Following the publication of the previous article "Website positioning - cheap, effective"I was immediately called up to the board with requests for more details. One of the questions that came up was "What to look for when choosing an SEO agency". This is a very good question and I am not surprised that it was asked, given the number of such entities on the market and the quite diverse offer. Everyone boasts that they are the best, that they achieve sustainable results and in general are hyper, and if you just sign a contract with them they guarantee you spectacular success. That doesn't help you choose. But if all of them are so good, it is nothing more than entering into cooperation with the first positioner as long as he is the cheapest and success is guaranteed. This is what he writes on his website.    

Whoa, whoa... wait before you do something stupid and look at all these offers with a distance, a little through your fingers and think about which elements of them will actually be beneficial and the least risky for your business.

I assume that since you are here and reading this text you don't have much experience with SEO agencies and SEO in general, however, you want to avoid mistakes and bad decisions. I will try to help you by shedding some light on some, in my opinion, important elements that you probably haven't taken into account.

Which billing model with an SEO agency to choose?

This is a key element that affects the entire positioning process and also determines how the service will be performed. In fact, we could stop there, because we have covered practically everything here.
But first a few words of history to help you better understand what I want to tell you and to make you more aware of one or another billing model. Since the inception of the Google search engine (and not only Google) engineers working on the development of search mechanisms have been constantly fighting to ensure that the results offered to internet users have the highest possible value. They create more and more complex algorithms whose task is to promote valuable content and marginalize (those, from the search engine's point of view) unimportant. Many years ago they came to the conclusion that one of the factors that may indicate the value of a website is the number of links leading to it (from other sites in the network). An algorithm was implemented which analysed how many links lead to a given page and on this basis its attractiveness was assessed. It would seem that the assumption is correct, because if the page is good, people will be willing to place links to it. I would say, in classic words, that it is obvious, but... there were people who set up their own sites and had problems with appearing high in the results, because the number of sites on the Internet was increasing at an exponential rate. When they were on the second page with their sites, or further down the page, hardly anyone reached them. And as it happens in life, if there was a need, there were people who wanted to satisfy that need and knew how to do it. Today we call these people positioners. This was the birth of the SEO industry. In those days the life of a positioner was very pleasant. There was a client who wanted to enter TOP3 of Google search results for one or another phrase, the positioner did his magic and in a few days the website was in TOP10, and a bit later it often reached the first place. The client was happy and so was the service provider. All that was needed was the right technical infrastructure and software, and basically positioning "did itself" by bombarding the internet with links to the website. It was not important where the link was located, just that it was there. Of course when Google analysts noticed the problem the company started to modify its algorithms, which notoriously made life difficult for positioners. However, those times meant that for a long time the only settlement model was the model of payment for effects, i.e. for occupied positions in search results. It was easy to do, and the money from clients was flowing.

Payment for results

This was, and still is in some SEO agencies, an effective element of marketing communication that easily attracts new clients because everyone would like to pay only for a specific result of work. In those days the positioner could afford such an attractive model for the Customer, especially as it was certain that many phrases would reach the TOP10 so the earnings were practically guaranteed.
However, when Google declared war on the positioners and started fighting against websites that acquired links in a manner unacceptable for the search engine, it turned out that positioning became an increasingly difficult and time-consuming task. When Google announced that it started to pay attention to content, the bar went even higher.

SEO agencies started to calculate and it turned out that in many situations they were not able to quickly and safely take a client to the TOP10, which meant losses for them. A lot more work had to be put in, and the effects started to come later and later, sometimes after several long months. Were agencies able to work for their clients for a few months for free? No, after all this is also a business where you have to pay the bills, employees, incur the costs of specialist software, etc... all this costs money, and positioning required more and more time and the involvement of specialists. Sometimes it turned out that for a given phrase the agency is not able to pull the client higher, which resulted, and unfortunately still results in its quiet abandonment. We do not focus on this phrase because it consumes too much work, we do not earn anything on it and we do not know if and when we will recover the costs already incurred. The focus was therefore only on those phrases that were known to generate revenue. This model still works today. So if you see an offer where you pay only for the positions, take these few elements into account:

