Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Choosing a search engine optimisation agency: checklist


Once you have decided to work with a search engine optimisation (SEO) agency, you need to choose one that is appropriate for your business. This is an important decision, as choosing the right or wrong partner can have a significant effect on your business.

The following checklist should help you make this decision:

  • Do they claim to guarantee a high ranking? Any service offering this is to be avoided. Google and other search engines change algorithms frequently to prevent SEO agencies from doing this. Search engine rank changes regularly, and a site that was on top today could be further down the page tomorrow.
  • Can they outline what work they will be completing for you and what results they expect to achieve? It's important to get an outline before any work commences of what work the agency will actually do and what results they plan on achieving. 
  • Are they a personal recommendation? Services recommended by friends and colleagues are worth considering, as word-of-mouth recommendations are a valuable source of information. It's also worth looking at recommendations in online forums, along with positive and negative comments about an agency.
  • What do others say about the company? Online sentiment can help you evaluate prospective partners. Popular services generate a lot of online comments - as do those that have a negative reputation.
  • Do they have references? It's important to hear about an agency from its customers. Customer references are important, especially if an agency is happy for you to contact customers directly. It's also a good idea to check if the agency is part of any professional bodies.
  • Is their site optimised? Explore the agency's own site and look to see just how well optimised it is. You should be able to see the site's keywords, then search on them to see how well ranked the agency is. One that doesn't make the rankings is unlikely to be a suitable partner.
  • Do they attempt to break search engine rules? It's important to find out if a prospective SEO agency uses unapproved or 'black-hat' techniques to list sites on search engines. Avoid sites that use automated submissions or run their own link farms. Links farms are a group of websites that all link to each other in an attempt to improve their page ranking on search engines.
  • Do they get links from real sites? Some agencies run their own sites full of links as a way of delivering the backlinks search engines look for. These techniques go against search-engine rules and a good agency will provide backlinks from real, relevant sites.
  • Will they work with you on a continuing basis? Site SEO is an ongoing process and any SEO partner should be willing to work with you over a long period, helping to keep your site competitive.
  • Are they open? SEO is not a black art - ask how they intend to promote your website and improve your search ranking. If they are unwilling to reveal this information it could be because they are using 'black-hat' techniques which may harm your business.
  • How will they communicate results? The agency should be proactive in making recommendations on how you can improve your search ranking by providing you with regular reports and insight. If you are receiving automated reports, with no clear recommendations, then this is not good value for money.