When I tell family and friends that I work for an SEO firm, I get a lot of smile-and-nod responses from people who don’t want to admit that they have no idea what I’m talking about. Or occasionally I’ll get the “you’re doing what?” responses from people who are honest and not afraid to ask. Knowledge is power, as they say. And let’s be honest, in this day and age there is pretty minimal knowledge in the greater population about what SEO really is, or even what it stands for. So that means that most, if not all, of the power lies within the SEO firm that is hired for its expertise. But, dare I make another annoying cliché? Yes, just one more. With great power comes great responsibility. Not only do firms have the responsibility to do their job to the best of their ability and not scam their clients, but they also have the responsibility to teach their clients as they go. But, wait a minute. If clients understand the process then they won’t need an SEO firm anymore, right? Wrong. Just because a client has a better understanding of SEO tactics does not mean they are ready to start implementing these ideas themselves, and it certainly does not mean that they have the time, resources, and desire to do it. In fact, in my experience working at SEO firms, what this tactic really does is keep current clients happy and coming back, and it can even cause clients to recommend that company to their friends who are looking for similar services. It’s funny what good, honest practices can accomplish. With that being said, here is a short “Transparency Checklist” that will give a good hint as to whether or not a firm is transparent. If you are looking to hire an SEO firm, here are some things you should be expecting to find (if not, our door is always open). 1. Report Summaries SEO firms should summarize their plan of action, their keyword research, their reports, and all of their subsequent strategies. A client should have the option of reading through every inch of text in their on-site analysis, but they should also have the option not to. Potentially, a client should be able to spend 5 minutes looking through an executive summary and a conclusion and be able to gather enough information to know what their next steps should look like, or at least the strategy behind those next steps. If there are sample reports on a firm’s websites, take a look. See if you can quickly gather useful information or if you are lost among confusing lines of text. 2. Customer Service Yes, you read that right. Even though our world is fast-paced and many people have grown accustomed to being pushed back on the schedule, SEO firms should still be available to actually listen to their customers and answer questions. And no, this is not just when they are signing someone on as a new client. This should be the case through every step of the process. Look at it this way, if an agency is too busy to be available to answer questions, then it is too busy to be trusted with someone’s online reputation. See if an SEO firm’s contact information is readily available and that someone is actually there to answer phone calls, or at least to return emails in a timely manner. 3. Teaching Tools If an SEO firm really wants to go above and beyond to help their clients understand SEO, it will provide customers (and the general public) with teaching tools. Whether it is a simple infographic, flow chart, or a beginner’s guide, it should help explain what that company does in easy-to-understand terms. If a company doesn’t have original teaching tools of their own, they should at least be pointing to other resources on the web that explain SEO processes and best practices. 4. Professional SEO Network This one may be harder to find than simply scrolling through a company’s website, but a little more in-depth research should start showing connections with other companies in the SEO realm. Chances are that if an SEO firm is well connected within the SEO community they are transparent not only with clients, but also their competitors. Just like Rob Toledo from Distilled pointed out in his article about the SEO community, there should be an open and transparent relationship between SEO firms. If an SEO firm does not have connections with other similar agencies, it could mean one of two things.
- It is not well known within its community. Therefore it is not impressive enough for other firms to notice, or it is not utilizing the knowledge that the SEO community offers.
- It is shady and other companies want nothing to do with it.
5. Selective Client Process Transparent SEO firms will be honest with potential clients if they don’t feel that they can help them. Not every SEO firm-client relationship is mutually beneficial. If an SEO firm is honest, it will not try to take a client’s money when its services do not match the client’s needs. Ask a firm if it has ever turned down a client and why. If the answer is no, maybe they are just awesome and can do it all for everyone. Or, more likely, they are taking everyone’s business regardless of whether it is a good fit. You wouldn’t just hand your money over to an investor who told you he or she couldn’t really explain what they were doing with it, would you? I sure wouldn’t. The same rule should apply to SEO firms. Donat be afraid to ask questions and look for signs to find out whether a firm is transparent. If they know what they are doing, they will let their customers know what they are doing, too. Written by Kristy Kuntz, the SEO Manager at Evolve. Find her on Twitter!