• Wirya Hassan

How To Hire A Top SEO Agency?

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

Hiring an SEO Agency

Finding and hiring an SEO agency for successful search engine optimization and preventing rip-offs associated with dubious SEO agencies is still a big issue. Below I would like to give

you a guide on how to proceed with SEO agency selection to avoid costly or annoying missteps and to discuss typical practices of black sheep among SEO providers.

There is a quick checklist of more than 26 criteria on this guide to quickly distinguish between good and less good agencies.

Many of the listed tips and hints can be based on the SEO example and applied for the service provider search in other areas: under how do you find a really good SEA / AdWords Agency? Or How to find a good online marketing agency? There are also tips for AdWords agency or online marketing agency search.

Table of Contents

1. Preparatory tasks and prerequisites for successful cooperation

2. Acquire SEO basic knowledge

3. Where do you find potential SEO agencies?

4. How do you rate potential SEO service providers at first glance?

5. Cold calling from SEO agencies

6. Recommendations from your own social environment

7. References of the SEO provider

8. Industry know-how of the SEO agency

9. Size and reputation of SEO agency

10. Expertise in web analysis / Google Analytics available?

11. Online reputation and appearance of SEO agency

12. Agency publications

13. Initial consultation and ask questions

14. Transparency of the SEO service provider

15. Onpage optimization always on your own project

16. Visibility of the SEO agency itself

17. How much does an SEO agency cost?

18. Agency contracts

19. SEO certificates

20. Beware of invented SEO certificates (from Google)

21. Statements that you should be sceptical about:

22. Summary: The Most Important SEO Agency Search Tips

23. What to do if you have bad experiences with a dubious SEO company?

24. SEO agency selection checklist

25. What does an SEO agency do?

26. 7 things that a professional SEO company would not say for sure

Preparatory tasks and requirements for successful cooperation

Before you make a preselection for possible SEO agencies, you should basically find out what you want. The following questions should be answered:

  • Is regional proximity important?

  • Would you like to take advantage of other services besides SEO, such as SEA, web design, email marketing, app development ...?

  • Should the emphasis be on Onpage SEO or Offpage SEO?

In order to successfully work together with an SEO agency, there must be a willingness to change, for example with regard to the website or its own processes and structures.

Acquire SEO basic knowledge

Reading search engine marketing literature and SEO or SEM blogs is indispensable.

The first place to go for SEO information should always be Google. To be prepared for SEO agency search, it is worth reading the following sections of the official Google Help Centre:

  • This is how Google Search works

  • Guidelines for webmasters

  • SEO Entry Guide by Google

Google itself gives here tips for commissioning an SEO agency or an SEO service provider.

An excerpt from Google's own tips for SEO agency search:

1. Be sure to implement the recommended changes. The SEO-recommended changes take time and effort. If you do not take this time, it is not worth hiring a specialist.

2. Ask your potential SEO agencies in advance. Here are some suggestions:

  • Do you have references that you can show me?

  • Are you following Google's Webmaster Guidelines?

  • Do you offer additional services or advice for online marketing for your search engine optimization?

  • What results do you expect during which period? How do you measure your success?

  • What experience do you have in my industry?

  • What experience do you have in my country or my city?

  • What experience do you have with the development of international websites?

  • What are your main SEO methods?

  • How long have you been in business?

  • How will our communication go? Will you let me know about any changes made to my website and provide me with a full explanation of your recommendations?

  • Think about whether the SEO agency is interested in you and your business. If not, look for someone else.

Your SEO agency should ask questios such as the following:

  • What makes your business or service so special and valuable to your customers?

  • Who are your customers?

  • How is your company's revenue generated and how can search results help?

  • Which other advertising channels do you use?

  • Who are your competitors?

3. Check the business references of your SEO agency. Ask former customers if this SEO agency provides a useful service, if the collaboration went well and if in the end positive results were achieved.

4. Ask for a review of your website in terms of technology and search results. It tells you what to do and why, and what the desired outcome might be. You probably have to pay for that. Also, you probably need to give the SEO agency access to your site's data in Search Console. Do not grant write access at this time. Your future SEO agency should now be able

to give you realistic suggestions for improvement and an assessment of the required work. If they guarantee you that your site will be the first to appear in the search results, then you should look for another SEO agency.

5. Now you can decide if you want to hire them.

For acquiring the necessary SEO basic knowledge here are some listings of interesting blog posts:

What is SEO?

How SEO Works

Website Optimization: 8 SEO Rules for Google

Website Ranking

How Search Engine Works

Local Search SEO

Google Algorithm

Best SEO Tools

SEO Ranking: How To Keep Your B2B Website On Page One

SEO Basics

SEO Copywriting - The 12 Essential Elements of Writing Unbeatable SEO Copy

SEO Tips: 241 Ways to Improve Google Website Ranking

Google Ranking Factors: The Complete Guide

Keyword Tools

Top 10 SEO Mistakes

5 Important SEO Criteria For Email Landing Pages

SEO Tips: 20 Simple Ways for Better Rankings

SEO Keywords: What Should I Look For?

