Hiring a reliable Search Engine Optimization Specialist or SEO Agency can be difficult. That’s because SEO is such a complex topic. Also, many freelancers and agencies claim to be experts yet rely on outdated practices and tools that don’t yield results in today’s competitive and advanced market.

Anyone with minimal knowledge of Google’s Keyword Tool can show up and make promises of #1 Google Rankings and 1000% traffic increases.

But we’ve all had, or at least heard, the horror stories that have occurred from dealing with some of these so-called “professionals”. Unfortunately, those SEOs are more akin to snake oil salesmen of the past than true marketers.

Lucky for you, as an SEO expert myself and someone who wears a white hat only, I’ve put together a list of six guidelines to ensure that you hire the right SEO or SEO company for your business. But first, I’ll define and discuss the pros and cons of a freelancer versus an agency.

So What Does an SEO Company Do Exactly?

Over 70% of B2B buyers say they rely on vendor websites for content to help make a purchase decision. 

But for your target audience to find your website and content, you must be visible online. 

You need an effective SEO strategy.

FYI, SEO is the practice of making your website more visible to your target audience. This results in you attracting high-quality (and quantity) organic traffic to your website and product.

That’s what SEO companies do — they help businesses like yours outrank the competition, drive more traffic, and generate more leads.

How?

SEO companies focus on helping brands improve their digital presence without paying for ads. They do this by focusing on three main pillars:

  • On-page SEO. On-page SEO deals with all the things on your website that directly influence your rankings. This includes keywords, content quality, internal link structure, content marketing and more.
  • Off-page SEO. This deals with factors you don’t directly influence but still impact your ranking. Examples include backlinks, mentions on social media or other digital platforms, and even your competitors’ rankings.
  • Technical SEO. As the name suggests, technical SEO focuses on the technical aspects of your website, mainly those that affect indexability and crawlability. It ensures that elements like URL structure, sitemaps, site speed, and other behind-the-scenes elements of your website.

So, what does an SEO company do?

Essentially, they help you prime your website for success in helping you grow your business and generate more revenue.

And the data speaks for itself. SEO is not dead. If anything, you’ll need to up your game as the competition gets stiffer.

What Kinds of SEO Companies are There?

As you shop around for a partner to help you with your SEO, you’ll discover that there are three kinds of SEO companies. The one you decide to work with must essentially fit in with your:

  • Business model/size
  • Budget
  • Business goals

What are the three kinds of SEO companies, and how do they differ?

Freelancers

An SEO freelancer is an individual who offers SEO services to businesses.  They are a viable option if you’re looking to contract your SEO needs. They might have similar goals as an SEO agency, but their methodology can vary wildly depending on the individual.

If you find the right person, this can be a great opportunity. But you’ve got to be careful about some of these individuals because they might not have the skills to back up their claims.

Pros

  • Are willing to take time to experiment/try new things
  • Don’t have as many overall clients, so they can give personalized attention and tailored packages
  • Tend to have cheaper services

Cons

  • Only one perspective, even if they are an expert
  • Might not have the same level of tools or analysis capabilities
  • Aren’t as credible

If you’re on a tight budget and don’t have an enormous scope of SEO work, you may consider enlisting the help of a freelancer.

Consultants

A consultant is another type of SEO company to consider as you shop around for SEO services. 

An SEO consultant is a professional who has established themselves as a go-to expert in the industry. Unlike freelancers who work alone, consultants usually outsource some parts of their work to freelancers. 

Pros

  • Experts in their field
  • Direct access to the consultant (and their team)
  • Have a strong network of partners to work with
  • Can handle more scope than freelancers

Cons 

  • Pricier than freelancers
  • Usually can’t handle projects with an enormous scope
  • Finding the right consultant for your industry can be difficult

A consultant will probably serve your needs well if you’re looking for a hybrid between an agency and a freelancer.

Agencies

One of your best options if you’re planning on running a full-scale SEO campaign is to go the agency route. That’s because most agencies employ specialists to be in charge of each aspect of an SEO strategy.

Most agencies enlist a project or account manager to liaise with clients, while others have the SEO team lead do that. This aspect of communication is important as it helps ensure you and the agency are always on the same page.

If you’re looking for speed of execution or have a large website with many SEO needs, an agency is the way to go.

Pros

  • Offer full-service SEO
  • Easier to scale your SEO strategy
  • Access to a team of experts
  • Usually have the latest tools and training

Cons 

  • Can be pricier than freelancers and consultants
  • Some agencies limit your input in planning and executing your SEO strategy

So, now that you know a little about your options for professional SEO services, here are those guidelines I promised. If you follow these carefully, you’ll never have to worry about hiring the right SEO consultant ever again.

