SEO, Clutch Report

How Businesses Find the Best SEO Companies

April 23, 2018

by Grayson Kemper

Content & Editorial Manager, Clutch

Businesses trust referrals to find an SEO company but prioritize expertise and service offerings when hiring an SEO company to maximize the benefits of their investment.

Businesses partner with SEO companies–digital marketing agencies, SEO agencies, and SEO consultants–to maximize the benefits of their SEO efforts.

However, the success of an SEO partnership depends on whether a business selects the best SEO company for its specific goals.

Clutch and Ignite Visibility surveyed over 300 marketing decision-makers about how they partner with SEO companies.

Our findings indicate that marketing decision-makers trust their peers’ recommendations when researching SEO companies. Ultimately, though, they tend to choose the SEO company that provides the services suited to their business needs.

Businesses can use this report to inform how they research and select SEO companies to achieve their marketing objectives.

Our Findings

  • Over half (55%) of businesses partner with an SEO company.
  • Businesses rely on digital marketing agencies (34%) for SEO, over SEO consultants (24%) and SEO agencies (21%).
  • Most businesses (52%) find SEO companies through referrals. However, they prioritize service offerings (55%) to choose an SEO company over referrals (49%) and price (46%).
  • Businesses rely on SEO companies for off-site services (60%) more often than on-site services (56%).
  • Businesses measure traffic volume (66%) the most to determine the success of an SEO partnership.
  • More than one-fourth (28%) of businesses consider expertise the biggest benefit of partnering with an SEO company.  
  • One-fifth (20%) of businesses expect to remain with an SEO services partner for 5+ years, a term only 8% of businesses actually fulfill.
  • Over half (61%) of businesses pay less than $5,000 per month for SEO services.

Businesses Partner With Digital Marketing Agencies More Than Other SEO Companies

Companies rely on digital marketing agencies more than other types of SEO companies for SEO services.  

Just over one-third (34%) of businesses partner with a digital marketing agency for SEO services, compared to 24% that partner with an SEO consultant and 21% that partner with an SEO agency.

34% of businesses partner with a digital marketing agency for SEO services

Digital marketing agencies specialize in marketing services such as content marketing and social media marketing that complement a business’ SEO.

Overall, a majority (55%) of businesses partner with an SEO company. However, the frequency with which businesses partner with digital marketing agencies suggests that many businesses invest in SEO only through digital marketing services.

This explains why social media marketing is the most common SEO service, according to Clutch and Ignite Visibility’s SEO Services Survey.

Businesses Rely on Referrals to Research SEO Companies

Businesses rely on referrals when finding and choosing the best SEO company as a partner.

Over half (52%) of businesses first find an SEO company through referrals, by far the most common method they use to find a services partner.

How Businesses Find SEO Companies

Customers trust their peers when it comes to choosing an SEO services partner, says Syed Irfan Ajmal, growth marketing manager for Ridester, an informational website that curates content about the ridesharing industry. 

“If there’s a company mentioning how great they are without many specifics, I, as a customer might not trust it easily. But, if someone I know and trust mentions someone, I might be more interested in that service provider,” said Syed.

Businesses especially trust referrals when they come from peers. Global information and measurement company Nielsen found that 90% of online customers trust recommendations from peers.

Referrals establish a level of trust with an SEO company, which businesses prioritize for their preliminary research for finding a partner.

However, when it comes to making a decision about which SEO company to choose, businesses prioritize other factors.

Businesses Consider the Services SEO Companies Offer When Choosing an SEO Company

Marketing decision-makers primarily consider the services SEO companies offer when determining the best SEO company for their business.

Service offerings (53%), lead referrals (48%), and price (46%) are the primary factors businesses consider when choosing an SEO services partner.

What Businesses Consider When Partnering With SEO Companies

The premium that businesses assign to service offerings signals that they value measurable objectives and deliverables when choosing an SEO company.

Factors such as referrals and price do not have as direct an impact on the results of an SEO campaign as the actual services that an SEO company provides.

The impact of SEO services illustrates the importance of vetting an SEO company for its expertise and capabilities, says John Lincoln, CEO of Ignite Visibility. 

Lincoln described a recent scenario in which one of his clients hired an SEO expert based on a recommendation, a partnership that resulted in the businesses losing 10 million traffic visits per month. 

"This is the issue with SEO. You have to be very careful who you hire. It doesn’t matter how you found the expert, or how much they charge, the key is in the strategy," said Lincoln. 

Businesses that stress the services an SEO company offers before making a hiring decision understand that SEO needs to be implemented well and maintained to be effective.

Businesses Partner With SEO Companies More Often for Off-Site SEO Services

Businesses seek out SEO companies for off-site SEO services more often than on-site SEO efforts.