The attitude, not to have to deal with SEM or SEO, since you want to outsource anyway, is the best condition for a misstep in the SEO agency selection. The basic requirement for not getting an unprofessional SEO agency is SEO basic knowledge.

In addition, the knowledge acquired helps to control the work of the SEO agency after the

award of the contract.

Paradoxically, but the better you know yourself, the sooner you find an agency that does what you want it to do. Conversely, if you yourself have very little idea of online marketing , it is easier to get a bad agency because you cannot adequately assess their work. My most important tip is therefore: Read yourself at least so far that you know which strategies are possible and which you can and want to implement yourself.

Without any knowledge of the topic, the selection becomes a game of chance. Own know-how is absolutely necessary. So be the first to build up knowledge directly in the company.

Where do you find potential SEO agencies?

It's hard to start, even when choosing a professional SEO agency. If you have not dealt with the topic of SEO in advance, it is often difficult to start an agency search.

There are some business directories and lists where you can start the agency search:


Moz's recommended list of SEO consultants, firms and agencies

Best SEO companies and services

Best SEO companies and firms

However, these lists and directories are not a guarantee of completeness or quality, as the inclusion takes place against money or if there may be other inclusion criteria, which may not ensure total impartiality. So you need to exercise due diligence in your search.

How do you rate potential SEO agencies at first glance?

If you have made a preselection, it is about taking a closer look at it. You do not have to get in touch with this right away, but you can often get a lot of advance information via the agency website and get a first impression. You should pay less attention to superficial impressions such as design.

Cold calling from SEO agencies

When cold calling contacts through SEO agencies scepticism is required. Often such agencies have a large focus on sales, often at the expense of professional support after

conclusion of contract or insufficient SEO know-how.

I'm not a fan of lump-sizing, but especially in the area of online marketing, a focus on push advertising and sales is a very order-driven approach that often goes hand in hand with bulk rather than class. Mass can have two things:

1. For each consultant many customers are "doctored" - a lot, I would say, between 15 to 20 customers per consultant.

2. In a very sales-oriented business model, there are often conflicts of interest or goals between the sales staff and the responsible consultants. The sales employee is usually also paid commission and is therefore very order-oriented. A good consultant should act in a customer-oriented manner and be able to reject orders for the benefit of both existing and inquiring customers.

That's why I'm not a fan of sales-driven business models in the online marketing industry, especially when it comes to consulting. Good agencies live from their reputation, referral marketing and not least the content they publish (keyword: content marketing).

Recommendations from your own social environment

The good old word of mouth recommendation of friends and acquaintances is one of the safest sources.

In general, services are always perfect for getting a referral from a trusted source. So in the first step ask around in your own network and at friendly companies, what experiences they have had with online marketing agencies - here you will hear both negative and positive experiences.

If there are no people in your immediate environment who are capable of doing so, there is still the possibility to examine some top ranking companies in related sectors and to ask them if they work with an SEO agency and, if so, with which.

References of the SEO provider

credentials are nice, but you should always ask in which areas they have worked or worked with the referenced companies.

One can find out about the ranking of some agency reference projects for specific search terms but SEO projects and their rankings are to be evaluated with caution, because you do

not always see at first glance how they made it to these rankings. A good way to check the validity of the references is to contact them and to ask for feedback on the work of each agency.

For example, if the agency mentions the project "www. makeshoesyourself. com" as a reference for a top ranking for the term "making shoes yourself", then you should be

critical, because so-called keyword domains tend to be easier to rank, unless the competition is particularly tough. So mostly no real proof of the SEO capabilities of an


As hard as the competition is, you can quickly get an overview of the number of indexed pages. If there are only a few hundred or a thousand pages in the Google index, this

is usually an indication that the optimization of this domain was not a special SEO masterpiece.

And if one deals with the reference projects of the agency, one can also make a first impression about the quality of the backlink profiles. Just type in Google "link: http:

//www.domain.com" and you get a first impression of the backlinks generated by the agency without the use of a paid professional SEO tool.

If it is a customer reference project or their own agency page that has been linked there, the links should have a certain quality. Vast backlinks of, for example, blog comments and obvious spam point to not a particularly well thought out link building strategy and may even damage the reputation.

Industry know-how of the SEO agency

As an SEO consultant, it is important to work intensively with the industry, the topics and the target groups of the client. Existing industry know-how is an advantage here, since one can fall back on existing experiences from the market environment.

References are also important to me. It is not so much about the good-sounding names, but about whether an agency is familiar with an industry. The thinking in B2B is often different than in tourism or in the mail order business. And as an agency, they should be familiar with the industry. It's not just about finding a technical solution, it's about taking the company forward with them. And that's where experience within an industry is very important.

Size and reputation of SEO agency

The size and name of the SEO agency often seem to be a crucial selection criterion in addition to the references. I think this information is often overrated. The size of the

agency says only that it is big. But that can only be sustained by a large sales team and we have learned that this is more about quantity than quality.

Therefore, you should always wonder why the agency has become so big. Maybe the agency is simply an excellent advertising agency or has a professional sales force, a good network ...

