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What Makes a Good SEO Company? Let’s Play 20 Questions.

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    Many of our clients worked with another SEO agency before they worked with us. And typically, when we ask them about their previous experience, we don’t hear many positive tales. This isn’t surprising (why else would they leave, right?) but it can be instructive.

    Here’s what we hear most often:

    • Progress was slow
    • The work did not have high value
    • We were never really sure what they were doing
    • Our Key Performance Indicators actually went down

    The sad truth is that some companies claim to provide SEO services when they don’t actually have the right qualifications. Consider these observations:

    • It doesn’t take an SEO expert to add an SEO plugin to a WordPress theme.
    • A screen shot from the Google Analytics dashboard is not the same thing as an in-depth progress report.
    • Content services should include a holistic strategy that aligns a brand for its best performance in a given market.

    I believe that a good SEO company requires a rare combination of disciplines that work together to provide accurate insight and guidance for your digital marketing. These skills not only include being great at digital marketing. They also include strong business acumen, deep technical capability, and for sure, unparalleled analytics capability.

    Hiring an SEO partner shouldn’t require an extended period of trial and error. That’s why I developed a list of 20 questions to help you answer this big one: “How do I find a good SEO company?”

    In the coming weeks, I will be posting more thoughts and insight about each individual question. In the meantime, you can use this list to interview a new SEO agency or evaluate your current SEO partner.

    1. Are they listening to what you’re saying?

    This is the one and only way to understand the pain points and objectives that will be the focus of your engagement.

    2. Can they provide you with the right mix of services for your needs?

    Their skill set should be able to address all of your pain points, work with your internal resources, and produce results in line with your objectives.

    3. Can they easily demonstrate ROI?

    They must know how their SEO services will affect your bottom line and how to build a metrics path from online behavior patterns to KPI production and profit.

    4. Are they able to provide you with clear KPI reporting?

    It should include acquisition cost as well as KPI value and accurately predict the volume of KPI acquisition over time.


    5. Do they know how to use metrics to estimate market potential for your brand?

    Key metrics include brand reach, the strength of your competitors, audience segmentation, consumer brand loyalty (and why the loyalty), and the volume of interest in your products or services.


    6. Are they good with analytics?

    Every SEO recommendation should start with analytic reasoning and provide you with a portfolio of well-designed reports that clearly convey progress towards objectives, highlighting the most important points.


    7. How robust is their reporting infrastructure?

    It should be capable of blending data from your CRM and other sources, have a flexible report design that shows end-to-end views of your business data, provide market/competitor intelligence, and integrate your website, social media channels, and search engine metrics.


    8. Do they have strong business and marketing skills?

    Since SEO involves advisory services, these are foundational requirements.

    9. Does their research focus on your target audience?

    They should be able to uncover the channels and media types used by your audience and effectively and efficiently use these channels to put your brand in front of the people that are most interested in engaging with a supplier of your product or service. Furthermore, they should know (or be able to find out) what motivates your audience, what influences them during their decision journey, how to create promotional messages that build trust with consumers, and what the requirements are for brand selection.


    10. Do they understand your brand values and unique brand proposition?

    This is critical to developing successful content strategies and audience messaging.


    11. How deep are their technical skills?

    The best SEO companies are capable of creating their own tools for gathering data and managing complex data sets to provide your with unique insights into your market, your competitors, and your audience’s requirements.


    12. Have they developed a digital strategy that efficiently acquires market share for your brand?

    An uninformed or misaligned strategy can waste precious marketing budget by missing the ideal opportunities for your brand. A good SEO company will identify market trends, stay on top of what your competitors are offering, report on changes in your audience’s interest patterns, and provide early notice of market threats and alternative offerings. This informs your marketing department and can provide decision support to adjust and pivot as necessary.


    13. Have they discussed how your brand could benefit from professional PR services?

    At the very least, they should identify if there is a need for PR services. At most, they can work closely with a PR firm to recommend messaging that aligns with your brand values and that will build trust and loyalty with your audience.

    14. Are they experts in both Technical and Off-Site SEO?

    Both disciplines are critical to your success. The former will deal with things like schema tagging, transfer volume, page speed, mobile responsiveness, crawling issues, image optimization, error correction, etc. The latter will consider your website’s full online context, including territory covered by the next two questions.


    15. Have they discussed the use of Local SEO?

    This involves correctly tagging a site and managing external resources such as Google My Business and other directories to optimize for ‘near me’ searches.


    16. Do they understand how to blend Regional, National, and International SEO?

    A digital strategy can be infinitely complex when it involves multiple geographic targets. Your SEO company should know what an “hreflang tag” is. They should also know the differences between a gTLD, ccTLD, and language subdirectory and can recommend the right one for your application.


    17. Can they provide SEO at the enterprise level?

    It’s typical for large organizations such as universities and hospitals to have multiple websites targeting different audience segments. A good SEO company will know how to align these websites properly so that they work in harmony to promote your brand and don’t overlap. Enterprise SEO also involves enterprise reporting that shows you holistic reports with drill-down as needed.


    18. Do they know how to consolidate multiple websites into one?

    As legacy website systems get older and more complex, enterprise consolidation has become a popular solution. Successful consolidation can even improve overall performance. Still, the process involves knowing how to blend active websites together so that search visibility as well as all the requirements that the individual websites were providing to your audiences are maintained.


    19. Have they stressed the importance of Pre-Launch SEO?

    Productive websites are often redesigned with little to no consideration of SEO impact. This often results in lost visibility and a drop in lead production. A good SEO company will provide you with a risk assessment to prevent this from happening.

    20. Do they know how to manage a lead production website?

    If your business depends on quality lead production from your website, make sure you’re dealing with an experienced SEO agency that can prove a long successful history of producing leads for their clients that turn into sales.

    SEO is a service, plain and simple. Like most services, it is done well by a minority of dedicated professionals and done poorly by a majority of others. Your success may depend on who you choose and you should never feel bad about being thorough. During your selection (or re-evaluation) process, consider asking for demos, references, and sample reports. You can also ask to talk to the agency’s team members, especially anyone who would be working on your account. Look for creativity, which applies to almost every one of the 20 questions on this list. It’s also a good sign if employees enjoy working there. Your experience is likely to reflect this.

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