Clutch spoke with Garrett Mehrguth, CEO and co-founder of Directive Consulting, as part of a series of interviews on how to hire a SEO company.
Please begin by introducing your company and your role there.
Directive Consulting is a digital marketing agency. We specialize in search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, and content creation and promotion. I'm Garrett Mehrguth, the CEO and co-founder. I started it with my partner almost a year and a half ago, and since then we've grown quite rapidly. We started with an approach where you consistently deliver value to your clients, you really care about their business, you become a partner, really work through the problems, and come up with marketing solutions that are long term and that work.
What goals should a business define before looking to hire a SEO partner?
I don't think anyone should ever hire an SEO company if they don’t first understand a user buying cycle and take into consideration all the other elements of how a user makes the purchase, or fills a form, or makes a phone call, whether it’s B2B, B2C, or local. It still depends on how a buyer finds you, and I think that's the most important thing. The company has to have their own idea of who their competitors are, who their target market is, what their budget looks like, how they want to allocate it, what has worked in the past, and what can work now.
We always have a potential customer fill out an initial request form or we have an initial interview with us. We gather all the information about their competitors, their business, what they've done, what’s worked, what hasn't worked, what their budget looks like, and what their goals are for the company. Then we'll create a custom proposal. You don’t want to work with any SEO company who's not asking those types of questions. If you don't know those things and they're not helping you answer those types of questions, then all you're doing is wasting money, because the SEO company is not focusing their efforts on your unique business environment.
In your opinion, which factors should be the weighted most heavily when hiring a SEO company?
In my mind, the heaviest weighted factor for choosing an SEO company should be that the SEO company's culture fits within your own company's culture. It’s that simple, because at the end of the day, every SEO company is going to come to you with why they have the best results. They're going to show you case studies, and if they don't show you case studies, don't even talk to them. They will show you how they made this client number one, and how they did this for their business. Every good company should have that.
Every SEO company has similar quotes, in the sense that they know what the market quotes at. Unless they're the elite 1% of the SEO companies who bid astronomically high and only deal with companies with astronomically high budgets, then the prices are all somewhat competitive and the offerings are all similar to a certain extent. You’re going to want to know their case studies and track records, but at the end of the day customer service is most important.
If you're looking for an SEO company, you only want them to send a manual, custom-built report to you, so that you know what they did, why they did it, and what happened.
Those are things that make us at Directive Consulting competitively different: culture fit with our clients, manual reporting, constant communication, and account managers with equity in the company. Those types of things make a difference for the service that your client recieves.
What are some red flags to watch out for when evaluating a SEO company?
If an SEO company says a bunch of things that you don't understand, that's a red flag. Any good sales person should have a product that they feel comfortable thoroughly explaining to the client, so the client understands all the aspects of what they're buying. If they start using a ton of acronyms on you, if they're taking about your CPA or CPM times your ROI, minus this, minus that, using all these acronyms, and you feel lost or maybe even stupid talking to them, then that's a bad SEO company who's just selling you on magic.
Another red flag is anybody who doesn't give you references, and all the other basic stuff we know from what our grandparents taught us. You want an SEO company that takes the time and meets with you, talks on the phone, hits their deadlines. If they say they are going to do anything initially, and they don't do it, that's a red flag. That means three months from now your account manager is not going to be calling you back.
Does Directive Consulting have any specific requirements for a potential client?
The only requirement before engaging is that you have to go through our initial information on-boarding and research. We don’t want to quote on price. We want to build a relationship and a partnership with all our clients. We won't ever send a template proposal. We want to have meetings where we can go over everything, explain why we do it, what they're going to get, what they're not going to get, why it's different, what we expect, what their competitors are doing, and how we can do it better. All those intricate details of a full marketing strategy we want to be able to demonstrate and communicate to our client in person, before we ever talk about price or value. That's something that we probably do a little different, and we always make sure we do that before engaging with a client.
Do you have a minimum budget that you’ll work with?
You're going to at least want a budget of around $2,000; that is probably a minimum. We need to charge enough to pay our employees a great rate and salary so that we can have consistent employment and consistent value for our clients. Our clients need experts - they don't need people that have no experience in the industry, no skill, no expertise, no passion. You want top employees working for your account.
Your rate has to be competitive enough and expensive enough for you to actually pay your employees well enough to deliver the value. You can't do SEO for $250 a month. If you look at the hours, you can't do a good SEO project for quicker than 10 to 15 hours. It takes about 10 to 15 hours to do all the research, the competitor analysis, the on-page work, the technical work, etc. If you want to go through it all and do it right, you just can't do it in less than 10 or 15 hours.
That means, if they sell to you with no initial project, month to month, at $450 you’re having them outsourcing the work somewhere, they're doing half of the work, the research isn’t done right, and it's just not worth your money. It's kind of like painting half your house. That's what you do when you only pay half the market rate for a service – you’re going to get half the work.
Do you have a minimum project length?
We usually want at least six months. We'll do 90-day revolving, we'll do month-to-month, we'll do a year, we'll do two years. It really depends on what the client is looking for and how they feel most comfortable with their vendors and partners. We don't worry too much about the contract, we want the relationship. Once we have the relationship, we deliver results, so we don't worry as much about that.
What unique value does your company provide compared to others?
We don't do anything cookie-cutter. Everything is based off of what our customer tells us about their business, and then we use our expertise based on their information to thoroughly audit and create a strategy that we know will work. At the end of the day, our client knows so much more about their business and their industry then we could ever know. Empowering our clients to help us make the best marketing decisions is a huge value-add.
Our account managers have equity in the company, so they get essentially paid when our clients pay us. The better service they provide, the longer the relationship we have. That's a huge value-add for our clients to get that type of service.
We only send manual reports, so no automated SEM, Raven, Advanced Web Ranking, Google Analytics, or anything. We don't send those. We believe our clients deserve more.
We host all our own manual reports on our server and we will send them a password where they can log in, plus they will get a full e-mail describing all the work and the report. There is a really thorough communication process, so people know what they bought, why they bought it, and what happened. Those are all differentiators that are necessary.