When it comes to size, some agencies look bigger than they are. Often, these agencies also try to pretend a size by awarding various head-of titles. In reality, these departments only have one or two employees. If more than 30% of an agency team are Heads of something, that's usually the case.

Aagencies even create fake employees as contact persons who are given a visual image with the help of iStock photos. Here you can run an image search of the alleged employee in the Google Image Search to find out if the image used is a photo from an image database.

Also, the age and reputation of an SEO agency does not say much about the quality of the work. These agencies have often reached a certain size. As a result, they may be like old ships that have become less innovative and inflexible due to outdated structures. They may be still working on the methods of 10 years ago, regardless of the developments that have now taken place in the popular search engines.

Which one is the right agency size depends on the objective. The size of the agency must match what the company wants to do. A one-time special case in SEO can be done by a small 2-person agency. With large, long-term content marketing measures, you need more of a larger agency that can combine different disciplines such as design, concept, text, PR ....

Specialist or full service? Freelancer or agency?

If you want to use other services in addition to search engine optimization, you should look for larger agencies with more than two employees and several core competencies.

You should be sceptical when a freelancer or an agency with two to three employees offers a whole range of services. On the website should be apparent at a glance that the desired services such as SEO are among the core competencies of the company.

Core competencies are services that are usually communicated on the start page and are

highlighted. The search for an SEO agency for a Project that requires a very large spectrum of activities will be difficult as agencies have to employ a large number of specialists in order to develop the entire range of technology, design, performance marketing, creativity, corporate communications and web analytics. There are only a few large full-service agencies that can portray such a thing.

If you work with several service providers in different areas, an in-house online manager makes a lot of sense. Certain fields of activity require specialists. And specialists can be really

good in no more than two areas, otherwise specialists can become all-rounders who can no longer meet quality standards in their respective areas. Here are some possible combinations without any claim to completeness:

  • SEM Specialist (SEO / SEA / Web Analysis)

  • Outbound Online Marketing / Email Marketing Specialist (Affiliate / Display / Email Marketing / Web Analytics)

  • SEA / Conversion Optimization Specialist (SEA / Conversion Optimization / Web Analysis)

  • PR / Social Media Marketing Specialist (PR / Social Media Marketing / Web Analysis)

  • SEA / Email Marketing Specialist (SEA / Email Marketing / Web Analysis)

  • Content Marketing / SEO Specialist (Content Marketing / SEO / Web Analysis)

  • Content Marketing / Social Media Specialist (Content Marketing / Social Media / Web Analysis)

Expertise in web analysis / Google Analytics available?

The topic of web analytics is important for all online marketing specialists. Therefore, web analytics should not necessarily be offered by the agency as a core competency, but additionally with expertise. Here it would be good to pay attention to Google's own Analytics certificates.

The requirements that have to be met in order to become a certified Google Analytics partner are - according to the tool - very extensive. Google divides it into the following three sections:

Professional requirements: The company must, for example, submit detailed information on three successfully conducted Google Analytics projects to different clients in order to prove their own professional competence.

Business Needs: At least one of the company's employees should be Google Analytics Qualified Individual (see the next section). The requirements are formal, such as the existence of an electronic customer support and the detailed service description on the website.

Preferred features and qualifications: These include technical expertise, internal web designers and developers as well as other proof of professional competence, such as

blog posts or lectures at specialist conferences.

The alternative to the already very demanding Google Analytics Partner Certification is the Google Analytics IQ Qualifications for Individuals. These are listed in the agency profiles in Google Partner Search.

Here, however, it is fair to say that only certified AdWords agencies are listed in Partner Search.

Small agencies under five employees are in my opinion able to cover a maximum of 3 areas of appropriate quality in consultation and implementation. For a consultant, who only

runs consulting, I trust he can represent 2 to 3 areas alone professionally.

The broader an agency is set up, the greater the scepticism should be whether it can handle the area of SEO really comprehensive and to a high quality. If you place great importance on on-page analysis, a certain proximity to technology, eg web design or development, is an

advantage. If the focus is on off-page optimization, proximity to PR and marketing is an advantage. If you only want to be looked after in a specific area, freelancers or very small agencies with one or two employees are a cost-effective alternative to larger agencies.

Online reputation and appearance of SEO agency

There are already some service providers in the market who have ruined their online reputation by their way of working. So you should simply enter the agency name on Google

and then if Google suggests itself in its Suggest feature or related searches the agency name in conjunction with negative terms such as "bad experience", "termination",

"fraud" or "rip off" there must have been some happening in the past in this direction.

In addition, you will quickly come across discussions in forums and blogs if the agency has often been mentioned for their questionable way of working. These are usually the particularly hard rip-off cases. I think some of the colleagues who have been working in search engine optimization for some time know which colleagues are meant here.

These SEO agencies then try to displace reputation-damaging search results from the first search results pages by creating press releases, own social media profiles and domains optimized for the search term combination "company + experience". Thus, the bad ratings and discussions can be pushed further down. That's why it's always worth taking a look not only at the first two search results pages.

