A Definitive Guide to Choosing a Reliable SEO Agency

Written by Matthew King, time it takes to read this article is  minute(s).

The world is no longer at the cusp of a digital revolution: we're now living in it. Digital content and the Internet are now part of our everyday lives, from entertainment media we consume to our methods of shopping. Such facts should influence your decisions as a business owner.

I-Want-to-Buy Moments Statistics (from Think With Google)


Users that visit a retailer website or app before buying.


Users that do a general online search to buy.


Users that do a mobile search before buying.


Users whose buying decisions are influenced by a relevant search.

Here's another fact to ponder upon: more businesses are doing online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). If you belong to a competitive industry here in Virginia (e.g., retail, food, consumer goods manufacturing, home services), chances are many of your competitors have already started their marketing campaigns.

So, if everyone is doing it, how will you stand out?

Here's a straightforward answer: through your SEO company.


A couple of years ago, the first ones to do SEO had the highest advantage. Today, businesses with savvy SEOs at the helm of their campaigns can give the more established websites a run for their money. This is why you need to choose the right SEO company; otherwise, your investment in online marketing will go to waste.

Here are five steps on how you can find the ideal SEO service provider in Virginia.

Step 1: Set Your Business Goals

As surprising as it sounds, identifying business goals in relation to SEO is the first thing you need to do when looking for a reliable and capable SEO company. Surprised? There’s a very good reason for this: your business goals will serve as your guide when screening potential SEO service providers. You can have a list of potential companies to hire, but it will all boil down to who has the experience and capacity to help you achieve those goals.

What SEO goals should you aim for?

A number of target metrics might come to mind:

  • Increase website traffic.
  • Increase Google search ranking.
  • Increase domain authority (DA), Alexa Rank, page views, social media followers, and the like.
  • Make the first page of Google search engine results.

These are common goals that could give you some benefit. They are, unfortunately, not the best targets to have.

What happens after you reach page 1 on Google SERPs? Will your business get a specific benefit from that? If the answer is yes, then what is it? The answer to the last question should be your goal instead, not merely landing on page one of Google search. Without a clear goal, a high search ranking is merely a vanity metric — just like having a high DA or getting more page views and social media followers. They look nice in writing but ultimately might not help move your business goals forward.

Be more specific and business-centric with your goals.

Here are some excellent examples:

  • Improve the quality of your leads (this means more website visits from targeted audiences).
  • Get X number of newsletter subscribers (lets you focus your conversion funnel marketing to high-quality leads).
  • Get X number of conversions (revenue-driven).
  • Increase online sales by X percent (revenue-driven).
  • Increase paid monthly member signups by X number (revenue-driven).

Having such goals will give your SEO campaign a clear direction and help you select the right SEO company. Simply put, the company that has experience in achieving similar targets for their clients is the one you’ll want to hire.

Step 2: Find an SEO Service Provider

There are two ways to get started with your SEO: hire a consultant or go with a full-service SEO agency.

SEO consultants or consultancy companies are smaller in size, handle a limited number of clients at any given time, and often specialize in specific industries (e.g., SEO consultants for law firms, dental clinics, and retail companies).

A full-service or all-in-one company, on the other hand, runs a bigger operation. Often, a campaign is broken down into segments which are then delegated to various departments within the agency. They have a wider scope of competencies given that they have more people in their organization.

Why an SEO Consultant?

With fewer campaigns to look after, SEO consultants can be more hands-on in customizing your campaign strategy. A consultant also often takes on more roles to fill the gaps in your campaign. As such, seasoned SEO consultants are experts in several fields of SEO. Consultants are ideal for websites that only need sporadic updates and a few internal pages.

Why an SEO Agency?

An SEO agency can offer all-in-one and progressive monthly services at a lower cost. More people will become involved in your campaign, which is an advantage if you're looking to get the ball rolling on your online marketing as soon as possible. Agencies can provide the extra services your campaign may need down the road, like app development and video content. They're the ideal service provider for large websites and e-commerce platforms that publish a lot of content regularly or need constant back-end assistance.

You can hire a consultant and an agency if resources allow; if they don't, choose the one that can offer the benefits you value the most. The ideal company, however, is an SEO specialist agency with credible SEO consultants. They can give you personalized services and all-in-one support, which are the best parts of both options.

How do you find the right SEO company?

Now for the meat of the matter: where and how do you find competent and capable SEO companies?

  • 1
    Ask for referrals from B2B partners. Touch base with fellow entrepreneurs and business owners of related industries. You can expect direct competitors to be coy about whom they think is the best SEO provider (why would they give you one of their aces?), but your partners will be more forthcoming. 
  • 2
    Ask for recommendations from influencers. Search engine optimization experts and influencers who aren’t affiliates or employees of specific SEO companies could give you some names to check out. Influencers have their ear on the ground, so it’s likely that they know of several companies that are doing excellent work. 

Compile a list of these referrals and recommendations, and start your search from there. The one thing you should not do is write a prospective list based on the results of a simple online search.

Searching for “the best SEO companies” is a common mistake. Sure, logic dictates that a company whose main service is to make clients' websites rank should also do an excellent job of ranking its websites. The reality, however, could be different.

Food For Thought: Think of the shoe cobbler that runs a business but doesn't have any shoes for himself.

In-demand SEO agencies often dedicate the bulk of their bandwidth to their clients. With less time and fewer people to handle their internal campaigns, highly-rated service providers may not appear on Google Page 1. Still, these companies are successful because they have a stellar reputation and track record of helping clients achieve business goals.

