Not all B2B SEO agencies are created equal. If your business is looking to maximize its ROI, having a partner that markets your company effectively is crucial.
Of course, this begs the question:
How do I choose the best B2B SEO agency?
In this article, we will explore what you need to know before hiring the right B2B SEO (search engine optimization) agency, including:
- How Does a B2B SEO Agency Differ from Regular SEO Agencies?
- What to Look for in a B2B SEO Agency
- Interview Questions When Hiring an Agency
How Does a B2B SEO Agency Differ from Regular SEO Agencies?
There are some clear differences between SEO marketing agencies. Depending on the agency’s specialty and focus, your organization may benefit from a partnership – or you may be wasting valuable resources trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole.
To further confuse things, not every agency advertises their services geared towards facilitating business-to-business transactions. And finding out after signing a contract is not an option for today’s fast-paced global marketplace
Let’s explore some clear signs and indicators that ensure that you’re working with a company that specializes in B2B SEO
B2B doesn’t necessarily need high-traffic
When dealing with B2B, customers tend to know exactly what they want and need. While most clients would be delighted to have a sharp uptick in organic traffic and exposure, the conversion rate is the end-all be-all for B2B.
B2B SEO agencies are more results-oriented, often choosing keywords specific to an industry/niche with proven sales funnels and lead generation. This means that content, landing pages, and relevant links do not necessarily need to appeal to the widest demographics, or targeting keywords that are “High Traffic, Low Competition”.
Priority for a well-defined target audience
As mentioned above, the target audience of a B2B SEO agency is aimed at key individuals in organizations. B2B marketing content is written to appeal to tech-minded influencers and decision-makers (such as “head of product/head of security”) within organizations for better ROI.
Depending on the industry, B2B SEO involves performing an assessment of their clients potential customer base and creating appropriate high-quality content. This targeted content is then crafted to match such idiosyncratic factors as the release/publication schedule, complexity of subject matter, and more.
For example, a solar panel company may not necessarily need to target businesses in the holiday seasons of Q4; vice versa, a more broad SEO agency would obviously want to ride this trend to achieve different goals, such as brand awareness. Similarly, startups and new SMBs may only want to attract investment capital from an exclusive group of angel investors, requiring more data and a specialized form of presentation.
AUQ implements a strict discovery process even before beginning SEO work. The first month is spent planning and gathering information about the business, the audience and the competitors. Our process includes:
1. Internal Stakeholder Interviews: a series of meetings between our team and the c-suite, product managers and any other stakeholder that can teach us about the product. It’s a great opportunity to seek out some tribal knowledge that can help us target the right keywords for the right audience.
2. Keyword Cluster Analysis: the SEO team puts together a large list of keywords and groups them into thematic clusters. This generally includes 100+ keywords grouped into high-funnel, low-funnel, industry and/or customer clusters. This form of organization helps us understand which cluster / keyword combinations are a priority, and how to best target them, some clusters are best addressed through product & service pages, while research terms are saved for the blog.
3. Content Calendar: we plan out a 6 month content calendar, each month targeting a new cluster. This type of advanced planning allows us to line up our publishing schedule with the clients other advertising channels. We can cross promote our articles on social, and plan for any business seasonality ahead of time.
Optional social media integration
Expanding on target audiences, B2B agencies may opt out of social media entirely or heavily integrate it in their digital marketing approach. After all, most B2B transactions aren’t handled by individuals that have time to scroll social media platforms during the course of their workday.
Depending on your industry and niche, social media visibility may not be as significant of a factor for public relations. This sharply contrasts standard regular SEO agencies, where fostering customer relations and interaction with regular posts is often a priority to develop new sales funnels or outshine competitors.
As an example, a HIPAA-compliance software company may not be the biggest hit on platforms like Instagram or Facebook; nor would they advertise directly to patients that browse these platforms. Instead, B2B SEO marketing needs to have a customer in mind from the start.
Production and agility are top priority
Timing is everything in business.
Most quality B2B SEO companies understand that having a quicker ability to rank on search engines, produce a high-volume of content, and engage new customers means the difference between market domination or stagnation.
While regular customer-oriented (B2C) agencies
have a similar focus, the emphasis on quick turnaround time for deliverables and a responsiveness to emerging trends is absolutely necessary for B2B to beat competitors to all available opportunities.
This agile approach means that a startup, for example, could reach its goals without necessarily building:
- organic growth in market
- traction through word of mouth
- a greater brand awareness over an indeterminate period
What to Look for in a B2B SEO Agency
Now that we’ve covered what differentiates marketing agencies, it’s also vitaly important to understand what sets B2B SEO agencies apart from one another.
Proven track record
Success leaves clues. And there’s no better indicator of a fruitful partnership with a B2B-focused SEO agency than how it has helped other clients reach their goals.
Look for a section on the agency’s website for a client list or portfolio of recent projects. If you see high-profile names, chances are that the agency has the capability to help you reach similar prominence – or at least understand what your company needs to have in place.