The appearance of an agency is a matter of taste. Transparency on the website about the way of working is nevertheless very important. Good agencies are very open with

information and discreetly point out their strengths. There are a few little hints that indicate that the agency wants to hide something or pretend something and a few things to look for in a good agency:

1. The trick box of agencies that have lost their online reputation is big. Thus, once the brand name is damaged subsidiary companies or brands with "white vest" are founded. In particular, a company already known throughout the network can be named as an example. It currently has several subsidiaries in parallel in "Sales".

Often the parent company is displayed in the footer. Therefore, one should also research the reputation of related companies. To keep the first search results page "clean" as far as criticism is concerned, they often try to displace the negative votes and reviews with own domains, social media profiles, industry book entries etc. Therefore, you should not limit the search just to the first or second search results page.

On the following search results page you will be glad you found more information about the agency to help you put the pieces together.

Agencies that have developed a bad reputation, usually maintain good contacts with lawyers or have set up their own legal department, which are busy admonishing negative voters

in forums, blogs, etc. and pushing for distance. That sounds pretty adventurous, but unfortunately it is common practice. Here it is important to read between the lines and

characters and to contact the voter personally with a premonition.

Good signs to look out for:

2. A well-maintained website, where the actual team can be found, current references and, for example, an actively maintained blog with specialist contributions.

3. The social media sites of the agency can also be consulted.

4. Are employees of the company externally perceived as experts, do they speak at conferences and have a name in the industry?

Everything else should then result in the first contact:

5. If the request is answered swiftly and individually, is the contact professional and competent, without simply wanting to sell something with pressure?

6. Is a personal appointment possible?

7. Are questions answered?

Watch out for passionate lead wolves in the agencies. The agency landscape was created in the base of a scene. In this scene, people have distinguished themselves over the years. Through lectures, own technical articles, the writing of specialized blogs etc. There are people in online marketing who are known. Pay attention to these persons. Most of these

people have developed this reputation over years and decades and have themselves set up agencies. The chance that the passion and the know-how was passed to the agency staff is greater than at No-Names.

Agency publications

For one of the most important evaluation criteria for a service provider, I consider involvement in the form of blogging, lectures, workshops and technical contributions. If

you always find expertise in your own agency blog, network and / or print magazines, it shows that they are dealing with the matter and that the agency or employees are willing to openly face the competition.

Primarily it depends on what I want. For example, if you're interested in content marketing, but the agency does not even have a blog, I would question that critically - so, "If that's supposedly so important and you're supposed to do it well, why not use it yourself?"

However, this evaluation criterion can also lead to incorrect interpretations. If, for example, only one person at a time, such as the managing director, is responsible for these types of contributions, critical questions must be asked, especially with regard to large agencies, as to whether the employees involved in the operational business have similar know-how or specialist skills.

In part, there can also be a big discrepancy between theory and practice, since the figurehead of the agency is theoretically very competent, but in the operational implementation things look very different. But unfortunately these are all points that can only be judged in practice. Therefore, short contract terms are an advantage to get an idea of the competence of your own contact person.

Make initial consultation and ask questions

The SEO agency offers are usually not much different except for the price. Everyone will try to present themselves in the best light. The traps are often lurking in the fine print.

The price should not be the first selection criterion, as it is often the unprofessional agencies that try to gain new customers in bulk with dumping prices. By questioning you can get a more real feel for the the agency. The prerequisite is the already existing basic knowledge.

When answering the questions you should feel that the contact understands his craft. If you speak obviously with a pure sales employee or call centre agent you should ask to get the questions answered by a consultant. They should then be able to answer the questions honestly and transparently without further ado.

In a so-called initial consultation, even critical tones can be an indication of the quality of an agency.

A framework for such discussions could be a free initial consultation. If you have the feeling that the SEO agency takes the time to answer your own questions and is open to your own wishes or concerns, then it is a good start.

When looking for an agency, one should be aware that there is a real interest in winning and keeping the company as a customer. This does not mean that you will be unpaid for

days at pitch. But if one pays attention to which questions are asked, whether one deals individually with one's own statements and wishes, then one can already read out a

lot of interest - or not.

Google points out unfair practices and questions that should be asked of a potential SEO service provider. For example

  • Do you have references that you can show me?

  • Are you following Google's Webmaster Guidelines?

  • Do you also offer online marketing services or consulting to complement your index-based search business?

  • Which results do you expect during which period? How do you measure your success?

Transparency of the SEO service provider

The topic of transparency plays a big role. What exactly is done in the case of cooperation and why? If, for example, a fixed number of backlinks to be placed is promised in

connection with content marketing campaigns , caution is advised. Real content marketing campaigns are not scalable, especially with regard to link building. If a fixed number of links are guaranteed here, these links are most likely purchased and are not organic. If the agency is to take on link building, regular link reporting should be standard. In general, the agency should proactively inform the customer about all SEO measures .

In addition, regular reports on the currently determined ranking positions of relevant keywords , and development of sales figures, etc. should be created.