60% of businesses partner with an SEO company for off-site services

Off-site SEO services refer to digital marketing activities that you perform externally from your website to improve your website's search ranking.

Examples of off-site SEO services:

  • Content marketing: Content marketing efforts drive traffic and earn inbound links to your site, which signals to search engines that your site is authoritative and relevant.
  • Social media marketing: Strong social media marketing correlates with search rankings. Social media efforts also drive brand awareness.
  • Public relations: Public relations efforts promote your brand and content to relevant audiences to earn links, drive traffic to your site, and increase brand awareness.

Given that many off-site SEO services include conventional digital marketing, businesses that partner with digital marketing agencies are most likely to invest in off-site SEO services.

Among businesses that partner with a digital marketing agency, over three-fourths (79%) invest in content marketing and nearly two-thirds (62%) invest in social media marketing.

However, for more technical, on-page efforts, marketing decision-makers turn to SEO experts. 

Businesses Partner More With SEO Agencies & Consultants for On-Site SEO Services

Businesses are more likely to trust SEO agencies and SEO consultants for on-site services. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of businesses that partner with an SEO agency invest in on-site SEO services.

On-site SEO services optimize on-page elements of your website to improve search rankings for key terms.

Examples of on-site SEO services include:

  • Website audit: SEO companies conduct website audits to determine whether your website is optimized for SEO. It's preliminary research that informs the structure of an SEO campaign.
  • Keyword optimization: This refers to optimizing your website content for your target keywords. This process ensures that key terms appear in relevant places in your site's content, such as in the titles of web pages related to those terms.
  • URL structure: SEO companies ensure that your company’s URL reflects the content of the page it represents. A strong URL structure makes it easy for search engines to index your pages and associate them with a given topic or term. 

On-site services represent the foundation of a site’s SEO. To have any chance of building solid search rankings, you need strong, optimized on-site content and structure.

Because on-site services are so valuable for effective SEO, businesses in need of these services are more likely to rely on SEO companies with unique industry knowledge.

"Some online businesses need a heavy focus on on-site optimization to improve their SEO. If it is an established, large brand, usually off-site services aren't as important. These sites attract links naturally," said Lincoln. "For smaller businesses and startups, they often need much more off-site work. Either way, these tasks are very hard for traditional businesses to do in-house. That's why they partner with SEO firms."

Partnering with an SEO agency or consultant provides a higher level of industry-specific expertise that helps businesses establish a strong base to build out their SEO efforts.

Businesses Measure Site Traffic to Determine Success of SEO Partnerships 

Businesses that partner with SEO companies measure site traffic from search engines to determine the success of their SEO efforts.

Site traffic (66%) outranks keyword rankings (58%) and on-site engagement (52%) as the most common metrics that marketing decision-makers use to determine the success of their business’ SEO efforts. 

Metrics Businesses Use to Track Success of SEO Partnerships

However, traffic from search engines is a nuanced measurement, warns Ajmal of Ridester.

In particular, website traffic often depends on your company's keyword targets. Some keywords naturally attract less traffic, which may not mean they are not valuable. 

For example, traffic collected from a long-tail keyword such as "top SEO companies in New York" is almost guaranteed to have lower volume than a general keyword such as "SEO." However, long-tail keywords typically indicate higher searcher intent, meaning searchers are more likely to convert.

Rather than tracking a single measure of success, your business should track metrics that correspond to its marketing objectives.

For example, if your business is concerned with brand awareness, track keyword rankings and online visibility to gauge the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.

Large Businesses Track More Metrics to Measure SEO Efforts

Large businesses measure their SEO efforts more comprehensively than smaller businesses.

Businesses with over 200 employees track 6 different metrics to determine the success of their SEO efforts, and nearly all (83%) measure site traffic from search engines.

On the other hand, businesses with 100 employees or fewer, only track two metrics: site traffic and keyword rankings.

Businesses Value the Expertise of SEO Companies 

Businesses value SEO companies because of their industry experience. Marketing decision-makers say expertise (28%) is the primary benefit of partnering with an SEO.

Benefits of Partnering with an SEO Company

Regardless of company size, services focus (on-site vs. off-site), or type of SEO partner, expertise is identified as the primary benefit of partnering with an SEO company.

SEO companies have field expertise that, beyond mastery of best practices, serves as insurance for businesses: Your business has an outlet to turn to if an unexpected problem arises.

“The biggest benefit to partnering with an external company for SEO services is their expertise, born from overseeing a higher volume and variety of SEO problems than you are likely to encounter with your web properties in-house,” said Amanda Orson, vice president of growth at Zift, an online provider of digital parenting tools.

Businesses also identify tangible benefits of partnering with an SEO company, which they determine according to their SEO objectives. 

