Top SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Agencies

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Top Value Propositions and Differentiating Factors of the Best SEO Agencies

Overview

As far as internet marketing goes, increasing qualified organic traffic to your website is an incredibly worthwhile goal, but it’s a difficult one to achieve. Gaining solid search engine ranking positions requires time, expertise, and a lot of hard work. Most companies don’t have those resources in house, which is why they turn to search engine optimization (SEO) agencies. The right SEO firm can help a company improve sluggish organic traffic and gain more site visitors at a lower long-term cost than through other channels.

Unfortunately, disreputable agencies have given the entire SEO industry a bad rap in recent years. That’s because some less than respectable SEO teams rely on unethical or spammy tactics to get results. Though spammy tactics might net some modest gains in the short term, they’re guaranteed to backfire in the long run.

The cost of choosing the wrong SEO company can be enormous. Companies who work with such agencies waste time and money on services that may be actively harming their brand. Once the cat’s out of the bag, they generally need to turn to a new agency to repair the damage, costing them even more money.

All of this means that choosing the right SEO agency is of the utmost importance. But how can you separate the trustworthy ones from the bad apples? Below are some of the key differentiating factors of the best SEO experts in the business. 

Top SEO agencies are industry leaders

One way to judge the quality of an SEO firm is to look at their reputation and standing within the online marketing community. Top SEO agencies are regarded as thought leaders in the industry. They publish content covering trends and insights on topics related to SEO regularly, and they actively engage in discussions with their peers on their social media channels. Look for content marketing initiatives that demonstrate the agency’s expertise.

For example SEO company, Distilled, has an entire “Resources” section on their site where the team shares knowledge, tips, insights, and useful how-tos. Even if you know nothing about Distilled, it’s easy to read a few articles in the Resources section and get the sense that this is an agency that both knows what they’re doing and has tremendous respect for the industry they’re part of.

Respectable SEO agencies are transparent

As an industry, SEO sometimes gets an unjust reputation for being “cloak and dagger”. Again, disreputable agencies thrive by being mysterious about their tactics and vague about the effects of those tactics. Top SEO agencies, on the other hand, are transparent and open about how they operate. They have established processes that dictate how the agency will navigate each project and manage its major phases (like on-site SEO) and components (link building, for example). They’re always more than happy to share even the most nitty gritty project details with their clients.

Fractl is a marketing agency that clearly differentiates their value on being transparent and upfront about what’s achievable, saying: “We aren’t going to claim what will magically happen if you hire us. We’re going to tell you straight up what it’ll take, and if you’re on board, then we’ll get it done.”

The best SEO agencies are ethical

Search engines set the rules for what websites can and cannot do in an effort to improve their rankings. It goes without saying that all the best SEO agencies abide by these rules and only ever undertake to do ethical work on behalf of their clients. Beyond just obeying the rules, however, look for agencies who position themselves on their ability to meet the needs and desires of the user, not just the search engines. Search engines want websites to provide genuinely amazing experiences to users, and your SEO campaign should be aligned to this goal as well. This approach is better for website conversion rates as well.

Seer Interactive is a great example of an agency that positions themselves based on an ethical, people-centric approach to SEO. “Manipulation of Google is temporary, so we prefer to spend our time understanding your audience instead.”

Leading SEO agencies evolve with the industry

Like any other channel of digital marketing, SEO is constantly evolving. Things that were acceptable and even encouraged a few years ago are seen as ineffective or spammy today. It’s difficult for anyone outside the industry to stay on top of these rapid changes and advancements -- that’s why we hire SEO agencies to keep our websites and marketing tactics current on our behalves. Search for an SEO agency that positions itself at least partly on being in-tune with what’s going on in the industry, and on its ability to be future-thinking for its clients.

Reputable SEO agencies set realistic goals

Nobody likes waiting to see results, but the hard truth is that SEO is not a quick traffic generator. If executed properly, over time it will prove to generate cost-effective, long term results, but it requires hard work and patience to get there. SEO experts know that the work they do takes time, and they’re realistic about what they can achieve. They spend time in the early stages of the project to get a clear picture of the search landscape as it pertains to their client. With this information they’re able to make informed and realistic projections about the results they think they can achieve.

Buyer beware: stay away from any agency promising quick fixes or overnight results from SEO services. That kind of behavior is a hallmark of the unsavory SEO.

The best SEO agencies are both analytical and creative

Doing great SEO requires analytical minds, but there’s also no small amount of creativity involved. The best agencies have both. They focus on cold hard data analysis to indicate where the best opportunities lie and to hone in on the approaches that have proved to be the most effective. But they also employ creative minds that can take that data and apply it to come up with innovative campaign ideas and solutions. When searching for a new agency, focus on finding one that emphasizes both analytical and creative skills.

Service offerings of top SEO agencies

The best agencies offer a range of SEO services to cover clients with a wide variety of needs. Most will encourage a monthly retainer arrangement as it does take a significant amount time and effort before results begin materializing, but they may also be open to doing smaller engagements like audits and consultations. SEO pricing will depend on the scale and difficulty of the project, as well as on the prestige of the agency. In some cases additional web design work may be required.

