There’s no shortage of stories about bad experiences with SEO agencies. But if you ask an SEO, there’s also no shortage of stories about bad SEO clients. So the real question is how do you make sure that you don’t end up having a bad SEO story to tell or having a bad SEO story told about you?
The truth is that trusting any part of your marketing to a third-party poses some serious challenges. While a search marketing agency can offer you a level of skill and expertise that you don’t have in-house, the wrong choice can end up costing you rankings, revenues, and profits.
But a bad SEO agency experience can often be avoided by being a smart, organized, and efficient SEO client. Specifically, there are five steps you can take to manage the relations you have with your SEO provider, while protecting your investment and your rankings.
1. Educate Your SEO Provider
Make sure your SEO agency understands your business – both your business model and your business goals.
Your business might seem obvious to you, but that's because you live, eat, and breathe it. Conversely, SEO agencies live, eat, and breathe SEO – that’s what they specialize in. Take the time to make sure your agency understands your revenue model and the particular strategy that you’ve chosen.
Similarly, make sure that you explain your business goals to your SEO provider. After all, there's a big difference between "cornering your market" and "dominating your niche." Your SEO agency needs to be aware of your particular goals so that they can devise an SEO strategy that fits best with your business.
2. Define Your SEO KPIs in Advance
Work with your SEO firm to set KPIs that fit with your business goals. After all, there are many ways to measure SEO efforts (i.e., rankings, traffic, conversions, and any blend of these). Both you and your agency should agree in advance on what combination of KPIs to work toward.
For starters, this will enable your SEO agency to develop a strategy around your expectations and business needs. But more importantly, it will put you in a position to evaluate the work they’re doing, as well as measure the SEO ROI.
3. Appoint an SEO Gatekeeper
It's important to appoint an SEO gatekeeper. Ideally, this person would have been involved in the KPI process, and will fulfill two key roles as a kind of SEO project manager:
- Operation Level: The SEO gatekeeper will manage any bottlenecks – whether they’re on your side or the agency side. Essentially, by having one person monitoring all SEO projects, it will be easier to map their progress and push them through on a consistent and steady basis.
- Strategic Level: The SEO gatekeeper will help facilitate cohesion between various projects. By directing all SEO inquiries through a single point of contact, both you and your agency can be sure that the proverbial left and right hands are always working in tandem. For example, your SEO agency will know about new pages, products, and site that your company is creating, and can work them into their strategy.
4. Know Your SEO Stakeholders
Your appointed SEO gatekeeper must now identify all the relevant SEO stakeholders within your organization and establish processes for dealing with them. After all, the SEO gatekeeper will be responsible for ensuring that all strategy decisions are communicated to your agency, so they need to have access to decision makers and be aware of any internal developments that can affect any SEO projects that your agency is working on.
Some of these stakeholders will include:
- SEO Director: This is the stakeholder who will need to take the lead on aligning all internal efforts. They will need to ensure that SEO is involved early on and for the duration of all web projects, and will provide guidance/direction to your AOR and all local agencies.
- Execs & Upper Management: This level of decision-makers is ultimately responsible for the results of any marketing initiative, including SEO. Consequently, these stakeholders are critical for holding people account for working properly with SEO, and shouldn't let things move forward if SEO isn't involved.
- Sales, Marketing, & PR: While the sales team needs the leads generated by SEO, marketing knows that SEO will be its number one acquisition tactic. Similarly, PR is responsible for global messaging, and SEO should be a key part of that strategy.
- Usability/Design: These stakeholders will be integral for creating SEO friend users experiences for all countries/brands, and optimized information architecture for all your sites. Consequently, usability/design in each office needs to be in close contact with local and/or global SEO staff.
- IT/Dev: This layer of your organization is needed to develop multilingual, SEO friendly technologies and test every release of every site for SEO best practices. Having your SEO team closely involved in their development cycle, then, is critical.
- Editorial/Content: One reason "content is king" is because of its importance in SEO. Your content team, then, needs to adapt content production according to search trends/volumes in each country, as well as ensure that there's a steady flow of local content across all your properties.
- Legal: Your legal department will be important for developing a worldwide policy on SEO (i.e., whether you pursue certain practices). This is particularly important so that they don't become a roadblock. For example, you don't every piece of onsite or offsite content to get caught up in legal and slow your SEO momentum. So work out clear processes with them in advance.
With all the stakeholders identified, it’s important that your SEO gatekeeper has access to decision makers within your organization. Sometimes a small change in internal priorities can bottleneck an SEO projects in a big way. Your SEO gatekeeper needs to be able to communicate the opportunity costs of delaying certain SEO projects to those who can influence internal priorities.
5. Protect & Maintain SEO Momentum
As an SEO client, it’s important to understand and maintain SEO momentum. You can't put SEO on hold and then pick up where you left off a few months later.
Rankings change constantly. If your SEO initiatives get held up, your rankings will slip while your competitors’ increase.
Maintaining SEO momentum is probably where your SEO gatekeeper will play their most important role. In addition to managing internal bottlenecks (IT, legal, etc.) they should also implement procedures to address unforeseen variables.
For instance, if a key IT resource leaves your company, there should have a policy/procedure in place to assuage any potential bottleneck. Similarly, internal SEO deliverables should be planned well in advance of their deadline so that you have breathing room if a sudden internal priority arises.
Most importantly, any change in SEO service provider should be a pre-planned and measured on. After the decision to change is made, a new SEO agency should be selected before you fire your old one, and then your SEO gatekeeper should plan and manage a transition of responsibilities from one agency to the next.
Basically, you should never just fire your SEO firm without there being an alternative in place to follow current SEO projects through to the end, and having additional projects planned and scoped in advance.
Any interruption in your SEO efforts can end up setting you back months or years, and that can not only mean having to reinvest in SEO all over again, but losing the SEO equity you’ve built to date.
Managing Relationships, Rankings, and Your Bottom Line
Every business relationship is a two way street. After all, it takes two to tango. So it's important to take responsibility for your side of the relationship.
Granted, it’s tempting to think “well, I’m the client, and the customer is always right,” but that’s reckless and irresponsible – especially when future revenues are on the line.
As business goals and priorities change, make sure to keep your SEO agency (and any other marketing service provider) in the loop, because these are changes they need to know about and understand. And make sure you understand what their strategy for you is, and why they chose that route. This will help you get the most out of your investment with them, both in the short and long term.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!