How to Identify a Trustworthy Partner

Finding the right company to partner with you in planning and executing your SEO strategy is not easy. After all, your partner of choice will determine the results you get. Those results, in turn, will directly impact your business growth and revenue.

That’s why choosing an SEO partner is actually like choosing the person to marry — they play a huge role in your future.

So how do you ensure that you choose the right SEO company for your business?

Look into Their Portfolio & Past Clients

One of the first things you should do when looking for an SEO partner is to check them out.  

Ask them about the campaigns they’ve worked on and why they ended.

Not all SEOs are created equal. Just because someone says a bunch of seemingly professional web jargon like “robots.txt” or “meta tags” doesn’t mean that they are qualified to improve your site.

They might have just read an article or two about SEO before the interview. Make sure to require them to walk you through their previous clients and experience. If they are a single individual, have them describe if they worked either in-house, at an agency, or were a freelancer.

For SEO agencies, ask how long they’ve been in business, who some of their clientele are, and then get in contact with those past clients and get their opinion as well.

Also, be sure to ask to see the results of their previous work. Get to know their working relationship with their previous clients and why they parted ways. All this will give you insight into the kind of individual they are and their work ethics.

Request Examples Of Successful Campaigns

They say never to judge a book by its cover. But when it comes to SEO, you need to judge by results.

Before you sign an SEO company, have them show you examples of their past website’s current rankings and how it looks.

Any SEO that did a great job for their previous company should be proud of their past work. The site should still be doing relatively well and not be too radically different.

The reason for this is that if their tactics were based on search engine recommendations and best practices, then the implementations and strategies should be somewhat future-proof as long as it wasn’t too many years in the past.

If nothing else, the sites should still be ranking fairly well. If they’re not or have been de-indexed, that’s a red flag. It might be the case that someone else came into the business and made that mistake, but be sure to contact the employer to verify that information.

See What Google Has To Say About Them

Google has a wealth of knowledge on people (especially professionals) and businesses. That’s why one way of vetting your next SEO partner is by checking them out on Google. 

Search their first and last name if they’re freelancers or business names for consultants and companies.

That’s right. Do it.

Most quality SEO specialists for hire will have their own names and websites optimized. 

It makes sense, right? 

It’s their job to increase search visibility and rankings on the web, so they should know how to do the same with their personal brand and website.

If you can’t find them by doing a basic search on the web or at least on social media, then there is a problem. Either with their skill level or lack of transparency as a business, both of which are red flags.

If a brand or freelancer is serious about their business, they’ll apply the same SEO principles and strategies in their business that they do for clients. As a result, they should rank for lucrative search terms in their industry and niche. This way, when you google them, they show up high on the SERPs.

Give it a whirl! What comes up on page 1 when you search b2b seo services, b2b inbound marketing services, or b2b social selling? Oh, it’s RevenueZen!? Well look at that – it takes a lot of work, but it absolutely pays off.

Reports, Reports, Reports

Some digital marketing services and deliverables can be intangible.

So an ethical and skilled SEO should want to hold themselves accountable because they know how to produce. They should be completely transparent with their efforts on a monthly, and even weekly basis.

For most companies or specialists, this comes in report form. In some instances, a report and meeting if you’d prefer. The report should be easy to understand, comprehensive, and clearly show how they are helping to increase your company’s bottom line.

Besides keeping you informed, your SEO company should also use the reports to gauge the campaign’s progress. This is done by gathering the right data on the right key performance indicators (KPIs) and using said data to see if you’re meeting your SEO goals.

What if the data shows that you’re not meeting your SEO goals?

A savvy SEO can interpret the reports and understand exactly where your campaign fails. Not only that, but they’re able to build better iterations of the campaign based on the data from the reports.

So, make sure to ask for past campaign reports and ask them to explain the data to you. This will help you know if your SEO is worth entrusting your business to. 

Traps to Watch out For as You Vet SEOs

As with any hire, there are certain red flags to look out for when vetting SEOs. Here are some of the top ones:

Guarantee A #1 Ranking For Any Keyword

If they say anything about guaranteed rankings, especially sooner than 90 days, politely excuse yourself, and run away briskly.

Nowadays, search engines are getting a lot smarter. They are on a mission to serve only the most quality and relevant content possible. They consider over 200 ranking factors about a given website, depending on its size and content frequency. For example, depending on your site size and content frequency, Google can take anywhere between hours and weeks to add your site to its index.

