Choosing The Best SEO or PPC Company, From An Experienced Owner


Cary Johnson has been building and developing internet marketing companies as well as successful worldwide internet sales teams for the past 16 years.  His first start-up, eVisibility, was featured in San Diego Business Journal as the 50th fastest growing company and the 169th in Inc Magazine.  After successfully selling the business to LSF Interactive, the entrepreneur has been working with them, buying other agencies to build the larger global agency that the $40 million, Geary LSF Digital Marketing Group is now.

 1) Here Are All The Things To Consider Before Hiring A Digital Marketing Agency

  • What do most great SEO or PPC agencies have in common?

“The best SEO companies out there are the one’s that truly understand that it’s ever changing and that there are no guarantees in what Google is going to do or what results they can actually produce.  They also have, not only a strong understanding of on-page optimization, but even more so, off-page optimization, meaning links and content marketing.”

  • What are the top things that most CEOs don’t consider or don’t know about when hiring a firm?

“What they usually don’t look at are the agencies that say that they’ve worked with particular brands and achieved a certain ranking.  Just because somebody has achieved a specific ranking doesn’t mean  that particular keyword ranking produced results for those clients.  It’s really making sure that you’re taking a deep dive into what the SEO agency actually produced.  In the old days, rankings were everything but the key thing now is whether or not those keywords are actually producing an ROI or high conversion rate.”

  • What are warning signs to watch out for when hiring a company to manage your SEO or PPC?

“Offering a guarantee; whether it’s paid search or SEO, there are no tricks to it anymore.  It really is just hard work, the more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it.  Also, you want to make sure that all of the agencies that you’re talking to have testimonials, in addition to case studies, those are going to help prove their credibility within the industry.”

  • Are there any stories you can share that would be helpful to other CEOs when vetting a SEO or PPC company?

“The biggest thing is that I’ve sat in front of fortune 500 companies to small mom and pops.  The one thing that’s consistent with SEO agencies is we all say the same things: we all have big clients,  great case studies and amazing references, no one’s going to give you a bad reference, but in the long run it really is trusting the team that you’re sitting across the table from.  You just can’t just go by what’s on paper because when there are no guarantees, it’s just a matter of trust.  Really reaching out and speaking to the clients that they’re currently working with, who have a long work history with the agency, is very important.”

  • Any other gems to consider before hiring a digital marketing agency?

“I’ve been asked for references before and a lot of us all have our key clients that we go to who we know are always going to be stellar on the phone, give us a really great review, and help us bring new business.  I learned a valuable lesson when I threw out my top references with somebody and right after I sent the references to that potential client, they turned right around and said, ‘thank you, now send me two more’; they weren’t even going to reach out to the first three, they wanted to speak to my fourth and fifth references.  Fortunately, we have a good list of great client references but I thought that was great.  Another thing is, really make sure you get a true understanding of how they’re doing their external linking.  It’s very important these days to make sure, because of all the penalties and algorithm updates, that they understand the methodology and processes for earned  link acquisition to make sure that you’re not penalized later down the road.”


2. The Industry Today Is Very Different Than What It Was 5 Years Ago

  • How has the industry changed over the last 5 years?

“It has changed in a lot of different ways, obviously, linking is a big factor.  Google has really transformed itself; it’s not just about links and on-page now, it’s about relevance.  Anything and everything that you do must build relevance to whatever topics you want to write for.  Beyond linking or on-page, it’s social media, content promotion, infographics, and press releases; SEO is truly built around media and building relevance.”

  • Why do you think most business owners are frustrated with SEO or PPC companies?

“Not all agencies go in and properly set expectations when being hired by a client.  There are a lot of things being promised upfront and sometimes not delivered in the end.  It’s really important that what the salespeople are saying is matching up with client expectations.  It’s also important that you get to know the teams who will be producing the work and that they are also in agreement with what the goals and expectations are, before you sign an agreement with the agency.”

  • How do you think CEOs should approach the process of creating a budget and allocating the funds in the right places in today’s market?