Top SEO service offerings include:

●     SEO Audit - An assessment of the client’s current search positions, organic traffic, company website design and content, on-page SEO, link building (off-page SEO), and search competition.

●     SEO Strategy - Based on client interviews and independent discovery and research a strategy is created to guide the SEO process. The strategy will document keyword research and targeting approach (eg; long-tail keywords vs, head terms), necessary onsite edits, content development needs, local SEO needs, and outreach approach.

●     Onsite optimization - Technical edits made to a website to make it easier for search engines to crawl and index content. Web design services may also be included/required to ensure the website is properly optimized.

●     Content development - Creation of content designed to appeal to the client’s target audience.

●     Digital PR - Outreach to relevant media outlets in order to achieve press mentions and links that will positively the client’s organic search rankings.

●     Analytics - Ongoing monitoring and analysis of client’s website analytics to measure performance against a set of stated goals and identify area of opportunity and improvement.

How the best SEO agencies market themselves

It will surprise absolutely no one to learn that top SEO agencies market themselves through a heavy emphasis on...you guessed it, search engine optimization. With all that in-house knowledge, the best SEO agencies are masters at the art of search engine optimization and use those skills to advantage themselves just as much as their clients.

Social media marketing goes hand in hand with good SEO, so you can also expect top SEO agencies to maintain active social channels. Via these channels SEO agencies promote content demonstrating thought leadership and industry expertise. Content marketing, after all, is another key component of quality SEO.

Many SEO agencies also maintain robust paid search (PPC) campaigns to compete for keywords they may not rank for organically, or even to increase their exposure for those they do.

Takeaways:

Though a majority of SEO agencies are reputable companies that do the best for their clients, there are also many bad actors who still engage in practices that are frowned upon or even outright prohibited. Finding the right SEO agency is essential if you want to keep your website in Google’s good books and see real, long-lasting gains from the SEO work done in your name.

Some key differentiators to look for when trying to identify the best SEO agency for your brand are:

●     Industry leadership - Is the agency an active member of the broader SEO community? Are they respected by their peers in the digital marketing industry?

●     Transparency - Is the agency upfront about how they work and what their tactics are? Are they clear about what they expect to achieve and how they plan to measure their results?

●     Ethical - Does the agency play by the rules and embrace only so-called “white hat tactics”? Do they take a modern approach to SEO, or are they stuck in the old days of spammy tactics and shortcuts?

●     Constantly evolving - Does the agency stay on top of changes in the SEO and website design industries? Are they up-to-date with the latest tactics?

●     Realistic goal setting - What types of goals does the agency set? Do they promise overnight results that seem too good to be true? Or are they measured and realistic about what they will be able to achieve and in what timeframe?

●     Analytics and creative - Does the agency have both the analytical and the creative chops to make your campaign a success? Do they take a holistic view of online marketing, or are they siloed?

Top Qualities of the Best SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Agencies

Guided by Strategy

In all marketing campaigns, strategy is paramount. Without a clear and thoroughly researched SEO strategy, your campaigns will never bring the results your business is hoping to achieve. Top SEO agencies begin every project with a discovery phase that informs a search engine optimization strategy. During the discovery phase the agency will audit your website’s current positioning and identify any existing SEO issues. They’ll also look at the competitive landscape and do the requisite research to determine which keywords and groupings will be the most valuable for your business. When choosing an SEO agency always look for one that values the importance of developing a strategy to inform their efforts.

White Hat Tactics

It would be nice if every SEO agency practiced ethical tactics, but unfortunately that simply isn’t the case. There are many bad actors who still sell services that are based on shady practices that can hurt your business in the long run. Look for agencies who practice what are known in the industry as “white hat” tactics. White hat tactics are ethical tactics that abide by the rules and recommendations set by search engines. Any tactic that appears to be designed to “trick” a search engine is an automatic red flag, indicating that the agency’s practices are probably not above board. SEO is not a quick fix or a short-term traffic generator. It takes months and years to build results, so steer clear of anyone who promises shortcuts that seem too good to be true, because they almost always are.

Onsite Optimization

Onsite optimization is a major component of the search engine optimization process. It comprises a series of technical and content edits to your website that make it easier for search engines to crawl and interpret your content. Top SEO agencies will be up to date with the latest best practices for onsite optimization and should spend the first few weeks or months of any campaign (depending on site complexity) getting technical edits implemented. Look for an agency that can confidently explain the edits that need to be made to your site, and again, be wary of those that suggest outdated or suspicious tactics.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is the most important component of any SEO campaign. Content is what search engines need to understand what your website is about, and it’s what your business needs in order to earn quality links and social mentions. Top SEO agencies are well-acquainted with the importance of content, and the bulk of their efforts will be spent on strategizing, creating, and disseminating content. Look for an agency that values content and can present creative content ideas for your brand.

Reporting and Analysis

SEO is a digital marketing channel that requires constant maintenance and ongoing analysis in order to succeed. Top SEO agencies set regular meetings to review the progress of your campaigns with you. They should set clear expectations for communication and have a schedule for generating and delivering campaign reports. These reports should detail the agency’s efforts, offer insight into the campaign progress, and suggest adjustments or tweaks to campaigns if necessary.