Think long and hard before signing an SEO service provider contract

As a business owner or marketing manager in South Africa, it is often hard to decide on an SEO service provider. We previously wrote a post giving some guidance on how to chose the right SEO agency  But how do you know for certain that the provider that you have chosen is the right one for the job? It’s like proposing marriage on the first date, how do you know you are not marrying a psychopath?

In this post, we will give you a few pointers and ideas on how to vet your future SEO agency, to ensure that you have a long and happy relationship, free from the problems that so often plague such relationships.  It is vital that this is done correctly as SEO can be a major driver of digital business and is often the leading channel, in terms of delivering a return on investment.

You cannot afford to get this wrong. Never mind the wasted budget and lost opportunities in picking the wrong supplier, the consequences could be as severe as penalties and even removal from the Google search results.

Algorithm often runs into clients who are jaded from past experiences and wary about committing to SEO again in the future. They feel like they have thrown away budget and not seen results. Nine times out of ten, this is because the wrong supplier was selected in the first place. In some cases, it was due to non reputable agencies taking advantage of the lack of understanding about SEO and in other cases, it was the SEO supplier being the wrong fit or out of their depth on larger campaigns. Your “brother-in-laws colleague” who builds websites and “does some SEO” is probably not the best choice to handle your major e-commerce SEO and digital marketing.

So what do you need in the right SEO supplier?

  • A deep subject matter expertise : You want thought leaders & experts, find the guys who are innovating and bringing new tools and ideas to the market. Don’t hire “the sheep”
  • Approachable and available : Your potential agency needs to be around to answer your questions, if you struggle to get a response or get vague replies to questions consider this a big red flag.
  • Budget friendly : Work out what your budget for SEO is and then be open about it, at the end of the day a reputable supplier needs to know what budget to structure their campaign around. Find a team that can work with your budget and ask them how it will be spent on a monthly basis. SEO is not smoke and mirrors or a dark magic, they should be able to give you a clear breakdown of monthly deliverables and the costs associated with each of them.
  • A proven track record : Make sure you chose an SEO partner that can prove their effectiveness. It is vital that you ask for testimonials or references from past and present clients, as well as case studies documenting past successes. Make sure they provide references for businesses similar to yours and of the right size and standing to lend credibility to the agency. It is also worth making sure that the references and case studies are fairly recent. In the digital space, things change constantly, so success 4 years ago does not guarantee success today.

If your potential SEO partner is trying to push you into a contract, we would recommend pushing back and asking why this is necessary. Ask them why they need to “lock you in”, surely if they provide the promised value you would stick with them anyway. At Algorithm we never sell a client a contract and a mantra that we have is that “we are only as good as the last month, if we don’t perform we fire ourselves”. This lack of a contract approach means that clients can fire us at any point that they feel that we are not delivering. If you are in talks with an SEO provider that wants to tie you into a contract, you should raise this with them, and if they don’t budge, seriously consider looking elsewhere.

In summary, ensure that you vet your potential new agency extensively. Test their knowledge and expertise, ask them as many questions as you can and find out what their SEO process and strategies are. They shouldn’t be scared to tell you what these are. Ensure that you ask for case studies and references. You need to know that they have had recent successes and have done work for companies similar to yours. If you follow these steps and your potential agency ticks all the boxes, then you have likely found yourself a partner for the long term. Trust your gut. If you get a sense that they are not being open, or that they are dodging your questions, simply move on. There are some reputable agencies out there. Lastly think long and hard about signing a contract, should you really be tied to a company if they are not performing?

Graeme Stiles

Graeme has 10 years experience in Search Marketing across a number of industries. He spent time in the online gaming sector learning the ins and outs of competitive search marketing before moving into the digital agency space.
Graeme's focus is now on process optimisation and systems creation in the performance marketing space.

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