  • An agency needs to make money quickly, and this can often result in dangerous practices such as link building. Results may appear quickly, but this can be very dangerous for your site.
  • You usually position a narrow and specific range of phrases. There is no flexibility. In practice, the risk is that poorly chosen phrases will be high in the results, but will not translate into meaningful conversions, and you will have to pay for them according to the contract. Conversion can only be really examined when traffic from a given phrase appears. You won't examine it when you sign the contract. Remember that being at the top of the results for phrase X does not mean that you will start earning more. The phrase may be so unpopular that the traffic it generates will be negligible. However, in this model of settlement, the agency is not interested in that. They have done their job, the phrase is in TOP10, so you have to pay them, and nobody cares about the fact that the phrase does not convert and generates minimal traffic - except you.
  • If you position your website only for specific phrases, e.g. you have chosen 5 or 10, then if you achieve high positions you will not be able to squeeze more traffic out of it. You will reach a certain critical limit and that will be the end. The same applies to conversions, i.e. what you care about most, e.g. registering on your website, sending an enquiry, making a purchase, etc. Scalability of traffic and conversions is very limited.
  • The risk of running into dishonest agencies is very high. Note that you are paying for results, so it is in the interest of the agency that the phrases are as easy to position as possible, not to spend too much of your time and resources on them. You will propose a few phrases at the start, and the agency will add a pool of its own proposals, which may not be very competitive. At the beginning the agency will focus on positioning the easiest ones to generate income as soon as possible, and the more difficult phrases, as I mentioned above, may be quietly excluded, which may result in the fact that the most important for you may never appear high in the Google results.
  • Another risk is Google filters. As I mentioned earlier, quick results mean positioning that does not comply with search engine guidelines. A website for specific phrases may jump high for some time generating income for the agency, but at some point it may fall down with a bang and then what? Well, the agency will say that Google has made changes to the algorithm, for which they are not responsible because they have no influence on it, but it is possible to fix it, because it is possible to pull the site out of the hole and remove the filter. This is a difficult and time-consuming task, but if you pay an agency, they can do it. And again, the agency earns, not you. Of course, a filter can always happen and here you need to be aware of it. Even very carefully managed positioning campaigns carry a small, because small, but risk, but in such situations it can be much easier, faster and less expensive to remove the filter.

Subscription fee

Back to our story. When Google started to put more and more obstacles in the way of positioning, those calculating profits and losses slowly started to switch to a more traditional settlement model, where The client pays a set amount regardless of whether there are any results or not. Sounds much worse, doesn't it? At first glance it actually is, and if you come across a dishonest agency, this one may not lift a finger after signing the contract, but take money for it. That's why you should avoid long-term subscription contracts, e.g. yearly, with agencies that you can't be sure are a reliable institution that cares about its clients. Good agencies will provide you with reports of their work which you will be able to verify. You can tell if the agency is doing something or just waiting for your transfer. Many of them go out of their way to meet the client and offer short-term contracts or even unlimited contracts with a one-month notice period. If you think that the agency does not do much, e.g. you will receive a report, which will show that during the whole month, the company added your website to one directory and on one subpage it added a missing H1 tag, it is not really work worth e.g. 500 PLN, because such are usually monthly fees (usually from 300 to 2000 PLN net, depending on the scope of agency activities and your industry). So you can go to another agency in the hope that this one will do a bit more.

In practice, however, this model ennobles positioners to act. This applies above all to contracts concluded for a short period or indefinitely. Positioners want their clients to see that they are actually working on their results, because only then is there a chance that they will not leave. The first results of course appear very differently, sometimes after a month sometimes after several months. However, there is no room for pressure because in this model most agencies avoid using techniques prohibited by Google. What is more, this form of payment often treats positioning in a broad way, offering also content marketing (writing content for the website), whisper marketing, social marketing, monitoring and much more. Of course all this has an impact on the amount of the subscription, but such a comprehensive approach allows you to obtain strong positions and traffic from the so-called long tail, i.e. incoming traffic generated not only by the selected keyword phrases, but many related phrases around which content will be created and promoted. It is an extremely flexible model geared towards continuous traffic growth and increased conversions.

