Let’s face it. It’s technically possible to execute a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy entirely on your own, but it’s ridiculously complicated and difficult to do so. So for most individuals, small businesses, and even major companies, you’ll probably have to choose an SEO partner to help you with strategic planning and execution.
But with so many options for SEO partners on the market, how can you make this critical decision? What should be your biggest priorities?
Options for Choosing an SEO Partner
For starters, you should know which options are on the table. There are four main categories of SEO partners that you can choose from, each of which has strengths and weaknesses.
- An SEO agency. First, you can hire a dedicated SEO company. This is, in many ways, the most convenient option, since your agency will be able to handle almost everything related to your campaign. Agencies tend to be more expensive than other options, but they also offer more services, support, and accountability.
- In-house hires. Alternatively, you could build your own team. Utilizing resources already in your department or new hires, you can create a team to learn search optimization and execute it for your business. Depending on your approach here, this can also be expensive – and it’s not as convenient or scalable as working with an SEO company.
- Freelancers/contractors. You can also choose to hire freelancers or contractors for your work. This is usually the cheapest option, though it’s the hardest to get off the ground. Chances are, you’ll need to select people with various specialties to build a strong enough team to see effective results. Freelancers and contractors also tend to be less reliable than agencies.
- A hybrid model. If you like certain aspects of all of these options, you can try to build your own hybrid model. In this approach, you might utilize an SEO agency for most of your needs, using freelancers to fill in the gaps, or executing your strategy mostly with in-house hires, with an agency only providing certain services.
There are also thousands of options in each of these preceding categories.
It’s essential to select your priorities carefully when choosing an SEO partner.
One of your most significant considering factors is going to be cost. How much are you willing to spend on this campaign? In this industry, you often get what you pay for; while it’s certainly possible to find highly inexpensive contractors, these aren’t always the best fit for your brand.
Cheap professionals tend to be inexperienced or likely to cut corners, ultimately putting you in a worse position than when you started. At the same time, you don’t want to overpay for an agency whose services are either superfluous or overpriced.
In your research, try to compare your options apples to apples. Don’t just compare costs directly; make sure you consider what you get for the price with each option. Of course, if you’re dealing with a strict budget, you may not have much wiggle room on this point – which is why it remains one of your highest priorities.
Reliability and Accountability
You’ll also need to consider the reliability and the accountability of the partner you choose. SEO is a long-term strategy, so you can’t afford to hire someone who’s only going to drop you after a few weeks, nor can you afford to hire someone who spends months executing ineffective or downright bad tactics.
Agencies tend to be more reliable and accountable than other options since they have access to more resources and have a more extensive reputation to uphold. But you still need to research to ensure this is a company willing to compensate for their mistakes and make up for any bad experiences you might have.
SEO is a massive undertaking if you’re hoping for reliable, long-term results. That means using many different tactics simultaneously. So before choosing your partner, consider their core competencies carefully.
- Industry/niche knowledge. Does this partner have specific knowledge about your industry or your niche? Do they understand your brand and what competitively distinguishes you? Can they recommend or create tactics that will give you a specific edge?
- Strategy and research. Is this partner capable of doing keyword research and helping you plan a high-level strategy? Or are they only capable of executing under action once provided?
- Content development. Does this partner practice their own content development? And if so, what kind of content do they develop, and how high is that content quality? You need high volumes of excellently written content if you want any chance of climbing the SERPs.
- Technical optimization. SEO strategies fall apart without solid onsite technical optimization. Can this partner help you cleanly code and improve the efficiency of your website?
- Link building. Will this partner be able to help you with link building and offsite content development? Without links, building enough authority to rank for your target keywords is almost impossible.
- Peripheral/supportive strategies. Does this partner offer peripheral or supportive strategies — like email marketing, social media marketing, pay-per-click ads (PPC), and other forms of paid advertising?
Ethics and Practices
One ethical or regulatory breach in SEO could end up leaving you with a penalty that haunts your brand for months. It’s simply not worth taking the risk, so it’s essential to research your partner for their ethics and practices. Are they practicing only white hat techniques? Are they strictly adhering to Google’s terms of service?
By extension, do they take your privacy seriously? Can you trust them not to disclose information about your search engine marketing practices?
Access to Resources and Scalability
Your company may be small right now, but you likely have plans to grow enormously in the future. Accordingly, you should pay close attention to this partner’s access do resources and overall scalability. If your needs change in the future, will you be able to stick with this partner and switch to a different plan? Will they be able to continue supporting your business as you demand more services or more support?
Communication and Customer Service
Even the best SEO companies and individual experts aren’t perfect. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to forget to inform you about things. And they’re going to do questionable jobs of providing initial explanations. When this happens, are you able to get in touch with them? Do you have a dedicated representative who can help you? How much customer service will you be able to get, and will they work hard to resolve your issues?
If you have trouble getting in touch with this partner, or if they seem indifferent to you, don’t bother working with them, even if everything else looks good on paper.
Tools and Reporting
What kind of tools and technologies does this partner use? If your partner dodges the question or refuses to disclose their tactics to you, consider that reaction a red flag. Your partner should be willingly communicating about their technological approach.
Additionally, they should be ready and willing to provide you with comprehensive reporting. They may claim to be doing lots of work on your behalf, but can they prove it? And can they prove that it’s working in your favor?
Customer Reviews and Reputation
Finally, look at this partner’s customer reviews and evaluate their reputation overall. Do people generally seem satisfied with these services? Can you find any online information that suggests this partner is or is not reliable?
Choosing an SEO partner isn’t easy. This is especially true if you work in a complex or competitive industry or if you have many strict criteria to select for. But with so many available options, it’s only a matter of time before you find what you need.
Image Credit: by RODNAE Productions; Pexels; Thank you!