Onpage optimization always on your own project

Some SEO agencies like to work in such a way that they mirror the customer projects, place them on their own domains and carry out the onpage optimization on these projects.

Be sure to take action on your own website, otherwise you become dependent and do not invest in your own website.

Visibility of the SEO agency itself

Of course you can search for terms such as "SEO agency", "SEO service provider" or "SEO Company" on search engines or you may encounter an agency when searching for other

SEO-relevant terms. If local proximity is relevant, enter your search terms in combination with the respective location.

Agencies that are here on the first page of search results seem to at least understand how to make your website rank on your own important keywords. However, this is also more of a weak first evaluation criterion, as agencies often prove that they understand it for themselves, ie for their own website.

Having access to an SEO tool such as Searchmetrics or Sistrix gives you a first idea of how agency visibility has evolved over time. More importantly, attention should be paid to possible punishments. The same applies to the mentioned customer and project references.

How much does an SEO agency cost?

The question of how much search engine optimization (SEO) costs cannot be answered as a fixed price.

Reasons to hire an SEO agency or freelancer to help with search engine optimization are manifold. Lack of time to take care of it yourself, lack of know-how, use of the experience of the agency, inspiration, and concepts ...

No matter what it is exactly that one hopes for from such a collaboration, you buy time and therefore hourly rates are the common basis for billing. You may be provided with flat-rate prices for specific products/modules such as concepts, audits, etc. But here too, there is an hourly rate as a basis for calculation.

Agencies are generally more expensive than SEO freelancers because of the overhead costs. The quality is not necessarily better, as agencies often care for beginners with the task and an SEO freelancer usually lends a hand. In addition, very competent SEOs are very often self-employed.

I would therefore rather advise small and medium-sized enterprises to engage motivated freelancers, while large companies with an international orientation or an online shop with

strong competition are probably better off with a multi-disciplined agency with different competencies and experience.

The amount of hourly rates may vary from provider to provider. I do not want to go into great detail right now: it's usually 75 to 150 euros per hour. Of course, there are variations, but that's what you pay on average for SEO agencies and freelancers.

The daily rates range from 600 (freelancers) to 5000 euros (agency former Google employee). Good SEOs do not work for less because they have enough contractors to pay these

sums. However, more than 1000 euros daily rate is rarely justified, after all, all cook only with water (or the same data) - and no one can do wonders.

Success-based models in the field of search engine optimization are very rare, since it is similar to a commercial Harakiri and is similarly dubious as guaranteed ranking promises.

You should pay for what you are ready for. One cannot say that a good agency is also expensive or vice versa. However, in SEO I would never take the cheapest offer, because you can quickly break a lot.

From many conversations with agency colleagues, I know that the hourly rates are usually on average between €80 and €130. Here it is important to speak of the average, because a workshop on site is usually calculated with a different hourly rate than creating texts, setting up the Google Tag Manager or adjusting page titles.

That is expensive you might think ... But the amount of the hourly rates is justified in many cases, as it takes into account tool costs, office rents, marketing costs, training costs for employees, staff costs of the consultants themselves and a proportion of the administrative functions such as accounting, assistance and support of the business management etc.

With some SEO agencies the costs for SEO tools alone are at around € 1000 per month. The bigger an agency is, the more it is necessary to finance jobs that do not directly generate money for it. That's why freelancer hourly rates can sometimes be under €80. Hourly rates under €60-70 I think generally are not serious, not even freelancers.

The question of how much budget is required to look after a website is as difficult to answer as the question of how much a car costs. Assuming that your choice has fallen on a reputable agency, then the SEO expert will explain the various options and the associated budgets extensively.

The budget level depends very much on your internet presence, the current findability as well as the competition and the target agreements. Basically, under one man-day a month for an agency to help anyone is not generally viable. And a higher monthly budget will get you to your destination sooner. But again, and as mentioned, SEO is individual and not off the shelf. The right agency will surely create a suitable, individual offer!

As a first step, many agencies always like a joint workshop. You get to know each other and the agency gets to understand the peculiarities of the customer a lot better during the workshop.

Surely you can also query a lot by phone and e-mail, but when I can get a taste of such a company and see how people interact with each other, that often tells me much more than a telephone interview with the management. Such a workshop costs SEO agencies between 2,000 and 5,000 euros, depending on the size of the website and geographical distance.

If you are local, you can do a lot with a small budget. If you're an international corporation, you're unlikely to run under a six-figure budget, unless it's just a limited part of the site.

No matter how, after the agency come the real costs. You usually have to invest in your IT, in your UX, its contents, etc. The costs for the agency are often only 10% to 20%

of the total SEO costs.

Summary: The costs of SEO

Having regard to what I have said above, it is clear that you cannot give a blanket answer to this question. Nevertheless, I would like to summarize the following points:

  • Costs depend on site status quo, goals, number of topics, targeting (Regional, National, International) and competition.

  • Under €1000 per month for the ongoing support with at least 6 months duration makes no sense for an agency to enter into a search engine optimization collaboration.

