What happens when someone runs a Google search for your brand, industry, product, or service?
Which results pop up in the Google search results page?
Is your website ranking in the top position(s)…or has the competition laid claim to these top results?
These might sound like questions of vanity, or they may feel irrelevant in a world of social media marketing and paid traffic, but the reality is that organic traffic from search engines is still the most powerful, cost-effective, and sustainable form of traffic on the internet. And if you aren’t ranking on page one of Google for target search terms, it means one of your competitors is.
And that’s bad.
- Because 31.73 percent of all clicks go to the search result in position number one.
- Another 24.71 percent of clicks go to the search result in position two.
- Results three, four, and five grab 18.66 percent, 13.60 percent, and 9.51 percent, respectively.
If you’re doing your math at home, the top three Google search results get 75 percent of all clicks.
To further compound the importance of ranking well, consider that almost nobody visits the second page of Google results. And if they do, they aren’t clicking! (Just 0.78 percent – that’s less than 1 percent – click on a result from page two.)
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Top Qualities of a Great SEO Company
Characteristics of the best SEO companies include conducting a comprehensive website audit to identify areas for improvement, developing a customized strategy based on your business goals and target audience, providing regular and transparent reporting on your website’s performance and rankings, using ethical and up-to-date SEO techniques to optimize your website’s content, structure, and links, and offering ongoing support and maintenance to ensure long-term success in search engine rankings.
All of that to say this…
You can’t afford to ignore search engine optimization (SEO) any longer. And while there are certainly some SEO and link building techniques and strategies that can be implemented on a DIY basis, you’re much better off outsourcing your SEO so that you can focus on the core tasks of your business.
But therein lies the problem. Your digital marketing agency is not the only one on the market, but how do you know which one to pick?
In this article, we’re going to attempt to clear the air for you a bit by showing you precisely what sets the best SEO companies apart from the rest of the competition. In other words, we’re going to highlight the features and characteristics that make the top one percent of digital marketing agencies different. Then, based on this information, you can make a more educated hiring decision.
How to Cut Through the Noise and Find the Best SEO Company
Before digging into the best search engine optimization company characteristics, it’s important that we set the table a little more for you. Because we’d be doing you a disservice not to mention the fact that this is an incredibly crowded market.
In the early 2000s, when Google was first rising to prominence and small businesses were beginning to develop some awareness for the importance of having a web presence, the SEO industry went from a simmering little industry to a boiling pot of potential. Savvy entrepreneurs and digital marketers saw an opening and they took it.
With low barriers to entry and relatively few industry regulations, entrepreneurs who understood how the search engines worked started selling SEO service. And because Google was still relatively unsophisticated (compared to today), it was easy to manipulate the algorithms and get quick results for clients.
A company would come to a small business and tell them that they could get them on page one for an important keyword, and within just a few weeks that’s precisely where they’d be. Many SEO agencies were seen as miracle workers…but that wasn’t the case.
In reality, most of these early digital marketing services were simply gaming the system. They didn’t really understand how search algorithms worked or the understanding of developing sound digital marketing strategies that would stand the test of time. They were simply in it for a quick win here and there. They used spammy practices and took advantage of low hanging fruit. (Which Google eventually caught on to and nixed and/or penalized.)
As the SEO industry has grown and matured, it’s become more challenging to rank on page one. Despite this, the number of SEO agencies, and “experts” offering freelance SEO services has ballooned. It’s become an oversaturated industry with high competition, which has simply created more noise for clients, who are uncertain of who to work with in the first place.
If you want to find the best seo company, it’s almost impossible to know where to start.
- Do you run a Google search?
- Do you browse social media?
- Do you work your professional network and search for referrals?
There’s so much noise – and so few qualified options – that many businesses give up before they even start. They push SEO to the side and continue investing in other areas, like social media marketing and paid traffic. And while there’s nothing wrong with this, it simply makes the problem worse.
Now is the time to invest in SEO. It’s not getting any easier to rank for high-level keywords, but it is becoming more important. And we’re going to show you how to cut through the noise, so that you can overcome the issue that so many of your peers have: Selecting the best SEO company to work with.
17 Characteristics and Features of the Best SEO Companies
What makes the difference between an average search engine optimization company and one of the best SEO companies? It’s a question that we’ve all contemplated before. And it’s a question that we’re going to answer for you in detail.
In no particular order, here’s what makes up the DNA of the best SEO agencies in our industry:
1. Honesty and Transparency
Let’s start with two characteristics that aren’t traditionally keystones of the SEO industry:
- Honesty. The best SEO agencies are honest and upfront about what they do, which SEO services they provide, and even how they go about executing on their promises. They’ll tell you when something is practical and when it isn’t. They’ll never make guarantees on specific search rankings. Put simply, they shoot you straight.
