How do you evaluate your SEO agency’s performance? A handy checklist
As an entrepreneur, you have a lot on your mind and need to know about everything and anything. SEO is often at the bottom of the list here and is therefore outsourced. This involves such specific knowledge that you prefer to rely on others. But without knowledge of the trade, how do you know if an SEO agency is doing a good job?
Below is a checklist of how you can actually measure whether they are doing a good job and worth their money.
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Still not seeing results after 18 months of SEO optimization
18 months ago, I did an SEO site scan for a business friend. In doing so, I examined all the points mentioned below. He and his marketing team had never dealt with SEO, so the results were more than disappointing.
It opened their eyes, though, as they were missing out on a huge amount of organic search traffic. All potential customers. That made them decide to hire a local SEO agency that, until then, was also handling all SEA for the company. Unfortunately, they did not choose the quality that my team and I could deliver for them, because after 18 months, the results had actually worsened instead of improving.
Once confronted with the new SEO report, the team was also somewhat surprised. The SEO agency had actually led them to believe that they were doing tremendously well. A typical example is that in the land of the blind, one eye is king. SEO is a profession and if you don’t know what to be aware of, you can spend a lot of money on an SEO agency without gaining any organic search traffic.
In this particular case, the SEO agency “blamed” the site’s developers. They would not have done their job properly. Again, I could easily refute this with the checklist below.
An SEO checklist that helps you see without knowledge whether your SEO agency is doing a good job.
The checklist below allows you to check over time whether your SEO agency is doing a good job. The best time to measure this depends on the agreements made. My advice is to check this every 4 to 6 months.
By the way, you can also use parts of this checklist if your site builder has delivered a new site and claims it is SEO optimized.
Increase in organic search traffic
This may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but it’s not just about increased organic search traffic. It’s about being found on the right keywords so that you get the right visitors on the right pages.
Within 6 months – but preferably sooner – you want to be found for keywords that:
- Are in the top 8 within Google’s rankings
- Are used at least 3,000 times a month
- Are highly relevant to your business
- Refer to pages that are useful to visitors
- Refer to pages where you want to get a lot of visitors
With tools like SemRush, you can easily gain insight into this. It also allows you to see whether your organic search traffic increases over the months or not. I usually set myself to see the growth without the organic traffic searching on brand names and product names. You normally always rank on those. An increase in organic traffic coming to your site by searching on brand or company name has more to do with branding than SEO.
You can also rise slightly with a lot of so-called ‘low volume’ keywords, but basically, that doesn’t help you much. Suppose you rank in the top 10 with a keyword that has a volume of 20 or 30 per month. If you are in position 9, you might get 1 visitor a month. If you then get to position 1 with a lot of effort and time, you will get at most 15 extra visitors.
Only ranking in the top 10 with low-volume keywords, is almost always a sign that your SEO is not on track.
Keyword cloud and meta-information
With the free browser plugin SEOquake, you can take samples to see if pages important to you contain enough and the right information. This involves three things:
- Can you tell from the keyword cloud what the page is about?
- Does the text use the right and relevant words sufficiently?
- Do the meta title and meta description contain the most important keywords?
Tip 1: The first 2 lines of the keyword cloud must contain the most important keywords you want to be found on. If this is not the case, you are using too little text or the wrong keywords.
Tip 2: With tools like SemRush, you can also see whether the keywords you want to be found on have sufficient volume. In the Netherlands, for example, you can use the word ‘headphones’ or the word ‘headset’. Headset has a significantly higher search volume.
Blog posts and other content
A professional SEO agency will advise you to either create a blog and write articles for it, or provide each page with lots of relevant information. A combination of both is even better, by the way.
Check some (blog) pages for the points below:
- Are clear page titles used with relevant keywords that properly reflect what the page is about?
- Are subheadings with relevant keywords used?
- Does the page provide content and in-depth information about the topic with at least 700 or more words?
- Does each page link to other relevant pages that also deal with the topic or related topics?
- Are the ‘related’, ‘most recent’, and ‘most popular’ articles shown on each page with a blog article?
Tools like SemRush can automatically scan your site to see how ‘healthy’ it is. In doing so, they do an SEO site audit and check dozens of technical aspects that factor in whether Google considers your site technically good enough for pages to rank.
I periodically scan all our client’s sites, and because my friend’s site was also among them, I saw that the ‘site health’ had not improved. That was a sign for me to investigate the other points of this scan further.
SemRush distinguishes between errors, warnings, and notices, meaning areas for improvement.
- Errors carry the most weight and can have a huge impact on your ranking.
- Warnings can have a big impact in some cases, but not always.
- Notices can potentially improve your ranking but are often more of a hygiene factor.
The rule of thumb is that your score should be at least 85 on a scale of 100. If it is lower, it can have many causes, but usually, it is broken internal or external links, multiple instances of the same titles or content on different pages, or slow pages due to incorrect use of code. For each report, SemRush indicates exactly what the issue is and how to fix it (or have it fixed).
Search engines want very fast sites. Not only for the user but also for themselves. Their so-called ‘bots’ search through all pages of all sites and the longer it takes them to do so, the more power it consumes. Very slow sites can be all that relevant, but will rarely rank high.
At Sitespeed.web.dev, you can check for free whether your pages are fast enough. What I often come across is that WordPress developers, for example, do not take this into account at all and deliver very slow WordPress sites.
At first glance, the site seems to function fine because as a user with a fast internet connection, you don’t notice anything about it. But once you do the check, you may find that a page of your mobile version of your website scores lower than 20 on a scale of 1 to 100. That page will never be able to rank and brings down your entire site.
My business friend had mobile web pages that had a score of 16. That is downright ridiculous and a shame his so-called SEO agency did not notice this.
Structured data and author information
With the rise of AI in SEO, Google wants sites to feature structured data and preferably also know who the author of articles is.
On schema.org, you can test whether pages use structured data for free. This is a very small piece of code that you add to your page to indicate what information is offered. For example; author name, product specifications, product description, etc.
Author information is important to Google because it allows them to better determine an author’s authority. If it turns out that the author has written a lot and in-depth about a topic anywhere on the internet or within their own site, Google gives them high status. That status weighs enormously in how high an article can rank.
It is therefore wise to create a special author page like this with all relevant information about the author and refer to it for each article.
Many SEO agencies have discovered a good earning model by offering external links. Another relation of mine had once spent 1,500.- Euros per month for 12 months to an SEO agency for buying links from another page to his site. He just had no idea whether the links were of the right quality.
Links from other sites to your site only make sense if they meet the following conditions:
- They must be links from sites with a domain authority of at least 40.
- Links must come from pages with a page authority of at least 40.
- The article linking to your site must be highly related to the content on your page. A page about bikes cannot and should not, in theory, link to a page about notebooks.
- They should be so-called do-follow links.
- The words used to link through must relate to what the linked page is about.
The higher the domain and page authority, the more expensive a link is. Links that meet the above criteria cost on average between 100 and 150 euros.
When in doubt, always ask for a second opinion
Somewhat out of exasperation at how some businesses get ripped off and, on the other hand, out of a passion for the SEO profession, I have often written that there are very few SEO agencies that understand their business.
Any site can rank within any industry within a few months and achieve at least 10% growth in organic search traffic. If this organic search traffic fails to materialize, there can only be 3 reasons:
- The SEO agency is not doing what it is being paid for
- Not enough budget and time are being invested
- A combination of the above
Therefore, when in doubt, always ask for a second opinion. When you pay for a loaf of bread at the bakery, you know you’re getting a loaf. If you pay an SEO agency for growth in organic traffic, you should get it. If not, something is well wrong.