There also may be other track-record indicators, such as case studies and glowing client testimonials.
(Bear in mind that some clients may sign NDAs with agencies, so the agency may not always be able to advertise their recent successes.)
A roster of long-term clients
Another clue about the viability of a B2B SEO agency is not only who their clients are, but how many have employed the agency’s services on a long-term basis.
While some B2B SEO agencies are focused on one-time audit jobs or brief consultation periods, it is important to look for agencies with a stable of long-term clients.This may seem counterintuitive, as many SMBs believe that they are able to get better service and create a closer working relationship with smaller operations.
However, agencies that are more efficient and have the capability to scale their operations to help your organization to grow means that meeting jumps in demand are more realistic than smaller operations.
In fact, many B2B SEO agencies stipulate in their contracts that clients enter into a partnership over a series of months and years. If an SEO agency makes recommendations for an audit and then their work is completed, the agency has overall less incentive to do a good job because SEO takes months to take effect.
Sales funnel expertise
When comparing agencies, taking a look at how sales funnels are conducted via SEO is extremely important. The agency’s role is to help your company achieve:
- new profits
- reach high-ticket sales that would otherwise be inaccessible
- attract new leads
- retain customers through relevant & engaging content
- and more
Having other methods at your organization’s disposal strengthens your ability to reach customers from all available opportunities.
These sales funnels can include:
- Getting B2B sales that may not convert on the 1st visit
- An email newsletter that raises brand awareness
- Optimized eCommerce platform(s)
- Developing a proprietary app
Businesses that deal in retail and large-scale orders should be accommodated by an SEO agency that understands every angle equally well, ultimately streamlining revenue streams that fit your business model
Seamless integration with your organization
When you hire a B2B SEO, their staff effectively joins yours in roles as both staff and consultants. A high-performing B2B SEO agency should have a wide roster of talented subcontractors that are capable of working within your parameters.
With the rise of remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to have compliance with your organization’s standards, particularly with delegation and communication via CRM platforms (ie. Trello, Slack, etc.) and hybrid work environments.
And because of the nature of this work, it’s smart to perform some research on employer-rating Glassdoor. Too many negative reviews and high turnover should make you consider the long-term viability of the agency.
Always ask what team members you’ll be working with directly, is it an account manager, developer or writer? Some clients prefer to only work with their account leads, while others want to go directly to the designer that will be building their landing pages. It’s important to align your work style with your agency partner, as it is a long term experience..
Expertise in niche/industry
There’s no substitute for in-depth knowledge of your business model. Therefore, look for agencies that have a proven track record of working with similar clients.
Adaptability is another important factor, especially when technology or methodologies change in response to new innovations and trends. Essentially, you should look for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for content SEO and article writing that accurately convey your organizational goals.
Technical SEO keywords are more often used by adept B2B SEO agencies, as well. These keywords may not necessarily appeal to most search results by most consumers, but technical SEO keywords are often used by B2B companies that are familiar with the nuances of the industry/niche.
Last, having multiple “eyes” on each piece of content helps create a more cohesive content quality. Even one typo or dead link can negatively impact your public perception.
An often overlooked component of SEO is linkbuilding. For B2B SEO, linkbuilding is absolutely essential, especially for a new business.
Older established businesses may have many links built up already and can simply get by with on-page optimizations and articles. However, a new startup will need to have linkbuilding services to be able to compete, as they need to build their domain authority.
SEO should not be “dark magic”, it’s marketing and marketing is based on clear goals and metrics so always ask the following questions:
1. How does your agency acquire backlinks?
2. How does your agency evaluate good or bad backlinks?
3. What is the average cost to acquire a backlink?
If they tell you it’s a trade secret…. I would recommend looking elsewhere.
At AUQ we’re extremely transparent with our linkbuilding strategies and tailor them specifically for clients in different industries, it’s an open discussion about the risk, the potential and the strategies that we employ..
Analytics for B2B SEO/content marketing
Because B2B is often niche, analytics should focus on conversions, and not simply organic traffic or keywords. This means that agencies should set up Google Analytics to track primary (sales, contact forms) and secondary (newsletter signups, CTA clicks) conversions.
One way to verify an agency’s success in content marketing is whether they track “assisted first click conversions” in Google Analytics. By tracking users on return visits, you can see which articles caused them to visit the site for the first time, and eventually lead to a sale. This is especially valuable for high ticket sales, as those are rarely completed on the first visit.
Without this level of focus and analysis through a comprehensive SEO audit, it may be impossible to determine which efforts – yours or the agency’s – are having the greatest impact.
Nowadays, B2B SEO agencies encompass more than just content production, choosing to bundle related services under one company.
These “one-stop shops” typically offer bundled packages that include:
- Web Dev
- Branding Services
- Graphic Design
- UX/UI Design
- Content Marketing
- Customer Service
- Outsourcing (ie. nearshoring for international companies)
The advantage of this is that you can avoid compatibility issues and scheduling conflicts that otherwise be major stumbling blocks for a cohesive approach to marketing and operations. Too often we’ve seen SEO agencies make recommendations that they had no idea how to implement, or the client did not have the necessary teams in place to take care of these recommendations.
