Managing a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign is challenging.
For some organizations, it’s practically impossible.
That’s why most businesses that practice SEO turn to the help of an SEO agency to manage some (or all) elements of their campaign.
SEO agencies can help you with a number of different aspects of SEO, from research and initial planning to onsite content development to link building. No matter what, you’ll need to work with them consistently for an extended period of time before you can see results, as SEO is a long-term strategy.
But what happens if you’ve been with your SEO agency for months without any significant increase in organic traffic?
What if you’re unhappy with the way they’ve been communicating?
Is it worth firing your SEO agency and starting over with someone else?
And if not, when is it worth firing your agency?
First, you need to understand that SEO is a long-term strategy. If you don’t see positive results from your campaign in the first few weeks, that’s totally normal. Many newcomers to SEO get frustrated when they don’t see immediate results, but this is a necessary course.
How long until you can start to see results? That depends on a lot of variables, including:
Accordingly, it’s hard to make a generalization. However, you should start to see results within 2 to 3 months. You might see results earlier if you’re managing an aggressive campaign or if you don’t have many competitors.
You should certainly see results after 4 to 5 months of effort, no matter what the conditions are. Keep this in mind in the next section.
There are many conditions that may prompt you to fire your SEO agency, and all of them are valid.
The first point is the most important, and also the most complicated to answer: you simply aren’t seeing results.
The entire point of hiring an SEO agency is to see positive results. Ideally, you’ll get results that yield you a positive return on investment (ROI). In other words, the revenue you’re generating from the SEO services you’re using will amount to more than what you’re spending on the agency. If you’re spending $3,000 per month on an SEO service, you should be generating at least $3,001 in additional revenue from those services.
Obviously, the fact that SEO is a long-term strategy makes this complicated. In the first few months, you’ll almost certainly see a negative ROI, and over time, that ROI will grow.
So how can you tell if you aren’t seeing the results you want?
You can start by identifying which results are most important to you. For example, are you eager to climb to a rank-one position for a specific keyword term? Are you more interested in maximizing your organic traffic? Or is bottom-line ROI the only metric that really matters?
Then, use your understanding of SEO timing to determine whether you’re seeing reasonable results.
If you’ve been working with this SEO agency for 2 months, you should start to see at least some progress, such as higher organic traffic or higher rankings. After 3 or 4 months, you should start seeing a positive SEO ROI.
If you’re not getting any momentum after several months, you should consider moving on. It’s a sign that they’re not following a reliable process, or that they aren’t invested in your success.
Content is still one of the most important factors for SEO success.
You’ll need to write high-quality posts, in large quantities, for your own website as well as for external websites. Generally, your SEO agency will help you produce these posts, whether they serve an advisory role or assist you with the help of in-house writers.
If the content isn’t on point, the rest of your strategy can crumble. If the content is sufficiently bad, it could even attract a Google penalty, completely wrecking your chances of achieving higher rankings in search results.
Perhaps more importantly, bad content can be a problem for your brand reputation. If a web visitor reads content that’s full of spelling mistakes, inaccuracies, or clunky wording, they’re not going to think highly of your brand. Accordingly, all the organic traffic in the world won’t be enough to help you achieve conversions.
Pay attention to the quality of the content you’re seeing. If it’s not appropriately targeted, if it’s overly “thin” or lacking in detail, or if it’s aesthetically unpleasant, it may be time to move on. If there’s a problem with only one post, have a conversation and see if you can get it fixed. If it’s a consistent problem, there’s little hope of recovery.
The quality of your links matters as well.
Link building is arguably the most important component of SEO, since without it, it’s almost impossible to increase your rankings. The idea is to attract links from high-authority sources; the more authoritative these sources are, and the more links you have, the higher your own authority will grow—and the higher your authority, the higher you’ll rank.
The problem is, there are many ways to get link building wrong.
If you build links on low authority sources, your reputation could take a hit.
If you’re building links inconsistently or without a plan, you won’t increase your authority in a reliable, consistent way.
You can rely on agency reporting or conduct your own backlink profile analysis to determine what kinds of links you’re building with this SEO agency. If you see a plethora of low-quality links, or if you’re not happy with the link building strategy, it’s important to move on.
