Let’s face it: there is still a lot of confusion about what SEO really means. Not to mention what tactics fall under the umbrella of SEO vs. content marketing vs. inbound marketing vs. conversion rate optimization vs. social media management. You know you need a team to handle your  website’s performance, but you’re not sure how to find the right company to help. Use these tips and questions to help you determine the right fit for your needs.

What are my needs?

You may be thinking “I don’t know what I need. I’m hiring someone to answer that question for me.” If you’re thinking that,  take some time to look into what is happening in online marketing you can get a sense of what you need. Research what each niche entails and you’ll easily be able to weed out companies that have too narrow or broad of a focus for your needs. You don’t have to know everything about each niche – that’s your agency’s job – but you should have enough of an understanding to know if you’re ever being rick-rolled by their strategy or tactics. It’s always better to allow your agency to be an extension of your team, a group you can brainstorm and debate ideas with rather than a group you allow to work in a silo. A unified digital presence is always stronger than a fragmented one.

What are your specialties?

Now that you know a thing or two about online marketing ask the companies you are vetting to tell you about their specialties. Some agencies clearly label themselves as SEOs or Conversion Rate Optimization specialists. Others, like 352, may label themselves as Digital Marketers, specializing in a number of areas. It’s probably not a good sign if you’re getting a laundry list of the exact strategies and tactics a company will use, but you shouldn’t be shocked by the tactics either. Unless they’re using new technologies to bring you sweet results.

Image from: Rich Brooks

Can I see your case studies?

You should be skeptical of any company that can’t show you positive results they’ve generated for other clients. While you’re reviewing the results they’ve gotten for others keep in mind that every tactics work differently for different companies, industries and users. Companies with a strong reputation will let you talk to their current clients. You shouldn’t expect the exact same success as anyone else when it comes the online world, but these stories can give you a good sense of how the agency measures success.

How often will we sync up?

Beware of companies who don’t have at least a rough idea of how they want to communicate with you. While you’re at it ask them what to expect in terms of reporting progress, measuring success and who you’ll be hearing from on a regular basis. Beware of companies that don’t allow you direct access to the team that will be implementing changes to your site or creating content. Bonus points if the team practices Agile Marketing.

What are your thoughts on (not provided)?

At this point any skilled SEO should have a well formulated answer to this question. If (not provided) looks like a typo to you, check this out. There isn’t one correct response to this question, but  beware of someone who hasn’t studied up on how businesses can still flourish in a post – (not provided) world.

Does my site need a design or functionality overhaul before you can get results?

Sometimes we don’t want to hear the answer to this question. “We” being clients and agencies. Regardless it’s a questions that is a must-ask. You may as well be punting from the goal line if you’re starting digital marketing efforts, but you’re hearing lots of complaints from your users about a feature on your site or you have a serious problem with page load speed. If the agency you’re vetting is honest they will tell you that other adjustments are needed before they can get you results you’ll be happy with if that’s the truth.

How risky are your tactics?

You’ve probably heard a lot about white-hat SEO and black-hat SEO, but it’s better to think of things in terms of risk vs. reward, and to view things like buying links, spamming directories and using content networks as inherently unworth the risk to your site. Google (and Bing) have consistently worked towards giving legitimate content to users, and that means utilizing tactics that will minimize your risk of penalties: owned content, smart social strategies and more. If you absolutely need results immediately, you may want to consider a company that specializes in quick results by any means necessary – but remember that your online presence is a long-term game. The right company will consider the full life of your website, and will be able to build strategies that support growth and stability.

Two SEOs walk into a bar…

By now, you’ve probably heard every SEO joke in the book (lightbulb, light bulb, lightbulbs, bulb, lamps…), and for good reason. SEO has become a bit of the black sheep of the digital marketing family, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Since search engines aren’t going anywhere, SEO will always be a part of the equation, but there are still plenty of companies out there that don’t want to play by the rules that Google and Bing have set up to govern search. Once you’ve determined that your company can get results and understands the needs of your business, make sure that they’re ready to take a comprehensive approach to SEO – one that will keep your site safe from future penalties while improving your rankings and traffic. SEO doesn’t have to be a bad word, so make sure your company has a good reputation before you trust your online future to them.

Image credit: …some guy


352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.