Hiring an SEO agency can help turbocharge your online marketing, and partnering with the right technical SEO agency can deliver even better results. They should be able to address technical aspects like server performance and website code optimization, while also running organic SEO and paid search campaigns to promote your content, products, and services.

SEO is a complex area and doing it wrong can have negative consequences — a poorly placed ‘robots’ meta tag can prevent your pages from being indexed at all — but even an adequate web marketing agency can’t compete with the best technical SEO agencies.

When you know what you’re doing, you can conduct comprehensive website audits, identify problems that go beyond the page content, and optimize website and server alike to deliver fast, mobile-friendly web pages that are perfectly positioned for a front-page ranking on Google.

Every SEO agency will tell you they’re the best at what they do – so how do you know how to pick the right technical SEO agency to partner with? We’ll look at some of the questions to ask and highlight some of the red flags so you can choose an agency you can trust.

Questions to Ask

First of all, the ball’s in your court. You can ask questions before you commit to a contract (and if the agency you’ve approached is trying to pressure you to sign something upfront, there’s your first red flag).

Here are some questions to ask both yourself and any prospective search marketing agency you are considering hiring.

What are our goals?

A successful search engine marketing campaign needs to have clearly defined goals so that you know if you have achieved what you set out to do. Some services, such as an initial technical SEO audit, might not have an immediate return on investment. Speak to your prospective technical SEO agency and find out what measurable results you can expect to see.

Who have you worked with in the past?

Although the agency’s past contracts might not have a direct bearing on their work with you, evidence that they have worked with one or more big brands is always a good sign. Large corporations are often careful about where they place their marketing spend, so if they’ve chosen your prospective technical SEO agency in the past, that’s a big plus point.

It may be that you will need to sign an NDA with some agencies to discover their clientele.

What techniques do you use?

While the agency might not go into the fine detail of how they generate results, they should be willing to share some general information about the techniques they use. They may also have some case studies you can look at to see how those techniques have succeeded. Remember, SEO is an ever-evolving discipline. You don’t have to be an expert in it yourself, but try to check if the agency’s suggested techniques are up-to-date or not.

Will I own my content and data?

This one is a huge red flag. Some unscrupulous SEO agencies offer contracts where the client never ‘owns’ their content or analytics data. When you end your contract, the agency has the right to delete any content they supplied and prevent you from accessing your traffic statistics from the duration of your contract.

How (and how often) will we communicate?

Find out how the agency likes to keep in touch. Some of this is down to personal preference —you might want to choose an agency that offers video calls, voice calls, email support, or face-to-face progress reviews. Regardless of the method of communication, you’ll want to choose an agency that responds quickly to queries, so try to verify that your potential SEO provider is prompt with replies to clients.

Mistakes to Avoid

Taking all of the above into account, you might think you have a good idea of whether you can trust the agency you are considering. However, there are still a few potential pitfalls to be aware of.

Rank Isn’t Everything

Just because an SEO agency ranks first on Google, it doesn’t mean they are the best at what they do. Especially in recent years, Google tailors its search results based on many factors, including your geographic location, so it could just be that the agency’s registered address is near to where you are at the time.

It’s also possible to get a high ranking using black-hat SEO techniques — these tend to be less ethical (such as spamming third-party websites with links to your own homepage) and can be high-risk, high-reward, but only over the short term. Eventually, it’s likely the agency will be penalized by Google. Either way, you don’t want black-hat SEO methods used on your own website.

Off-The-Peg SEO Packages

Be wary of companies that offer cheap SEO packages with very rigid content. Remember, the O in SEO stands for Optimisation, and you’re not going to get that with an off-the-peg package. For the best results, you need a technical SEO agency that will talk to you, understand what you want to achieve, and conduct a detailed technical audit of your website to see what needs to be done.

Fixed-fee SEO packages have their place, and might seem like the best way to get the job done if you’re on a strict budget they. It’s always worth talking to an agency who can offer an SEO campaign tailored to your needs, as this will get you the best ROI per pound of budget in the long term.

Red Flags

Putting everything together, you’re probably close to choosing a good technical SEO agency at this point. There are just a few remaining red flags to look out for:

A Lame Website

This one speaks for itself. If you visit the agency’s website and it’s poorly designed, slow to load, won’t display on mobile devices, or has multiple features that don’t work, you probably won’t want to trust them with the keys to your own content management system.

Overnight Results

SEO is about optimizing your website and your content for long-term incremental gains. Unless you have one very specific problem to fix (such as your entire website being hidden from the search robots), you should be wary of agencies that promise you game-changing gains overnight.

Spurious Credentials

Be wary of SEO agencies that claim to be ‘Google SEO Partners’ or tell you they have a direct line to Google’s own employees. While there is a legitimate ‘Google Partner’ designation, this is based partly on how much an agency spends on Google Ads and Premier Partner status is only available to the top 3% of participating companies in each country.

Trade Secrets

It’s unlikely an agency will lay out every last detail of their techniques in your initial consultation. However, they should be willing to give you a general idea of what they do. If an agency seems overly secretive about their methods, or implies they get results via some sort of SEO alchemy, it could be a sign they don’t really know what they’re doing, or that they use black-hat SEO techniques.

Team Effort

While it’s possible for an individual to conduct a successful SEO campaign, it puts some practical limits in place in terms of scalability and skillset. If your campaign has any kind of scale to it, choose an agency who can offer you experts in various disciplines: SEO, graphic design, content writing and website developers, among others.

Choosing the right technical SEO agency is an important business decision, so set aside your emotions and try to make your decision based partly on instinct, but also on a thorough checklist of the above questions, problem areas, and deal-breaking red flags. You’ll gain confidence and hopefully a long-term partner who you can trust with your content, your marketing, your search rankings and, ultimately, the success of your business.