This is an especially important consideration because of the number of low-quality link building agencies out there. High-quality link building is all about value and relevance; every link you build should be included in high-quality content, and should be contextually relevant to its surroundings (including its publisher).
If the links aren’t hitting the mark, it’s a sign the agency isn’t performing.
Think about this. Do you know exactly which techniques your SEO agency is using? Do you know how they’re getting you results?
Some SEO agencies only focus on bottom-line results. They might show you that your rankings have increased significantly in just a few weeks, or point out the sheer number of blog posts they’ve written for you. But how did they accomplish this?
Reputable agencies tend to be transparent about how they optimize for search engines. They’ll walk you through their process, step by step, provide you with tangible proof of their work, and openly answer any questions you might have. This is because they’re following best practices, and they have nothing to hide.
Contrast that with an SEO agency that seems to dodge all your questions. They don’t say exactly what their process is, and they don’t seem to understand the fundamentals of SEO best practices.
This is typically a sign of an agency that’s either using gimmicky tactics, or one with limited experience.
If you find yourself in this position, give your agency representative a chance to explain. Ask them more questions about their process, and their philosophy on SEO. If you fail to get a reasonable answer, it may be time to fire your SEO agency and find one with a more transparent approach.
Taking inspiration from old Westerns, “black hat” generally refers to tactics that are shady or under-handed; in other words, they’re tactics that violate Google’s terms of service. “White hat” tactics, by contrast, are lawful and ethical; they’re perfectly acceptable by Google’s terms, and are generally accepted as best practices.
Back before a bevy of updates in the 2010s, Google was susceptible to rank manipulation. It was trivially easy to use techniques like keyword stuffing and link spamming to get your site to rank highly for even the most competitive terms.
These days, Google is astoundingly good at detecting rank manipulation and penalizing the websites that partake in it.
Black hat SEO tactics, such as utilizing link schemes or spamming content, still exist, and are still utilized by a surprising number of SEO agencies. Why? Because they work—at least temporarily. Using some black hat tactics can grant you a short-term gain, and usually enough to make it seem like you’re seeing beneficial results.
The problem is, these tactics don’t hold up in the long term. Eventually, Google will figure out that you’re manipulating your rank artificially, and you’ll receive a hefty penalty as a result. Even if Google doesn’t catch on, you’ll likely be using spammy content and spammy links—which can hurt your brand’s reputation.
If you suspect your SEO agency is using black hat tactics, rather than white hat tactics, you should fire them immediately and work with an SEO agency that might be able to reverse the damage.
Reporting is directly tied into results, since it’s typically the way you’ll learn what your results are. Competent SEO agencies will provide you with regular reporting on their progress and your results.
For example, you might receive a report of all the links that were built for your website over the past month, with details like the domain authority (DA) of the publisher site, the context of the link, and when it was built.
You should certainly be receiving reports on your results, at least monthly. For example, how have your rankings changed for your target keywords and phrases? How much organic traffic have you received?
If your SEO agency doesn’t offer reporting, it could be a bad sign. This blinds you to your own results, and could be a sign that your SEO agency doesn’t have the right tools at their disposal.
Finally, you need to consider communication.
Often underrated, communication is possibly the most important tool at your disposal when working with an SEO agency. Through communication, you can convey your goals and ideas. You can collaborate on new endeavors. You can learn more about SEO tactics. You can work out problems and resolve differences. And you can rest assured that you’re getting the support you need.
If the communication is unsatisfactory, none of this can happen. Neither of you can learn from the other, and you’ll be left in the dark about important issues—including your results and how to respond if something goes wrong.
Bad communication can come in many forms, including:
If you can’t communicate with your SEO agency, there may be no hope to resolve any other issue—and the relationship may not be salvageable.
The good news is, your bad experience with a particular SEO agency will help you find a much better fit with your future partner. Take note of what you were unhappy with, and look for an SEO agency that can make up for those weaknesses.
If you’re in the market for a new SEO agency, the best place to start is with an analysis or SEO audit. Since you can usually get one for free, there’s nothing to lose, and you’ll get a valuable opportunity to see how this SEO agency operates.
SEO.co provides free SEO and PPC audits for interested companies. If you’re searching for a new SEO agency, whether it’s a new one or a replacement for an underperformer, contact us for a free consultation today!