- Transparency. There’s no place for smoke and mirrors in SEO. The best SEO agencies won’t use complex language and sophisticated explanations to tell you what they want to do. Instead, they’ll boil it down to the basics and clearly explain how they’re going to serve you, what you can expect, and even which key performance indicators (KPIs) you can use to judge their results by.
If you have to look really hard and squint your eyes to see if a search engine optimization company is honest and transparent, they probably aren’t. These are characteristics that should jump off the web page and/or be immediately evident when having a conversation with a representative from the company. Integrity is the number one reason we are familiar with SEO agencies getting the boot.
2. Realistic Results
There’s absolutely no way for a search engine optimization company to guarantee you’ll end up on page one of Google. If you hear someone tell you this, run as fast as you possibly can in the other direction and never come back. They’re either incredibly inexperienced and full of themselves, or they’re trying to rip you off. There’s almost no in between.
However, this isn’t to say a search engine optimization company can’t make promises and point to key deliverables. You just want to make sure the results they’re suggesting are realistic. Here are some good deliverables to keep an eye out for:
- Improved visibility in search engine results pages
- Improved brand awareness
- Increased website traffic
- Higher domain authority
- More backlinks and referring domains
The best SEO companies will ensure you get these results – and they’ll prove it to you by providing regular updates and reports.
3. Regular Reporting
Speaking of regular updates and reports, this is a key marker of a good SEO company. They won’t just tell you that your digital marketing strategy is working – they’ll actually show you on an ongoing basis by providing statistical proof and analytical reporting.
If an SEO company says they’re going to improve visibility in the search engine results pages, they’ll show you an ongoing report (monthly or quarterly) that tracks this data point over time.
Reports should include everything from on page SEO, performance of Google Ads PPC management as well as outbound link procurement campaigns.
If an SEO company says they’re going to help you get more backlinks, they’ll emphasize link reporting and show you the referring domain, the domain authority of that website, and other relevant factors.
There are plenty of SEO companies that look big and professional, but are actually one-man side businesses run by college kids in their dorm rooms. (This is one of the byproducts of the democratization of business in a world of drag and drop website builders and cheap hosting.)
Want to know a quick way to determine whether a company is professional – meaning they have an actual business with employees, processes, and systems – or it’s just a side hustle designed to bring in beer money on the weekends? Responsiveness will tell you everything you need to know.
The best SEO companies are highly responsive. Not only will they have a variety of contact methods – including a phone number – but they’ll get in touch with you quickly. They’ll also follow up and check in.
Pro Tip: If a search engine optimization company is hard to get in touch with up front, when they’re trying to earn your business/dollars, you can’t expect them to be any more responsive after you become a paying client. A company’s responsiveness during the sales and onboarding process is going to be highly indicative of their responsiveness throughout your time as a client.
5. Experience (Years in the Biz)
This one is fairly subjective (and admittedly not the be-all-end-all), but it’s something worth considering. While every company has to get its start somewhere, you’re generally going to be better off trusting your SEO strategy and execution with a team that’s been around for some number of time. You’d rather let a new company cut their teeth at the expense of another client.
How much experience is necessary? Again…there’s no clear cut answer. As a general rule of thumb, you’d like to see at least three to five years. If you can find a company that has 10-plus years of experience in the industry, that’s a fantastic sign. Two reasons why:
- Knowledge. The SEO industry has changed a lot over the past few years. This is an industry that’s highly subjected to algorithmic updates and shifts in search trends. All it takes is one Google update to change the entire industry. An SEO company that’s been around for several years has survived multiple updates and knows how to shift, pivot, and adapt.
- Social proof. A bad or dishonest SEO company can survive for a few weeks or months, or even a couple of years. But they’re not going to be around for five, seven, or 10 years. Eventually, bad companies get exposed. If a company has been around for a long time, they’re doing something well.
Again, the exact length of time isn’t super critical. However, if all other factors are created equal, experience could be the tipping point.
There’s a soft side to digital marketing – meaning there’s room for creativity and subjective insights – and then there’s a technical side.
SEO services fall firmly on the technical side of the spectrum. And how do you judge results in a technical space? With rock-hard data.
Technical SEO acumen also means your digital marketing company knows the difference between national and local SEO and can provide local SEO services as well as broad promotion on a global scale for Fortune 100 enterprises.
