Avoid Costly Mistakes: How to Choose the Right SEO Agency

A reasonable SEO investment is approximately $5,000 per month. How do you choose who to work with?

Singapore Business Owners


Having run an SEO agency for a decade before moving into a regional marketing leadership role at a multinational company, I’ve gained valuable insights from both sides of the table: as a service provider and as a client. Here, I’d like to share my thoughts on SEO and how to choose an SEO agency.

Avoid Costly Mistakes: How to Choose the Right SEO Agency 1
Old me with old client

Do You Need SEO?

SEO is a channel to attract organic traffic, but it’s not the only way. It’s a long-term investment that builds an asset to enhance brand awareness and eventually drive organic sales. However, relying solely on SEO is risky; a successful business should diversify its channels.

If your company is young and needs sales urgently, consider running PPC campaigns instead. If you have stable sales channels like paid ads, referrals, and social media, with funds set aside for marketing, then you’re ready for SEO.

In-House vs. Agency vs. Freelance

An in-house SEO team is ideal but expensive. The next best option is a good SEO agency that can grow with you. Freelance consultants can be effective but may work slower. Agencies can move faster, and here’s how to choose one:

Measure of Success – Not Keyword Ranking

When setting up an agreement with an SEO agency, focus on measurable outcomes like traffic and sales improvements rather than just keyword rankings. For example, for a dental brand, define clear goals such as a 30% increase in patients for specific treatments, and use comprehensive metrics to track success.

Focusing solely on keyword rankings is very limiting and myopic; it restricts thinking and strategy, preventing broader and more effective approaches. Ensure proper tracking and regular reporting, maintain flexibility in strategies, and emphasize sustainable practices.

This approach makes it clear for the client to measure success and provides a clear mission for the agency to focus on.

Content Production

Good SEO agencies produce high-quality content, focusing on thoughtfulness and value rather than just quantity. Instead of promising to generate a set number of pieces per month, like four articles, they prioritize creating content that is truly impactful and beneficial to the target audience.

Quality content should address the needs and interests of the audience, providing valuable insights and information. To gauge an agency’s capability, ask to see examples of their best work.

This will help you assess whether they can deliver content that not only meets high standards but also effectively supports your SEO goals and drives meaningful engagement.

Technical Competency

A senior SEO manager with technical skills is essential, as technical optimization is a significant part of SEO. The agency should have professionals who either bring their developers or collaborate effectively with your team.

Ensure they have a solid understanding of technical aspects like schema markup, HTML structure, site speed, mobile optimization, and other critical elements that influence search engine rankings.

Ask specific questions about their technical SEO knowledge and experience to ensure they are well-versed in these areas. Hiring an agency that lacks this expertise can hinder your SEO efforts, so it’s crucial to verify their technical competence to achieve optimal results.

Link Building

A balanced approach to backlinks is crucial. Agencies that focus solely on backlinks without addressing content or technical issues should be avoided. Links are important, but they shouldn’t dominate the conversation. Ask how they secure backlinks and if there are additional costs.


Avoid Costly Mistakes: How to Choose the Right SEO Agency 2

SEO is competitive. Don’t work with an agency that serves your competitors in the same market. It’s like hiring a soccer coach who is training both teams in the same match—it just doesn’t make sense. Exclusivity ensures dedicated effort towards your success, allowing the agency to focus entirely on developing and executing strategies that benefit your business without any conflict of interest.

Guarantee Ranking

Guaranteed rankings are a red flag, especially with AI and frequent algorithm changes. Agencies offering guarantees are often sales-driven, using it as a hook. Many times, the promised rankings are for long-tail keywords that don’t add any business value. Instead, focus on realistic and sustainable strategies that drive business results such as increased traffic, conversions, and sales.

Prioritizing these metrics ensures that your SEO efforts contribute meaningfully to your overall business growth and success.