Personally, as you may have already guessed, I am a strong advocate of the subscription model. In my opinion the times of results-based positioning are long gone and today, despite the fact that many agencies still use them, they are ineffective, ossified, unscalable and may bring more risks for the client and temptations for the agency to act improperly. If you expect me to give you a concrete hint as to which model to choose, you already have the answer. Look for agencies with a subscription model, preferably with short-term contracts such as 3 months or, better still, with open-ended contracts with a one-month notice period. Such agencies will definitely care more about keeping you with them, and they will do so when you clearly feel they are working to your advantage. And although in many situations it will take a few months for results to appear, you can rest easy knowing that somewhere out there someone is thinking about what could be done better to help you increase your sales.

These two basic billing models are not everything, there are also mixed models where you pay a fixed subscription plus additional fees for results or sales. This is also an intermediate solution, but I am not entirely convinced that it effectively eliminates most risks. I prefer simplicity, so two-in-one offers are not really appealing to me.

Interesting are the agreements used in some industries based on settlements for acquired traffic from Google. You pay additionally only for traffic generated by organic results, and so, for instance, for entering your website you may pay the agency 18 groszy net, or another fixed rate. If organic traffic is generated at the level of 1000 entries, you will pay 180 PLN net, at the level of 10 000 you will pay 1 800 PLN, etc... I like this model very much, because you pay for a specific effect, but you are not limited to rigidly chosen phrases. This is very scalable positioning using the long tail and is recommended for difficult industries, especially those where the costs of Google Ads campaigns are high. A simple calculation. Traffic at the level of 1,000 Google Ads entries for an industry where the cost per click is PLN 10 net will consume your budget of PLN 10,000. Traffic generated by organic results in the positioning settlement model for clicks will cost you, in our example, 180 PLN + base for positioning, let's say 1500 PLN net. The difference is colossal! This model is worth considering when you have a heavy caliber of positioning, however, here you have to take into account long-term contract, because it is impossible, especially for difficult industries to generate enough organic traffic in a month or two, that is why agencies offering this model usually secure themselves with longer contracts. However, by signing such a contract you can be sure that it is in the agency's interest to generate as much real traffic as possible, and not only to climb to the top of the Google charts for phrases that may not be getting that traffic. This is a fundamental difference.

Summary

Choose your SEO agency wiselyDon't be too taken in by their cleverly crafted copywriting texts telling you how great they are and how they can help your business. Avoid those who overuse the word "fast". Rapid positioning is a relic of the past that, when applied today, can only do harm. Currently, combinations of the words "fast" i "positioning" in its various forms is the worst thing imaginable in network marketing. Look rather for phrases such as "safe", "effective", "stable" etc... rushers from the spot filter.

Pay attention not so much to the price list, because this will usually be prepared individually for you anyway, unless you use ready-made SEO packages. If you have a larger budget, it is worth investing a little more and taking a comprehensive approach to positioningThe service will be much more effective, bringing you more benefits in a relatively shorter period of time (not quickly). All this together will make the service, although more expensive, also much more effective bringing you more benefits in a relatively shorter time (not quickly).

I wish you well-considered and correct decisions, and if you would like to consult something on this subject, please feel free to contact me.

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2 Comments

  1. After 10 months the company barely made 4 out of 12 phrases and chose, as the article says, the easier ones and based on them, while the ones I really cared about never came to fruition. Many positioning companies do not cope with this task, their financial success is a signed contract and counting money for invoices. Take companies only from recommendations, proven, from friends.

    1. Krzysztof Wojteczko says:

      I would like to add that you should beware of offers for 100-200 PLN. Those are not the times when you could get a high ranked website with little effort. Now, an investment in positioning is an investment in content marketing and valuable linkbuilding. It is impossible to do it well when the agency has a budget that does not give room for action. Then it looks exactly like you wrote. You pay little, but you don't see or hear any results. As a result, after a year of contract, you will spend, let's say, 3,000 PLN, and this is money thrown down the drain. Then you feel that you've been tricked, and in a way you have. Good agencies are straightforward about what budget they really need. They get rid of clients who think it's too expensive by going to companies that promise mountains of gold for 1/4 of the price, but then it looks like this in your case and people get discouraged. Getting traffic to a website costs money. Take Google Ads for example. In most industries, you won't get anything with a budget of less than 500 PLN a month, plus you have to invest in remarketing, building mailing lists, landing pages and everything else that will enable you to better manage the traffic. This has to cost money and the same applies to positioning. Anyway, if positioning didn't require investments everyone would be in the top10. Hmmm, maybe not. After all, there are only 10 places there 😉

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