After close to 10 years working on Credo and seeing 6,500+ companies and $250,000,000 in marketing budget come though our virtual doors, I guess it is time to cover a topic and question I have heard more times than I could ever count:
How do I choose an SEO company for my company?
As I am sure you’ve learned, SEO companies are not created equal. Some are more expensive and offer a lot, others are less expensive and don’t offer as much. Some are very consultative whereas others are very “services” oriented, meaning that they just do the things needed and you don’t here from them much.
There is no right or wrong or even a single best SEO company – but there is right for your business.
If you’re looking to choose an SEO company to work with, there are a few things you need to take into account before finalizing your choice:
- Culture and professionalism
Let’s talk about each below, and be sure to stay at the end where I give you more insight into pricing and looking at proposals.
The right SEO company for your company has the experience that you need.
Before we go further, let’s define “experience” and what to look for.
We speak with a lot of companies who tell us that they want an agency who has worked in a specific niche or even with a specific competitor. The thought here is that if the agency has done it for a competitor, they can take the same playbook and do the same things and boom – growth.
The problem with this thinking is a few fold:
- You’re assuming that your competitor worked with an agency at all;
- You’re assuming that agency did a great job and was great to work with;
- You’re assuming that the same playbook will work for your company, after it’s worked for (and is presumably still being run by) your competitor.
With the exception of a few regulated industries, like medical with HIPAA considerations, experience in a specific niche doesn’t really matter that much. It can give a little bit of an advantage, and thus can be useful as a tie breaker if all other things are equal between two candidates, but that’s the extent of the weight that I give it.
Instead, what’s important is that the SEO agency has deep experience working with your type of business. So if you’re an ecommerce business you should look for an agency with ecommerce SEO experience. If you’re a location based business you should look for a local SEO agency.
This is because the SEO frameworks, strategies, and tactics that are effective vary based on the type of business. SEO isn’t just about rankings and traffic – it’s also about the business metrics (revenue!) that it can drive.
So having someone with deep experience working with your type of business and site will get you results much faster than someone who does not.
The right SEO company for your company can prove their results.
Before we go further, let’s define “results” and what it means for them to prove their results. Often times, companies will want to see case studies and even talk to “references”, aka current and past clients.
But there’s a better way to get this information, and in fact I think talking to references is actually a waste of time. A lot of agencies I speak with have stopped giving references because they find that doing so does not increase their chances of winning the contract.
Instead, when you’re hiring, the results you need to look for and ask about should map to:
- Did they deliver on what they sold?
- Did they get the results the client was looking for?
- Are they able to change strategy and recruit/staff up/make changes internally when needed to better achieve goals?
All of these matter a lot more than having a conversation with someone they’ve referred you to, because after all they’d never refer you to someone who wasn’t extremely happy.
Instead, there are some better questions to ask and actions you can take to determine their real results.
- Can you tell me about a client similar to us and not only the results they saw, but also how you achieved those?
- Can you tell me about a client similar to us who did not see the results they were looking for? What happened?
- How does an engagement usually look with your agency? What’s the expected ramp up time and what will you need?
- If we need to scale budget up or down, how does that work? If we need something outside of what you offer, how do you handle that?
Another pro tip to actually see results is to ask them for a couple websites they did SEO for. Then take that domain over to your SEMrush account and plug it into:
As an example – https://www.semrush.com/info/getcredo.com
There you’ll see the performance:
Now you can dig into what they did from content and links, though the technical optimizations they did will be hard to uncover.
Culture and professionalism
Third and finally, the right SEO company for your company has a similar culture to your company and operates professionally.
Before we go further, let’s define “culture”. In the Silicon Valley and New York City Silicon Alley tech world that I come from, “culture” has been taken to mean ping pong tables, happy hours, and people who hang out as friends.
But that’s a ridiculous way to look at culture.
When I say “culture” here, I mean that the SEO company works in the same way that yours does. It doesn’t matter if their team looks like yours (though it can signal that they care about the same things you do values-wise. I also don’t think shared values or lack thereof are a deal breaker, but to each ther own).
Culture means that they work in similar ways to you. Similar hours, have similar ways of reporting, similar temperament, similar approach to growth.
Culture of this sort is the hidden thing that makes or breaks projects. If they’re emailing at 9pm and expecting a reply, and you leave the office at 5pm and don’t read email until the next day, it’s not going to work well.
Honestly, hiring an agency should be considered as carefully as hiring a full time person. As someone who used to work at a company where I was a bad culture match with my close coworkers, I can tell you that no matter of great metrics is going to save a culture mis-match.
A quick word on price
Notice what is not in the list above – price.
While price is important and no one has unlimited budget, don’t be scared off by what may seem like a large number coming from an agency after your discussions with them.
To start, there are SEO companies all over the map on pricing – from $25 an hour to hundreds if not thousands per hour. Just so you know, most tend to settle in around $100-$125/hr domestically in the US (source).
A good SEO company will conduct the sales process in such a way that you understand what you will be getting if you sign with them. They should also help you understand what it will cost and the tradeoffs (both traffic and business) of dialing your engagement up or down. After all, the more budget you have the shorter it will take to learn what is working and what is not.
The reality stands though that many agencies will likely not do this, and instead they’ll send you a blanket proposal with some options (“a menu” is what I call it) and pricing. This may lead to sticker shock on your part and walking away without even replying.
I encourage you not to do this. To give you some insight into how agencies think, they’ll usually send a “proposal” that is really just a potential scope of work. It’s usually not done and dusted and their final offer – they see it as a starting point for a discussion.
Their pricing is usually an optimal budget for you to spend to get the results you are looking for, but it doesn’t mean it’s the only budget you can spend. If you can only spend half of what is optimal, you just need to recognize that it will take longer (maybe even twice as long) to get the results you’re targeting.
If you get sticker shock, then I encourage you to ask how and why they are willing to charge that amount. While it’s true that you can definitely find someone to do it cheaper (there is ALWAYS someone who will quote you a cheaper price), you have to ask yourself if that cheaper person can do it just as well. If not, then that’s why the more expensive person is quoting that.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll suddenly have the budget to be able to hire them (though maybe you can find it somewhere), but you’ll at least understand the tradeoffs to various pricing.
I hope that helps. If you’re ready to find an SEO company, click here to get started.