By asking for referrals from trustworthy peers, you can eliminate hours of market research and have a list of promising candidates to choose from.

Step 3: Screen Your Prospects

The companies in your list possess the qualities that your peers value. Now you have to see if you share their opinion. 

Use the guidelines below and, through the process of elimination, come up with your top three or two options.:

  • Check customer reviews on social media, Google, and business listings. 
  • Check their portfolios and case studies on their previous clients to get a feel of what they can do for your website. 
  • Look out for potential red flags. Like any service provider, these companies will put their best foot forward. You can, however, weed out the companies that you wouldn't want anywhere near your website by keeping an eye out for these signs listed next.
  • Over-the-top promises like "We will have your website on Page 1 in three months!" or "150,000 hits in 100 days!" Promises that are too good to be true are often exactly that — too good to be true. Results don't appear overnight nor can SEOs give you a success timeline without a site audit and industry research, so tall promises like these don't hold water.
  • Dirt-cheap prices are another red flag. It doesn't inspire confidence when a company puts so little value into their services. You probably shouldn't, either.
  • Avoid companies that avoid transparency. You can often tell by looking at their website (do they reveal their process?) or reading between the lines of customer reviews (do they provide comprehensive reports on time?).
  • Engaging in black-hat SEO practices like content spinning, keyword stuffing, cloaking, sneaky 301 redirects, and link farming. These violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines and could backfire on you. Google could downrank or deindex key internal pages, or worse, your entire site.
  • Companies that offer one-size-fits-all packages should be booted off your list immediately. SEO is dynamic, and a campaign should be tailored according to your needs. Companies that are inflexible with their services likely don't have the technical knowledge or skills to nurture campaigns as they mature.
  • A low-quality website is a major red flag. Yes, we've mentioned above that a high search ranking is not necessarily a deal-breaker. There is no excuse, however, for leaving broken links, a clunky user interface, and low-quality content.
  • If a prospect doesn't ask questions about your business, drop them from your list. It suggests two things: first, they probably use a one-size-fits-all strategy, and second, they lack the capacity to adapt to your industry and customize a strategy for your business.

Step 4: Schedule a Consultation

First meetings are crucial because they allow you to scrutinize the SEO companies in your shortlist further. The key to discovering a company's competency is asking the right questions.

  • 1
    Process. This is the industry where proprietary methods should be taken with a grain of salt (again, lack of transparency is a major red flag). SEO is an open process — Google, in fact, publishes guidelines on how to do it — and its success depends on the execution of strategies. So, assert your right to know how an SEO company will work towards achieving your goals.
  • 2
    Services and Packages. Unless you have unlimited resources for online marketing, you'll want to find out if you can afford your prospects' services. You might also be interested in other services, like social media marketing or pay-per-click advertising. 
  • 3
    Customer Profile. Find out if your prospects' specialty niche and whether they have experience in your industry. You'll want to work with a company that has successfully run a campaign for a business similar to yours. 
  • 4
    Goals/Metrics. A good SEO company will refine common goals like increasing website traffic and search ranking based on your website's current standing. It will use data to customize strategies that maximize resources to achieve the business goals you identified in Step 1.
  • 5
    Communication. A reliable SEO company ensures that clients can reach them as often and whenever necessary. Ask how often your prospects communicate with clients and what their preferred methods of communication are. Availability, not distance, is the bigger concern these days as you could easily choose a service provider from across the world.
  • 6
    Reporting. Regular and frequent reporting are signs of efficiency and transparency. You'll want to work with an SEO company that provides weekly updates and comprehensive monthly reports. Ask for a sample report, too, so you can also verify the metrics they use to measure the success of a campaign.
  • 7
    Data. As mentioned in the previous step, an SEO company that shows very little interest in your company is questionable. One way to gauge a prospect's interest is to ask what information they would need. An experienced SEO company will want to know about your company's history, mission, vision, and processes because they'll want to understand your business and capture the essence of your brand.
  • 8
    Problem Solving. Get to know your prospects better by asking about their most challenging projects and how they solved the problems they encountered. It's also a way to gauge the extent of their experience and confirm the authenticity of the case studies on their websites.
  • 9
    Positive Business Impact. The ideal SEO can give you a confident answer on what positive impact they can make on your business. Not to be confused with unrealistic promises, these assurances are the end goals that an experienced SEO has achieved for previous clients and could achieve for you as well.

Step 5: Match Your Budget with Your Prospect's Contract Structure

So, you've chosen an SEO company to hire (congratulations!). An important question now is can you afford its services? Money matters are deal-breakers for most clients, which is why some of you might want to make this Step 1 rather than Step 5. We recommend saving this for last, however, because you might decide to increase your budget after considering your best options.

Choose a Credible, Capable, and Trustworthy SEO Company

Finding the right SEO company takes time, but it's worth the effort. You don't want to pour your investment into an amateur service provider only to be disappointed about the quality of the services and lack of positive results.

Alkries LLC has the competencies and resources to make your website do well in search. More importantly, you can count on us to be a reliable partner in achieving your business goals. Learn more about our SEO solutions and how we can give value to your company.

Schedule an appointment today.

About the author

Matthew King is the owner of Alkries LLC and partner at TR King Insurance Marketing LLC. When he's not building links, growing organic traffic, developing internet marketing strategies and measuring positive returns on investments for clients, he likes to spend time with his wife playing video games and going on walks.

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