The best SEO service companies are highly analytical and numbers-based. They crunch numbers and make strategic decisions based on what the data tells them. And when they report results to you, they use hard numbers (not generalities).
7. Content First
There’s a lot that goes into an SEO strategy or SEO campaign. There are technical elements – like HTML, meta tags, keywords, site speed, user experience, navigation, etc. – and a variety of other levers that must be pulled in order to generate results. But all of these aspects are a complete waste of time and money without one investment: content.
You could get away with careful technical optimization and thin content in 2006. You can’t get away with that in today’s marketplace. If you want to rank well, content must be the priority. And not just any content will do. It needs to be the highest quality.
What makes content high in quality?
- It should be rich and lengthy. The days of high-performing 500-word blog posts are behind use. You need posts that are 1,000 words, 2,000 words, or even 3,000-plus words to get maximum SEO impact.
- It should be produced by a talented writer who is writing in his or her native language. If you’re hiring an SEO company to handle some of your copy needs, make sure they have U.S.-based writers.
- It should use proper keyword strategy. Keyword stuffing with generic keywords is no longer a best practice. Instead, long-tail keywords win the day. (Instead of “best restaurant,” you should target a keyword like “best steakhouse in Austin, Texas.”
We could write an entire guide on content quality, but that’s a quick primer for you. Always double check to ensure that the SEO company you’re considering places an emphasis on the right type of content.
8. Link Building Prowess
There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace about the importance of link building and how they impact SEO rankings. For years, people have been saying things like”link building is illegal” or “link building is dead” or “link building no longer works.” But all it takes is some quick firsthand research to understand that this is not true. In fact, backlinks are more important than they’ve ever been.
Google considers links to be one of their primary trust signals. They view a backlink from a website with a high domain authority as a “vouch” for the credibility of the linked site. And if your website is able to attract multiple links from other authoritative websites, it’s going to positively impact your chances of ranking well.
Steer clear of any SEO company that downplays backlinks. And when you do encounter an SEO company that uses backlinks as part of their approach, inquire about the specifics of their digital strategy. Ask questions like:
- How do you handle outreach and placement of links?
- What is the domain authority (DA) of the links you’ll help me acquire?
- Do you use private blog networks (PBNs), link farms, link wheels or link exchanges?
- What happens if one of my links gets stripped?
- Which web pages on my website can you get backlinks for?
They might not always have the perfect answers, but asking questions like these will start a dialogue and reveal just how knowledgeable they are about backlinks and their role in SEO. From there, you can make a more informed decision.
9. No Long-Term Commitments or Minimums
Be leery of working with an SEO company who requires a long-term commitment or lengthy retainer. The same goes for campaign minimums. Factors like these only benefit one party (and it’s not you).
The best SEO services understand the importance of allowing clients to operate on short-term commitments and/or a week-to-week or month-to-month basis. They make it their priority to prove their value first before ever asking you to make a long-term commitment.
10. Customized Strategies (Not Cookie Cutter)
Every SEO company has certain systems and processes in place that make their digital marketing services scalable. But you should be hesitant to work with a company that clearly offers cookie cutter strategies. (If they’re offering the same exact SEO package to a pharmaceutical company and a plumbing company, that’s a sign that corners are being cut.)
The strategy they provide you should be customized in some form or fashion. In other words, the keyword planning, content strategy, and publisher selection should all center on your niche, products, and customers. If there’s no discussion about the specifics of your value offering and target audience, this is a sign that you’re getting a generic strategy off the shelf.
11. No Black Hat Tactics
In the SEO world, we separate companies into three categories. There are businesses that do white hat SEO, grey hat SEO, and black hat SEO.
White hat SEO includes proven, ethical, and legal tactics that Google approves of and recommends. These are strategies like technical optimization, quality content, organic backlinks, etc.
Grey hat SEO includes mostly white hat tactics, but might have a few strategies in there that are experimental. Google might not overtly recommend everything they’re doing, but for the most part there’s nothing unethical going on. They’re toeing the line without crossing it.
Black hat SEO includes tactics that are clearly outlawed and/or unethical. This may include content automation, doorway pages, hidden links or text, keyword stuffing, negative SEO, sneaky redirects, cloaking, link schemes, link manipulation, article spinning, markup spam, duplicate content, etc.
There are plenty of white hat SEO companies out there, meaning there’s no need to work with a black hat company that could put your website and brand at risk. Avoid black hat companies and tactics at all costs. It is better to pay for expensive SEO, than get fooling into thinking the cost of SEO services should be cheap.
SEO companies typically price their SEO services based on quality.
There is a general threshold of the cost, quality & speed spectrum which you won’t want to deviate from.