Deep Thinkers

man in black suit jacket
Photo by Guido Coppa

Good SEO professionals are not just executors; they are strategic thinkers. The process of SEO involves 70% thinking and 30% execution. A significant part of SEO success lies in the ability to analyze, plan, and strategize effectively. Here’s how to identify these deep thinkers:

  1. Analytical Skills: Good SEO professionals have strong analytical skills. They can interpret data, identify trends, and derive actionable insights. They use tools like Google Analytics, SEMrush, and Ahrefs not just to gather data but to understand the underlying patterns and user behaviors.
  2. Strategic Planning: They should be able to break down complex SEO strategies into clear, actionable steps. This includes understanding your business goals, identifying target audiences, and mapping out a comprehensive plan to achieve desired outcomes. They should be adept at creating both short-term and long-term strategies that align with your business objectives.
  3. Industry Knowledge: Deep thinkers prioritize understanding your industry by delving into consumer buying behavior. They strive to comprehend the problems your customers face, how they make purchasing decisions, and how they evaluate their options. By being familiar with your market, they can tailor SEO strategies to address these specific consumer behaviors and needs, ensuring more relevant and effective results.
  4. Problem Solvers: Look for SEO professionals who approach challenges with a problem-solving mindset. They should be able to identify potential issues, think critically about solutions, and adapt their strategies accordingly. Their ability to troubleshoot and overcome obstacles is a key indicator of their expertise and commitment.
  5. Continuous Learning: The SEO landscape is constantly evolving. Good SEO professionals are committed to continuous learning. They stay informed about the latest algorithm updates, SEO best practices, and industry innovations. This dedication to growth ensures that their strategies remain effective and up-to-date.
  6. Communication Skills: Effective communication is crucial. SEO professionals should be able to explain their strategies, findings, and recommendations clearly and concisely. They should be transparent about their processes and able to articulate the rationale behind their decisions.

Understanding SEO Costs: What to Expect and Why

An effective SEO strategy requires a team of specialized professionals: an SEO strategist to design and plan the overall strategy, a senior SEO manager to oversee implementation and technical execution, and an SEO content writer to create high-quality, optimized content. Each role brings a unique set of skills essential for driving organic traffic and achieving long-term success. Relying on a single person for all these tasks would compromise the quality and effectiveness of your SEO efforts.

When budgeting for SEO, it’s important to understand the costs involved and the reasoning behind them. Here’s a breakdown of average salaries for SEO roles in Singapore:

  • SEO Strategist: $5,000
  • Senior SEO Manager: $8,000
  • SEO Content Writer: $4,000

Assuming 20 working days a month, a strategist can handle 8 projects, a senior manager 16 projects, and a content writer 4 projects. This brings the manpower cost for SEO management and content strategy to about $2,125 per month. Adding a 30% markup for agency profit and overheads brings this figure to around $3,000.

Including additional costs for technical optimization and backlink efforts, a reasonable SEO investment is approximately $5,000 per month, or $60,000 per year. While this may seem substantial, especially for small companies, it’s important to remember that skilled SEO professionals need fair compensation to support their families and lead balanced lives. Quality work requires time and focus, and working with a well-paid, dedicated team ensures better results.

For companies with tight budgets, PPC can be a viable sales channel until you are ready to scale and invest in SEO. Understanding these costs helps set realistic expectations and ensures that you invest wisely in building a sustainable, competitive advantage in your market. This also means you should work on a target that can bring you more than $60,000 worth of sales per year, ensuring that your investment in SEO generates significant returns.


To achieve SEO success, it’s essential to choose a reputable SEO agency, invest appropriately in their services, measure success effectively, and collaborate for long-term growth.

Identify SEO professionals who are deep thinkers and capable of driving meaningful results. Avoid those who simply boast about past achievements without demonstrating a thorough, thoughtful approach to their work. The best SEO minds are those who think critically, plan strategically, and execute meticulously.

Investing in SEO is about building a sustainable, competitive advantage in your market, and the relationship with the right SEO agency is a critical component of this winning strategy.

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