How to Find a Good SEO For Your Needs
Your online presence depends on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and everything depends on online presence. If you don’t come up in Google search engine results, it’s much harder to connect with your audience and industry. Without a search presence, it’s difficult to get the word out about your business or product. So, you need to find a good SEO company if you want to start dominating the SERPs.
Unfortunately, a lot of businesses still lack a good search and content strategy. Some just write blog posts when they feel like saying something, haphazardly tossing content on their site when the desire arises. Others end up with an SEO blog writer or agency who promises a lot of things they have no idea how to deliver.
So, how do you find a good SEO company? Let’s start with the basics.
Is Using Google A Smart Way to Find a Good SEO Company?
Google is great! Since 1989, they’ve led the search industry from simplistic systems that indexed file names to sophisticated tool that can look at over 30 trillion pages and (usually) find just the one you need.
But Google search isn’t perfect, and some of its most innovative features come with really frustrating blind spots. When you do a search for a type of business like SEO agencies, Google’s local algorithm comes into play. The search engine gives greater weight to businesses that appear to be in your area. For example, a business that has photos and reviews, or has been listed in Google My Business. That’s an obvious benefit if you’re looking for Chinese takeout or a clothing store, but it can actually make it harder to find other kinds of businesses.
For example, here’s what happens when you search for “best SEO company” from the North end of Portland, Oregon:
See that? Google treats finding an SEO agency like it treats finding lunch — it assumes you’re looking for a convenient local business. If you type in the same term in Manhattan, you’ll get a totally different list of local SEO companies at the top.
So what happens when you go further down the page? Well, it gets a little more complicated. Here’s Portland page again:
At first glance, it might look promising. There are 5 different lists ranking agencies, a couple useful tips on hiring SEO firms at the bottom, and one SEO company in the middle. But take another look. Does anything look fishy about those names?
Does topseos.com/rankings-of-seo-companies sound like a trustworthy site?
And what about 10bestseos.com? What makes their top 10 SEO lists really so good that Google gives you two of them on page one?
And anyway, if Google can’t help you find the best SEO agency for your company, are a bunch of spammy-looking top 10 lists going to be any better?
If you’re looking for a good SEO company, at this point, you’re probably just confused — not to mention you might just be cursing the entire practice of SEO in the first place. Wasn’t this stuff supposed to make it easier to find things? How do you find a good SEO company when Google itself seems like it’s trying to work against you? How do you know what companies to avoid?
How to Find a Good SEO Company Without Getting Fooled
Here’s a dirty little marketing secret: if you want a keyword bad enough, and you have enough resources to put into getting it, you can make it your own. Google is getting smarter, but a dedicated SEO marketing team can influence its ranking, even if they’re not really offering what the searcher wants. They do this by targeting factors that Google likes, such as:
As we discussed above, local companies get a boost from Google. This can provide a big boost to centralized SEO companies with a big local presence, but it doesn’t do much for companies like The Content Factory that work remotely and are spread out over multiple locations.
Domain authority refers to how much weight Google gives to a particular domain when it’s determining ranking. High domain authority means Google likes your website — you look like a legitimate organization, providing good content that people actually want. That makes it easier for you to climb in the SERPs (search engine results pages), relative to competitors.
Individual pages have their own page authority — a value based on how good that page looks to Google. However, even mediocre pages have an easier time ranking if Google likes their domain.
That’s a little bit of an oversimplification. See, Google’s algorithms are secret. We know a lot of the factors they look for, but we don’t know the exact formulas that weigh them and come up with search results.
Moz (an SEO marketing software provider) put together Domain and Page Authority metrics that try to predict how well a site will do, and help digital marketers improve those results. Other sites like SEMRush provide similar tools.
Backlinks and internal links
Google looks at how web pages are linked to each other. This includes internal links within your website. For example, if you write a blog about a product you sell, and link it to your product page, it will help Google understand how those pages are related.
Backlinks — links from pages outside your domain to your webpages — are especially important. Google counts them as a vote for your page, which sort of transfers some of the referring site’s domain and page authority to yours. This is key to good SEO. If you can get the right pages to link to you, that can really help drive you up in search results.
