How to Choose an SEO Agency | Hire SEO Agency UK – POLARIS

How to Hire an SEO Agency in the UK

Hiring an SEO agency in the UK is tricky. There are so many providers, each with different strengths and weaknesses. How do you choose? Get the low down.

These are the topics which we will cover within this article:

  • What Does an SEO Agency Do?
  • What to Expect from an SEO Agency
  • How to Hire an SEO Agency
  • How to Choose an SEO Agency
  • What to Ask a Prospective SEO Agency?
  • Why Use an SEO Agency?
  • How Can an SEO Agency Help to Build your Business?

Some of these topics may sound similar, but there's actually a lot of depth in terms of the provision of SEO as a service. As such, we have tried to dig in deep and cover as much as we can.

What Does an SEO Agency Do?

Maybe you're an in-house Head of Marketing, Head of Digital, CEO or Managing Director. You've been told that SEO is a new channel of operations to pursue, or (as a business owner) you have heard all the buzz about SEO. You know it's something that needs to be tackled, but it seems so complex and your business lacks the native talent.

You know that SEO can bring a lot of traffic and revenue, but you don't know where to start. It's clear that you'll need the help of an SEO agency, but what do SEO agencies do?

Most SEO agencies will work across the following areas:

  • Strategy & Campaign / Project Management - what exactly do you want to achieve, and what measures and workflow are needed to get there? What's the overall plan of action for acquiring and converting Google traffic?

  • Tracking & KPI measurement - Now you know what your goals are, how will they be tracked? Custom event tracking on your site may be needed so that conversions, revenue, whitepaper downloads, form submissions and more can be recorded in Google Analytics (or similar, e.g., Adobe Analytics). You may also need a call tracking platform to track leads from your website (and potentially to channel-attribute those leads). And SEO agency will help to guide you here.

  • Reporting - Once your KPIs are being properly tracked, you can then generate data to report on those KPIs. For example, Google Analytics can be connected to Google Data Studio to generate solid automated reports, which can also support dynamic commentary by date. Without first strategising and tracking, you can't start reporting. Data can also be pulled in from Google Search Console and / or rank tracking platforms.

  • Technical SEO Auditing - The technical coding and features of your site can impede pages from ranking properly within Google's results. By contrast, proper mark-up (such as solid schema use and properly sculpted indexation factors) can help more important pages to show up in Google's results more often. Things like no-index usage, XML sitemaps, robots.txt, canonical tag and hreflang usage, as well as general site architecture are all factors.

  • Page Speed & Core Web Vitals Auditing - Google's strong focus on page-loading speeds and UX can potentially influence ranking positions. Small changes in page loading ratings won't affect your rankings much. That being said, jumping from one performance bucket to another (e.g., from poor to average) may make a noticeable difference, and may also have by-product Conversion Rate Optimisation benefits. Satisfying Google's Core Web Vitals is extremely difficult and you will likely have faced prior frustration with developers making changes, which don't move the needle too much. You need analysts who are familiar with Google's Page Speed Insights, with the Chrome Dev Tools Performance tab. You need people who can break down these complex issues and steer your activity! An SEO agency can help here.

  • Off-Site SEO Auditing & Backlink Analysis - A site with solid content and great architecture is like a farm with an efficient and innovative irrigation system. It has the potential to water all the fields (or pages) and to see all the crops (or keywords) sprout, grow and increase in ranking. Although this is true, without a large reserve of water the crops will still die (performance will still suffer). High quality, followed editorial links (pointing to your website) will allow SEO authority to flow into your site from external trusted sources. In other words, quality backlinks build up a reservoir of SEO authority, which is like the big tank of water for our hypothetical farming irrigation system. Without SEO trust and authority, your website won't rank very well. In recent years, most SEO professionals (because they are more technical / analytical by nature) are not PR people and don't touch outreach / Digital PR. Although that is true, your SEO agency is still well placed to (A) educate your PR people on what makes a good link, and (B) give steer on which types of links are best to pursue.

  • Backlink Toxicity Analysis - Links can be good and bad. Poor, spammy links can be a wasted investment, but Google can also penalise such activity. This is especially true if advertorial link building has been presented as editorial link building. An SEO agency should be able to steer the direction of your link growth, but they should also be able to analyse existing links and take action where needed.

  • Content Analysis & Management - Maybe you have noticed that a certain section of your site seems to have highly duplicate content, but you're struggling to get anyone else to see the issue internally. You know that duplicate content is bad for Google rankings, but it seems like a subjective comparison and you can't get numbers behind it to prove your case. An SEO agency can help here. Creating grids of page content and comparing them with Boolean string similarity functions is second nature to data people. The moment you know that the content between two pages is 75% similar, you have a number to run with to pursue action. An SEO agency may also help to produce content or project-manage the production of the required content. Other common deployments include "content gap analysis", which is the art of finding gaps in your content to connect with new Google keywords. SEO people will mostly handle the analysis and management ends of such projects.
  • General SEO Deployment - Even if your coding isn't impeding Google from accessing your site and you have few or no technical SEO errors, that doesn't mean your SEO is finished. For example, you may notice that injecting a certain word into a product title, for products within a certain category, yields more traffic from Google. That change is technical, but it's not technically removing an 'error'. These are the technical (or content / strategic) changes made to your site, which aim to make it 'optimal', rather than simply fixing errors. This is where you get your competitive edge.

