Neil Patel

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How to Choose an SEO Agency

A graphic saying, "How To Choose An SEO Agency."

Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of SEO agencies out there.

Are you looking for help with SEO? Then you probably want to know how to choose an SEO agency. After all, the sector is massive.

According to stats from the Search Engine Optimization Services Global Market Report 2022, the sector is on track to reach a $134.26 billion compound annual growth rate in 2026.

If you’ve ever searched for an agency, you know that there are countless SEO companies scrambling for a piece of the pie.

Where does that leave you, a business owner eager to reach Google’s top pages, generate qualified traffic, and drive sales?

Often lost and unsure where to turn.

With all this confusion, you’re probably wondering:

  • How do I choose the best SEO agency?
  • How can I find a top SEO company that doesn’t need ads to rank its website organically?
  • What do I look for in an SEO agency?

You’ll find the answer to those questions here, but that’s not all. I’ll also detail SEO companies that go beyond vanity metrics and deliver real business results to assist you in your search.

However, before I get into all that, I’ll explain what you need to do before you start your hunt. That means being clear on what your aims are and what you want to achieve.

Know Your Goals and Desired Outcomes

Imagine you hurriedly booked a last-minute flight from New York to meet some business partners, and depart without a hitch. On arrival, the announcer congratulates you for a safe journey and welcomes you to Beverly Hills in Texas. Meanwhile, your intended destination was Beverly Hills in California.

You’ll regret the waste of your time, right?

Hiring SEO agencies is like boarding that airplane; each one could be great at flying your site’s organic ranking somewhere. Your first job before you start flying, therefore, is to ensure you choose the right plane and get on the correct flight.

To choose and onboard an SEO agency that’s right for you, you must:

  • Know your business destination (your goals), and
  • What you want to achieve when you get there (your desired outcomes).

In SEO, where you’re going requires a different airplane (or agency). The main ones are:

  • SEO-optimized content marketing
  • Voice SEO
  • Link building
  • Local SEO
  • E-commerce SEO

However, the above list isn’t exhaustive. As the digital marketing world, online trends, and Google evolve, the list may grow or change.

As for outcomes?

You may need to:

  • Rank your entire website or specific keywords higher
  • Get more qualified traffic and leads, or
  • Drive sales directly from organic search.

Your target business goals and outcomes determine what SEO strategies and tactics you need. However, because no SEO agency is a one-size-fits-all for all strategies, industry verticals, and company sizes, knowing these basics lays the foundation for who you partner with.

Let’s take some hypothetical examples.

Example #1: SEO-Optimized Content Marketing

Pretend that your goal is to show up on Google’s 1st page when certain people use certain words to search for certain information relevant to your business.

Your desired outcome?

You want to attract this set of people, educate them with engaging content, and pull them into your sales funnels.

In this case, you need an agency with expertise in SEO-optimized content marketing. Plus, you want one with proven results in helping other companies achieve similar results:

NP Digital's home page.

Example #2: Increasing Your Domain Authority

Okay, now let’s assume you have freelancers creating excellent content pieces for your site. However, you realize Google isn’t ranking them for your target keywords.

Instead, when people search, content pieces below the quality of what you’re creating keep showing up on the top pages while yours languishes on Google’s 17th page.

This situation indicates your competitors probably have higher domain authorities or more backlinks pointing to their website and high-ranking content pieces.

In this case, to increase your website’s domain authority, get relevant links pointing to your content, and boost ranking, you need an SEO agency with expertise in link building:

Fat Joe's Home page.

As you saw in both examples above, it’s easier to know what type of SEO agency is worth considering when you’re definite about your goals and outcomes.

Taking this first step to look at yourself in the mirror and know exactly what you want to achieve streamlines the selection process.

It also ensures you only shortlist agencies with expertise and experience driving other businesses to your intended destination.

However, it doesn’t end there.

Even with only a few dozen agencies to consider, choosing one that’s right for you still demands you look out for characteristics that prove they walk the talk.

Doing this further helps you vet and choose an SEO agency that’s perfect for you. Since I’m on the topic, let’s detail the characteristics to look for.

6 Characteristics That Make the Best SEO Companies

You’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of SEO companies out there. To narrow down your search, here are some of the characteristics to help you choose the best SEO agency.

1. A Defined Process to Execute SEO Strategies

When it comes to SEO these days, anyone with a laptop, access to the internet, and a WordPress-installed blog can call themselves an SEO company. Nevertheless, that doesn’t always mean they have the necessary expertise. Nor does it mean they have a defined process for successfully executing an SEO strategy.

