Are they showing progress?
Rome wasn't built in a day and SEO takes time. A study from leading SEO tool provider ahrefs showed that the average site can take 12 months to rank for the target keyword. Of course that assumes that the content on the site is done correctly and all the required steps have been taken (we'll come to those later).
The truth is to put a definite date on when you're going to see organic traffic coming to your site depends on so many different factors, trying to timeline the success is pretty much pointless.
The key thing between when you start doing SEO and when you hopefully finally get your site into a position of strength in the SERPs, is that the progress being made is monitored. Sites don't tend to leap from nowhere to 1st overnight. Yes, on some occasions that can happen, but more often it's a steady progression up the rankings as your agency and you work together to put in the effort.
SEO is alchemy. It requires the alignment of many stars in the pursuit of success, but there should always be a clear and reportable progress to the work they're doing. Some steps will make bigger leaps than others, some wont help at all, none really should step you backwards, if that happens it's likely the techniques are wrong and you need to get them to review very quickly to fix.
Are they interested in the content?
Bottom line is this - biggest factor relating to SERPs nowadays is engagement. If your SEO agency doesn't appear to give two hoots about what is actually going onto your site, then that's a very bad sign.
You can link build all you want, you can 'secure' (nudge nudge wink wink) all the social likes and shares you want, but the fact is if the engagement metrics don't paint the same picture then you'll be back off down those listings in a heartbeat.
Google pays attention to offsite variables. How many people are linking to your page? How many times has it been shared on social media? And it's perfectly happy to 'dance' new content into the higher echelons of the results to see if when your site is put in front of other parties, if they think it's any good.
It's at this point they'll measure whether or not the user went onto the site and had a satisfying experience, or if they simply jumped back out of the results to find something else, giving your site a big thumbs down in the eyes of Google.
To build long term success when it comes to organic ranking your SEO agency should be militant about the quality and relevance of the content you are producing and guiding on this as frankly every other effort will be a waste of time long term.
Are they link building?
Double edged sword this one. There's so many tempting local directories there to get listed on, some of whom even seem to have decent page rank, but remember that relevance trumps authority, so if they're getting links from any old place, it might not be hurting the site, but it's probably not helping all that much either.
You're supposed to earn links nowadays. Many SEOs talk about outreach but that can be time consuming and fruitless. Creating really useful content for your site is most likely to get it shared, but there are other options like content curation and platforms like Passle can help with that. That's not to say you couldn't develop a curation stream on something like HubSpot or WordPress.
Your agency should be supplying you with opportunities to engage and create though leadership pieces to gain real traction when it comes to audience engagement, even if the complexity of your products and services goes beyond their ability to create those themselves.
How many tools are they working with?
We build a lot of our websites in the HubSpot COS system, which affords us lots of great analytics data about how the pages on the sites are doing, as well as providing ideas for topic clusters. In isolation however it's not really enough to give you a complete picture of not only how your site is doing, but those of your competitors.
Tools like ahrefs and SEMRush are fantastic at crawling the web and storing masses of data on backlinks and keyword positions as well as analysing key topics relating to your chosen keywords respectively.
Google has become more and more secretive about the search activity of its users, so tools like the above are vital to give you clearer indication on the state of play. You can still get more data from Google Webmaster Tools Search Console, which will provide you with actual data as to what keywords you're getting impressions in the SERPs for as well as clickthrough rates. Your SEO agency should be paying close attention to the data in here, as it'll not only identify opportunities to optimise your content, for instance where you're getting good rankings but not click throughs, it will also highlight issues such as non-index notifications and 404s.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, SEO is all about engagement. Google Analytics will allow your SEO agency to give you a good heads up as to what is and what isn't working on your site by looking at time on the page and bounce/exit rate.
Further detail on activity can be scrutinised with heatmaps, so make sure they're using something like Hotjar or CrazyEgg to get a clearer picture on how your users are interacting with your content to help tweak and tune the user experience.
And that's it!
Well I'm sure there's lots more, if you have any other tips from great work you as an agency have done or an agency has done for you, feel free to add them to the comments section below.
For long term success in the Google nowadays you need to be continuously producing great content. There's no way round this and quick fixes won't provide longevity and a solid stream of traffic for you to promote your online marketing to achieve your desried rate of sales.
If you'd like to find out how inbound marketing has become the best route to SEO success, don't hesitate to get in touch. Alternatively, you can download our ultimate guide on hiring a B2B inbound marketing agency and find out how to choose the right agency for your business to ensure you achieve the best possible results in everything from SEO and email marketing to blogging and social media.