12. Client Confidentiality
When you work with a company on some part of your marketing or branding strategy, the last thing you want is for that company to put all of your business out in the open – good, bad, or otherwise. Unfortunately, some content marketing agencies will. They don’t mean anything bad by it – they’re simply looking for ways to show off who they’re working with and the results they’re getting for their clients – but it could put you in an uncomfortable position.
Any good SEO company will offer client confidentiality and customer discretion. They might ask you for permission to include your logo on their website and/or write up a case study, but they won’t force you to. Your confidentiality is more important than their social proof.
Quality is everything. And while there are a lot of SEO experts that talk a big game, only the best SEO professionals prioritize quality at the very core of what they do. What does this look like?
- Quality content. We touched on quality content above, so we won’t go into a ton of detail here. However, do make sure any SEO company you’re working with puts quality content at the core of the strategy. Everything flows out of this.
- Quality publishers. If building links is a part of your SEO strategy, the SEO company needs to have existing relationships with authoritative publishers and websites. (We’re talking about sites like Forbes, Business Insider, Inc., and VentureBeat, not spammy sites with single-digit DA.)
- Quality design. Web design and web development should be table stakes for most marketing agencies, including those that engage in active search engine optimization. To promote an ugly website with SEO consulting services would be considered blasphemous by top SEO service providers.
- Quality people. Who does the company have working for them? Are these people kind, considerate, and ethical? How have they done at their own online reputation management? Is it clean? They don’t need to be your best friends, but they should be people that you trust with important elements of your brand.
If you find an SEO company that priorities quality content, publishers, and people, you’ve found a winner. These are the kinds of partners you want for your business.
This one goes hand in hand with responsiveness (which we discussed at length above). Timeliness is basically the SEO company’s ability to quickly and efficiently communicate results in a manner that empowers you to make calculated decisions about the direction of your brand.
For example, the best search engine marketing firms proactively report weekly to clients with status updates and real-time results. They may do so in a shared document so that the client can be notified anytime there’s an update. This keeps everyone on the same page and prevents confusion.
The best SEO companies are masters of their craft. They know what it takes to succeed and have the experience necessary to make educated strategic decisions that help their clients grow and improve. So while it’s a good idea to trust the guidance and discretion of a skilled SEO, you want to work with a company that gives you as much say as you’d like.
If, for example, you’re working on a link building strategy with an SEO company, they should give you the option to select publishers, choose the type of content, approve new content creation, and nix any topics or publishers that you don’t see as a good fit. In fact, lack of control is one of the cons of outsourcing your link building to an SEO reseller.
You might prefer to be hands-off, but there’s power in knowing you have control over individual elements of your campaign if you desire it. That’s what sets the best SEO companies apart.
The best SEO businesses are so confident in the quality of their work and the efficacy of their campaigns that they’ll stand by what they do. And while they’ll never guarantee specific search rankings or outcomes that are outside of their control, they will stand strong on their deliverables.
If an SEO company tells you that they’ll secure link placement on a certain website and they fail to do so, they’ll offer you a full refund and/or the opportunity to grab a link on a comparable site.
If an SEO company tells you that they’ll help you generate a certain amount of traffic within a specific timeframe and they fail to do so, they should work with you to make things right.
SEO requires an investment, but the best SEO companies will seek to mitigate as much risk as possible by standing by their work in the form of ethical guarantees.
17. Always Improving
At the end of the day, you can boil the difference between average and best-in-class SEO companies down to one simple truth: The top SEO companies are always improving.
This means they are experts in SEO software, providing insight to tools like marketing automation and best practices for email marketing.
The best SEO agencies know that they don’t know it all. They understand that the marketplace is constantly shifting. They’re aware of the importance of staying current with algorithmic updates and new trends. And rather than push back and stick to the status quo, they evolve and adapt in order to better serve their clients. These are the kinds of companies you want to partner with.
Find Out What SEO.co Can Do for You
At SEO.co, we understand that we aren’t your only option. And we know that every business – small, medium, or enterprise – is highly discerning when it comes to partnering with an SEO company.
So we keep it simple.
We write quality content. We secure top placement. Our clients get stellar links. Search results improve. Traffic increases. And everyone is happy.
We don’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, we believe in practicing sound SEO and digital marketing principles that work. And in doing so, we get impressive results for our clients – clients who stick around for years.
If you’d like to learn about how we can help you establish or enhance your SEO strategy through quality backlinks (including white label SEO services), please don’t hesitate to contact us today. We’d be happy to schedule a free consultation or conduct an in-depth site assessment to uncover new opportunities for business growth!