make sure the agency can demonstrate results with other clients on projects that are relevant to yours.

and what should they avoid at all costs?

An agency that has proposed a solution before understanding your business strategy and digital goals, and current website strengths and weaknesses.

There are core disciplines within SEO but execution has to be tailored to the client’s needs.

For example, in some markets like fashion retail, social outreach can work really well through influencers and bloggers.

In other markets like manufacturing, it’s harder to scale an outreach program and influencer management requires different skills and execution.

So avoid someone who focuses on the solution before understanding context and needs. And avoid people who promise position 1 on Google with X weeks – nobody can promise that, for many reasons.

Listen to people who want to align SEO plans with your overall business and digital strategy and understand the need to integrate with paid media channels.


Allie Brown

~ Director of SEO at Knucklepuck, a digital marketing agency. Passionate about search, UGC, growth marketing and ecommerce.

KnucklepuckMedia.com // Twitter

Having started my career at an SEO agency, managed SEO in-house for a global retail brand, and now returned to agency life to serve as the Director of SEO at Knucklepuck, I have been on both sides of this decision making process.

I recommend that marketers look at their company’s specific needs and then create a checklist of the skills that complement those needs.

Rate each agency that you speak with on a scale and add up the points at the end to see if you have a clear winner.

When I was in-house and managing search for an enterprise ecommerce site, my checklist included technical SEO skills, mobile expertise, site migration experience, international strategy, an understanding of our brand, and proactive consulting (the ability to detect site issues, monitor competitors, share industry updates, and propose new opportunities).

Don’t be afraid to ask your top contending agencies to share case studies, answer your specific RFP questions, and provide example reports to help confirm that they are the right fit for your business.

Try to avoid falling for flashy sales presentations.

I’ve found it is much more valuable to ask for references and listen to what existing clients have to say about their account team, the results that have been delivered, and their experience working with the agency as a whole.


Matthew Capala Matthew Capala

~ Founder of #SEO Agency http://Alphametic.com , Entrepreneur, Ideas at http://SearchDecoder.com , Speaker, Author of #SEOLike5, Formerly NYU Prof, Writer on @TNW

SearchDecoder.com // Twitter

Integrity, Cross-Functional Skillset, and Case Studies

It’s no secret SEO can be a shady industry. Many of the practitioners push the boundaries in terms of what’s allowed by Google, and what’s ethical by business standards.


Black hat SEO often works temporarily before Google bots detect the ‘unnatural’ patterns and put your website into the penalty box.

Today’s Google machine learning powerhouse – powered by RankBrain’s AI – is much smarter than all the SEO agencies on the planet combined.

Google has effectively eradicated spam from the winning 2016 SEO playbook. Beware of the gurus who claim to have a secret formula.

Good SEO is no secret. Ranking on Google today has more to do with the tech of tomorrow, content that stands the test of time, and backlinks, which are still one of the most important ranking signal.

Second, Google’s complex ranking algorithm demands that the SEO agencies provide a cross-functional expertise, from web development to UX/design to content strategy.

So choose an SEO agency that has deeply specialized SEO knowledge AND is well-versed in all aspects of effective web marketing.

Above all, your SEO agency should be a data-first company that is highly analytical and tech-oriented. Lastly, ask for case studies and works examples. Any SEO agency worth their paycheck needs to have something to show for it.


Frederic ChanutFrederic Chanut

~ Propaganda Minister of @ZeAdventourists and MD of @InMktgWeTrust – A Digital Marketing Optimisation Agency. Geeking about #SEO, #CRO, #Machinelearning #Travel

InMarketingWeTrust.com.au // Twitter

Must Have:

1) clear process and examples

2) details on who is working on the account

3) list of clients (match portfolio size and level)

Must Not:

1) be price driven

2) have a ranking guarantee

3) have cookie cutter packages (bronze, silver, gold)

4) have blackbox answers

Further read this.. How to Choose an SEO Agency – 50 Point Checklist



Ryan McLaughlinRyan McLaughlin

~ Founder @RIISE. SEO guy. LSU grad. Dallas raised. Whiskey neat. Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.

Riise.co // Twitter

This is so important: You must verify their guru status via twitter bio.

Avoid non-gurus at all costs.


Andrew Webber Andrew Webber

~ Founder of @SEO_Maverick. Local SEO & Adwords. WordPress websites for small businesses. Vice President / basketballer for the @norwoodflames.

SeoMaverick.com.au // Twitter

What should in-house marketers look for:

1. Ask to see past results

The first thing I’d be asking for some examples of rankings and results they have achieved for previous clients and then asking them what types of strategies they employed to get there.

