I did a quick google search on my phone the other day for an SEO agency. My breath caught when the results popped up. They’re everywhere. I’m talking over 50 firms within a 20-minute drive. After scrolling through both the first SERP page and the Google Maps results I could already feel the dread set in. How do I actually pick the right one?

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The truth is unqualified, not-so-great agencies exist making it even more difficult to find a trustworthy, reliable one. On top of that, even the best agencies sometimes aren’t the right fit based on client needs or their specific experience or specialty. So what’s a company to do?

The stress, potential opportunity cost, and sense of urgency to get started all combine to cause major anxiety when picking an SEO agency. In my own effort to land in the right spot, I came up with a list of questions to root out the frauds and find the best fit.

1. How Specifically Will You Improve Our Rankings?

All agencies boast of getting you the best rankings possible, but not every agency wants to be transparent about how they’ll actually do it.

Some agencies offer services like content optimization, keyword research, and competitive research. Others offer technical SEO services, which use more tech-savvy strategies like submitting optimized sitemaps to Google for indexing. Others still will focus on link-building strategies to help drive traffic and build up your domain authority.

It’s important to understand what specific services an agency can help you with. Ideally, choose one that can offer the best of all three worlds. If the agency doesn’t want to discuss specific strategies, bolt and run.

2. How Will You Help Me Get Backlinks?

Backlinks are an important part of SEO strategies. In fact, they’re one of the fastest and most effective ways to increase your domain authority and, thus, your ranking potential.

Not all backlink strategies are created equal, however. Avoid agencies who talk about private blogging systems, which are essentially link-building scams that Google will quickly root out and penalize you for.

3. How Have These Strategies Worked for Past Clients?

The proof is in the pudding. Ask for case studies. Search for reviews. Seek out client testimonials. A good agency has no problem sharing their wins and happy customers are delighted to spread the good word. So make sure to do a bit of digging and let an agency’s clients speak for them. Along the way, you might stumble upon something not-so-flattering but that’s good too. Knowing exactly what’s on the table is always better than being blindsided.

4. What Specific Types of Results Can You Get Me?

Desired results should always be discussed upfront. Some brands want to get first place rankings for the keywords they’re targeting. Others want more traffic. Others want an elevated ranking compared to where they are. Ask the agency what specific results they’ll be aiming for and what sort of growth you can hope to expect.

Once I saw an SEO agency promise to deliver first-slot SERP rankings for every keyword they targeted. Lofty goal. In reality, they proceeded to target irrelevant, long-tail keywords that no one was trying to rank for. They delivered on their promise but brought no value to the client.

So watch for the “guarantee” red flag. Any agency that guarantees top five Google placement for high-volume, high-competition keywords is full of it. No one can promise that. There are too many factors outside of their control. 

5. How Long Will It Take to See Results?

Unfortunately, some agencies happily drag clients along to milk a contract for all its worth. As you choose an agency, set goals and timelines. For example, “we believe these strategies could increase traffic/ranking positions by 15% over the next three months, and then up to a 45% increase within five months.”

Keep in mind, these are goals, not guarantees. But strategies should entail the length of time it should take before you can start to see results and traction.

6. How Will I Know When Changes Are Made?

Many SEO agencies will request access to your site in order to work directly on content and technical fixes. Because of that, it’s important to keep communication lines open and clear.

There are two ways to go about it. 

1. Require that they get your approval first.  This may be particularly important for restricted industries that are bound legally or ethically. A site for a medication, for example, shouldn’t have its text changed just because the keywords could perform a little higher.

2. Ask for a detailed log of any changes that are made after the fact so that you can review them and stay in the know. 

Either way, keep careful track of what’s actually happening.

7. How Will Reporting Work?

SEO agencies are hired to get you results. Make sure you know exactly what they are. This is where things can get a little tricky. Great firms will be completely transparent in time spend, content written, backlinks achieved, etc. Discuss reporting with the agency at the very onset of your communication. Ask what metrics they’ll be watching, what sort of reports you can expect to receive, and how often you’ll be given them.

8. What Does the Collaboration Process Look Like?

How often will your internal team need to be involved and to what extent? How many meetings will you have with the team? What’s their method of communication? How much will they need from you? Gaining an understanding and setting expectations will be vital to a positive working relationship. Some agencies will require more hands-on engagement from their clients, while others handle most of the work themselves.

9. How Do You Handle Google Penalties?

If your site has any penalties from Google, it’s important to make sure that the agency has the experience and a system in place for getting those penalties resolved and overturned. Make sure an agency will handle this for you, ask what their process looks like and how long it may take.

10. How Do Payments and Contracts Work?

If you’ve made it all the way here, that’s a good sign. It’s now time to talk money.

Make sure you’re clear about what a contract entails. Is it a one-time fee and a month-to-month agreement? Is it a retainer that requires a set time commitment? Do you need to pay for a single month upfront? Six months upfront? How do you pay?

If you get to the contract stage, review it carefully. Take it to your lawyer and have them review it. Make sure that it works in your favor and isn’t just benefiting the agency. So many rogue agencies try to sneak in clauses that protect them and hurt their clients, so be careful.

11. Is There An Out Clause?

Let’s say you’re six months into the contract, and there are absolutely zero changes in ranking or traffic. Is there an out clause? If so, what does it entail? Do you have to have a lack of results? Do you have to cancel within a set time period?

Be clear on this, and make sure that you’re comfortable with whatever the company’s policy is. You don’t want to be stuck with an agency whose strategies aren’t working for you.


Finding the right SEO agency is imperative to your online success. With so much traffic still being dictated by search engines like Google, you don’t want to put your ranking potential in the wrong hands. Be wary of any glaring red flags and look for an agency that is the best fit for your business.

Want to see if our SEO and marketing services are a good fit for you? Schedule a free call today!

Ana Gotter