At AUQ we found that the best bundle that works for us is SEO + Content Marketing + Design + Development. SEO is a profession that requires multiple talents as we’re responsible for the majority of the traffic that comes through the site, and ultimately a bad user experience will hurt SEO. For a successful SEO campaign we need to be able to not only write content, but also design pages for low bounce rates, optimize websites for speed, develop highly converting service pages.
Interview Questions When Hiring an Agency
Now that you have several agencies in mind, it’s time to get a more realistic picture of the inner workings
Unfortunately, there’s no way to truly know what to expect until you form a working relationship, but you can gain a broader sense of whether the agency is viable during the interview process,
Let’s look at some of the questions you should ask to spectate the wheat from the chaff, as well as the reasoning behind each inquiry.
What is your timeline for deliverables?
Look out for fast turnaround times, which may indicate substandard content and an inadequate revision process.
Can you work with our in-house personnel? What staff can you offer?
Compatibility is a must when working with a new team. Because SEO requires so many different disciplines (ie. writers, designers, developers, linkbuilders), having specialized staff present at meetings or contributing in your company’s work environment ensures a better outcome and more diverse talent pool.
Also, your organization may already have an extensive in-house SEO team, but could focus on linkbuilders and analytics that are beyond your current capabilities.
What sets you apart from other SEO experts?
Listen to how the agency sets themselves apart in their own words. They may reveal important information, such as how their clients come from local competitors or new SEO methodologies that may shine light on your own operations.
Can you give a summary of your entire SEO process from start to finish?
A good agency has a templated process they use, adjusted for different industries and business models. But there should be an overall process that:
- logically follows best practices for an in-depth analysis of the market,
- the development of content,
- strategic publishing based on the target market,
- and the continuous refining of these processes to meet predefined goals.
For example, some might focus on content, some on linkbuilding, whereas others may reveal a crucial oversight that may have you looking elsewhere for B2B SEO services.
What tools do you use for SEO campaigns?
Pay attention to outdated tools or untested SEO tools, particularly “flavor of the month” platforms that are often buggy. Instead, you should look for proven analytic platforms that provide comprehensive performance in real-time.
How long will it take to see ranking results?
This question is meant to get a realistic picture of results and should be used as a litmus test for the agency’s work.
To get first page rankings, it may take 3 – 6 months of consistent work. But within a month, clients should see their keywords move positively. For example, a target keyword might move from position 50 to position 30, with just a little bit of work. Overpromising a quicker time frame should be a red flag unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.
Can I see a list of proven case studies and references?
Having verifiable data from previous clients is a great predictor of your partnership with the agency. And as part of your due diligence, you can check with these companies/individuals
What current problems do you notice on our site?
Having the opportunity for an objective look into your current content strategy can shed new light on what important steps need to be followed for growth.
This question also helps you cross-reference different agencies. If you hear different answers about your current SEO strategy, you can implement changes before on boarding a new agency.
Are there any guarantees for performance?
This question is more of a trick question. What you’re actually looking for are any red flags that “guarantee first page rankings”. Since a first place ranking for an easy keyword or a non-conversion driving keyword doesn’t mean much, you want a more open-ended answer that does NOT provide any guarantees.
The other idea is that there are plenty of agencies that try to entice new clients with performance standards (typically for higher-than-average rates), only to underperform months or years down the line once the contract has been signed.
How will my site(s) change after our partnership ends?
Ownership is important to retain control over your content and brand. Above all, you should want to retain complete control of all content and changes made to your site.
This may include bylines attributed to an agency’s team of writers, usage of infographics created during the partnership, and other grey areas of ownership.
How much of your work is completed in-house?
It’s always better to have work completed in-house, as this gives you more control for edits.
It’s not uncommon for B2B SEO agencies outsource more of the grunt work, but the editing/revision and publication process should be completely performed in-house. This helps prevent errors and miscommunication that is common in remote working partnerships.
Do you focus on on-page, linkbuilding or content SEO?
This is a good question to understand the type of strategies this agency will be performing.
Generally everything needs to be backed up by linkbuilding, but this can help you understand whether they have the resources and/or knowledge needed to rank in the shortest time frame possible.
Could you explain the impacts of the last few major SEO updates?
With regular updates to SEO requirements, it’s important to hire an agency that has knowledge of recent updates. While these updates are generally not revealed to the public, B2B agencies should be familiar with proposed changes, especially those recently implemented and those in the future (~6 months – 1 year).
Based on the response the agency provides, you can cross-reference it online later or compare responses from other agencies that you are interviewing.
If you feel that the company isn’t using current white hat techniques for SEO, it may be wise to look elsewhere – or risk being adversely affected in rankings.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of what a high-performing B2B SEO agency consists of, the best choice to meet your performance goals is AUQ. Learn more about how AUQ’s extensive SEO services can take your company to the next level.
Contact us today to schedule a discussion about your project.