What to Expect from an SEO Agency

If you don't know what expectations you should have from your SEO agency, how can you know if you are getting a good service? You may have wondered - how to evaluate an SEO agency?

Here are some things you should expect from an SEO agency:

  • For purely technical SEO-oriented changes, the agency should be able to point back to documentation or guidance from Google.
  • For technical SEO (or content) changes which revolve more around making things 'optimal' (e.g., there's no technical error, but further changes could be made to make the architecture optimal), it's unlikely that they will be able to point to specific guidance from Google. Most of Google's guidance revolves around making a site crawl-accessible, rather than competitively optimal. Even so there should always be a sound rationale for the work.
  • Deliverables shouldn't be late all the time. If the SEO agency in question doesn't have the resources available to satisfy your ambition, move.
  • Communications should be regular. SEO projects can get messy as guidance or development projects change. As such, it's imperative that your SEO contact is highly communicative and catches up with you regularly. Silence is not golden.
  • Expect to decline some plans from your SEO agency on occasion. SEO people are usually extremely passionate and always want to do the best work, but sometimes there just isn't the budget. You will sometimes have to push back. Keep in mind though, the more times you can say 'yes', the more your Google performance will benefit.
  • Expect the SEO team in question to learn your product or service in-depth. Keep in mind that this may take some time as they get used to your web-audience and the digital 'shape' of your industry.
  • Expect to give a lot of your time to the SEO team. SEO is no longer a siloed, fire-and forget one-person job. SEO is likely to help guide web development, design, content production, CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation), UX, Digital PR and more. As such, an SEO agency worth their salt will need a firm time commitment from you to make sure that activity progresses smoothly.

How to Hire an SEO Agency

Hiring an SEO agency is easy. If you like what you've read so far, you can always contact us here at Polaris. If you'd like to shop around, Google is your friend. Google a local or nationally acclaimed SEO agency, review their case studies (here are ours) and credentials and purchase a service accordingly.

Make sure that the agency in question can demonstrate and prove the effectiveness of their service. Did they earn a lot of extra Google traffic for one of their clients, how did they do it? Did they ever struggle to intake more traffic? If so, how did they succeed with the traffic they had? What CRO or UX measures did they employ during hard times? SEO campaigns aren't always plain sailing, so you need to know that the skills of your SEO team will benefit you even when waters are rough.

You may also be wondering - how much does a UK SEO agency cost? This is highly variable as SEO is not a standardised service. For example, even if your business is small, if your website has a very large footprint of pages, you may have to pay more for technical auditing (as web crawls will take longer). SEO teams do so much, that allocating a monthly budget can be hard. We think that less than £3,000 (GBP) per month is a little thin to provide SEO. What you really want to concentrate on though, is the hourly rate. How many hours are you getting for your spend?

How to Choose an SEO Agency

It's a common question - how to choose the best SEO agency? Look to the agency's awards, nominations, reviews and case studies. Since SEO professionals are often very passionate, their voices once they leave a company are usually unbiased. As such, you can snoop the agency's Glassdoor reviews to see what professionals are saying. If staff reviews are poor and they seem to have been prevented from doing a thorough job, don't hire that agency.

Reviews and nominations are a great source of intelligence. Has the agency been nominated for awards like DADI, The Drum or an RAR award? Do their case studies match up with their awards and nominations? Can the agency share deeper stats from their campaigns and case studies to give you assurances?

When considering how to pick an SEO agency, you also want to keep an eye on service-level reviews. How are their reviews on Google or Trust Pilot? What are existing and ex clients saying about the company?

Selecting an SEO agency can be tricky, especially from a position of ignorance. You might not know SEO inside and out, but you do know your business or marketing expectations. Stick to those and ask the prospective agency to demonstrate (as far as they can) how they will match your expectations.

What to Ask a Prospective SEO Agency?

There are many questions you could ask a prospective SEO agency. Some revolve around asking for examples of work, other questions are more general.

