How do we measure success?
This is a tough question to ask yourself as an SEO agency.
With a complex business model that spans multiple departments, clients, and projects, and monthly recurring revenue to set measurable goals and hold yourself accountable as an agency, this may sound like a Herculean task.
Since you need to increase the value of your customers, their goals usually come first.
However, having a fully-designed strategic process from point 0 also means improved efficiency and better strategic results – you know what to measure and how to go about it.
The OKR framework (Objectives and Key Results) is ideal here.
The management method was derived from the legacy of Management by Objectives (Peter Drucker) and fully developed at Intel in the 1970s. It has become a favorite of tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Uber for setting ambitious goals and systematically implementing them.
After all, it was John Doerr, one of the key people in shaping the Google OKR process, who said, “Ideas are simple. Execution is everything. “
To make sure your agency is running properly, whether you’re just starting out or looking to try OKRs in other ways, here are some things you need to know:
The OKR process in action
As with any good framework, there is a simple theory behind it and there is a lot to do to adapt it to your business context:
- aims represent what the company wants to achieve in a given period of time – they must be ambitious, qualitative and geared towards creating value for the company.
- Key results Show how you will achieve these goals in a specific, concrete, and measurable way – they are also trackable.
Based on Doerr’s formula “I will be measured by (key results), “Can you go ahead and start developing:
- You need to work with your executive team to set 3-5 business goals for the year and / or each quarter.
- Each department then sets 3-5 goals that are tied to the corporate goals set by the leadership team.
- The final stage is the individual 3-5 goals set between managers and their teams that contribute to each department and company goals.
- Each goal has a series of 2-5 key outcomes – which always contain numbers.
“I’ve seen that working with agencies and setting up OKRs works best when you make sure that business objectives drive OKRs,” said Michelle McCourt, PR manager at 15five. “These guide and keep people on track, but a governance structure is required to encourage people to perform at their best. If your company’s goals are to grow your customer base and be a successful partner for your customers, build your OKR structure accordingly. For example, expand the customer base by XX% or keep XX% of the customers. Then all personal OKRs can move up. “
Or, as Christina Wodtke points out in Radical Focus, you need to balance the three main ingredients:
- Set inspiring and measurable goals.
- Make sure the team is achieving the desired goals.
- Set a cadence for these goals.
Use the framework for goal and key results for your agency
Let’s dive deeper and see how agencies we spoke to are using the process.
You will see that there are several different ways it works for you, each with their different merits: treating your agency as a client and measuring it accordingly, holding your agency accountable to client OKRs, or using OKRs to Driving innovation for a specific branch of your industry forward agency business.
Treat your agency as a client and hire OKRs based on your vision
If you want to effectively define what success looks like for your agency, treat yourself as a client and set up your environment accordingly, as recommended by Aaron Dicks, General Manager of Impression Digital.
This can mean setting goals for your marketing and business development teams, with key results like increasing discovery views by 20% or deploying x No. of Discovery is calling this quarter on more focused topics like monthly agency targeted keyword performance or link building performance based on your PR efforts.
“Determine how you want to measure yourself as an agency and what success means to you, and then measure against that,” adds Impression Director. When aiming for a benchmark, your team will focus on the quality of actions and results while providing structure for your business processes.
Maybe you want to develop a specific client vertical or rank in the top 3 agency keywords in your region – whatever you want to achieve, you now have something measurable and trackable.
As Dicks adds and sets quarterly OKRs, you have enough time to make a difference, but it doesn’t directly interact with the annual strategy, leaving room for experimentation and teaching from one cycle to the next.
The OKR process ultimately promotes this – so learning from failed key outcomes and goals is critical to scaling your efforts.
It’s also something to become familiar with, as Luke Fitzgerald, founder of RightFitz, mentions: “In a scoring system of 0.1 to 1, a score of 0.3 may be fine. While it can be difficult to explain to the team at times, it means that if you meet your goals every time, you are not aiming high enough to challenge yourself. “
Measurable goals and accountability for your customer portfolio
“I will start every conversation with a customer with the question. ‘What are your goals? ‘”Jeff Lizik, CEO of Redshift, explains how he adopted the OKR methodology for the agency’s client portfolio after discovering it years earlier in a Google reference material.
Starting with the client’s business goals provides a good foundation for setting measurable goals and key outcomes while holding the team accountable. In addition, “it connects the strategy with the tactics”, adds Lizik and creates a roadmap for each customer campaign that can be measured step by step.
As an agency, they go further into the process and create OKRs based on the annual planning meetings set with their customers. These OKRs then belong to every account manager on the team.
Let’s say a customer wants to get back on track in 2021 after the pandemic. But what does that mean?
The most important results include optimizing landing page conversions, increasing leads by x% or reaching the top 3 positions for local keywords in certain product / service categories. However, you may want to set an overarching KPI for this goal and measure sales and a suitable indicator that the company is getting back on track.
Sometimes it can be difficult to formulate measurable goals in the sales phase. However, business goals can be “reverse engineered” and as an agency you can provide advice and help your clients identify the right ones for them and link your SEO performance directly.
To make sure you start with the right benchmarks, a reliable forecasting method is a way to set SEO goals that you can measure yourself against. This allows you to fully track SEO gains and business results (sessions and conversions).
Forecast module from SEOmonitor