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SEO

5 Tips for Choosing Your Next SEO Firm

What to do (and what not to do) before inking your next SEO deal.
5 Tips for Choosing Your Next SEO Firm
Image credit: Peshkova | Getty Images
Contributor
Founder of crypto site Blocklr & Growth Nuts, an organic growth co.
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Making the right decision when choosing your next SEO firm has major consequences for your business and your bank account. The difference between a boom in organic traffic and a decrease in Google rankings comes down to choosing between a good and bad SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, specialist. But with the right SEO partnership, businesses in any sector can increase sales and decrease their advertising budget -- all while improving user experience. Before locking into a contract with a new SEO firm, here are 5 tips every entrepreneur should consider.

1. SEO is not magic so avoid anyone who talks about it abstractly.

SEO, the process of optimizing your website to drive organic traffic, is difficult, which also means that it's often misunderstood. People who maintain that they have special insight into Google’s algorithms, or who play up the mystique surrounding SEO, are, usually, lying. Rather, good SEO requires a deep understanding of how search engines work, attention to detail, and constant modifications since Google’s algorithms change almost weekly.

Additionally, shortcuts like buying links, keyword stuffing, and cloaking can lead search engines to demote your website. These techniques are called Black Hat SEO because they violate search engines’ rules. Once Google’s bots discover that you’re using these tools, they’ll demote your site in their rankings, which will decrease organic traffic. SEO specialists who claim to have special knowledge could be using Black Hat SEO practices, for which you will ultimately pay a high price.

Related: Your SEO Checklist: 4 Steps to Optimizing Your Website

2. Be specific about your goals and find a firm that can meet them.

Whatever you do, do not hire an SEO firm with the vague goal of "increasing organic traffic.'’ For starters, there are many different kinds of organic traffic, meaning that increasing traffic does not automatically translate to increased revenue. Ranking first on Google for Italian men’s shoes does not do your CBD business any good, for instance.

To avoid ambiguity, you and your team should outline exactly what you’re hoping to accomplish with SEO. Are you looking to boost product sales by ranking for certain keywords? Are you struggling to reduce your website’s bounce rate or increase your conversion rate? If you’re looking to increase ad revenue, would you prefer to have a wide audience or a smaller audience that spends more time, on average, on your site? Are you looking for help building a social media following, creating sponsored content, or other services that go beyond SEO?

No matter which SEO firm you choose, make sure you’re clear on the type of results you’re looking for and what services you’ll require.

Related: 3 Tips for Creating Sponsored Content That Engages Consumers

3. Don’t just go by a Google search for 'best SEO' lists. Instead, go by word of mouth.

Why shouldn’t you choose a Search Engine Optimization company based on how well they rank on search engines? The best SEO specialists are too busy optimizing websites for their customers to waste time on their own websites.

The best firms typically have a lot of long-term customers who have referred members of their professional circle to the same service. Only companies that need new clients will bother to rank for “best SEO company in Austin,” for example. This applies to other keywords, too, like “Best SEO services” and “best SEO tools.”

Furthermore, do not assume that any listicle is impartial. Generally, the companies on that list have paid a premium for their spot on it. Good SEO companies already have too much business to bother paying for a spot on a “bestseocompanies.com” or “topseos.com” list. This does not mean that there are no reputable lists out there, just that you should trust a “best SEO company” list as much as you would another for “best restaurants in New York.”

This means that the best way to find a qualified SEO firm is the old-fashioned way: word-of-mouth advertising. Instead of using Google, ask people in your professional circle -- but not direct competitors -- whom they would recommend. It can also be helpful to ask other businesses within your industry because they services they’ll recommend will already have experience in your field.

Related: Why Word-of-Mouth Marketing Matters (Infographic)

4. Find an SEO firm with metrics that work for you.

Once you’ve outlined your goals and narrowed down your options to a few companies, it’s time to make sure that you and the company that you choose to work with have a clear method of charting your progress once you get started. In other words, what is the end goal of ranking for specifical keywords?

Before you choose your next SEO firm, it’s crucial that you and your consultant are on the same page when it comes to Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. KPIs are metrics that can apply to virtually any aspect of a business and can mean a host of different things within SEO itself. For example, a company with a new product will have different objectives than an older company with an established clientele.

But KPIs go way beyond that. In other words, we have access to so much data that it’s easy to get lost in it or track the wrong KPIs. This also means that you need an SEO firm that understands which metrics are the most important to your business and can condense that information into something that you can digest. Here are a few of the most important KPIs to consider:

Organic sessions: How many people visit your website through organic search? This is often considered the most basic, and most important, KPI in SEO. Beyond that, you can look at other factors like the average number of page views, duration per visit, number of unique visitors, and bounce rate.

Conversion rate: What percentage of visitors buy your product, sign up for your newsletter or engage with your content?

Keyword rankings: Which keywords do you rank for and, overall, have your keyword rankings increased since you hired your SEO firm?

Google crawling mistakes: Google crawling is the process by which a Google bot systematically indexes your website’s content. If Google struggles to read your website, it cannot index it in a way that shows up in search, which negatively impacts organic traffic.

Page load time: The time it takes for a page to load directly correlates to how quickly people leave your site. According to Think with Google, the bounce rate, meaning how quickly people exit your website, increases by 90 percent when page loading time increases from one to five seconds.

Related: Deciphering Your Website Traffic Reports: Five Tips

5. Choose an SEO firm that communicates effectively.

Though you should have access to the tools they’re using to measure your KPIs -- SEMRush, Google Search Console, Google Analytics-- most likely, you don’t have time to spend the time to analyze all that data. For this reason, you need an SEO specialist team that works for you in terms of communication and fostering trust.

Keep in mind that SEO is a process so you could be working with this firm for years to come. Even if you only plan on working with an outside company temporarily, meeting your organic website traffic goals takes time, patience, and a constructive working relationship.

SEO is crucial to your business. Choosing the right SEO firm is, too.

Today, approximately 90 percent of users only look at results on Google’s first page. This means that finding an SEO firm that works for you has the potential to transform your business.

Related: 10 Tweaks That Can Boost Lagging Articles Onto Google's First Page

But finding the right company can be harder than it would seem. Many make promises that they cannot keep, or violate Google’s rules through bad SEO, ultimately hurting your business. So instead of turning to Google or “best of” lists, consult friends and business associates to find a qualified SEO firm. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, make sure that you and your firm are clear on your goals. Then, establish KPIs to measure those objectives. It’s also important to choose a firm that communicates effectively so that you can foster a long and successful working relationship.

But most importantly, do not mistake SEO for a buzzword. Search Engine Optimization is a process that can help you build a successful brand -- if you find the right SEO firm.

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