How To Hire The Right Type Of SEO Firm

iStock_000004213862Medium-800There are many different types of SEO firms, and as a client you need to know what they are in order to hire the right type for your business. This guide to the different types of SEO firms will tell you the questions you need to ask yourself about your business to make sure you choose one that matches your objectives and needs. If the title of this post reads a lot like another recent post of mine, 4 Tips For Hiring The Right SEO Firm, don’t worry, I’m not repeating myself. Whereas that one focused on what you should do when hiring any type of SEO firm, this one focuses on making sure you choose the right type of SEO firm to begin with.

The different types of SEO firms can be segmented most effectively by focus (industry focused vs. generalist), service level (entry-level, mid-level, and high-end), and service type (jack-of-all-trades vs. specialty).


Should you hire an SEO firm that specializes in working with your type of business, or a generalist firm that works with all types of clients? If you work in a well established industry where there is a lot of similarity between you and the guy in the next town over who does the same thing, then you likely want to go with a specialist firm that focuses on your industry. This might be the case for dentists, self storage companies, lawyers, and realtors. I say “might” because there are always exceptions. However, if your business is more specialized itself, then you probably don’t even have the option of finding a firm that focuses on your niche, and you would work with a generalist SEO firm.

Service Level

I like to segment SEO firms by service level. Others might do the same segmentation based on cost, since the level of service tends to correlate quite well with cost. As with anything else in life, you tend to get what you pay for. But that doesn’t mean you have to go with a high-end SEO firm in order to get good results (and I say this as someone who runs a high-end SEO firm). If you have a landscaping business and you only work in one or two cities, there’s no need to hire a high-end SEO firm for $5,000/month. You can find a firm that offers a more template-driven, one-size-fits-all approach for as little as several hundred dollars per month (anyone offering full-service SEO for less than $500/month I would steer clear of with rare exceptions), and as long as they are a good firm (I didn’t feel it necessary to add good vs. bad to our list of various segmentations) you should be fine. If you don’t feel you’re getting what you need at that service level after 4-6 months you can always upgrade later. If your company is a global brand with a presence in 40 countries, then you will certainly be going high-end. Most companies will avoid either extreme and fall somewhere in between.

The main difference between high-end and entry-level firms, and the mid-level firms that exist in between, is customization. An entry-level firm, in order to charge a lower price than a high-end firm and still earn a profit, has to either provide fewer services or automate many of them. Where the road to SEO success is well-travelled, the weather is fine, and competition is minimal, this can work well. But if the road is rocky and challenging, weather conditions are unknown and change rapidly, and competition is fierce, you need an SEO company that can customize the strategy and execution as needed.

Service Type

Some SEO firms do it all, from link building to content marketing, and conversion optimization to pay-per-click management. Others focus on one thing, and one thing only. If you need just one thing, then find the company that specializes in that one thing and does a better job than anyone else. If you’re needs are constantly shifting or you need several things and would prefer to work with a single vendor, then you want to hire a firm with broad experience and service offerings.

Start With Your Company

To begin answering the question of what type of SEO firm you should hire, start by categorizing what type of business you work for and the competitive environment. Is your company a common one, or rare? Do you compete locally or nationally? Do you need a slow and steady, straightforward approach, or lots of customization and creativity? Is the competition SEO-savvy and fast-moving, or just by doing minimal SEO will you be ahead of most of your competitors? Do you need lots of online marketing services, or just one?

Identify Potential Matches

Once you’ve answered those questions, you can start searching for the right firm. Using a search engine is a good place to start, since any SEO firm worth its salt should theoretically show up well on Google and other search engines. My personal recommendation is to rely on word of mouth. Ask your friends and business associates who you should consider. Regardless of the method you use for finding potential SEO firms to work with, whenever you find one, look at their website and the services they offer. It should be easy to tell what kind of firm they are. If they specialize in a particular industry, they’ll be saying it all over their homepage. The same goes if they focus on local marketing. If they are a generalist firm, they’ll probably list all their myriad services on their homepage.

SEO, whatever the term comes to mean today or tomorrow, is one of the most effective forms of marketing available. But it’s also poorly understood, which makes room for unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of those who don’t know what they need or what they should be paying for it. If you understand your business and the different types of SEO firms out there, you’ll be that much closer to avoiding the bad SEO firms that are out there, and finding the right partner to help you grow.

Joshua Steimle is a Hong Kong based entrepreneur writing about startups, entrepreneurship, and online marketing. Connect with him at: 
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