An agency can make any wild claims that it likes. However, if it lacks the expertise and processes to deliver on its promises, you won’t get results.

How do you know an agency can do what it says?

Scroll their website, do a simple Google search and see if they show up on the search engine’s organic positions. A fundamental characteristic of a great SEO company is they have experience implementing SEO for themselves first, and you can find them early on in the Google SERP results.

2. A Diverse Team of Specialists

Turning SEO ideas into higher rankings, website visitors, leads, and sales requires a diverse team of specialists.

When an SEO company makes too many promises without showing you the team to make it happen, hold tight. Why? Of course, the company could just be starting out, and have limited staff. Or it could be a red flag that they plan to outsource your job to freelancers on one of the various online platforms.

The result? You don’t know who you’re working with, and there’s plenty of space for mixed-up communication. In short, there’s a good chance things will go wrong.

However, with an established agency, you have an entire team of experts at your disposal.

From strategic leaders to managers and different teams of specialists to execute your strategy, the best SEO companies are proud to show off their amazing team members.

Employees at NP Digital.

3. An Impressive Portfolio

Looking at portfolios is one of the easiest ways to see the quality of an agency’s work. The reason is simple: a solid portfolio shows they are proud of the businesses they’ve helped, and they can prove it.

Viewing portfolios is also a good way to see if an agency may be right for you. Check what type of clients they work with and get an idea if they’d be a good match for your niche. Then decide if you want to be in that mix and get similar results.

For example, at NP Digital, here are some clients in our work portfolio. Clients can see who we’ve worked with and the results we’ve earned.

4. Real Customer Testimonials

Customer review about NP Digital.

Who doesn’t like to toot their own horn? Definitely not search engine optimization companies.

Developing winning SEO strategies, managing their implementation, and guiding teams on their execution to generate results is hard.

When an SEO company does all this hard work and gets fantastic results, their customers reward them with testimonials, having got value for their money.

If you see an agency sharing real-life testimonials, from happy clients, you can have confidence in them.

Nevertheless, if you want to do a bit more digging, look for prior work examples and case studies to see the standard of work and past achievements.

5. Industry-specific Thought Leadership

SEO is constantly evolving and changing. How can you keep tabs on all these changes? With a thought leader-affiliated SEO agency. In other words, an agency that has an authority figure in a particular field, and who’s highly respected among peers.

These individuals are constantly reading, learning, and sharing their advice on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, or their own blog. They’ve got an audience, and, most crucially, the expertise to drive your online business forward.

These types of experts have extensive knowledge and experience with SEO, making them invaluable resources.

6. A Crisp-clear Company Culture

The best SEO companies don’t need to have a million TikTok followers or 5,000 blog posts—but they do need to know what they’re doing and stay up to date on changes.

Check out their website—are they staying up to date with SEO best practices as they evolve, and sharing tips to help businesses adjust for maximum impact? Do they publish content, share industry tips, and talk about upcoming changes?

SEO Agency Red Flags

When choosing an SEO agency, there are certain red flags you should be aware of. Working with the wrong agency can lead to costly mistakes and lost time, so spotting potential problems quickly is essential.

Here are some of the key red flags that you should look out for when choosing a good SEO agency:

Guaranteeing Rankings

The first warning sign is guaranteed results. Quality SEO takes time, and no reputable agency makes such guarantees. Just like every website owner, agencies are at the mercy of Google’s ever-changing algorithms. One change in the algorithms can have a considerable negative impact on the SERPs, and therefore, no agency can make any guarantees regarding website ranking.

Quantity Over Quality Backlink-Building Techniques

Additionally, be wary of any agencies who use ineffective black-hat techniques like keyword stuffing or link farms, as these practices can lead to your website being penalized by search engines, damaging your online presence in the long run.

Ultra-Low Price

You know the saying you get what you pay for? Well, that often rings true here.

Low pricing isn’t always a bad thing; it may just indicate that the agency is new and it’s charging low prices while getting established.

However, low pricing can be a sign that the quality isn’t great, the agency might cut corners, or they use underhanded tactics that damage your site’s standing in the SERPs.

No Portfolio or Customer Testimonials

It’s important to do research on any potential SEO agencies before signing a contract, especially if they have no portfolio or customer testimonials.

No portfolio or customer testimonials might not mean that the agency isn’t good at its job. However, it should raise a few red flags when researching potential SEO agencies.

