Seo agency

Choosing the right SEO agency for business SEO

Choosing the right SEO agency can be a daunting task in itself.

Considering the complexity of a business SEO agency’s needs, this adds a whole new level that can be overwhelming.

With so many SEO agencies popping up all over the place, how do you know which ones really know how to optimize a website with Google’s latest algorithms without trickery 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 over 500 clients and over 100 employees in less than a year.

A few years later (2006) and I’m on the other side for classmates.com (at the time a very large company) and interviewing for agencies to provide additional support.

Since then, I have worked for Concur, Smartsheet, ADP (managing usedcars.com), Nordstrom, Groupon and now GitHub.

With each business organization I manage SEO for, I bring in a consultant and an agency (if there isn’t one already under contract).

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The transition from working with a small or medium-sized business to a large organization with a corporate bureaucracy is not easy for anyone, especially an agency.

Partnering with a corporate SEO agency: what you need to know

An important factor in how your business SEO agency will work for you is having a clear understanding of what you will need once it is integrated.

Setting expectations during the bidding process will not only help you distinguish the more able from the less able, but will prepare you and them for long-term success.

Writing a business case with your agency and SEO tools will help you organize yourself around your needs and your plan for the future of your agency.

The business case will also help communicate expectations to key stakeholders and gain buy-in.

Where to find corporate SEO agencies to choose from

I personally have a list of agencies following me with new roles internally and I recommend agencies as a consultant for clients based on their needs.

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Agencies will always say they can do it all but in my experience I know who can do what best and will always recommend accordingly.

If you don’t have your list, a tweet to SEO professionals or a post on a Facebook group asking for recommendations can help.

If you have time, attend a few conferences (eg SMX Advanced, Pubcon, Mozcon) to get your list together.

Browse the booths, chat with agency speakers about the topics your needs focus on, and chat with other attendees.

Get to know other business-level SEO professionals and ask them who they use, who they like, and why they like them.

If you plan to review a large number of agencies for a specific need, then a Request for Proposal (RFP) is necessary, but not always necessary.

As long as you are clear about your needs and expectations, you shouldn’t have a problem during the review process.

Allow each agency to discuss your expectations one-on-one with you and present them to a larger team as a second step.

I usually like to get a list of what other teams would expect (in the case of Groupon, we had five SEO teams plus several lines of business in the global organization that I had to coordinate with).

This requires several meetings up front but saves time and follow up on unexpected issues when it comes to presenting agencies.

What makes a corporate SEO agency different?

Agencies with enterprise-level experience will usually ignore the obvious fixes because they understand that they can be driven by business reasons.

One example is the Nordstrom website. It is a glaring 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 brought up this doesn’t know about SEO.

However, they must:

  • Continue knowing that there might be a business reason.
  • Track the impact versus the effort it would take to fix it.
  • Be open to comments with any refusals (or explanations) the SEO team might give during a review.

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An agency that has not worked with a complex enterprise-level site may not understand that:

  • It’s not as easy as it sounds.
  • The company might not take it.
  • There may be legal reasons.
  • The fix may not be scalable.

Corporate agencies will also understand that the level of engagement of a large business can be higher than that of most of their small clients.

Corporate SEO agencies need to be proactive as the corporate SEO team is more often distracted with all the work that needs to be done.

Regular check-ins and open communication are essential to the success of the relationship. I have always worked best with agencies that have local offices and / or make frequent in-person visits.

The best agency I’ve ever worked with has an SEO manager who:

  • Sitting at the desk as an entrepreneur with own desk, company email, tool logins and reports.
  • Attends regular meetings between engineering and verticals across the organization.

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Ultimately, the relationship is one of an extension of the team that communicates regularly, proactively suggests growth strategies and fundamental fixes, and follows up to make sure the job gets done.

Manage your SEO agency

The key to running your corporate SEO agency is to maintain fluid levels of communication.

Give them the tools and access they need to be successful, and help them stand up for any job they need.

Too often, I have inherited strong and capable agencies that have fallen silent with no real work done in weeks, if not months.

The frustrations were on both sides, nobody’s fault.

The contracts are always signed with positive optimism and a solid plan. But with a loss of communication and little to no support, the agency cannot be successful – and your SEO will fall short.

Establish expectations and a plan (roadmap) of deliverables for the agency to follow.

Show solidarity where you can when they need you, and follow up with other teams the agency needs to get the job done as promised.

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At least have weekly records with a clear list of what they’re working on, what your team is working on, and expected delivery dates.

Explain where you are all with each other’s tasks and always end with any recommendations they might have to make the job go smoothly.

Monthly checks with key stakeholders always help hold everyone accountable.

Other teams can use the agency, but also need help understanding their role in the work that needs to be done.

I like to end each quarter with a report on completed tasks and ROI on projects or tasks completed more than 3 months ago.

In some cases, I’ve seen weekly, monthly, and even daily reports, but then the agency becomes a reporting agency rather than an SEO agency, and when the contract is over it is not renewed.

Find your sweet spot for communication and expectations, adjust as needed and revise the contract as often as you deem necessary.

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When you all work together, you will see SEO success that both parties are there for.


Featured Image Credit: Paulo Bobita