  • If you would like to commission individual measures and analyses for the start, it starts with a man-day. Depending on the hourly rate and scope (keyword / topic strategy, on-page, audit, topic / keyword mapping, workshop ...) this can then mean SEO one-off costs between €700 and €5000.

  • Annual budgets for ongoing care start at €10,000. However, in rare cases they may be lower if the companies themselves have appropriate agility, motivation and implementation capacity.

  • The implementation in terms of content, optimization of the UX and technology costs the most money.

  • Monthly flat rates amounting to a few hundred euros make no sense. The assignment of the consultants to the customer project starts from two man days (about 16 hours) per month.

In any case, the services should be comprehensibly broken down and the results communicated openly. Whether you pay 1,000, 2,500 or 5,000 euros per month depends on goals, industry, competition and, of course, your own options.

How much effort is spent on search engine optimization depends on the following factors:

  • Goals: eg increase the regional (eg Keyword + London or Keyword + Manchester), national (eg in UK) or international organic traffic.

  • Capacities on the company side itself: The more resources there are in the company itself, the less one depends on the time spent by the SEO agency.

  • Know-how in the company itself: The more know-how in the company itself, the less one depends on the know-how or analysis effort of the SEO agency.

  • Time window to the desired target achievement: How high the monthly expenses in the end are also crucially depends on the planned time until the goal attainment.

  • SEO with the crowbar usually does not work. Thus, the time window can be relatively short (about 6 months) or long (eg 24 to 36 months) depending on the objective and time pressure. This then again depends on the monthly expenses.

  • Age and strength of the competition: The longer they have been around and the more they invest in good SEO, the more effort you have to expect. Some markets are so heavily populated that you should first focus on a less competitive niche in the industry.

For performance-based compensation models, you should always look carefully and closely.

Success-based means that the agency is rewarded, for example, by the ranking goals of

certain keywords. Here you should align the defined goals exactly with the company goals. For example, not every keyword really pays into your own business goals.

Never use agencies that settle for keyword success. Especially not when it comes to niche combinations without search volume. HANDS OFF.

For example, an acceptable form of success-based collaboration would be based on revenue growth via organic traffic (without brand keywords).

Again and again you hear about compensation models that are based on traffic numbers from search engines. Here the SEO agency is paid per visitor from search engines, or x amount for a fixed number of guaranteed visitors from search engines. These vendors then like to work with Search Engine Advertising (SEA) ads and book cheap irrelevant keywords

to buy cheap traffic, but conceal it from the customer. With such success-based compensation models, your fingers are gone too!

SEO Agency contracts

There are some points that should be kept in the contract and you should look very closely at the fine print.

No long contract periods

Long contract periods should be taken if at all after a test phase. Test phases should not be longer than 6 months in the SEO area. During this time you can convince yourself of the quality of the agency's work without having to tie up for an unnecessarily long time.

Avoid dependencies and risks during link building

In SEA and AdWords, it's a popular but dubious way to set up accounts under the name of the AdWords agency. For example, the agency's AdWords account is owned by the agency

and you will not be able to access your account after the contract ends. I therefore recommend that you create the AdWords account yourself and allow the agency access via a

so-called MCC customer centre. So you have it in your own hands, how long the agency has access to your account.

If you hire an agency in the SEO area with link building, you should enquire, whether by possible link rents a lasting dependency is generated or the links persist even after the collaboration. Link rent is just like the link purchase a kind of link building, which can be used discreetly and the majority of SEO agencies still work on this priniciple.

Beware, however, that (public) link buying and link renting are against Google's policy and terms of service and your website can be penalised by Google which can lead to demoting of your site or even de-indexing the entire site in certain cases. As a result, this practice is on the decline and not as widespread as before, primarily due to the loss of its efficacy and the penalties imposed by Google. This is called black hat link building.

These days, the link renting and buying that are practised by many SEO agencies and go undetected by Google (because of the difficulty of identifying them as rented or purchased as they appear naturally within editorial content that is relevant to the link) are by private agreement with site owners, mainly bloggers of high domain authority and page authority.

These types of links still seem to enjoy a degree of (temporary) success. If done well, this form of link building works well without Google noticing. Nevertheless, it is not future-oriented and sustainable. Some of those links are rented or purchased not so much to bring in traffic but for the improvement of Google rankings. We are entering uncertain territories here. That's why this is called grey-hat linkbuilding.

Link renting, as against link buying, is unfavourable from the client's perspective because it makes the client dependent on the agency in addition to the penalty risk.

Link building via so-called link networks is a no-go and should be ruled out.

In order to avoid risks, care should be taken to maximize the diversity of the way links are set up by the SEO agency. Here it should be enquired of the agency how the links are built. The white-hat share should be predominant with any grey-hat links minimised on the site. Black-hat practices are to be avoided as they can have a detrimental (and sometimes severe) effect on the health of your website.

The contract should state how links are made and what happens to them after the contract ends. Since nobody knows where Google is developing and how future link building is developing, at least a parallel orientation towards content marketing makes sense to play it safe.

