Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is still one of the most effective marketing tools, despite it being viewed as “traditional” compared to newer methods like social media and influencer marketing. In fact, 68% of all online experiences start with a search engine, with mobile quickly becoming the dominant form of browsing. Within SEO, there are many tools and strategies that marketing managers can use to gain exposure and build a strong online footprint.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that SEO is a long-term game and it takes time to build and rank a keyword strategy, especially when competing in a crowded industry. For new marketing managers, one of the most challenging tasks is finding a reputable SEO manager or agency to take the lead.

As with many marketing services, SEO is crowded and the quality of work will determine how well a company’s strategy works depending on their goals. For some, these goals could be general traffic, but more commonly they will be defined to specific goals such as sales conversions. According to Hubspot, SEO leads have nearly a 15% conversion rate, proving it to be a very effective marketing tool.

Here are a few important tips to think about when developing an SEO strategy that will be outsourced to external providers.

1. Allocate Ample Time for Researching SEO Providers

With the increasing trend of web advertising and raising demand of SEO services, SEO is now a pillar offering for most agencies. While a general agency might be strong at SEO, the safest bet is to find a specialist firm or freelancer that devotes all of their time to their craft. Google and other search engines are constantly changing their algorithms and this means SEO is now a cat and mouse game of strategic planning to find the most optimal results within the current parameters.

Many firms will be more short-term focused and look at black or white hat strategies that will yield quick results. These results are commonly short-lived as these quick strategies can be penalized by Google for being spammy. Make sure your SEO provider comes recommended or with reviews to ensure they are long-term focused and will not jeopardize the long-term health of your business.

Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The cheaper the service, the more likely you will end up spending more later to fix the mistakes and lasting damages. According to Ahrefs, $100-150 per hour is the most popular pricing tier for a freelancer on a project basis. Researching an SEO provider should be at the top of your priority list and one of the most thorough processes that you endure.

2. Request Results and Data from SEO Providers

Among the considerable variables for choosing the appropriate digital advertising firm is to see its previous campaigns and results. This will allow you to bypass fancy marketing materials and digital ads and focus on the numbers. Look for important metrics such as organic traffic growth, bounce rate improvements, conversion rate improvements, ranked keywords, and indexed pages. The more the better.

If an agency refuses to share data, that is likely a bad sign. Most data can be anonymized to remove sensitive client data, leaving virtually now risk for an agency to share stats.

3. Pick an Agency That Knows Your Vertical

When looking through an agency’s portfolio, take note of how many similar companies they have helped within your agency. While this could be viewed as harmful as they are helping “competition”, a good agency will use this experience to develop an expertise in a certain vertical or niche. This means you will be allocating less time to setting up a campaign as they should have ample knowledge through trial and error or what works and what doesn’t work.

According to Click Intelligence, focusing on industry verticals can be done by leveraging on-site testimonials that are categorized by industry. Testimonials are a free way of using objective third-party feedback to validate a service. In the best case scenario, you may find a recognizable name in your industry providing a testimonial.

4. Choose an Honest Provider

As previously mentioned, it is vital to hire specialists that leverage white hat (i.e. organic and safe) SEO and other tried and evaluated methods. According to Alexa, black hat methods are based on exploitation of an algorithm or search engine’s terms of service. When exploited, this can lead to very fast results that could work for awhile. Eventually, most black hat tactics get exposed, outdated, or raise a red flag. When this happens, this can cause a website to be completely removed from search results. Search engines usually have a no-nonsense policy with black hat and will not take into consideration all of the hard work put in previously using organic methods. This is simply not worth the risk.