Entrusting any part of your marketing to a third-party poses some serious challenges, and hiring a search engine marketing firm is no exception. While an SEO agency can offer you a level of skill and expertise that you don’t have in-house, any miscommunication or wrong move can end up costing you rankings, revenues and profits.
Most bad experiences with search marketing firms can be avoided by being a good SEO client. Here are 5 tips to managing your SEO relationships so that you not only protect your investment and rankings, but also maximize them.
1. Educate Your SEO Agency
The first step you should take when involving any third-party in any one of your marketing initiatives is making sure that they understand (1) your business model and (2) your business goals.
Your business model might seem like a “given” or a “no brainer” to you, but that’s because you live, eat, and breath it. SEO agencies live, eat, and breathe SEO. So make sure you take the time to educate them on your revenue model and whyyou’ve chosen the strategy that you did. This will help them help you tap into the most targeted sources of organic traffic.
Similarly, make sure that they understand your business goals.There’s a huge difference between “dominating your niche” and “cornering your market”, and these are nuances that your SEO agency needs to be aware of so that they can build and pursue an SEO strategy that makes sense for your business.
For example, McDonald’s and the diner on the corner both sell cheap, greasy hamburgers, but their respective business models and goals are very different. So the kind of marketing (online and off) that they pursue will be very different.
You may also want to take the time to understand the SEO strategy that your agency pursues. There is often a “method to their madness,” and understanding that method will help you better challenge and support them.
2. Define Your SEO KPIs
Once your SEO firm understands your business model, you’ll need to work with them to define SEO KPIs that makes sense for your business goals. There are a lot of ways to evaluate SEO campaigns (rankings, traffic, conversions, etc.), and you’ll want to make sure that both you and your agency agree in advance on what blend of KPIs to work toward.
First, this will help your SEO firm devise a strategy geared toward your expectations. But it will also put you in a position to evaluate the quality of their work and measure the return on your investment with them.
3. Appoint an SEO Gatekeeper
With firm KPIs in place, it’s time to appoint an SEO gatekeeper. This person will serve two key roles.
First, they will avoid bottlenecks. By having one person responsible for all SEO initiatives, it will be easier to establish the status of any project. Basically, you’ll have one person monitoring all progress and pushing projects through on a consistent basis.
Secondly, by serving as a main point of contact for your SEO agency, they will lend campaigns cohesion. Essentially, if all SEO inquiries are directed through a single gatekeeper, both you and your SEO firm can ensure that the proverbial left hand always knows what the right hand is doing. This way, you’ll be able to establish some SEO symbiosis between projects, and get the most out of them because they’ll be support each other.
4. Identify SEO Stakeholders
Once you have an SEO gatekeeper in place, one of their first tasks should be to identify all the relevant SEO stakeholders in your business. After all, they’re the ones responsible for making sure that all business strategy and decisions are clearly communicated to your agency. So they need to be aware of any internal events that might impact any projects that your SEO agency is working on.
Execs & Upper Management: It’s at this level of your business that you find key decision-makers. These are the people guiding overall business strategy are responsible for the outcome of any marketing initiative –including SEO. So co-opting these stakeholders will be essential for holding other stakeholders account for keeping SEO projects on track and keeping things moving forward.
Sales, Marketing, & PR:The sales and marketing team(s) need the leads generated by SEO, and organic search should be their number one online acquisition channel. Similarly, the initiatives undertaken by your PR team (such as press releases) should support SEO efforts by begin keyword sensitive and linking back to key pages.
Design/Usability: This part of your company will be integral to creating users experiences and information architectures that are optimized for search. Consequently, your SEO gatekeeper should be in close contact with them at all times.
IT/Dev: Depending on how technology driven your business is, this layer of your organization will be essentially in ensuring that every release of every site respects SEO best practices. So your SEO gatekeeper should be in close contact with IT/Dev and aware of how any new releases might affect SEO.
Editorial/Content: One of the many reasons “content is king” is because of its impact on SEO. Just like PR communications need to be SEO sensitive, so does your other content production. Your content strategy should be adapted, for instance, to search trends/volumes, and ensure that you’re producing keyword sensitive content at a consistent rate across all your properties.
Legal: This is one place where many SEO (and other) initiative can be lost in limbo, so your SEO gatekeeper must ensure that the legal department does not become an roadblock. Your legal department is important for developing a global policy on SEO (i.e., whether you pursue certain practices). For instance, if every piece of onsite or offsite content gets caught up in legal vetting, it’s going to kill your SEO momentum. So your gatekeeper needs to work out clear processes with them in advance.
5. Maintain SEO Momentum
Like many marketing initiatives, SEO is something that requires building and maintaining momentum. You can’t just put things on hold for a couple months and expect to pick up where you left off. Rankings change, and while your SEO is idle, your competitors will gain rankings and displace you in the SERPs.
This is where you SEO gatekeeper becomes an integral part of your marketing team. Not only are they monitoring KPIs and avoiding internal bottlenecks (from legal, IT, etc.), but they must also devise procedures to deal with unforeseen variables. For example, if a key decision maker or IT resource leaves your company, your SEO gatekeeper should have a policy/procedure in place to address the potential bottleneck.
Similarly, if you choose to change SEO agencies, it should be a measured transition where (1) the decision to change is made, (2) the new SEO firm is selected, and then (3) your SEO gatekeeper begins the transition from one agency to the next. At no point should your agency choose to terminate an SEO relationship without there being an alternative in place. Doing so can cost you months (or even years) in SEO progress.
Managing Your Rankings and Bottom Line
All relationships are a two way street, and it’s important that you take complete responsibility for the factors in a relationship that you can control. It’s tempting to think “for what I’m paying them, they better have a magic wand that they can wave and fix everything with,” but it’s irresponsible and reckless to put that thinking into practice.
You have certain business goals, and priorities always change. Many of those goals and change are directly relevant to your SEO firm (and any other agency you work with), so it’s important that they are kept in the loop. Doing so will help you get the most out your relationship and investment with them.