10 Things To Expect from a Good SEO Firm

Last week I posted about 11 Ways to Recognize a Bad SEO Firm. This week, in response to many requests, I am going to turn it around and talk about a set of things to look for in identifying a good SEO firm.

Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to be declarative when looking at this side of the coin. There may be more things that you will need from your SEO firm than are listed below. Every web site is very, very different, and they all have different needs.

Also, for definitional purposes, I am assuming that the term SEO includes responsibility for developing inbound links to the site. Without further ado, here is the list of things that Good SEOs will do:

  1. Don’t always tell you what you want to hear, right from the start. This may even happen in the first call. Remember, the reason why you are bringing in an SEO is that you have a problem. It’s their job to help you understand the nature of the problem and the fix.
  2. Use a teaching oriented approach. From the very beginning, you want an SEO that will teach you the basics, by explaining everything that they are doing. This is a critical element of a successful SEO – Client relationship.
  3. Start strategic. Good SEOs do not bring a one size fits all formula. They will help you understand the strategic plan for your site. This should start with the first call also. You have investment decisions to make, and you need to have the complete picture to make those investments wisely. Note that there are many high quality people that focus on one vertical area of expertise. Depending on your business, they may be an excellent resource for you. Just make sure you understand how they fit into the broader strategic picture of the plan to grow your site’s traffic.
  4. Know that “Content is King”. At the end of the day, you need links. It’s nearly impossible to get links unless you give people a reason to link to you. The best answer for that is quality content. Even for smaller sites with limited budgets, this must be addressed. Fortunately, there are many creative solutions that don’t necessarily involve a huge investment.
  5. Has worked on a large number of sites (they have breadth of experience). Every site is different, both in terms of its structure and the market it competes in. SEOs with a broad range of experience are less likely to run into problems with yours.
  6. Preach link volume and high value links in balance. It’s great to get lots of links. Most likely though, you need some authoritative links as well. How you going to get them? A good SEO should have good fresh ideas on this topic.
  7. Offers up freely available case studies or testimonials. Not every client wants to reveal all the details of their traffic, but some will be willing to let an SEO do so. At the very least, however, the SEO should be able to offer up testimonials from past and/or current clients.
  8. Willing to provide references. If the case studies and testimonials are not enough for you, then the SEO should be willing to provide you with people that they can call for a reference.
  9. Of course, does not do any of the bad seo things. Quiz them on the bad SEO things and see what they say about them.
  10. It’s a definite bonus if they have a reputation to protect. A reputation is an asset, and business owners don’t like losing assets. That said, there are SEO firms that do good work that may not have as visible a reputation as some others, so view this as a bonus rather than an absolute requirement.

If you know of any other things that belong on this list, let me know about it and I will add it.


  1. says

    I couldn’t agree more, especially with the first 4 points. A good SEO person knows that there isn’t an easy short cut, it’s all about the hard work and producing interesting content that solves the problem better than any other website. Content that is worth linking to.

  2. says

    Thanks for the follow up, Eric.

    Richard: “…interesting content that solves the problem better than any other website.”

    I really ike how this is stated.

    I’d say that even though content and links are high, very high, on the list of weighted factors, a good SEO is what I’ll call “code smart,” at least from a search engine perspective. Understanding how to trouble shoot more complex programming related SEO issues is definitely a big plus; at the very least someone who can identify problems, find and provide answers quickly.

  3. says

    I cannot agree with your second remark. Not every customer wants to be taught and many don’t have the time to busy themselves with seo basics. The other points are all true!

  4. says

    Once again a great article and right in line with my thinking. SEO has somewhat slipped into the snake oil category in some people’s eyes and it’s simply unfair on ethical practitioners.


  5. says

    Malte, I understand your point, and would be somewhat willing to concede it.

    However, I find that sites that are not willing to learn at least the motivation, if not some of the mechanics, behind your SEO techniques, often prove to be a real burden in the long term.

    If they don’t understand why you’re having them do certain things, they’re prone to the worst behavior at the worst times, like: not following through on the important things; suddenly taking an unprecedented interest in the details, and forcing you to “catch them up” on the basics that they’ve been ignoring; not appreciating the time scale, priority, or dependencies of some of your actions, and therefore having unrealistic expectations.

    I agree that not all want to be future SEOs, but I am wary about those that take no interest in the details behind the results.

  6. Renaldo says

    Good SEO’s are willing to at least partially tie their compensation to performance and the results achieved at the end of the day, if that’s how the client wishes to structure the contract.

    Any SEO who wants guaranteed money but won’t base even a small percentage of the total compensation package on the results attained has got something to hide.

    The following statement applies to anyone — not just SEO’s: If you’re good at what you do, and confident in your ability to do it, why would you object to being paid more in the desired results are achieved?

  7. says

    The only bad thing about your lists, is that now when I write this stuff up on my site I’m not original anymore, and must credit you.

    Course, I’ve MEANT to have them up by now, honest. I keep them in the drafts folder not because I’m lazy, but because I’m thorough. Swear. Haha.

  8. says

    “Don’t always tell you what you want to hear … ”

    “Start strategic … ”

    “Know that ‘Content is King’ … ”

    “Has worked on a large number of sites … ”

    On Target …

  9. says

    I agree malte, many clients don’t want to know what I do, and just want to see the results, other clients I had in the early days took what I taught them and set up as SEO themselves.
    Generally though your points are correct, I especially like the point 9, ask them questions of the bad SEO list and see what their response is.
    Cheers Lynn

  10. says

    I’d also look at firms who spend time on keyword research to get the best bang for buck in terms of competition verses qualifies leads.

    Often it’s better to rank number 1 for a less competitive term that qualifies leads than ranking number 5 for a broad term that gets clicks but no sales.

  11. says

    Hello there, I could not agree with you more on all of these points you you spoke of. I would think that all “good” Seo’s would be able to give all of that information, and be able to discus the short and long term affects of there strategies, and how effectively ther will meet the clients marketing goals .) Thank you for sharing this information, it was very informative and it will help me to make better conversation with future client prospects!

  12. says

    This article is great. I’m in the process of hiring an seo person. And it’s scary and very intimidating. Most require payment up front. Is it common practice to pay Al monies up front. Or do some work on measurable results? I almost feel like it should be paid on results. Or half up front and then half after the job is completed. Similar to how a consultant is paid. Is this unreasonable? Are there any places that review SEO firms. Unbiased review that is.

    • says

      Hi Annie – Getting 100% up front does not sound right to me. At the very least, half up front and half on completion for a Site SEO review project sounds right. Hard to do a straight performance model because sometimes results take some time to show (based on how long it takes the search engines to digest your new site).

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