My Recent Journey Vetting and Hiring an SEO Agency

A few weeks ago, I had a lawyer friend I’ve known since college call me up. He was fed up with his current SEO agency, and he asked if he could hire me to help find, vet, and hire a new SEO agency on his behalf.

This isn’t the first time someone has come to me with his SEO frustrations. Nor is it the first time, in my years of doing SEO consulting, that I’ve been asked to come in to evaluate the SEO services an organization is paying for from another vendor. In every instance, the client was unhappy with performance, with communications, and wasn’t sure if they could trust the excuses and reasons their SEO agency had for a lack of results.

Here’s the thing. My approach is to come in giving these agencies the benefit of the doubt, and looking at both sides objectively. I don’t automatically blame the agency for the breakdown in communication or lack of results. After all, I’ve known and heard of many clients who:

  • Are not collaborative and want their SEO agency to just go away and do their thing
  • Are too busy to ever respond to requests, emails, phone calls, reports, or recommendations
  • Don’t turn over content or information in a timely manner
  • Have unrealistic expectations around what results their budget can produce

But on the flip side, even demanding clients (like my friend) can be reasonable. They just want to see progress. They want quality traffic, and above all, lead generation, and they’re willing to pay for it. They just want to know their SEO agencies are genuinely putting in the time and effort to working on their account. They want to hear from them, about the good and the bad.  

I accepted the project, and got down to business.

What Should You Look for in an SEO Agency?

As an SEO professional hiring for SEO services, I was able to get a first-hand perspective into what it’s like hiring an SEO agency. Here are my observations, which I hope not only serve those who are looking to hire an agency, but also those who provide services and are always looking to improve. I can tell you that being in the front row to this has caused me to re-evaluate and double down on the way I do things.

Results and Confidence vs. Cockiness (Yes, there’s a Difference)

Do you know what one of my pet peeves is? Overt cockiness. Arrogance. 

In the world of SEO, we call these arrogant, overly cocky professionals “SEO bros.”

What is an SEO bro, you ask? You know as soon as you encounter one. Without trying to be too offensive to the many wonderful male SEO professionals who I know, let me explain. An SEO bro is typically (but doesn’t have to be) a guy. He walks and talks with swagger. He thinks he’s pretty awesome and wants to make sure we all think that too. What really distinguishes this person though, is that an SEO Bro talks a big game, but doesn’t deliver. SEO Bros resorted to spammier techniques (and boasted of them proudly) and were mostly prevalent pre-Panda and pre-Penguin. Thankfully, I do think they are mostly a thing of the past.

Listen, I don’t mind confidence.

Just like you want a lawyer who is 100% sure of him or herself and their abilities, you want the same in an SEO professional. You want a bold person who wants to win.

Part of my job was to look at a pool of possible agencies, and to separate out those who talk a big game versus those who talk a big game plus who can actually deliver. My client had hired and experienced several agencies who failed to deliver, and he needed a trusted person to go through this process with him.

I could tell based on the proposal review call, if they listened to us and prescribed the solution we needed, or if they were trying to fit us into a box and sell us on services that wouldn’t generate the next level of results we needed. Luckily, we encountered mostly genuine professionals who came through and impressed.

Every Touchpoint Is a Place to Build Trust

Going through this on the client side, I really learned the importance of being professional at every point of interaction. From emails to phone calls to follow ups, they all matter. Each interaction is a chance to either build, or erode, trust.

On one conference call, for example, the salesperson greeted me when I jumped onto the line, but then fell silent, waiting for my client to join the call. The salesperson didn’t make small talk with me, which I found strange. As part of the hiring team vetting the agency, I expect the salesperson to initiate and hold the conversation. While the silence didn’t disqualify him in my mind, it certainly wasn’t giving him any points towards trust or winning us over.

First impressions matter. But so does the middle impression, and the last impression, and everything in between. And following up when you say you’re going to gets you major bonus points, simply because most people fail to do so.

Industry Expertise for the #WIN

Over the years, my friend has tried to hire me to do ongoing SEO for his firm. And every time I have declined for one simple reason. I 110% believe he needs an SEO agency that has expertise in his industry.

Not every vertical needs to hire SEO professionals and marketing consultants who specialize in their industry. I did SEO very successfully for a number of different industries before I decided to specialize a few years ago.

But there are just some verticals that require specific experience. And the legal industry is one of them. For my lawyer friend, I wanted to hire him a legal SEO agency that would be bringing him ideas, recommendations, lessons learned, and wins from the work they were getting from their other legal clients. I believe strongly that the right agency who works with lawyers day in and day out could get him much better results, and be a much better use of his time and budget.

Similarly, I hear this when K-12 Education clients hire me for SEO and digital marketing. They tell me it’s because I bring certain benefits to the table: I can get up and running faster, I’m passionate about their industry, I know their target market nuances, and I know what has and hasn’t worked for similar businesses. I can get them more results, faster.

So What’s the Verdict?

Did we hire my friend an amazing SEO agency?  The jury is still out as we have some amazing proposals and bids to consider. Stay tuned!

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.

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