“Our recommendations, from a strategy standpoint, are going to vary based on the industry because there’s a high level of competition in some and less in others.  If the certain keywords that you’re going after, from an organic standpoint, have a full page listing of companies like Amazon and Best Buy, then you should consider a more diverse strategy as these conglomerates are going to be very hard to move.  Go after paid media or content marketing where you can compete; in the long run you need to have a more diverse approach, it shouldn’t just be SEO or paid search; don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

  • How is this different than many years ago?

“A lot of the SEO updates have gone on over the last 5 years, there’s been quite a dramatic shift.  Back then, social media was more for awareness; even social advertizing wasn’t really there yet so the budgets were really being pushed towards SEO, paid search, and design.  Today’s budgets are being pushed towards, not just SEO and paid search, but also social media and more importantly, conversion rate optimization and content marketing.”

  • Where do you see the digital marketing industry in 5 years?

“In 5 years SEO is going to have completely evolved; rankings are definitely going to be a lot harder to obtain without a full content marketing strategy surrounding it.  Paid search is going to continue to go up and more companies will be entering the space; competition is going to grow.  As we’ve seen in the past, digital marketing will continue to move forward as more people are online and writing reviews.  I believe reviews and local will continue to be a very important factor for any business but even more so in the future.  People are going online and spending more time writing things that are negative than they are about positive experiences and it’s not just for restaurants and dry cleaners, it’s also for big businesses now; even the smallest person has a voice.  Really controlling what’s being said about you online and making sure that you’re putting out a lot of content to show that you have thought leadership.  People are doing much more research before they make any decisions these days.  As a company, you are going to have to be out there, hitting all the different touch points whether it’s reviews, local or video.”


3. Outsourcing SEO Work And PPC Management Versus Keeping It In House

  • What are the benefits of outsourcing the SEO work and PPC management to an outside firm?

“The thing that we pride ourselves on most is the team of talent that we have here.  Although there’s a fee that’s associated with the type of work that we do and the team that we put behind it, you’re getting a much more robust, brain trust of knowledge.  You could hire one person but you’re only getting that one person’s experience, but working with an agency, you’re getting the experience of all the team members combined and it’s hard to put a price on that.”

  • What are the major differences between doing this work in house versus outsourcing?

“For SEO in today’s world, what you put into it is what you get out of it; the amount of  content marketing and social media being put out is not an overnight fix.  Additionally, it’s not something that can usually be done with just one person, depending on what type of industry you’re in.  Therefore, really having a full, robust team around allows you to better succeed and also, you must have somebody who manages it; with an agency you’re getting everything built into one.”

  • If a company wants to create a blend where they do some SEO and PPC management work in house but outsource some portions, what are the best practices to do this effectively?

“For SEO, really build a strong team in house that can handle the on-page optimization and content creation, then utilizing a mixture of top tier link acquisition teams.  For paid search, the benefits to working with an agency is that most are using a good management platform and getting a great rate on it because of the volume.  Paid search is a hard one to have in-house, in my opinion.  It’s tough to have a blend on that because you really want to have everything centralized in one place.  You want the same person who is writing the ad-copy to do the keyword strategy and the bid management.  The most important piece for having an in-house paid search employee is somebody who understands the business that can communicate the changes that are going on, whether it’s updates in promotions, new products that are coming on or expansions into different markets.  Really knowing the business to help convey that information to the team that’s working on it so they know how to manage and best optimize those campaigns is key.”

  • Any other final gems on hiring an SEO or PPC company that you would like to share?

“Over the last 5+ years, more and more agencies keep popping up; some are speciality and some are full service but when hiring an agency, you really want to look at the depth of the experience and how long they have been around.  There’s something to be said for companies that have been in the industry for a long time.  We hear people say that an individual or company has a lot of experience if they’ve been doing something for 2 or 3 years, when in reality, internet marketing been around for 15 years.  You really want to look at the team and get as many experienced people as possible working for you.  Although this is a young industry, it doesn’t hurt to have a little grey in the room.”