Nearly one-fourth (24%) value the traffic they generate through an SEO company, and 19% value return on investment (ROI). 

"SEO is a mix of technical work and a marketing acquisition channel," said Lincoln. "Generally, SEO performance is evaluated based on new visitors and conversion metrics. But, in some cases, companies are hired to fix big drops in traffic, help with website transfers, get pages indexed, and consult on new technologies."

For businesses that hire an SEO company to increase website traffic, the benefit they value most from the investment is, naturally, website traffic. 

Businesses Spend Less Than $5,000 per Month on SEO Services

For the most part, businesses don’t break the bank when partnering with an SEO company. Well over half (61%) pay less than $5,000 per month for SEO services.

61% of businesses pay $5,000 or less per month for SEO services

The relatively low-cost of SEO services demonstrates that most businesses can afford working with an SEO company. Of course, the cost of partnering with an SEO company also depends on the services provided.

"You can find SEO services for $100 a month. In most cases, these services will just get your website a penalty and are based on outdated practices. You can also find services for much more. It really depends on the scope of the project. For example, if you are working on a huge website that needs 200 pages of content a month, that could be $100,000 a month" said Lincoln. "On the other hand, if you have a smaller site that's not in a competitive industry and needs fewer pages of content and digital PR promotion, that could be more in the $6,000 to $15,000 a month range."

For Lincoln, the main thing to consider is how search fits with your company's business model. Whatever that model is, you need to procure services that will bring the best returns for your business.

The total money businesses spend on SEO corresponds to their size. Over two-thirds (69%) of businesses with 100 employees or fewer spend less than $5,000 per month on SEO services.

Clearly, the price most businesses pay for SEO each month demonstrates that even more businesses could benefit from investing in SEO services. 

Longevity of SEO Partnerships Do Not Meet Businesses' Expectations

Businesses expect to partner with an SEO company for longer than they actually do.

One-fifth (20%) of businesses expect to stay with an SEO company for at least 5 years. But, only 8% actually do.

Length of Business' SEO Partnerships

Overall, nearly two-thirds (65%) of businesses partner with an SEO company for 2 years or less.  

The type of SEO company your business partners with and the nature of your partnership influence how long you work with that company.

Digital marketing agencies provide services that are more likely to have finite terms or impact. For example, social media marketing services are provided on a real-time basis: once you stop posting on social media, engagement declines, which in turn decreases the impact it has on search rankings.

As a result, more than one-third (34%) of partnerships with digital marketing agencies last less than 1 year.

On the other hand, businesses more commonly partner with SEO agencies and consultants for on-site services, which are more labor-intensive and typically take more time to show results.

Since on-site SEO services have a longer-term impact on SEO, businesses are more likely to retain their partners to continue to guide their efforts.

Because businesses rely on these SEO specialists for on-site services, 70% of partnerships with an SEO agency or consultant last at least 1 year.

Businesses Rely on SEO Companies to Benefit From SEO

Marketing decision-makers research and select an SEO company – digital marketing agency, SEO agency, or SEO consultant – to maximize the benefits of an SEO campaign.

Businesses choose SEO companies according to the SEO services they offer and whether the offerings align with their goals.

Businesses partner with digital marketing agencies most often, typically for off-site services such as content marketing and social media marketing. 

For more technical on-site services, businesses rely on SEO agencies and consultants due to their specialized SEO expertise. Because SEO agencies and companies provide more valuable and impactful SEO services, partnerships with these firms tend to last longer than those with digital marketing agencies. 

Overall, marketing-decision makers value SEO companies' expertise. However, they most often measure site traffic to determine the success of their SEO efforts, which can be a misleading metric based on the type of keywords your business targets. 

About The Survey

Clutch and Ignite Visibility surveyed 303 marketing decision-makers about how businesses approach SEO.

Eighty-nine percent (89%) of businesses surveyed have more than 10 employees. 35% have between 100-500 employees.

Ninety percent (90%) of the respondents hold a position of manager or above.

About Clutch

A B2B research, ratings, and reviews firm in the heart of Washington, DC, Clutch connects small and medium businesses with the best-fit agencies, software, or consultants to tackle business challenges together and with confidence. Clutch’s methodology compares business service providers and software in a specific market based on verified client reviews, services offered, work quality, and market presence.

About Ignite Visibility

Ignite Visibility is a premier Internet marketing company based in San Diego, dedicated to providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. By establishing mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with clients, Ignite Visibility creates custom solutions uniquely tailored to meet the specialized business objectives of each client. Because a company is only as good as the promises it keeps, Ignite Visibility holds itself accountable to clearly defined key performance indicators established at the outset of every campaign. Ignite Visibility's core services are SEO, social media, paid media, email marketing, Amazon marketing, and conversion rate optimization.


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