Hiring a trustworthy SEO firm or SEO agency for your business is not a walk in the park.

There are literally thousands and thousands of SEO firms and agencies out there and there seems to be no easy way to filter out the wolves from a pack of sheeps. Everyone claims to give you results but the truth is that SEO results take time to show up and by the time you have invested your time, money, effort and opportunity cost in one SEO firm, you may find out that the results are far from what was promised.

This lack of results makes choosing the right SEO firm for your business more critical. If you don’t make the right choice in the very beginning, you may end up losing money, time and effort in the whole process. Worst, the SEO agency may actually end up hurting your business than doing any good and then you will have to clean up the mess yourself.

So how do you hire an SEO agency for your business? What are the credentials to look for before you hire an SEO freelancer or an SEO company for your business or company? How do you ensure that the person whom you have hired is trustworthy and really knowledgeable?

In this article, we will discuss all of these points and give you a step by step guideline on hiring or choosing the right SEO company for your business.

Types of SEO Firms or Agencies

Broadly speaking, there are 4 types of SEO firms at your disposal

Blackhat SEO agencies

These are those companies who promise you” the First rank on Google within a month”. These are the people who promise to rank your website on the first page of Google no matter what your website is all about. These are the people who claim to know everything about SEO and will proudly show endorsements on their website that they have helped businesses achieve first page rankings on Google for chosen keywords. These are the agencies which follow all the shady SEO techniques and try to game the system by brute force method.

You are better off staying away from these SEO agencies because at the end of the day, you do not want to take shortcuts and use illegitimate ways to gain search rankings. It may help in the shorter term but in the longer haul, you will be disappointed and will have to start the process all over again which is not the best use of your time.

It is also worth noting

More than 95% of the SEO firms are black hat and do not follow the guidelines provided by Google and other Search engines. They go the Brute force way, deliver results in the shorter term and disappear when you are in trouble.

Hence, you should be very careful before you end up hiring a Blackhat SEO firm or company for your business.

Big “Fat” SEO Agencies or Companies

There are SEO companies which take care of everything for your business but they do charge a hefty fee against all of their services. The fee may as well rise up to $20,000 a month so not every business owner can afford to hire these services for their business.

Typically, these big fat SEO Firms take care of all aspects of SEO which includes the following

— Writing and publishing content
— Maintaining the website’s design, readability, software, infrastructure and everything else
— Optimizing Content for search engines and achieving objectives for your business
— Driving key business aspects and improving KPI’s
— Running advertising and Search engine marketing campaigns on Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other sites that support Display advertising.

In General, these companies are hired by big corporations who have multi-million dollar budgets for running advertising and digital marketing campaigns. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, American Express and other fortune 500 conglomerates end up hiring these SEO firms because mid-range firms do not have the specialty to meet the complex needs of a big organization.

Mid Range SEO Companies: 

The next category is about Mid Range SEO firms who don’t come with a high price tag. These are specialized firms who have an in-house staff of writers, designers, developers and creatives who will execute SEO campaigns for your website or business. Typically, the charge falls in the range of $4000 – $8000 a month and these firms or agencies are employed by small to mid-range companies who cannot afford to spend anything more than $5000 a month on their SEO  campaigns.

I have hired a mid-range SEO firm for one of my websites and here was a typical workflow which was followed.

First Step: You talk with one of their account executives so that they understand what your goals are, what you are trying to achieve with your website and how much you are willing to invest every month. (Tip – Don’t tell them any figure or budget before signing the deal, tell them you are flexible and don’t have a number in your mind). It is also worthwhile to test the agency a bit, interview their consultants and ask them basic SEO questions to assess their knowledge about the subject. You should definitely ask for their portfolio and a list of clients, so you can cross-check the veracity of their portfolio.

Tip: If an SEO company denies to show you their portfolio of clients, it is possible that they don’t have one yet and they are trying hard to build one. Reputed SEO firms will never shy away to show their list of clients whom they have served in the past. This is because this is their best “Proof of concept” which they can utilize to maximise sales and if someone is hiding their “Proof of concept” it is possible that they don’t have one yet.

Second Step: After you have seen the portfolio of the SEO company and have interviewed their consultants, it is a good idea to cross-check the veracity of the company. You should definitely consider sending cold emails to at least 10 clients with whom the company has done business in the past. It is perfectly all right and people do it all the time. If you don’t hear back from at least one of these clients, it is possible that either the clients are fake or the clients are not as happy doing business with the SEO company you are considering hiring for your business. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for phone numbers of clients from the SEO agency and if they do provide a phone number, call them up and discuss how was the experience.

Third Step: After you have verified that the SEO agency is really good and they aren’t fake and do follow a standard of execution, it is time to discuss and negotiate the prices of services being considered. After the initial discussion is done, the company will give you a quotation on the range of their price with a floor and a ceiling price. They will clearly state the things that they will do for your brand or business and the things that they will not do. In short, they will clearly provide a clear and concise description of the things that are included in the package and the things that are excluded from the package.