Here are some questions you could ask:

  • What is your general SEO philosophy? - Most SEO agencies will have a specialism. Data handling, technical auditing, consultation, Digital PR-pushing. It's important to know the USPs of the prospective agency, this question is a relatively inoffensive way of making a determination.
  • How does your SEO philosophy mesh with Google's guidance? - Not all SEO philosophies are good for your business. For example, black-hat SEO can achieve small to medium results rapidly yet may kill a domain in the long run. You need to know that you're getting organic, modern SEO which will stand the tests of time.
  • Which Google updates within the last year do you believe, have had the greatest impact for SEO? - This is a great question. It will quickly reveal whether the agency has their finger on the pulse, or not. If the agency only talks about negative updates which disrupted their campaigns, maybe they're not making the most of the many positive Google algorithm updates which occur.
  • How will you organise the time you spend to drive results on our business? - Another excellent question to ask. How much of your time will go on auditing, reporting, keyword research, management, or actively productive work like content production? If you quickly surmise that your spend will only really achieve reporting, there won't be any activity to drive results. It's important to know this, so you can look again.
  • Do you believe in my product, service and USPs? What sells you in? - If the agency doesn't really believe in your product and USPs, how will they adequately ensure the promotion of your product? They have to be invested. They have to buy into your business, and believe it could be successful. If they don't, all you will get is reports and no real progress.
  • What are some of the challenges of SEO and how do you overcome them? - Different agencies have different skillsets and will answer this question differently. Very technical agencies may not do your Digital PR for you, but may overcome that with guidance and education for you and your PR team. You need to know that the strengths and weaknesses of the prospective agency, match the strengths and weaknesses of your own business.
  • Have you got case studies you can walk me through? - You will want to see examples of previous works that have been conducted by the agency. Note that examples of work may have to be redacted. That's fine, you just want an idea of their overall SEO approach and capability detailing the kinds of service you might receive.
  • What is your favourite success story and how did your agency's activity drive those results? - Most SEO agencies worth their salt should have at least one really solid success story. You'll want to hear it.
  • How do you keep on top of the changing web? - We all know the story. A site which has performed admirably for years comes crashing down Google's rankings. Why? Is it Google algorithm related, or part of a wider change to the fabric of the web? Google's algorithm tweaks are constant, and web-technologies are ever-changing. You need to be confident that the agency in question can keep on top of everything.

What other activities can you support me with? - When an SEO campaign is bubbling along nicely, you don't want to waste spend-time. Lots of SEO professionals have high capabilities with Microsoft Excel, Google Data Studio and a number of other data manipulation / analysis platforms. Is there anything else they can help you out with, besides their core SEO remit? Maybe they can help to fix formulae in an internal spreadsheet which is driving everyone nuts at your company. Maybe you also run FaceBook Ads and the SEO person could help to build a reporting dashboard for that data. The abilities and applications of 'SEO people', are much broader than you may at first anticipate.

Why Use an SEO Agency?

Business owners and heads of department often ask, are SEO agencies worth it? Google is still a top UK web destination as of 2021. All of that traffic is up for grabs, if you're not doing SEO then you won't get your slice of the pie.

Although that is true, SEO is a vast and complex practice which is part art and part science. Between the axioms of factual data and subjective interpretation is a whole world of choice and analysis. If you don't have trained SEO talent internally, you likely won't get much out of SEO. That's why an SEO agency is really important!

As stated, SEO professionals are also much more adaptable and capable than they are generally given credit for. You may find that they can help you with much more than just their core remit.

Career SEO professionals are adaptable for two main reasons. Firstly, their work is part art and part science which necessitates a blend of creative and technical thinking. In addition to this, they are some of the few who must balance a chaotic mix of rigid and fluidic workflow. Some of their work, like producing audits, is more like a web-developers work.

They check the issues, document their findings - it's a lot like laying bricks. On the other hand, they have to respond ADHOC to client queries and new guidance from Google. That part of the work is much more fluidic and much less rigid. Balancing rigid and fluidic workflow is very difficult and breeds in 'SEO people', a high degree of organisational awareness. Even outside of SEO, you may find this to be beneficial to you.

You need SEO to increase your website's traffic intake and overall revenue. You need an SEO agency to achieve SEO in a competent way. You need smart, adaptable, flexible, organised people around you. SEO as a career path, naturally breeds such traits. Due to these factors and more, an SEO agency is absolutely worth it. SEO agencies soak up the best SEO talent, and that's what you need to succeed in SEO.

How Can an SEO Agency Help to Build your Business?

Simply put, an SEO agency can help to optimise your website in a way which will draw in more traffic from Google (and perhaps from other search engines, though their presences are mostly minor. Exceptions include Baidu in China and Yandex in Russia which are large).

By drawing in more traffic, your website will have more chances to convert users. Whether your aim is to get users to transact, download white papers, pick up the phone or subscribe - is immaterial. You have business needs, that’s why you had a website produced. With more visitors, your website has more chances to achieve your business goals and KPIs.

If your business KPIs are met more often and your organic revenue increases, then you see more profit. If you see more profit, your business grows. It really is that basic.

Aside from bringing in more traffic, an SEO agency may look to better target your existing traffic (through more relevant keywords). If you gain the same amount of traffic through keywords which are more relevant, conversions are likely to increase further.

An SEO agency may also help with page-loading speeds, UX and CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation). Better UX and CRO means you gain more conversions from the same amount of traffic (very valuable). Pages which load faster are also more likely to convert.

As you can see, there are many ways in which an SEO agency can commercially benefit your website and therefore your wider business. In a pandemic-prone age of lockdowns, more people are at home more of the time. This is pushing more businesses online, and also means the active web audience is expanding. Don't miss out.

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