If you’re not sure about an agency, and it doesn’t have any testimonials, do some more research, look online for reviews, and ask for examples of their work.

How to Work With an SEO Agency

Most SEO agencies work as an extension of your in-house marketing team.

Therefore, there are steps to figuring out how to choose an SEO agency. These steps are essential, as they can help ensure your collaboration with them is successful.

Let’s explore the major ones.

1. Prepare Your In-house, Front-facing Team

Before you work with an SEO agency, get relevant teams in your company on the same page. Let them know why your company needs to hire SEO professionals and how working with them will impact your business.

Also, select those who’ll work directly with the SEO agency to drive the results you seek. The people you choose would help to bridge the communication gap between your company and the agency.

Doing this ensures that there’s always someone to keep the SEO agency in sync with your company culture, goals for working with them, expectations, and timeline.

2. Discovery Session

Goals when working with an SEO agency could be to rank higher for target keywords, generate more traffic, drive sales, or all three.

Remember, no business case and needs are precisely the same; SEO strategies that worked for one company may not work for yours.

Take the time to share everything about your business that could be relevant to SEO with an agency you choose to work with. Doing this helps them develop custom strategies and plans unique to achieving your goals.

Exceptional SEO companies allow you to share this information with them via a discovery session:

A discovery session from NP Digital.

3. Research and Recommendations

After you share your business situation, needs, and goals with an SEO company, be on the lookout for what they do next.

Top SEO agencies don’t jump into sending you quotes and invoices.

They delve into research, using what you shared with them to gain the right context about your business situation. Doing this brings them on the same page with your company, target audience, business goals, and competition.

After this research, they usually share recommendations of what needs to be done to get maximum results. They can send this recommendation via a report sent over email or talk you through it over a call.

4. Contract with Deliverables

After your discovery call and follow-up conversations, expect to receive a contract with deliverables from an SEO agency if working with you looks like a good fit.

It’s best to share this contract with relevant members on your team, especially those working directly with the agency. Ensure to go down to the nitty-gritty of the contract’s terms and conditions.

Also, share it with your legal department to avoid signing an agreement that hurts or binds your company in the future.

5. Onboarding, Project Scoping, and Management

To work with you, an SEO company will likely request access to some of your digital assets.

Depending on your work scope, such access could include your website or blog passwords, your analytics tools login codes, selected in-house staff, etc.

To kickstart a working relationship with your company, SEO agencies usually take you through a detailed onboarding process, so you should expect one.

Over this onboarding session, the scope of your project, delivery timelines, communication channels, and an understanding of how both parties manage your project is defined and communicated.

The 5 Top SEO Agencies

So far, I’ve outlined the characteristics of exceptional SEO agencies and walked you through some fundamental steps to working with one.

However, as I established at the beginning of this guide, you don’t just need the right SEO agency; you need an SEO agency that’s right for you.

How do you find one?

To help you, we put together a list of companies that we believe to be the best in the business.

Also, we skipped SEO agencies who can’t even rank their site organically. Finally, we looked away from digital marketing generalists who do everything under the sun for a quick buck.

The result?

What follows is a list of the five best SEO companies, set by the types of projects they’re exceptional at working on.

1. NP Digital – Best For SEO Content Marketing

Yes, we’re tooting our own horn, but I strongly believe we’ve earned our place on this list.

NP Digital was founded by skilled and experienced marketers who walk the talk and know best practices. If you type “SEO strategies” into Google from anywhere in the world, you’ll find well-crafted content by Neil Patel.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We generate millions of organic visits every month—around 4.5 million, to be exact. While we do use some ads, most of the traffic is generated through SEO-optimized content marketing:

Traffic overview of Neil Patel's website.

The executive team here at NP Digital has over five decades of combined hands-on experience creating rock-solid SEO strategies for some of the top brands in the world, and we can do the same for you.

In short, SEO-optimized content marketing is one of the prime reasons customers, from startups to enterprise brands, trust NP Digital to deliver top-notch search engine optimization strategies. Get your free consultation here.

2. Voice SEO – Best For Voice Search

Voice SEO started as a small team of SEO experts. Initially, they focused on using their SEO skills to help businesses like theirs to grow online.

Through dedication and close observation of the ever-changing SEO industry, Voice SEO realized the growing use of devices such as Alexa, Siri, and Google Echo, to query search engines.

Seeing that 50% of all online searches in 2020 would be voice-based, Voice SEO followed the highest standards in SEO to narrow its focus on helping companies with voice search engine optimization:

Voice SEO's homepage.

