Choosing the right SEO agency can be a daunting task in itself.
Given the complexity of what a business SEO agency needs, it adds an entirely new layer that can be overwhelming.
With so many SEO agencies, how do you know which ones really know how to optimize a website with the latest google algorithms without tricks or spam?
My experience over the past 20 years has found me on both sides of the fence.
I started my career building an SEO agency from a few people and a handful of clients to more than 500 clients and more than 100 employees in less than a year.
Cut to a few years later (2006) and I’m on the other hand for classmates.com (a very large company at the time) and interviews for agencies to provide additional support.
Since then I’ve worked for Concur, Smartsheet, ADP (Managing UsedCars.com), Nordstrom, Groupon and now GitHub.
With every business organization for which I manage SEO, I bring a consultant and an agency with me (if none is already contractually bound).
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The jump from working with a small to medium-sized company to a large organization with corporate bureaucracy is not easy for anyone, especially an agency.
Partnering with a Business SEO Agency: What You Need To Know
A major factor in your corporate SEO agency’s performance is having a clear understanding of what you need it for once you’re on board.
Establishing expectations during the RFP process will not only help you separate the able from the not so capable, but will prepare you and them for long-term success.
Developing a business case and tools for SEO with your agency will help you better adapt to your needs and your future plan for your agency.
The business case will also help communicate the expectations with key stakeholders and get a buy-in.
Where can you find business SEO agencies to choose from?
Personally, I have a list of agencies that will follow me with new internal roles and I recommend agencies as advisors to clients based on their needs.
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Agencies will always say they can do everything, but from my experience I know who can do what better and I will always recommend it accordingly.
If you don’t have your list, a tweet to SEO pros or a post to a Facebook group asking for recommendations can be helpful.
If you have the time, take part in a few conferences (e.g. SMX Advanced, Pubcon, Mozcon) to put together your list.
See the booths, talk to agency speakers about the topics that focus your needs, and talk to other attendees.
Meet other enterprise-level SEO pros and ask them who they use, who they like, and why they like them.
If you plan to screen a large number of agencies for a specific need, an RFP (RFP) is required, but it is not always required.
As long as you are clear about your needs and expectations, you shouldn’t have any problems during the review process.
Allow each agency to chat with you one-to-one about your expectations and, as a second step, introduce themselves to a larger team.
Usually I want to get a list of the expectations of the other teams (in Groupon’s case we had five SEO teams as well as several divisions in the global organization to coordinate with).
This requires multiple meetings in advance, but saves time and following up on unexpected questions when it comes to the presenting agencies.
What is the difference between an SEO agency for business?
Agencies with corporate level experience usually skip the obvious fixes, understanding that there may be business reasons for them.
One example is the Nordstrom website. It’s an obvious SEO problem that anyone who goes to nordstrom.com is redirected to shop.nordstrom.com.
I’ve always said that any SEO that hasn’t addressed this doesn’t know SEO.
However, you should:
- Proceed with understanding that there might be a business reason.
- Track the impact versus the effort required to correct the problem.
- Be open to any feedback with setbacks (or explanations) that the SEO team might give during a review.
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An agency that hasn’t worked with a complex corporate-level website may not understand this:
- It’s not as easy as it seems.
- The company may not support it.
- There can be legal reasons.
- The update may not be scalable.
Corporate agencies will also understand that a larger company may have more engagement than most of their smaller clients.
Corporate SEO agencies need to be proactive as the company’s SEO team is more likely to get distracted from all the work that needs to be done.
Regular check-ins and open communication are critical to the success of the relationship. I have always worked best with agencies that have local offices and / or make frequent personal visits.
The best agency I’ve ever worked with has an SEO manager who:
- Sits in the office under contractor status with his own desk, corporate email, logins to tools and reporting.
- Attends regular meetings between technicians and industries across the company.
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In the end, it is an extension of the team that communicates regularly, proactively suggests growth strategies and fundamental fixes, and implements them to ensure the job gets done.
Manage your SEO agency
The key to managing your business SEO agency is keeping the layers of communication going.
Give them the tools and access they need to be successful and help them get involved in any job they need.
Too often I have inherited strong and capable agencies that went quiet without actually working within a few weeks or even months.
Frustrations were on both sides, nobody was to blame.
Contracts are always signed with positive optimism and a solid plan. But if communication drops and there is little to no support, the agency cannot be successful – and your SEO will fall short.
Establish expectations and a roadmap of outcomes that the agency should follow.
Be supportive where you can when they need you and liaise with other teams the agency may need to complete the promised work.
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Do at least weekly check-ins with a clear list of what they’re working on, what your team is working on, and what delivery dates are expected.
Talk to each task about where you are all at, and always finish with any recommendations they may have to keep the work flowing.
Monthly check-ins with key stakeholders always help keep everyone accountable.
Other teams can use the agency, but they also need help understanding their role in the work to be done.
I want to end each quarter with a report on completed tasks and an ROI on projects or tasks that were completed more than three months ago.
In some cases I’ve seen weekly, monthly and even daily reports, but then the agency becomes more of a reporting agency than an SEO agency and if the contract is up it won’t be renewed.
Find your sweet spot for communication and expectations, adjust it as needed, and review the contract as often as you see necessary.
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If you all work together, you will see SEO success that both sides are there for.
Selected image source: Paulo Bobita