5 Easy Ways to Confirm an Ad Agency Really Knows SEO

confused by creativity

The Truth

The truth of the matter is that most ad agencies only added SEO as a service because they were forced to by their demanding clientele. Most traditional agencies are not equipped with the tools and experience to successfully implement a good SEO campaign. Digital marketing, whether it be SEO, PPC, CRO or Social Media is quite different than traditional marketing, and though your agency might be great at the print work and media buying, they don’t have the ability to take on the Web.

These days SEO is becoming as much a catch phrase as it is a vital online marketing strategy. Today, without even fully understanding what it is, companies are demanding an SEO campaign from their traditional ad agencies, even if the agency isn’t prepared.

So before you sign on with your traditional ad agency for SEO, here is a quick checklist to see if they know their SEO. The easiest way to do that is to see if they are doing SEO for themselves. Because if they claim SEO is important for you, then shouldn’t it be important for them?

1) Page Titles

Take a look at the page titles of the site. You’ll find these in the top of your Web browser. Page titles are the most important aspect of on-page optimization, and any site that has been optimized for the search engines will have a unique title for every page of the website. I have seen a lot of agencies that completely lack targeted titles, and often their title will only be the company name.

2) 301 Redirect to the www-version of the site

Another way to check their on-page optimization is to see if the non-www version of a website redirects to the www version, or vice-versa.

You can check this by simply removing or adding “www.” to the address bar of the site. If the URL changes from what you had when you hit enter, then a redirect is in place, and the site is properly optimized.

Their Content

Content is the ad agency’s greatest fear. Text is drab on their creativity. It is boring, and it doesn’t get read. Most ad agencies really have a hard time putting content in its place, and they prefer the “flash-and-wow” or shock and awe aspects of a site. They feel it is a chance to show off their skills and creativity.

For SEO, content is crucial. If a company is optimizing their site, they should have a good amount of content describing their services. Not only should you find content, but hopefully you’ll find a structure to it as well. Typically you should see individual pages for every service they offer. The PR service should have its own page, graphic design should have its own, and web dev, media buying, and every other service should have its own page.

This is important because it means more pages are optimized for certain groups of keywords, which is essential for an SEO campaign. Content is good, but structured content is optimized.

4) Length of Service Offered

When talking to the sales team of an agency, you need to find out how committed the company is to your SEO campaign. Search Engine Optimization is not an overnight process, and your ad agency should not treat it like one. In other words, your agency shouldn’t offer SEO services for a one-time fee. If they do, you know they are not committed to your campaign.

5) Where Do They Rank?

Do they put their money where their mouth is? They say they offer SEO, and theoretically they should be doing SEO for themselves, right? So ask them: “Where do you rank for your keywords?” If they are doing well then they should brag about it. If they avoid the question and don’t have a good answer for you, than take it for what it is. If they give you an answer like: “We’re so busy doing client work, we don’t have time to do our own marketing!” (I have heard this many times) then you may want to do more shopping for your SEO services. In the end, I think it is a fair question to ask. NOTE:Ranking for your own branded business name doesn’t count as ranking well for key-terms.

En Fin

SEO can be a great fit for marketing agencies that are looking to offer more digital and online solutions for their clientele. Agencies that don’t currently offer these services may feel pressure to start because of the high demand. However, one of my personal pet-peeves is seeing companies that don’t “practice what they preach.” So many of the ad agencies that are starting to offer SEO are so blatantly bad at it on there own sites, that I cringe to think what kind of work they are doing for their clients.

A Little FYI

If you are an agency looking to keep up with the digital demands of your clients, SEO.com can help. We offer a partner program where we can help you look like the hero you really are. SEO.com has partnered with big time agencies across the country to help out a wide variety of clients. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.

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  1. Jill Whalen says

    The 301 redirect from the non-www to the www is actually not necessary in most cases these days as Google almost always sees them as one and the same now. It used to be a problem but rarely is now.

    Take a look at G’s cache for any non-www page and you’ll likely see that Google says “this is our cache for http://www.whatever.com” rather than “this is our cache for whatever.com” (no www)

    In terms of where they rank, you may not know exactly which keyword phrases they optimized for so you have to be careful making judgments based on that as well.

    • David Malmborg says

      You are absolutely right about the 301’s not making a huge difference in the rankings now a days. However, the point I really wanted to make is that any site that has been optimized for search engines will have the 301 redirects in place. It’s programmed into every SEO to do it. It proves to be more of a sign of laziness if it isn’t done.