Statements that you should be sceptical about

You should be sceptical about the following statements made by SEO agencies in discussions or on the agency website:

  • We put you first on Google

  • We guarantee you positions 1-3 on Google

  • We are Google certified (in context of SEO services)

  • With the meta tags, we ensure that you are in top positions

  • We make sure that you are ranked first under your company name / domain name

  • We work closely with Google, so we're always up to date on SEO and AdWords

  • By switching to AdWords your internet presence will get better

  • We guarantee you and so many additional visitors

  • We are actually a web design agency, but also offer SEO, SEM and internet marketing

  • We install search engine optimization

  • We have a large network of (own) websites through which link building is operated.

In conclusion, disappointment does not always have to be related to the quality of the agency and therefore cannot be avoided 100%. Even at the beginning, not clearly

expressed goals and desires or simply the underestimation of the effort and the complexity of the topic SEO can quickly lead to disappointment.

But at least the risk of falling for a dubious provider should be reduced. Do not be fooled by the appearance of sales staff, the suit they wear or the car brand they drive or be dazzled by the agency building. All this says nothing about the performance and quality of the work. Especially with AdWords and SEO, it all depends more on the technical skills.

Checklist for SEO agency selection

I have summarized below the points that I would like to highlight.

  1. Cold calling no matter whether by mail or phone is actually an exclusion criterion for a good SEO agency.

  2. Agency Recommendation: Recommendations from people you've known for some time and whom you trust to have some online marketing skills are half the battle. Here, however, an existing friendship or relationship between the referral and the agency is not sufficient as justification for the recommendation.

  3. Contract periods: During the contract periods, companies should be careful not to enter into long contract periods longer than 3 to 6 months or to use the opportunity to tackle initial projects with the agency before arranging ongoing support.

  4. Transparency: Transparency regarding the way of working and the basis for invoicing.

  5. Later consultants / contact persons must have a certain expertise / experience.

  6. Billing basis should not be goals such as reaching certain keyword rankings.

  7. Way of proceeding. What is done when and how?

  8. Industry Experience: SEO agencies should understand the subject and the industry of the customer. This is easier if customer projects already exist in the portfolio of the agency. But I also have to say that there are agencies who offer their customers a kind of customer protection so as not to put several market entrants and their keywords into direct competition.

  9. References: References can be an indication of a good job. But here, too, transparency applies. What exactly was done for reference? With what success? Here provided case studies can be helpful.

  10. Willingness to provide know-how: The SEO Agency should be prepared to provide its own know-how for building up in-house capacity or simply to ensure transparency in the way work is controlled.

  11. No Ranking Guarantees: SEO agencies that guarantee SEO rankings are dubious.

  12. Well-known faces of the industry: agencies that are led by well-known people in the industry have more to lose. Namely the personal good reputation of the people involved. That's why the chance of putting more emphasis on quality of service is greater.

  13. Certificates and seals are often relatively easy to obtain in the industry or some market participants simply create their own. Certificates and seals are therefore never sole decision criterion, as often not necessarily competence characteristic for an SEO agency.

  14. Size and Employees: Although the size of an agency should only be a decisive factor for certain requirements, some agencies try to be bigger than they are. By displaying teams and employees on the website, you can get an idea of the actual size. Anyone who speaks anonymously of various employees, but does not show them may have something to hide or they may fear headhunters. But there are also agencies that, conversely, portray many employees, but in reality they do not work there or are mostly only disguised trainees or in certain cases just faces from Stock Photos.

Google offers the opportunity to file a complaint, if one thinks that one was deceived by an SEO agency. If the complaint is directed against a non-US company, you can submit it via the link http://www.econsumer.gov/.

What does an SEO agency do?

Search engine optimization is very individual and has a lot to do with experience. Accordingly, SEO agencies differ in their range of services. So there are service providers

who exclusively offer OnPage optimization and others who only care about link building.

Basically, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is always considered as a complete package. If Google's organic search is important to your business, then you should not just cover parts of it.

What exactly does an SEO agency do?

In-depth initial analysis

In the first step, the various on- and off-page aspects are analysed to determine the actual state. Based on this initial analysis, the SEO strategy is worked out and the long-term orientation determined.

Recommendations and strategy

As mentioned above, a holistic strategy is recommended. Often, a single problem, such as lack of authority, poor click through rates, or negative user signals, can inhibit visibility.

Keyword research

The selection of the right keywords and the early discovery of new lucrative search terms in many cases decide on the success of an SEO campaign . It is essential that your consultant uses different research sources, not just the Google Keyword Planner . This will also uncover less contested keywords.

Competitor analysis

Here, the market or the niche in which the customer operates is examined thoroughly. This leads to a fundamental understanding of how the industry works and how the client's website is positioned against the competition. It also crystallizes out how much effort it will be to rank the keywords on Google. Comprehensive SEO competition analysis is

critical to budgeting and resource planning!

Technical advice

For larger web projects, the optimization suggestions are usually not implemented by the SEO agency itself, but by the IT department of the customer. Ideally, the SEO experts in the IT department will advise, review the implementation and measure the ranking impact.


