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I’ve been in the digital marketing world for about 6 years now and have worked at 2 agencies, two brands inhouse, and now I’m running this company whose blog you are on and doing a bit of side consulting myself. As such, I see and have seen a lot of emails and leads from people seeking SEO services.
The SEO and digital marketing industries are still in their nascent early stages. Until just a few years ago, it was relatively easy to rank a website for the long term by building a bunch of links with exact match anchor text to that page. Now, when done at scale, that exact same tactic will get you into a lot of trouble.
I’ve recently been coming across more companies who want to hire someone on a “test” basis, especially for SEO, because they have been burned by bad consultants or agencies in the past. Therefore, they are trying to hedge their bets by not investing in hiring another consultant or agency. I am completely against this way of hiring a consultant or agency and will not pass these leads along to agencies or consultants because I believe that these leads are not fair to either the company requesting it or the service provider. Let me explain.
The differences between hiring a consultant and someone fulltime are vast, but one of the biggest is the speed at which they can be integrated into the company. A consultant can usually get up to speed quicker than an inhouse person on what the supposed marketing needs are, simply because of a lack of office politics with the consultant, but a consultant also will take a bit longer to understand your business and how it grows. Consultants and agencies can make recommendations all day, but getting to the strategies and tactics that move the needle for you takes time.
Hence, hiring someone on a “test” basis for a month will never work out in your favor. Within a month’s time, even a very good SEO consultant will barely be able to do a technical audit and make recommendations, do comprehensive keyword research to move your traffic needle, and possibly do a link audit. Usually, all of this work (assuming they have a couple of other clients) will take a few months. Not to mention, an SEO consultant should NEVER do the work for this small amount (let’s say $1000) that is going to truly move the needle for a company.
The next reason why a “test” engagement between a company and a digital marketing service provider is that success with digital marketing is dependent on implementation. When technical SEO recommendations are made, they have to be implemented before any change can be seen. If new content is needed, then it will take time to plan that content, find someone to write it (hiring takes forever) or write it yourself, publish it, promote it, and have it start driving value for your business.
This holds true across all the channels of digital marketing – SEO, email, content, CRO. The goal at the beginning of any of these engagements is to learn as fast as possible what works, then to do more of that. This takes time to get it right, so a short engagement will never serve your needs.
Finally, most agencies and companies are bad at tracking the right metrics. If you don’t allow a service provider to first do an audit to make sure that credit is being given where it is due, then this project stands zero chance of ever continuing on at a higher engagement level. Even with paid advertising, it takes time to find the right mix of channels, messaging, and spend even aside from the Analytics tracking issues.
I’d argue that if you’ve been burned by bad consultants in the past, that’s not the fault of the consultant. Rather, a breakdown has occurred in the vetting process and so that process needs to be fixed. Other than making sure that you are a budget fit (which is very important, though budgets can be flexible), these are the ways I propose that businesses go about vetting a potential service provider.
First, get the names of clients or bosses they have worked with before. I’d do this after an initial call, because the initial call is meant to see if you enjoy talking with the person and think they have the skills that meet your needs. You don’t want to do this too late in the process though, because then the service provider will feel like you don’t trust them. If you make this part of your vetting process from the start, you can learn a lot.
Every service provider likes to put forth their “best” case studies, but are those case studies really pertinent to your business? If you’re a small business and the agency you are talking with specializes in working with the enterprise, will they be able to move the needle for your business?
While in discussions with the consultant or agency, ask them for some case studies or to give you some examples of businesses they’ve worked with that have your business model or one similar and are about your size. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if they have experience.
You want to work with others who view business the same way as you do. Is business a means to an end for them, or are they truly passionate about what they do? Either answer is fine, but their answer should be in line with yours. After all, if you are a work-all-hours-of-the-day-and-night type of person and they are not, you will become frustrated with them very quickly, and vice versa.
Get on the same page with expectations and work styles.
This one is often quite overlooked. Do you enjoy chatting with them? Do they instill trust in you? Are they a good communicator? When challenges arise (as they always do), do you think you’ll be able to work through the issues with them?
Hiring a consultant or agency is a scary time for a business. If you’ve been burned before by a bad consultant or agency, you’ll be even more shy to make the commitment to a new one. This is precisely why I started Credo, because I saw good businesses hiring bad agencies and getting burned.
Good luck. I’m rooting for all of you.
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Check out our recommendations for lead generation and SEO tools as well as the books we recommend reading as you grow your business.
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