I love search engine optimization (SEO). It works. It can provide a lot of value and I'm a strong supporter/evangelist of the practice of SEO. At the same time, sometimes I freakin’ hate my job.
Running an SEO agency, you're faced with a number of issues before you even get into the actual work involved in performing SEO. Namely, I’m speaking of the process of gaining new business and the process of hiring new talent.
Gaining New Business
Forgoing the discussions related to marketing a business, let’s just talk about what happens once you actually speak with a prospect. In many cases, these folks have been burned by a previous provider (or felt that they’ve been burned), they might have little to no understanding of the process of SEO (and hence little ability to properly manage/oversee or guide/collaborate on an effort), and may have unrealistic expectations as to when “results” (if they even know how to define “success”) may occur.
Now, this actually brings me to one part of my job that I enjoy: helping people to understand how SEO, generally, works. I try to help prospects realize if SEO would be a good investment for them and help them to understand how an effort might be able to help them to grow their business (assuming that their website can actually convert a visitor into a lead, or something of value).
But, so long as SEO relies on properties not entirely within our controls (search engines and their changing algorithms) no one can guarantee “top rankings.” That’s one good reason why you should have a paid search effort, so that you never depend 100 percent on organic search traffic.
I’ve overseen plenty of SEO efforts in my 8 years. I like to think that I'm a fairly practical person and don't overreact to algorithmic changes.
When some clients were impacted by Panda, my recommendation to them was to do nothing, at the moment.
Do you think a client wants to hear that? Of course not.
Was it sound advice? Yes.
No one wants to overreact to a change only to have Google “tweak” their algorithm and then you’re suddenly chasing your tail.
Hiring New Talent
Assuming you can get past the challenges of new business and some of the other challenges you face once you have business, let’s see what it’s like to hire talent for SEO efforts.
Here's an actual email from a candidate considering employment with my company, discussing his personal philosophy regarding SEO:
- Never be awake at 8:30am (unless still awake from the night before).
- Tracking time is a waste of time.
- Never leave the house.
- No phone calls.
- Ranking reports are a waste of time.
- Keyword research is a waste of time.
- No human interaction.
- He who has the highest IQ makes the rules.
Mind you, there are some pretty good SEOs (smart guys) who are exactly this way. So, I am NOT throwing this person under the bus and saying that they are the exception.
So, why doesn’t this work for agency life?
- 8:30am rule: You need a team of folks who work with your clients during their work hours. They might actually want to speak with the person engaged in the efforts.
- Time Tracking: Tracking time is an important measure of productivity. Ultimately, clients pay for “results,” but – as a business – they are paying for the agency’s time. An agency’s commodity is their time, so it's important for an agency to be efficient. Tracking time can help you to understand which employees might be better (quicker?) at keyword research, or other tasks. Your clients expect you to be accountable not only to results, but that you earn your paychecks, month after month after month, and want to know what you're doing to earn their check.
- Never Leave the House: This is less of a concern. I have folks working virtually. And, because we have tight process and project management (time tracking) tools, I don’t worry about where someone is working as much as I do what they are working on and whether work is being done on schedule/by deadline and delivering positive results.
- No phone calls: We certainly live in a texting society. I’m forgetting how to write, if I’m not typing. If we continue to evolve in this manner, some of us are going to forget how to carry on a normal conversation. A good brainstorming session can sometimes deliver some pretty sound, and valuable, ideas. And sometimes the clients like to speak with folks engaged in the efforts.
- Ranking Reports: I want to agree with this. But, there is some value in knowing whether you’re in the top 30/50/100/200 results, so that you can determine how much effort it might take to achieve a top ranking for a keyword (get traffic for a keyword) and if it’s even worth targeting a keyword.
- Keyword Research is a Waste of Time: Keyword research is perhaps the most fundamental, foundational component of an SEO effort. Whether you're optimizing pages of your website, images, video, blog/social efforts, or what have you, you're most likely starting with keywords that you've researched and then determining the methods/channels that you might use to try and earn some real estate in the search engines and grow some traffic.
- Human Interaction: Covered above.
- He who has the highest IQ makes the rules: Well, since I know that I’m not the smartest person at my agency, but I do own the company and am ultimately responsible for the business, that’s not gonna happen. Sometimes folks with the highest IQ have very little business sense, or lack communication/social skills. All of these things are important when running a business, and making the rules for the business.
Honestly, the hiring process for SEO is a pain in the ass.
Mind you, that’s coming from someone who knows SEO. You can only imagine what it’s like for those marketing directors or small business owners who are trying to find someone to help with SEO process.
A couple of years ago, my company established a questionnaire that we have candidates complete before arranging an interview. It’s not a horribly difficult questionnaire. But, the answers on some of these that I have received back are, at times, shocking.
Of the questionnaires that I received back in 2010, I would say that about 10 percent of the respondents had answers that passed the smell test. And, of those 10 percent, I would say that about half of them didn’t really fit into agency life.
I continue to be optimistic and bullish on the future of SEO. I really enjoy our industry and the relationships that I’ve made with others in this industry that – in any other field – you might call a “competitor,” but I call “friend.”
There are always going to be challenges in life, and there certainly are always going to be challenges in search engine optimization.