      As for asking where they rank, you are correct again. That is more of a question to get a feel for the sales rep. Can they give you a straight response or not about their own SEO campaign.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • James Svoboda says

      I agree with Jill on this one. It is more of a individual SEO’s preference and not a necessity these days. For instance, some might prefer to code an .htaccess file for www/non-www, where as I make an emphasis to hard-code important navigation elements and URLs produced by site search scripts with the full canonical version that is deemed appropriate for the site.

      Another view is that we are working in a linking environment where 301’s have been noted to pass no anchor text and possibly less link juice than believed.

      If you take this into account, you might see that automatically 301ing www/non-www URLs could reduce a site’s link juice over time. This is where I refer back to my point about hard-coding important navigation points of a site…

      • says

        That is an interesting take on 301 vs. Canonical. I don’t know if I agree, or better said, ready to avoid the 301s, but I do see where you are coming from, and will put more thought into it.


  2. Ben says

    I don’t agree with the ranking and content thing. Personally I would not care about where a company ranks. This is a little counter intuitive but the best company I have ever dealt with just has a holding page. No point in giving away your link strategy by doing it on your site.

    I’d want to know why if they are so good, they just don’t build their own sites and print money by ranking the top of Google? I’d be much more inclined to go with a company with their own affiliate websites and make money on the side doing client work.

  3. Adrian Hemsley says

    I would add that a linking building strategy needs to already be in place. Do a simple check on yahoo site explorer link:http://www.adagency.com and if they have less than 10 links, it’s clear that they don’t know SEO.

  4. Nuno says

    I agree with Jill. 301 and ranking are poor signs to see SEO optimization. And most of the SEO outfits out there don’t have time to rank well for “SEO” or whatever, they are busy doing SEO for their clients!

  5. Paul Adams says

    These are so true. I am going to be reposting this blog and def. giving a link back. These are things all SEO Clients should have to read and understand.

  6. Brent Rangen says

    I always recommend jumping right into the back link profiles. Typically, you can find out very fast if an agency is outsourcing 100% of their back link campaigns as they are usually supplemental links (article directories, web 2.0 sites, etc) and there is nothing worse than hiring someone who doesn’t change their tune to fit the needs of the client’s services.

    • David Malmborg says

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I agree, and personally that is one of the things that I look into as well, however, I tried to keep this post as simple as possible.

      • Brent Rangen says

        that reminds me, I forgot to mention:

        Good post! Nice to see it on a blog rather than random tidbits in a forum.

  7. Aaron says

    Thanks for the great post. Personally I normally check their Google Rank. If they are in the top 5 I give them 8 out of 10.

  8. Camella Lobo says

    This is a really great checklist to reference when dealing with a digital agency.

    Along with the length of SEO service offered, I would suggest asking what metrics the agency uses to recalibrate campaigns. While an agency is capable of creating sites using great/current SEO methods, if you don’t establish criteria for measurement it can be very difficult to tell if they are effective or not.

  9. Mark says

    Great post. Agreed that it comes down to some simple details to be able to quickly tell if people know what they are talking about.

    What are your thoughts on having high-quality customer examples/ use cases of good SEO performance being more important than your own site’s performance. Obviously you want your site to perform well to get more business…but isn’t it better or as good to have some cases you can brag about?

    • David Malmborg says

      Thanks for the comment. Case studies are a great thing to gather from the agency. Ultimately you want proof that they can do a good job. I would assume that most agencies will give you a case study long before they give you their own rankings, and you should accept them gladly.

      I still think that I would trust an agency more if they were doing SEO for themselves. It would show to me that they believe in the process.

  10. Ken Sundheim says

    Ironically, I just wrote an article about this 20 minutes ago. 95% of the firms now offering SEO services have no idea what they are doing. They have Alexa ratings of over 1m, can’t build solid backlinks for themselves (drafting an o-lineman who can’t pull), have no idea what landing pages are and expect business. Pathetically, they get it, then the client wonders why they didn’t get their money’s worth.

    Here’s a hint: they didn’t do their due diligence on the company.

  11. Sara Anderson says

    Wow, David – awesome article. I am so glad I came across this blog. Looking forward to reading through your posts!

  12. Burning Bridges says

    Good article. I wish there was a way to explain to people shopping for an SEO vendor on how to really look at the backlink profile of that vendors previous work. Easier said than done I guess.

  13. Roofer Kansas City says

    This is a good post, it didn’t really address that some companies use less than ethical techniques, however.

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