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How to Choose an SEO Company: 8 Steps for Success [Data]

Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.

You’re about to choose an SEO company, and your entire team is counting on you to find an SEO agency that will achieve everything you — and leadership — want from search engine optimization (SEO).

Shake off the nerves and take the shot with this data-backed guide, which covers:

Keep reading to learn how to choose an SEO company that will deliver the results your business demands. Then, check out our compilation of the best SEO firms in the world to start your search!

How businesses are choosing an SEO company in 2024

Notes icon with checkmark.

Key Takeaways

  • 61% of businesses hire an SEO firm for the expertise
  • 46% of businesses would recommend their SEO agency to a friend
  • Most businesses find an SEO company through referrals
  • Reputation is the #1 factor in businesses choosing an SEO company

Before compiling our advice on choosing an SEO agency, we wanted to understand how organizations choose an SEO company today. So, we polled 500 U.S.-based marketing and sales professionals to understand their motivations, process, and satisfaction with their pick.

Why are companies hiring an SEO agency?

Companies are hiring an SEO agency for one big reason: Their expertise.

From our conversations, we learned that 61% of businesses hire an SEO firm because the business doesn’t have the expertise to do search engine optimization in-house. For smaller companies, a lack of results was the biggest motivator for outsourcing their SEO campaign.

When it came to choosing an SEO company, we knew that research was then critical.

Businesses need the tools to research an SEO service provider in-depth so they can verify the agency’s expertise. Case studies, reviews, awards, and client references could help businesses find the right SEO company for their needs.

Source data

Outsource Reason% of Marketers
Lack of time10.70%
Lack of resources22.70%
Lack of expertise26.87%
Lack of results15.48%
More cost-effective21.48%
Other2.78%

How are companies finding an SEO agency?

Companies lean heavily on one channel for finding an SEO agency: Referrals.

From friends to colleagues, sales and marketing professionals prefer to ask around. If they don’t find what they’re looking for from their network, though, they’ll turn to search engines, which put the expertise of SEO service providers to the test.

However, more than 20% of respondents shared that SEO agencies have contacted them directly.

While an effective sales tactic, direct outreach gets a mixed reception because of its use of:

  • Aggressive sales tactics, like pushing a limited-time offer
  • Overpromising results, like promising page-one rankings in 30 days
  • Limited transparency, like shrinking from sharing pricing or deliverables

After learning how companies find an SEO marketing company, we knew education was important. Businesses needed to educate themselves before picking an SEO company on what reputable, trustworthy agencies look like so they could evaluate firms and direct outreach offers effectively.

Source data

Source% of Marketers
Referral31%
Direct outreach by service provider21.60%
Online search17%
Industry conference or event14%
Social media13.80%
Other2.60%

How are companies choosing an SEO agency?

Companies weigh several factors when choosing an SEO agency. The most to least important are:

  1. Reputation overall
  2. Price
  3. Reputation in a specific industry
  4. Experience and expertise
  5. Customer service
  6. SEO rankings

Only enterprise-level businesses placed SEO costs as the most important factor (followed by reputation).

Based on this information, we knew companies need to do a few things before picking an SEO agency:

  1. Learn what makes a company reputable in SEO
  2. Educate themselves on how much SEO costs
  3. Understand the benefits of a long-term SEO partnership vs. short-term

Are companies satisfied with their SEO companies?

53.8% of businesses

would not recommend their SEO provider to a friend.

Source: WebFX

Companies appeared satisfied with their SEO company, with 46% willing to recommend their SEO partner.

As a part of our survey, businesses rated their satisfaction using Net Promoter Score (NPS). Most polled as Promoters, meaning they would recommend their SEO provider to a friend. The remaining, a total of 53.8%, were Detractors (dissatisfied) or Passives (neutral).

From this data, we knew that while most companies weren’t dissatisfied with their SEO provider, the majority weren’t willing to recommend their SEO firm to a friend or colleague — which is the number one way businesses go about choosing a good SEO company!

Again, we knew education was essential in helping businesses evaluate SEO agencies and find the best SEO company.

