It’s easy to assume that once you outsource your search engine optimization (SEO) to a company specializing in it, you’re going to see a surge in website traffic and inbound leads. It would be great if you get those, but the fact is that good SEO takes both time and regular monitoring, and you need to evaluate the deliverables from your SEO provider against more scientific benchmarks than just an upward spike (or two!).
Here are our top 10 methods of evaluating your SEO company logically and objectively, which you can start to apply even before you begin to see an increase in your bottom line.
#1: Examine the Quality of Communications
After approval of the SEO strategy and signing of the agreement, the communications with your provider is probably the most important aspect of the contract, according to Moz.com:
- Establish how often you will get updates about your account, what level of detail to expect and what format the reports will take.
- Find out who your contacts are and how to get hold of them, and schedule regular discussions well in advance.
- Ask for confirmation of the communications plan in writing if possible, so you can be sure your expectations are clearly understood.
It’s critical for you to know from the outset who your dedicated SEO account manager is, partly because it’s not likely to be the salesperson you dealt with to finalize the relationship.
#2: Assess the Keyword Strategy
A vital task for your SEO company is the implementation of a customer-centric keyword strategy. Even if the whole keyword thing seems like a foreign language to you, ask to see the strategy and evaluate it to make sure they are using these updated methods and practices:
- The strategy should be based on keyword research and competitive analysis combined with your website’s Google Analytics data
- It should include a list of keywords that apply to your various products and services
- The list should also be relevant to your industry
- Keywords must include less common terms with lower competition to reduce the amount of unqualified traffic and deliver a higher ROI from your SEO efforts.
Your company’s keyword strategy should also include “long-tail” keywords (phrases) that deliver more closely targeted traffic and often attract much faster conversions, according to SearchEngineLand.com.
#3: Evaluate Reporting and Analytics Quality
Regardless how competent your SEO company is at delivering the goods, unless you know what’s being delivered you’re still going to be in the dark. Often, service providers are excellent at doing their jobs but not quite so great at providing reports to clients. While part of this falls under the quality of communication, it’s not enough to simply receive the reports. You have to be getting the right information, and it needs to be presented in a format that your C-Suite can easily understand.
Some of the reports you should be getting regularly include the number of visitors to your site, the way your landing pages are performing and the speed with which users leave your site.
#4: Review Website Rankings
These days, SEO is largely about making your website more relevant to users, building its visibility and importance through your online profile and your position in search. Google ranks sites according to how well they meet these criteria, based on ranking factors such as:
- Quality of content
- Responsiveness/mobile adaptability
- Link building strategies
- Use of keywords
- Organic traffic versus paid traffic
Ultimately, what you want from your website are conversions that bring you qualified, actionable leads, but you aren’t likely to get those unless all these factors are in place. Reviewing your rankings will help you to identify that. Your SEO company can bring your site up in the search engine results pages (SERPs), but if you still aren’t getting leads then something is wrong.
#5: Measure Revenue Shifts Against Traffic
We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the principle applies equally to your SEO strategy. Monitoring the various metrics is a great way of keeping on top of what your SEO company is doing, but ultimately it’s the bottom line that counts.
Unless you can draw a correlation between shifts in your revenue and the changes to your website traffic, you won’t be able to conclusively say whether your SEO tactics are working or not.
It takes a while for the majority of visitors to a site to convert, according to Google digital marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik, so any evaluation needs to take an “end-to-end” view of the various important activities.
#6:Look At Local Optimization
Local is big at the moment. Scratch that—it’s HUGE. One of the biggest objections many newbie customers have to inbound marketing is that it uses a global medium and their business is local. Having realized this, Google introduced ways of optimizing online content so it targets specific geographical users, and an SEO company worth its salt will know that.
- Conducting a quarterly business review
- Comparing your conversions and profits with traffic
- Taking a look at your mobile activity
Review your onsite and offsite SEO reports to make sure local features high in the implementation of your strategy.
#7: Check SEM Integration
Chances are good that your SEO company also handles your paid search activities or search engine marketing (SEM). If so, it’s useful to know whether they are integrating your SEM with organic SEO to maximize your returns. Google no longer provides the keyword data for organic SEO that marketers used to rely on, but if you’re investing in paid search then the information is available through your SEM reports. Review these periodically to make sure you aren’t bidding on keywords that are no longer converting your visitors, and that updates to your keyword strategy take cognizance of your SEM data.
#8: Rate Lead Generation Levels
As we mentioned earlier it’s all about profitability, so the overall purpose of your inbound marketing is to generate qualified leads. No matter how well you’re doing in all areas, and regardless of objectives such as increased awareness, in the long term it comes down to the results.
Unless you’re getting sales you aren’t making money, so the Litmus test of your SEO company’s value is the level of lead generation. Not the amount of money you make—because if your sales team is less than effective it’s hardly the fault of the SEO practitioner—but how much solid intel your sales people get to work with.
#9: Analyze Social Signals
Google recently turned up the heat on the importance of social signals in an SEO strategy, because the level of sharing is an obvious validation of a website’s quality. Review the reports from your SEO company for evidence of your visibility in social media.
According to Social Media Today, you can use social metrics to determine the numbers of social referrals, evaluate social conversions, measure the reach of your content, track your business’s social engagement levels, such as the reach of your social media activities and your business’s social engagement.
#10: Look at Link Building Tactics
It’s also useful to take a peek every now and again at the link building activities—both inbound and outbound. Link building is a critical aspect of a good SEO strategy, and the higher the number of authoritative sites that are linked to yours, the better you’re likely to fare in search.
This is an activity fraught with risk, however, and if your SEO company isn’t on top of this it could be dangerous for you according to SEO expert Neil Patel. Your SEO process should include “white hat” activities such as guest blogging, linking to quality sources and encouraging links from industry websites with a sound reputation. Sharing your content on social media is also an excellent way of building inbound links, because your profile (and any others who share your updates) link directly to your website. This not only counts for social signals but also for link building.
Spotting Red Flags
At the end of the day, the measure of an effective SEO company is whether or not your business is profitable. These methods are merely tools to help you evaluate in the interim between appointing a company and seeing final results. By using them, you should be able to spot any red flags early in the process. This will enable you to rectify them (or at least, tackle the SEO provider about doing so) or to move on to find a provider who knows what they are doing.
The great thing is that you don’t have to be an expert yourself to do this kind of evaluation; your SEO company should be providing a full set of regular reports and be prepared to review, explain and summarize them for you. If they aren’t doing that, it’s an immediate indication that you need to drill down deeper and find out what’s really going on with your money.