Fourth Step: After the initial quotation is exchanged, you should go through the quotation and offer improvements or changes which you feel are necessary. In my case, the company proposed to publish 10 blog posts a month. I wasn’t happy with 10 so I proposed to publish 25 blog posts per month, which increased the price a bit further. I also changed the quality guidelines for each blog post, ensuring the minimum word count is 1500 words per post, every post is proofread by a human editor and compared with possible competitors before it goes live on the website.

Fifth Step: After the deliverables have been agreed upon, the fifth step is to pay an introductory money so that the company can start executing the tasks that were promised. There is no industry standard for this, some companies take 100% advance for new clients and 60% advance for older clients, while rest of the money is paid after completion of work. However, in my case, I paid only 50% advance and rest of the money was paid after the work was completed.

SEO Consultant or SEO Freelancer

The next category of SEO service providers is the individual SEO consultant or SEO freelancer whom you can hire from Freelance hiring portals such as Freelancer.com, Fiverr.com, odesk.com and other ready to hire people from Freelance work sites.

These SEO freelancers will get the job done at a very low price and they will usually agree to the budget you are willing to spend. SEO companies or agencies do not generally negotiate on the price since they have a steady pool of clients to serve and losing you for a thousand dollars is not going to hurt them much. However, the story with Freelancers or SEO consultants are not the same since most of these people do not have a “Pool of clients” and they are desperately looking for clients to earn a quick book.

The problems with an SEO freelancer is that the work done is often low quality and not up to the mark as compared to the quality of work done by reputed and well-known SEO agencies. But then again, if you are on a low budget and cannot afford to hire established SEO firms, the only choice is to hire an SEO consultant or an SEO freelancer. Be sure to read this guide – Questions to ask an SEO consultant or freelancer before hiring them?

Depending on your budget, you will have to make a choice on the type of SEO contractor you want to hire for your business. Most of the businesses do not have a fat budget to spend on marketing and hence most people take the cheapest route of either hiring an SEO consultant or they end up hiring a really new Seo firm who are willing to do the work at a very less price.

Here are few things to note before you hire an SEO contractor or an SEO company for your business or website

  1. A legitimate contractor or Seo company will never make any guarantees.

    Because the good guys know that it is practically impossible to guarantee a first position rank on Google and other search engines. So they will not make promises that are hard to achieve. Spammers, however, will promise to achieve these things for you so whenever you see an SEO company or an SEO contractor or an SEO consultant claiming to give you 1st position on Google for specific keywords, walk away.

    Don’t make a bad choice.

  2. Before hiring an SEO guy for your business, look out for credentials, endorsements, recommendations and see what their past clients are saying about him.

    If the SEO contractor has a website (which they should), look out for their portfolio. If they do not have an online portfolio, that is a big signal that maybe these guys are faking it. Once you get hold of their portfolio and past client base, email them asking how the experience was. If not email, at least don’t shy away to call them up and see what they are saying.Do not make a hiring decision without checking the veracity of the recommendations from past clients. Most people ignore this step, only to repent later.

  3. Clearly, discuss the price and deliverables and do not shy away from asking for extra things if you feel you deserve it.

    Clearly discuss all the finer details (number of blog posts, post length, keyword research, rank tracking, competitor research, ad campaign monitoring, conversion rate optimization, branding and every possible detail before signing the contract). If you feel something is not right regarding the contract and you have a suggestion, please bring it on. Most agencies and SEO freelancers will amend their procedure to incorporate your changes.

  4. Do not pay the full money in advance.

    Once they get your money, they may not put as much effort if some of the money is hanging on the table. I always suggest not to pay more than 50% advance to an SEO company because you may also want to keep the option of “Cancelling” the contract in the middle if you are not satisfied with the timeline, deliverables and other aspects of work. Hence do not pay more than 50% advance before the project starts and if someone asks for all the money in the very beginning, walk away. You will surely find a better agency or professional who values your money and does legitimate work which improves the position of your business.

  5. Test the SEO of their own website.

    If the company you are hiring has a website, test how the SEO of that website has been done. How many links have been built, from which sites, what are the keywords for which that particular site is ranking on Google? Do all of this research because a good SEO agency will follow the principle of “Charity begins at home” while a not so good SEO agency will simply do tall talks and foul words without giving results. Don’t hesitate to interview the consultant you are hiring and ask him difficult questions to test their knowledge. If possible, give them a few case studies to solve and see what approach they take to solve that problem.

Google’s Guidelines on Hiring an SEO For Your Business – How to Hire an SEO

Google’s staff Maile Ohye has a very instructive video on how to hire an SEO for your website or business. I have embedded the video below, check it out

Be Sure to read our SEO Guide which contains useful information about SEO and we have discussed in detail key SEO Concepts with examples.