For smaller projects, the SEO agency not only cares about the OffPage optimization , no, the OnPage SEO is also adopted. Especially for link building, a suitable strategy must be developed, content written, researched and communicated with other webmasters. That costs a lot of time.

Link building

Search engine optimization without link building makes little sense. But the factor of authority for Google is simply too important. Therefore, the SEO agency will spend a

large part of the existing time with the linkbuilding aspect. This means:

• Publishing guest articles to important influencers

• Entries in high-quality company directories

• Planning and implementation of linkbaits

• Syndication via RSS directories

• rebuilding Broken links

• Link Reclamation in the case of Mentions without linking

• Etc.

7 things that a professional SEO agency would not say for sure

SEO is a sealed book for many entrepreneurs, and that's perfectly fine. Entrepreneurs should focus on their core business and have search engine optimization done by professionals. The ignorance of how the service has to look, however, puts many dubious providers at an advantage:

• They offer things that are completely unnecessary or even harmful (for visibility and relevance within the search results).

• There are promises that cannot be kept.

• There are working methods that are not understood by business owners.

If you are not well versed in the field of SEO, you could fall for supposedly tempting offers and end up spending money that simply "fizzles" without having any influence on the company's visibility on the Internet.

Often dubious SEO service providers, however, provide offers that follow a certain pattern - fortunately, because the chaff can be separated from the wheat. Therefore, entrepreneurs

need to be aware of the following seven points when requesting an SEO offer:

1. "With us you land in the first place!"

Promises are SEO No-Go # 1, because they just do not work. Obviously, improving visibility is the goal, but those who make ranking promises have not understood how Google's

search algorithms work. The factors and not least the efforts of the competition sites are so varied that a prediction is impossible. So only best practices can be offered.

2. "We enter your website in all search engines!"

Laypersons might now suspect that this increases the visibility of the website. But the reality looks different. In many countries of the world Google has market shares of

well over 90 percent, so that an optimization on other search engines makes only little sense.

In addition: A search engine registration is absolutely unnecessary nowadays , because search engines automatically enter new websites (or subpages) into the index. SEO

service providers who pay for registration in search engines simply try to increase the package content of the offer and thus the costs.

3. "We have SEO support for the package price!"

Package prices are out of place in this business. SEO has to be individual, because what works for a website does not necessarily work for every website. Optimizing for certain hard-fought keywords is harder than optimizing for niche keywords - fixed package prices simply cannot match these differences.

4. "With just one optimization, your ranking will improve!"

One -time optimizations can work for a first on-page optimization - but that's about it. SEO is always designed for the long term to be successful.

5. "Psst ... We'll remove the backlinks we generate after the contract ends."

One method, which is frequently concealed, but practiced again and again by dubious SEO service providers, is the removal of backlinks after the end of the contract. Strictly speaking, these are toggle contracts.

6. "Trust us, we know better what is good for you!"

A professional SEO agency sends regular reports to its customers and, above all, also includes the customer’s participation in the keyword research - if the entrepreneur has

no say and does not receive any reports on what the SEO firm did, something is simply not right.

7. "With us you automatically climb up the search results"

"Automatically" is nonsense when doing SEO, because nothing works automatically here. Often hiding behind such statements are automatic entries in web catalogues or even SPAM

tactics, such as unwanted blog comments with backlinks - both harm the ranking of the website in the long term in a big way.

If even one of the above issues occurs, the entrepreneur should refrain from commissioning, because even if the offer is attractive it has unfortunately nothing to do with professional Google optimization.

Sustainable, long-term, individual: SEO professionals know what matters

By identifying the tactics used by dubious SEO agencies, it becomes clear why professional search engine optimization, which has a real impact on corporate website visibility, is expensive:

• Professional SEO is long term and not a one-off tweak.

• Professional SEO is designed sustainably and does not work with automations and SPAM.

• Professional SEO is individual and cannot be compensated with flat-rate package prices.

Above all, to examine these points, it is necessary to look at the way the SEO firm works. It is important to identify whether they are genuine specialists.

Often, industry-related service providers, such as web designers, advertising agencies or copywriters, appear as search engine optimizers. However, their knowledge may not really be sound. Entrepreneurs should therefore take a close look at their potential partners:

Specialist or "Blender”: Real SEO companies deal with the search algorithm of Google every day. Their core competency is therefore also in the field of SEO, not web design or classic advertising.

References of the SEO Company: A reputable SEO agency always has references to check past successes. If no references are shown on the website, they can often be

requested by e-mail. SEO service providers who do not issue any references, usually have no success . The same applies during a collaboration: Regular reports and thus work or proof of success are a must. How else would the entrepreneur know what he is paying for?

Individual strategies instead of uniformity: every enterprise is individual - the strategy should reflect this. Standard package prices and one-off optimizations will not be offered by a reputable SEO agency but will be based on long-term measures and individual strategies.

Professional SEO agencies that bring about with their individually developed strategy a better ranking are worth every penny of business. However, the measures that are used

for this cannot be implemented with lump sums or offers à la "€29.90 per month" - SEO has its price, but can be scaled.

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