Now that I’m working as a consultant, I find myself in many situations where I’m helping clients who are frustrated with the SEO firm they are working with. This is especially true of clients that ask me to audit their existing search marketing agency. I wanted to combine what I’ve learned from these interactions, with what I’ve learned in the many years of offering search engine marketing services.
I’ve decided to start a series of articles that are designed to empower and advise companies outsourcing their search engine optimization (and paid search) campaigns. I’ll cover different aspects of working with an SEO firm and provide guidance on how to get the most out of your SEO vendor of choice.
I feel somewhat like a whistleblower – the person who was once on the inside, but is now helping clients avoid getting ripped-off – but my aim is to help two target audiences. Those that are working with SEO agencies, so they don’t get taken for a ride; and those that offer search optimization services, so they’ll be able to improve their own service offerings.
In this first installment, I’ll walk you thru what to expect in terms of communication from your SEO agency and how to watch for warning-signs that it’s time to move-on.
Part 1: They Stop Talking to You.
When you start working with a search engine marketing firm, most will be forthcoming with their strategy and tactics for improving your natural search engine listings. No doubt, you would have discussed with them your needs and what you hope to achieve with the search engine optimization campaign. In return, your selected SEO firm should have outlined the steps they plan to take, in order to meet your desired goals. But what should you do, if the firm stops providing you with a clear outline of the steps they are taking on your behalf?
There is no excuse for the SEO firm you are working with, to stop providing you with regular updates on what optimization tactics they are using. If after a few months (or even weeks), your SEO firm becomes vague about the tactics they are using, or starts using wording such as “we’re following our SEO guidelines” or “we’re working to improve your current rankings”; it’s time to turn on the spotlight, shine it directly in their face, and insist on a thorough outline of what they are doing.
There are really only two reasons why a search marketing agency becomes vague about what they are doing for your company each month:
1. They’ve hit a roadblock and really don’t know precisely what else to do. This happens to a lot of SEO firms – and to a lot of SEO clients – especially after a campaign fails to improve more than it did at the outset. The hired firm, has simply run out of ideas and either cannot figure out how to get your site to the next level, or simply do not have the resources.
2. They’re really not doing any significant work on your campaign. I’ve seen a lot of SEO firms that start off great then, once the client’s been with them a few months, they take their foot off the gas. Why? Likely, they’ve moved on to helping the next new client. Even more likely, your company signed a 6-12 month agreement with them, so they know they have you locked-in to a contract. Whatever the reason, many SEO firms fail to apply the same level of intensive strategies to a client’s campaign, once they’ve been with them 2-3 months.
So what can you do to ensure you are getting the most out of the optimization firm your company hired? Here are some things to consider.
Insist on weekly or monthly outlines
When you first started your SEO campaign, you should have been given a nice document that outlined all of the great things the agency was going to do for you. Things such as keyword research, competitor analysis, content optimization, site structure and coding review, linking etc. That overview was perfectly fine as a high-level plan of what you should expect to receive over the course of the campaign. However, once you’ve been with an SEO firm for 2-3 months, you should insist on a weekly or monthly overview of what tactics will be employed next. The SEO firm should focus on the areas of weakness; they should listen to which rankings you are unhappy with; they should identify whether it’s time to look at optimizing new pages or ramping-up your linking campaign. Whatever it is your web site needs, your selected firm should spend time discussing with you the next steps it plans to take, in order to progress your SEO campaign.
Insist the company explain the methods behind the madness.
The best SEO firms should not be holding back from their clients. If your SEO firm keeps you in the dark on precisely what methods they are using, it’s time to move on. The SEO industry often gripes that it is viewed as using “smokes and mirrors”, yet I see too many SEO firms who refuse to share tactics with their clients. Agencies that are leading the way are not afraid to share their methodology with their clients. After all, they know that implementing a successful campaign takes years of experience and numerous skilled employees. Therefore, they are not scared that their clients will leave, taking their secrets with them.
You should not put up with generic statements such as “we’re further optimizing your interior pages” or “we’re working to improve rankings for keyword ‘X’ this month”. Instead, if your SEO firm is not able to clearly and succinctly describe the exact approach they intend to take over the next week, or month, you should start looking around at alternatives. Chances are, the firm you are with, is either clueless about what to do next, or not implementing anything of substance.
Make them accountable
Each month, you should take the time to sit down with your SEO firm of choice and review what was achieved over the previous month. You should absolutely hold them accountable for the work they promised they would do. Now, don’t confuse this with specific results – remember, it is virtually impossible to predict the results of an SEO campaign on a monthly timeframe – but you should make sure they’ve implemented every tactic and method they had indicated the previous month.
Unfortunately, most clients simply sit back and wait for their SEO firm to suddenly pull a rabbit out of the hat, and deliver fantastic results. That’s a recipe for disaster, as most SEO firms will assume your silence is an endorsement of the work they are doing for you. As the client, you should absolutely raise any concerns you have about the direction of your campaign and you should hold your selected firm accountable for what they said they would do. If you keep quiet, the SEO firm will be tempted to slack-off, focus its attention elsewhere and, assume you’re happy with their half-hearted efforts.
You deserve the best
There are a lot of great search marketing agencies out there. Most of them will read this article and think to themselves, “are there really SEO firms that treat customers this way”. Others are already sharpening their knives, ready to attack me for revealing their dirty secret and for making them work harder. The truth is this; optimization is no longer a cottage industry. Those that rely on keeping their clients in the dark, are a dying breed and with so many great firms out there – for all client budgets – your company simply does not need to put up with mediocre communication and results.
If you current agency matches any of the above criteria – and they refuse to change their ways – you should look to switch immediately. There are plenty of great SEO firms out there, so don’t be afraid to make a switch.