Internal links can help you in a similar way to how backlinks do, by transferring value from one of your pages to another one. For example, if you link to a new blog from a relatively high-ranking page on your website, it can help boost that blog in search rankings.
Some marketing companies use links in dubious ways. For example, those “Best SEO” lists use a really elaborate linking strategy to push them up in search for very targeted keywords, so they can charge companies for high ratings. Some black hat SEOs are a lot worse — they intentionally create lousy domains and link them to competitor sites to drive them down in ranking. Fortunately, Google has made a lot of progress rooting out destructive link building.
Google tracks how visitors surf into your website and what they do there, which affects your SEO in complex ways. Marketers debate how Google uses stats like bounce rate (how often visitors leave after clicking one page), and time on site to help rank your site. Depending on what your site does, a high bounce rate could be a good sign that your search found what they were looking for right away, or it could mean they didn’t actually like your content.
But one thing we all agree on is that Google wants to deliver content people click on. If searchers click your site every time it pops up in a Google search for SEO, you’re more likely to rank than a page that people ignore.
Google uses keywords to help determine what topics you’re writing about. It pays attention to how you use keywords in the title (what shows up as your title in search), the H1 header (the title at the top of the page), H2 headers (the large subtitles around this post) and other places in your page. If you’re careful in choosing your keywords, it can help you move up in ranking.
Keywords in your domain name or the URL of a page also play a role. If you run a site called, oh I don’t know — let’s say “10bestseo.com,” you’ll have a boost for articles targeting keyword phrases like “top seos.”
Google uses keywords and other cues to discern your content strategy — that is, what kinds of articles, videos, and other content you’re providing. If you’re a marketing company that has “SEO” in your name, and writes a lot of keyword-optimized articles about SEO marketing, with the right keywords, Google will send you more traffic around searches with SEO.
Shouldn’t I Hire Based on Search Engine Ranking?
You should definitely be suspicious of an SEO company that gets no traffic at all, but the top companies in your search aren’t necessarily the ones that will get the best results for you.
With that said, by no means are we saying that ranking high is a bad thing! Obviously, a company that can write content that can rank well is probably doing something right (we’d be hypocrites if we said otherwise!).
All we’re saying is that ranking isn’t everything, and there’s more than one reason a company could be showing up on page one:
- They’re the only big SEO company in your city.
- They’ve launched a major search engine marketing initiative to try to scare up more clients.
- They’re an aggregator that sells spots on top 10 lists to companies with deep pockets.
- You’ve clicked other sites in the past that are similar to theirs.
- They’re actually very popular and well respected.
And even if a company is the best SEO company in your city, is that enough?
Unless you’re a very localized business like a restaurant or a brick and mortar store, your online marketing efforts should be national or even international. You need to choose a company that can get results in your industry. That’s a lot harder to find.
What is Black Hat SEO — And Why Isn’t it Good SEO?
We briefly mentioned black hat SEO before, but it’s important that you understand what black hat SEO is and why you should avoid any company that deals in the darker side of the SEO world.
Generally, in the tech world, “black hat” refers to any agency or individual that uses methods that could be considered exploitive. In other words, these companies aren’t slowly grinding up through the SERPs through good content and marketing — they’re getting there by exploiting Google’s algorithm.
By using all kinds of tricks (from buying backlinks, to cloaking, keyword stuffing, and all kinds of backend SEO shenanigans) they can cause their clients to rapidly rank — way faster than you possibly could with traditional methods. If an SEO agency is promising you results within a month, either they’re full of it, or they are likely using black hat SEO to pull some strings.
"If an SEO agency is promising you results within a month, either they’re full of it, or they are likely using black hat #SEO to pull some strings." - The Content Factory
It’s not that these tricks don’t work — they do! — but Google obviously isn’t a fan of techniques that exploit their algorithm, and there’s always the chance that all of your traffic will crumble into dust if a particular method your agency uses gets blacklisted by their algorithm. We’ve worked with companies before that have watched their traffic (in some cases, millions of hits a month) turn into nothing overnight.