We also knew that companies had an opportunity to change what they look for in an SEO services provider, as de-prioritizing customer service in the shopping process likely affected their experience (and satisfaction) later.

How to choose a good SEO company in 2024

Learn how to choose a good SEO company in 2024 with these eight tips:

1.     Collect stakeholder requirements

Choosing an SEO agency starts with your stakeholders and their requirements for outsourcing like:

  • Budget: How much is your business willing to spend on SEO?
  • Goals: What does your company want to accomplish by outsourcing SEO, and when?
  • Involvement: How much of the workload does your team want to share with the SEO provider?
  • Point of contact: Who will serve as the point of contact for your SEO campaign?
  • Location: Does your team prefer to work with an agency in the area?
  • Time zone: Does your team prefer to work with a provider in the same or similar time zone?
  • Specialization: Are you looking for help with SEO or something more specific, like local SEO?
  • Miscellaneous: What information is unique to your business, like past outsourcing experiences?

When you understand what your team expects from hiring a search engine optimization firm, you can:

  • Filter agencies faster
  • Provide candidates with accurate information about your expectations, timeline, and SEO strategy
  • Pick the right SEO marketing company for your team

The above saves you, your team, and your business time, money, and headaches.

2.     Research what ‘good’ SEO companies look like

Next, take some time to research what a ‘good’ SEO company looks like. Some standout features include:

  • Case studies, which demonstrate the service provider’s ability to meet (or exceed) client expectations.
  • Certifications, like Google Premier Partner, which Google awards to the top 3% of agencies.
  • Reviews, which highlight the client experience — the good and the bad.
  • Awards, which acknowledge stellar performance by an agency in results, service, or approach.
  • Transparency, which can range from publishing prices to documenting SEO work.
  • Experience, which should encompass several years or decades in the best SEO companies.
  • Reporting, which provides regular updates on work completed, progress made, and more.
  • Team, which includes multiple specializations to deliver a turn-key SEO solution.
  • Client ratio, which should be lower to ensure your account receives the attention it needs.

As WebFX’s Vice President of Business Development, Trevin Shirey, shares:

Past and proven performance is the most important factor, in my mind, when somebody is looking to find an SEO partner. Especially with the Internet nowadays, it’s easy to say a lot of nice things about yourself or to look like a really reputable agency that knows what they’re doing at a surface level, but SEO agencies that are truly successful are going to have a lot of specific, proven, and verifiable results available for potential clients.

Trevin Shirey, WebFX’s Vice President of Business Development

If you want to standardize your vetting process for picking an SEO company, consider creating a sheet with columns for the above features (case studies, certifications, reviews, and awards), and add your notes or observations in the appropriate row. This way, you’ll have a reference for all your research.

Once you know what to look for in an SEO agency, you can make shopping for one smarter and faster.

3.     Compile potential SEO companies

Once you have a baseline for what makes an SEO company a good SEO marketing company, start researching potential agencies. From our study, we found businesses rely on a few outlets for finding agencies, including:

  • Referrals
  • Online search
  • Social media
  • Industry conferences or events

Referrals provide an excellent starting point and often connect you with a good SEO agency.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for through referrals, move to online search next.

When searching online for an SEO company, keep in mind how you search.

For example, if you’re focused on getting the lowest price possible from a reputable SEO company, you’ll often search in a way that lists cheap SEO agencies — agencies advertising SEO services for a few hundred dollars each month — which won’t meet your needs for a reputable provider.

Typically, you’ll find third-party review sites and agency websites when researching SEO experts. Using what you’ve learned from our earlier tips in how to find an SEO marketing company, you can narrow this list of firms and then evaluate them using the following steps.

4.     Review case studies

Case studies provide great data when choosing an SEO company. As Shirey remarks:

I always recommend that people ask for specific examples of past work, such as a website or a campaign…So, proven performance is number one on my list. Make sure that you have verifiable proof that the company knows what they’re doing and that they’re able to drive meaningful results for their clients.”