3. ReachLocal – Best For Local SEO

ReachLocal is the go-to company for strategic local SEO executions. Their experience, results, and high-value partnerships speak for themselves. Here are a few highlights:

  • Founded in 2004
  • Generated over 201 million local leads for about 19,000 clients worldwide.
  • Google Premier Partner, and Bing Ads Certified specialists.
  • ReachLocal is a certified Google Premier Partner, Yelp, Yahoo!, Bing, and Facebook to help businesses to implement local SEO strategies and drive in-store customers.

Plus, this company’s expertise has led to 4.5/5-star ratings from satisfied customers.

Reach Local's home page.

4. FATJOE – Best For Backlink Acquisition

Search engines interpret the relevance and quality of your website by looking at the number and quality of backlinks pointing to it.

In other words, the more backlinks you acquire, the more the search engines see your site as authoritative, and the higher it ranks your site over those of your competitors for competitive keywords.

When it comes to acquiring building backlinks for SEO, FATJOE comes highly recommended by us. Here’s why:

  • The agency provides high-value backlinks (even other SEO agencies turn to them for link-building help.)
  • FATJOE is one of the world’s largest outsourced link-building agencies with 10,000+ clients worldwide.
  • In addition to link building, FATJOE offers SEO, copywriting, design, video, and overall marketing services.
  • 95% of customers who use FATJOE gave them a 4 or 5-star rating.
Fat Joe's home page.

When you sign up for FATJOE’s SEO link building services, you get premium access to every tool you need: a dashboard to manage and track your orders, and their Blogger Outreach product to find and reach relevant websites to build links from.

FATJOE uses sources such as HARO, local citation building, and press release redistribution to create backlinks.

5. OuterBox – Best for E-Commerce SEO

OuterBox, an SEO and performance marketing company focused on e-commerce brands, is our pick for e-commerce SEO.

If you own an e-commerce website and want a talented group of dedicated people to power your business through search engines, you should look OuterBox’s way.

Outbox's home page.
  • Founded in 2004.
  • Has been named in Inc.’s 500 fastest–growing companies in the US.
  • Serves hundreds of customers across several e-commerce sectors.
  • Clients include NewAir, AtlasOil, JetDock, UCFS, and others.

Even better, it doesn’t matter which e-commerce platform you’ve built your business on. Whether you use WooCommerce, Magento, Shopify, Drupal, or others; you can rely on OuterBox for effective e-commerce search engine optimization.


Is SEO Still Relevant in 2023?

Yes, SEO is relevant, although the Search Engine Journal’s Annual State of SEO highlights how machine learning, AI, and changes to third-party cookies are among the challenges for SEO in 2023.
Google’s updates will also continue to influence. However, none of this makes SEO irrelevant; it just means SEO agencies and marketers must adapt to changing technologies.

Will SEO Exist in 10 Years?

There’s no reason why SEO won’t still be around in 10 years’ time, but it will continue to evolve, and anyone using SEO should adapt their techniques accordingly.

What Is the Best SEO Strategy in 2023?

You can expect the basics to stay the same. Things like ensuring your site loads quickly, optimizing for mobile, keyworded content with a strong content strategy behind it, and content repurposing.
As for 2023, technical SEO is likely to become even more vital, and visual search is all-important. Additionally, there will be the usual Google updates throughout the year, which you’ll need to keep up with.

Do You Need To Do SEO Every Month?

Yes, you do. SEO is an ongoing process and not a once-off task. Optimizing your site with SEO regularly helps ensure your content gets noticed by the right audience. With regular updates, you can keep up with changes in the industry and better understand which keywords are the biggest traffic drivers.


SEO takes time to work. You should start expecting results from SEO in about 100 days. However, remember there aren’t any guarantees, and it’s not always something you can do on your own.

Compounding this is that not all industries are the same. Some are more competitive than others, like medical, legal, or anything under the YMYL (your money or your life) umbrella. These might potentially take longer to see results than something like e-commerce.

Therefore, knowing how to find the best SEO company is paramount to success, but not all agencies are equal.

Any company that promises overnight success doesn’t know SEO well enough or what they’re doing.

In short, great SEO companies don’t make wild promises; they show you what’s possible and how they’ll work hard to achieve it.

If you give them time, you’ll start seeing results—qualified traffic, leads, and sales.

Once things pick up, it’s like a flywheel, getting better as long as you continue to work with a great SEO company.

Do you have any tips on choosing a good SEO agency? Share them below.

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