For an example, check out this graph:
We’ve removed any identifying data, but you can see the sudden incredibly sharp drop-off. Imagine that is your website traffic — for months you’re pushing higher and higher numbers, and you’re thrilled with your agency. And then it’s gone.
How Do You Find a Good SEO Company?
The thing about marketers is, well, we market. We’re good at telling stories that make us look good. That’s okay — it’s a sign of professionalism to present your own SEO company in a positive — but it means you’ve got to have your BS detector on high alert and do your due diligence. Excessive hype is a bad sign. It can take months for a new search engine strategy to get results, and it’s hard to predict how quickly a particular campaign will pay off. If they promise to double your traffic overnight, they’re full of it.
Transparency is also key. At the Content Factory, we’re perfectly happy to tell you everything we’ll do for your company — we even offer training packages where we’ll teach you how to do it. (Check out what we offer in our Rise & Convert.) A good company can have some proprietary strategies and tools, but if they can’t explain their basic process, move on.
One good sign is when the agency shows a lot of curiosity about your company. It shows that they’re interested in getting results for you, and want to make sure they have the right skills and experience to meet your needs. They should ask questions about your:
When were you founded? What’s your mission? How large is your company? Who are your customers?
Be wary of arrogance — however much experience they have in your industry, you’re still the expert on your company.
A lot of digital marketing companies handle PR and social media as well, but even if you’re just looking for a blog content writer, they’re going to be representing you, which means they need to get your voice right.
Your marketer should want to know the way you took to your audience. Are you formal or informal? Are there competitors or industry outlets you really like? Are there any topics or styles you really hate and want to avoid?
Marketing strategy and experience
Unless you’re a brand new startup, an SEO consultant or company will be building on a marketing foundation you laid. They should want to know about your blogging strategy, social media efforts, PR and so on.
Good search engine marketers will also ask about results, and try to learn from your successes and failures.
SEO and marketing goals
Are you trying to drive more traffic around certain valuable keywords? Drive sales? Improve your brand image or recognition?
Your goals will determine the right approach to search engine optimization. Your agency should be really interested in understanding what you want, so they can put together the most effective strategy.
Finding a good SEO company is all about finding a company that gets you — and your industry. Just being “good at SEO” isn’t enough. After all, if an SEO agency brings you tons of traffic, but none of that traffic converts, does it really matter? A good agency will figure out exactly what your customers are looking for — and those are the keywords they’ll target.
Likewise, finding a good SEO agency means finding a partner who isn’t just there to suggest keywords and write content. They should be able to understand (and be part of) the rest of your marketing team. After all, marketing isn’t just confined to websites, radio ads, newsletters, or SEO — any strategy that works has to consider every medium your business is trying to target.
What Can an SEO Company Do for Me?
SEO marketing used to refer mostly to techniques around website optimization. Digital marketers learn best practices for things like researching competitors, choosing keywords, linking, HTML formatting, picking titles and so on to help a page take off in Google search results.
Nowadays, marketers typically use it more broadly to refer to content strategy and writing skills as well. Marketing wizards rightly emphasize the importance of providing better content than your competitors (Rand Fishkin’s 10X Content whiteboard Friday gives some great tips on how to do that.)
But with a really good SEO company, it’s hard to actually say where SEO ends and PR and social media begins. Because although a perfect Twitter Q&A, or an expertly promoted event doesn’t always affect search results directly, it does affect interest in your brand, which does affect search as more people look you up to find out what you’re about.
Likewise, social signals are very much a real thing, and people linking to your site from Facebook or Twitter can help boost your page in the rankings. That means that social chatter is very valuable — even if it isn’t something the average SEO company targets.
Finding a good SEO company that does that is rare. It’s easy to turn out decent content with decent strategy that checks all the boxes and gets decent results. But a search engine marketing master goes beyond the basics, to understand your industry and serve your customers.
What does it look like when you find a good SEO company that can take your business to the next level? Here’s one example.