If they can’t show you some top rankings in competitive niches, then I’d cross them off the list immediately.

A proven track record for delivering results is an absolute must.

2. Find out what tactics they would be using

I’d next want to learn what type of tactics the SEO company would employ to achieve the achieve the desired results for the in-house marketer’s company.

  • What type of content will they be creating?
  • What will their approach be to generate more links (as we know links are the #1 most important thing for moving the needle for rankings).
  • What is their outreach strategy?
  • And again (because it’s so important in SEO)…how are they going to get links to your site!

Finding out more about the SEO company’s tactics will illustrate whether they will be able to deliver results, how likely they are to spam and get a site in trouble down the track.

What they should avoid in an SEO agency

1. An agency that cannot demonstrate results for a client in the way of better rankings and demonstrated abilty to produce more traffic.

2. One that employs blatant and easily reverse engineered spam tactics.

3. One that will not share their tactics with you of how they will help rank your website.


Bill Sebald Bill Sebald

~ I own Greenlane Search Marketing, LLC. Love music, beer, and getting lost. Recovering big agency dude. Blogger @GreenlaneSEO & @Moz. Fan of the Oxford comma.

GreenlaneSeo.com // Twitter

SEO agencies come in many shapes and sizes.  Some are more strategy driven, while others are more tactical.

Some are more consultative while others are more about executing and throwing deliverables over the wall.  Some are open, and some are a little more protective about the “secret sauce”.

An in-house marketer should look for the type of company that syncs with their goals and KPIs, and operates in the model that best suits the marketer.

If you have traffic or revenue/conversion numbers that you’re trying to hit, you should be up front when auditioning an SEO company. Give them the chance to determine if they believe the numbers are realistic for their model.

If you think you’re talking with a salesperson, challenge them when they say “of course we can hit those numbers.”

Truth is, you can’t make Google do anything – you can only try to encourage them to rank you better, so look out for an agency who’s sales team makes bold claims.

Ask for a copy of reporting, tech deliverables, content strategy plans, link building strategies they employ, and any other item you might be hiring them for.

Any company should be able to give you an anonymized version of a past client deliverable.

These are often very good to get a sense of what the SEO company can provide – ie, how creative they are, how data-driven they are, how detailed they are, and so on.

If they are afraid to provide, it may mean they have nothing else to offer past that deliverable.

I think it’s important to understand what you get for the price.  SEO is a difficult channel.  To do it well in 2016, it takes a ton of time and experimentation.

We don’t nearly have the needle-moving tactics we had before 2011.  Google has made over-optimizations and spammy tactics far less powerful.

For an agency to hire great SEOs, they have to pay the industry wage.  Great SEOs aren’t cheap.

If an agency is charging $500 for a service, it’s important to see what level of customization you’re getting.  Will they solve your particular problems, or are you getting the same farmed-out, repeatable work that everyone is getting?

(The answer is probably the latter).

Do you think that will move the needle in your space, where your real competitors may be spending thousands a month to get the best and brightest?

SEO is an industry in which paying for a cheaper amateur up front may cost you much more in the end.


  • Thanks for including me. Some great advice for those engaging an SEO agency.

    • directiveconsulting

      No thank you James!

  • Sue Anne Dunlevie

    Epic post with great points by each blogger.

    Thanks, Sue

    • directiveconsulting

      Thanks Sue! You’re epic 🙂

  • Funny that I saw this post, because yesterday I was coming up withmy own list of what to look for when hiring an SEO agency and Casey nailed it. It all comes down KPI’s (key performance indicators). Many agencies may talk a big game, but it call comes down to justifying your SEO spend with return on investment. Ultimately you want to prove ROI through conversions to phone calls, opt-in leads, online sales, downloads, etc… and see what is driving this through keyword rankings, traffic from organic search, average time on site, and more.

    • directiveconsulting

      I totally agree Ben. The key when hiring any SEO agency is that the firm aligns their work with your business objectives. I mean that’s why you hire us right?

      • Can you think of any other KPI’s I missed? 😉

  • Dave Feldberg

    What a post! Lots of great information here!

    • directiveconsulting

      Thanks Dave!

  • Always like hearing what fellow colleagues and friends have to say on this subject.
    Many great suggestions and tips to contemplate for those seeking an SEO agency. There is “No one size fits all solution” and too many areas to specialize / practice in from used cars to the professional attorney and or doctor to those running a mom and pop to those running a major e-commerce.

    • directiveconsulting

      There is definitely not one solution that everyone should look for. I like your specialization approach as well. In very niche industries, there’s something to be said for an SEO agency that doesn’t need such a long learning curve.