Trevin Shirey, WebFX’s Vice President of Business Development

When evaluating a search engine optimization firm’s case studies, look for the following:

  • Objectives: What was the client (and agency) trying to achieve?
  • Metrics: What metrics did they measure, and did they align with the client’s objectives?
  • Timeframe: How long did the campaign last, and what timeframe was used to measure change?
  • Testimonials: What does the client say about their experience?

You can investigate case studies further by taking a few additional steps, like:

  • Confirming the client exists
  • Checking the featured client’s website in tools like Screaming Frog

The above steps can help you verify the case study’s credibility. If you found the search engine agency through a referral, your friend or colleague’s recommendation is likely enough to validate the agency’s work and its case studies.

Overall, your research will help you understand:

  • Whether the agency adapts to client needs or uses a copy-and-paste SEO strategy
  • How the agency measures success, like by focusing on revenue vs. rankings
  • How the agency’s SEO process works, including how it executes SEO strategies
  • What types of companies the agency works with, like business-to-business (B2B)

You’ll also better understand whether the firm is the right SEO company for you.

5.     Read client reviews

Next, spend some time reading client reviews on:

  • Google Business Profile
  • Third-party review sites like Clutch
  • Bing Places
  • Social media sites like Facebook

While reading online reviews, consider the following questions:

  • Are the reviews detailed or generic?
  • What is the balance between positive, neutral, and negative reviews?
  • What are the most common positive and negative things reviewers say?
  • How does the client respond (if supported by the platform) to reviews?

Think about the considerations other businesses make when choosing an SEO company, too:

  • Reputation overall
  • Price
  • Reputation in a specific industry
  • Experience and expertise
  • Customer service
  • SEO rankings

While many companies focus on the agency’s reputation, price, and experience, they often de-prioritize customer service. When you read client reviews, look for what people say about the customer service, like response times, communication, and reporting.

From reading reviews, you can better understand:

  • Where the agency excels
  • Where the agency misses the mark
  • How the agency handles feedback

Once you have your takeaways, consider them from your company’s perspective.

If your business really values reporting, for example, and this agency gets repeated complaints about its reporting, then you’ll probably want to skip that agency. In comparison, if the SEO firm receives high marks for its reporting, you might want to look more into picking that SEO company.

6.     Speak with past or current clients

When you start speaking with past or current clients, you’re close to choosing an SEO company.

For this tip on how to find an SEO company, you’ll need to contact the agency. Most SEO agencies will want to speak with your team before providing a client list. These conversations help you and the agency determine if you’re a good fit for one another.

If you and the SEO firm align, they’ll provide a client list when requested.

When it comes to what you do next, Shirey recommends the following, “Make sure that you call maybe three to five current clients of a particular SEO vendor to vet them. Ask them how they like working with that particular company.”

Additional questions you can ask include:

  • How long have you worked with this SEO company?
  • What were your goals when you hired the SEO agency, and have you achieved them?
  • How fast do they return your calls or emails?
  • How much of your time is spent working with the agency?
  • What is one thing the SEO firm could do better?
  • Would you recommend them? Why or why not?

If the agency refuses to provide a client list or can’t compile at least three to five current clients, reconsider choosing that SEO company. Likely, they don’t have any raving fans — or don’t have a large enough client base.

7.     Request deliverables

Deliverables are your best friend when shopping for SEO agencies because they share the what, when, and how of SEO services. From the deliverables, you’ll learn what the agency will do for you, when they’ll do it, and how much it’ll cost you.

Most SEO companies do not publish their service deliverables online (WebFX is an exception), so you’ll need to contact the agencies for this step. Again, the agency will likely want to speak with you to determine if you’re a good fit for their marketing services, before sharing their deliverables.

Once you have the deliverables, check if they include the following:

  • SEO audit
  • Keyword research
  • On-page optimizations
  • Off-page optimizations
  • Technical optimizations
  • Regular reporting
  • Dedicated point of contact

If you spoke with the agency, see if the deliverables include anything specific to your discussions. While not required, this additional touch can show the agency listened to your SEO needs and is invested in working with your business.

8.     Ask questions

The final step in how to choose an SEO company revolves around meeting your potential agencies.

