The Large Agency SEO Client – How Does this Beast Differ?

When I started this column, I promised an inside view into the SEO life in an agency. Since then, I hope to have shattered some myths about the abilities of large agencies to perform search engine optimization in a manner consistent in skill level, determination, and customer service quality with any specialized SEM or consultant. SEO is an ongoing process, as with many of the other projects we handle as an interactive agency. Our teams are all essentially clients of other offices and groups within the organization, serving a common goal: the agency client.

This week, I will dive a little deeper into my observations regarding SEO interactions with Fortune 500 clients. Naturally, I will not mention anyone by name, although many will likely wish I had been able to. In short, the reason companies are in the Fortune 500 is because they hire and retain excellent employees. The marketing arms of these organizations are often very talented, and easily able to discern between value and hype.

Fields of Raw Data – Vendor and the Client Meeting on Equal Ground

Internet marketing data is extremely granular, especially when properly tracked and measured. Most large clients have access to at least one major analytics tool such as Omniture, Webtrends, or WebSideStory (now Visual Sciences). The unfortunate trend that I have noticed is that many of these organizations do not have this powerful software properly configured, even at the most basic levels, such as discerning between paid and organic search visits. The industry is noticing this, and the market for analytics consulting is growing, especially if the background of the consultant includes holistic search and Internet marketing analysis.

Once configuration issues are put aside, however, the Fortune 500 client is often very adept at interpreting analysis properly, and can provide very important insight which will help to tweak ongoing search efforts. Understanding the difference in return between paid search, organic SEO efforts, and feed methods such as paid inclusion and vertical shopping directory placement gives analysts and decision makers “actionable analytics”. This kind of action-driving data is not limited only to search metrics, however. Tracking additional online behavior and meshing it with this data can also prove to be extremely valuable, and this is something that many savvy marketers choose to do regularly.

Following on-page behavior such as mouse movements or click interactions, measuring interaction with Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) (yes, a related, and apologetically self-promotional link), and monitoring the sales life cycle and conversion patterns all blend in nicely with search data, and help drive future page/content creative. This also allows the SEO client to include his or her experience with other brand marketing initiatives, further integrating the overall marketing plan.

Clients and SEO Recommendations – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Coming up with plans of attack, especially for ongoing SEO recommendations or for paid search marketing campaigns is something that is very data driven, and agency/client relationships can really blossom during this period. One of the more difficult times during the relationship, however, is when clients have problems implementing SEO recommendations, or when they simply choose not to implement some or even all of them. Although some say that the basics of SEO will never change – and I agree with that – many advanced recommendations are apt to become less valuable if the changes are not implemented within at least a few months.

“The Ugly” are when recommendations that are very basic do not make it through the final approval and live onto the websites. There are brands that are suffering because of this, and display hideous or at the minimum non-compelling Titles and descriptions in search results. I will not call out any such listings, although plenty of those reading this article have seen them. For example, the title showing is often along the lines of “ – Home”, or worse even Product SKU #, and the description is pulled from the only visible text on the page: from the footer links at the bottom.

“The Bad” are when recommendations are partially implemented, but the “wrong combinations” are chosen. For example, perhaps the Page Title change is effected, but the URL rewrite is omitted. Having the keyword in both the title and the URL, in this particular instance, would almost ensure a #1 ranking for the term, but only one of the two did not help. Other mismatched choices include adding navigational links to other pages, and then not labeling the other page header or title with the keyword used in the anchor text.

The bottom line is that if only a certain number of recommendations are going to make the cut, the SEO should again be consulted as to which combination would help the most. When a large organization is dealing with a large agency, or multiple agencies for creative and SEO, this can prove to be more difficult.

“The Good” make up the majority of the SEO clients I have interacted with. These are clients that will implement recommendations at a fairly rapid pace, and allow for ongoing SEO work to have more meaning. Again, the reason for this happening is due to the strength of the clients that we are dealing with.

When the question, “What in your opinion, is the major reason for the lack of implementation of many SEO recommendations delivered to clients?” was posed to Ray Rosti, a Senior Account Manager for SEO, painted a very accurate description:

“SEO is like a gym membership. You sign up with the best intentions, but if you don’t properly plan to take advantage of the service, it becomes an embarrassing waste of money. Typically, what I have found is it comes down to a lack of communication between Marketing and their Web Development department. For many clients, web development is a shared resource between multiple divisions. When this is the case, clients typically have to slot SEO recommendations into a schedule and wait for their turn. Ideally, if clients could prepare their teams so that recommendations could be pushed to the top of the priority list they could see results sooner.”

The Uber Cool and Current Client – Defined

The SEO industry is currently undergoing a dramatic change, which is primarily being client-driven. As large organizations are beginning to understand the need for organic SEO, they are driving towards hiring marketers that have experience in the field. This could not be a better circumstance for SEO specialists, consultants, and agencies, in my opinion.

In the past, many hours have been spent by SEOs which needed to explain and re-explain simple tactics and recommendations. As organizations hire in-house people to perform SEO, many of them are also using these people to manage relationships with outsourced specialists. This includes a plethora of SEO-related specialty options from less-than-exact-match usability experts to pure link builders. When the organization has someone in-house that can handle this kind of relationship, the process becomes much smoother, and far less resources are consumed on both the part of the client and the vendor.

So the uber cool client? Someone like a particular Fortune 100 company we work for that has dozens of brands. They have an actual hierarchy of Search Specialists, many of which read newsletters/blogs like our SMTrends or Search Engine Watch on a weekly/daily basis. Their top person is someone who could be considered for any Board of Directors or Advisors of any association in the marketing space. Their next level includes a variety of talented individuals; responsible for the search marketing efforts of each of the brands, and their support and implementation (we hope) staff also has a basic understanding of the reasons behind doing what we do.

The uber client is already there, and many other Fortune 500 companies are probably staffed or heading towards staffing in this manner. Since there is a shortage of qualified individuals in the search space, education programs such as the Search Engine Strategies conferences put on by Incisive Media and distance learning certifications such as the SEMPO Institute are helping to educate more and more young marketers. One thing to remember, however, when hiring either an in-house or agency SEO specialist: traditional marketing education is a plus, if not a must.

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