So, when you hear the promise of instant results, run away.

The person might even be telling the truth, but their methods will have you getting penalized and possibly even de-indexed shortly after as well.

Be Highly Skeptical of Low-priced Packages and “Specials”.

No one, and I mean absolutely no one, can do quality SEO for $99.

The time it takes to create a viable content strategy, conduct proper audits and industry analysis, make code and technical changes, and generate quality backlinks (especially for B2B companies) is to the tune of 6 months to a year just for a proper full optimization and results.

If someone (or even a team) dedicates that level of effort and strategy to your site and business, they can’t possibly profit by charging $99.

Realistically, those companies have a really gimmicky SEO strategy that will probably hurt your company’s SEO in the long run. So when hiring a search engine specialist, be willing to dish out a few more dollars for top quality. 

They Use Paid Ads or Cold Calls to Generate All of their Own Leads

Remember, SEO is about driving organic traffic to your website, resulting in organic inbound leads

An SEO company that relies exclusively on paid ads or cold outreach to generate leads doesn’t trust its own systems, processes, and strategies. So why should you?

That’s why at RevenueZen, we do things differently. We use the same proven systems to generate leads for our agency as we do for clients.

Company Leadership or Team Members Aren’t Listed on the Website or LinkedIn

Another red flag to watch out for as you look for an SEO partner is the failure to display company leadership or other critical team members on LinkedIn or the company website. This is a sign that the company has a high turnover rate of employees. It could also mean the people behind the company have been in trouble in the past (or have a bad reputation in SEO circles) and would rather not reveal who they are.

Choosing the Right Partner for Your Situation

At this point, you’re ready to choose a partner for your SEO needs, right?

Awesome! 

To help you do that, you must answer a few pertinent questions:

Do You Need a Strategic Partner or Just Another Body/Order Taker?

As you look for an SEO partner, you must ask whether you need a strategic partner or someone to follow your instructions blindly. Of course, giving instructions will only work if you have already done the heavy lifting of researching and developing an SEO strategy your SEO partner will follow.

However, if you want the best results from a campaign, you need a strategic partner. Experts in the field are always up to speed with current SEO best practices. As such, they’re able to advise on the best courses of action to take for you to get satisfactory results from your campaigns. 

Does Your Industry Require Special Knowledge to Get the Strategy Right? 

Another question to ask yourself as you look for an SEO partner is whether your industry requires specialized knowledge to get your SEO strategy right.

In short, do they have experience in your industry?

Remember, not all SEOs are the same. You need someone who understands the nuances of your industry and knows exactly how to attract, engage, and convert your target audience.

Without specialized knowledge of your industry, your SEO strategy will be like shooting in the dark. You may get a few lucky shots, but success will generally elude you.

Are They a Good Culture Fit?

While your SEO partner may not be a permanent member of your team, they still need to value and embrace your corporate culture. Culture fit is essential as it ensures that your SEO will work well with your team. You want to work with someone who’s enjoyable to work with, and who makes the day a little bit brighter. You know, sort of like the RevenueZen team.

Do You Have Stakeholder Buy-in?

Getting stakeholder buy-in for SEO services is an important step.  That’s why you must tread carefully when pitching the need for SEO services. 

The question is, can you create the business case for SEO yourself? 

Or do you need your SEO partner to help you craft your pitch?

The answer to this question will help you whittle down the candidates you’ve lined up, leaving you with those who can help with the pitch if so needed.

Picking the Right SEO Agency for Your Business is No Walk in the Park 

Getting SEO services is no walk in the park.

Finding the right one for you can be a daunting task with so many different service providers on the market.

We understand this. And that’s why we wrote up this framework for you to follow.

So, if you need an SEO company to help increase your online visibility, drive traffic to your website, and grow your business, make sure to follow the tips above.

And if you’re a B2B brand, you’ll be happy to know that we specialize in B2B SEO strategy. So go ahead and get in touch. We’ll help you design and implement a B2B SEO campaign that will help you achieve your business goals.

Use Our Framework to Hire the Right SEO Agency (or Any Partner) for Your Needs
Ken Marshall

Ken Marshall is the CGO and a Partner at RevenueZen. He’s been doing some version of digital marketing for the past seven years and has shifted his focus to all things SEO and inbound for the last five. Husband, mini Australian shepherd puppy dad, and serial entrepreneur (mostly failures, lots of lessons).