Before you sign with an SEO agency, you want to meet them. Whether you meet in-person or virtually, like through a video conference, that face-to-face meeting can help your team determine if they are the right SEO agency for you.

Come to the meeting with questions, too.

As Shirey explains:

People sometimes apologize for asking us questions in the sales process, but I think that the more questions that you can ask about past performance, the clearer picture you’re going to get about how skilled an SEO agency is and how well they’re able to perform. A company that’s well-rounded isn’t going to have anything to hide, and they’ll have a whole bunch of clients that are eager and willing to share their experience working with them.

Trevin Shirey, WebFX’s Vice President of Business Development

Examples of questions you can ask include:

  • How much time will you need from my business?
  • When should we expect to see results?
  • What experience do you have in our industry?
  • How much do your services cost?
  • How do you execute SEO strategies?

For the best meet-and-greet, brainstorm various questions with your team and company leaders. While your team may have questions about strategy and reporting, your decision-makers may have questions about pricing and return on investment (ROI).

Make sure you also feel comfortable with the agency. You want to feel like you can ask questions, voice concerns, and more. If you don’t, it can lead to problems with developing a long-term partnership, which is critical as SEO is a long-term, ongoing strategy.

3 mistakes smart businesses make when picking an SEO company

Everyone makes mistakes, and that includes the best businesses. That’s why, before you start choosing an SEO company, you should review the common and big mistakes organizations often make when finding an SEO agency.

These three mistakes include:

1. Choosing a “cheap” SEO agency

$2500 – $7500

is the average cost for monthly SEO services

Source: WebFX

Price does matter when it comes to SEO services and agencies. You want to set an SEO budget and find an SEO company within that budget. The mistake, however, is that many businesses set unrealistic budgets.

They see agencies offering SEO for $100 per month, for instance, and think that’s reasonable. The truth, however, is that the SEO companies promoting those ultra-low rates often underdeliver.

They underdeliver when it comes to your strategy, for example, using copy-and-paste approaches to deliver nonexistent returns.

Or, they fail to communicate with your team. Again, this lack of service results in terrible customer experience and returns.

In some cases, they’ll use black-hat SEO practices, which can result in a Google penalty.

With SEO, you get what you pay for, which is why you need a realistic budget.

Educate your company about SEO pricing. Then, you can set a feasible monthly budget for SEO services. For reference, businesses spend an average of $2500 to $7500 per month, though this number can fluctuate based on your strategy, company size, and more.

2. Browsing only local SEO companies

Getting to work with a local SEO agency is a bonus when choosing a good SEO company.

When it comes to what to look for in an SEO company, however, the location of your agency shouldn’t be your top factor. You want to prioritize experience, performance, and client experience over location because that will impact the quality of your service the most.

Limiting yourself to a small area can stop your business from achieving the kind of results you want.

If your competitor, for example, partners with an experienced agency several states away and you settle with a local, but inexperienced agency, it can prevent your company and website from ranking at the top of valuable search results and capturing that organic traffic.

That means less revenue, sales, and leads for you and more for your competitor.

Even if you choose an SEO company that isn’t local, they will often try to bridge the gap. For example, they may travel on occasion to meet your team in person. Or, they may use video conferencing or phone calls to chat with your team in a more personable way.

3. Selecting a black-hat SEO agency

Your company (and its business leaders) want results. SEO doesn’t deliver immediate results, though. In most cases, it requires three to six months to start providing a return.

This feature can lead to frustration, as well as smart companies falling for black-hat SEO strategies. Black-hat SEO describes unethical (and ineffective) long-term SEO tactics. While you can use black-hat approaches to rank in organic search results quickly, you will fall from page one fast.

Worse, Google may even ban your website from ever appearing in its own search engine results. That means people wouldn’t be able to find your business’s site via the world’s biggest search engine. You don’t want that, which is why you need to focus on established, white-hat SEO agencies.

These companies use best practices and ethical strategies that help your company rank in organic search results. In most cases, low-cost SEO services and black-hat SEO agencies go hand-in-hand.

Learn more about how to find the right SEO company

Do you want to get more tips about how to choose the right SEO company?

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