SEO Marketing Case Study
One personal product client has been an incredible SEO success for us. From September 2016 through August 2017, we earned a 77.33% increase in total organic traffic (i.e. traffic from search) — more than doubling our goal of a 30% increase year over year. For total blog traffic, we did even better: an 86.57% increase when we set out just to boost traffic stats by 25%. A lot of that came down to the basics, like keyword research and optimization (164.72% more ranked keywords!), content strategy, optimization and careful monitoring.
But we couldn’t have gotten those results if we’d just focused narrowly on SEO. By tightly integrating our content strategy with PR and social media marketing, we’ve helped build a community around our client. We get people talking about the company and interacting with our content, which is key to any successful search engine optimization strategy.
Social Media Marketing + SEO Content Writing = Serious Traffic Boosts
One recent example is our #SexEdChat series with Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, the Toronto-based sexologist and relationship expert behind Sex with Dr. Jess. Dr. Jess is a renowned counselor and educator whose retreats, counseling sessions and regular media features have earned her a worldwide following.
Our client hosts regular Q&A sessions with her, where community members can ask questions and have discussions about topics like pleasure, sex education and consent. This provides a service for our community, which builds interest and engagement with the brand, and helps ranking. It gives our client a more powerful voice as a company promoting a sex-positive outlook and supporting their customers health and education.
It also gives us a lot of secondary digital marketing opportunities to boost traffic, SEO ranking and brand presence. For example, by planning topics ahead of time, we can share relevant blogs, before, during and after the Twitter chat. This gets people talking (and clicking!), brings more people to the events, and helps create a more lasting, positive impression.
Adding Event-Based Marketing to the Mix
We also used the Sex Ed Chat to promote a contest for sex educators we’re running for sex educators to win a ticket to Atlantic City to attend the National Sex Ed conference. They can enter by following our client on Twitter by tweeting out a sex ed fact they wish more people knew, with the tag #SexEdFacts.
What that does is turn all these great sex educators and their loyal fans into promoters. We get some influential Twitter followers (and as a result, we pick up some of their followers too). We also get a boost from their #SexEdFacts tweets, which help elevate the hashtag, promote the chats and build a dialog with the sex ed community.
As an SEO company, we can harness those connections — for example, by quoting those facts in blogs and linking to those experts. And what happens when you write something nice about a sex educator, link to their site and tell you about it? Usually, they link back to you for the publicity, and everyone gets a nice backlink! You might get a Tweet or a Facebook post as well.
We also get to build a lot of interest in our client going into the sex ed conference, and set up some great topics to talk about. And finally, we create connections with all those sex experts, which could turn into future opportunities to hold events together — starting the whole cycle over. And we get to do all that, while helping people have safer, healthier and more enjoyable sex!
Should I Hire an SEO Company?
It depends on your company. Some organizations have the skills they need in-house, others can get results by hiring a blog writer and getting some marketing training. But if you don’t have a well-designed strategy, the right SEO company could be the key to getting your brand the attention (and business!) it deserves.
Here are some resources to help you learn what it takes.
- Keyword Research Revealed: How to Find Keywords for SEO: Too many people skip this step — don’t be one of them! Learn everything you need to know about analyzing your website SEO and your competitors, and picking the right keywords to get you ahead of the pack.
- SEO 101: Keyword Research and Analysis: A deeper dive into what makes a keyword worth targeting. This blog post and webinar provide a wealth of information and SEO best practices you can use to boost your organic traffic and conversions.
- The Only Guide to Content Marketing You’ll Ever Need [Complete Resource Page w/ Links]: What it says on the package. There’s enough material and resources here to make you a content marketing expert.
- How to Write a Blog Post That Converts — AND Brings in SEO Traffic [Checklist + Complete Guide]: When you’ve mastered the basics and are ready to start writing, this guide has exactly what you need. Learn how to write a blog that brings in major Google search traffic.
- 9 Expensive SEO Mistakes You're (Probably) Making: In this webinar, we'll talk about the most common, often overlooked mistakes we've seen companies make in their SEO strategies, and how to fix those issues to grow your traffic.
Not interested in doing it yourself? Contact us to learn what we can can do for your SEO, PR and digital marketing strategy.
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