Why You Should Never Micromanage Your SEO Firm

You’re not getting the results you want from your SEO firm, but you’re not sure exactly what the problem is. You just know you were expecting something more than what you’re getting. You even wonder if it might be you, and not the SEO firm, but whenever you try to help and do more to get things moving faster, your SEO firm pushes back. Sometimes they even seem a bit annoyed. You’re not sure if they’re hiding something and trying to get rid of you, or if there’s a legitimate reason for the push-back.

I’ve run an online marketing firm for 15 years. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients. I’m going to give you the straight story on why clients sometimes try to micromanage their SEO firms, and why you never should. It comes down to this, either; 1) you are micromanaging your SEO firm and getting in the way of them producing results for you, or 2) they are hiding something and you shouldn’t micromanage them–you should fire them.



How to Know if Your SEO Firm is Hiding Something

Ask them. But ask them tactfully. If your tone is accusatory, then you run the risk of damaging the relationship. They might be doing a great job on everything, but perhaps they aren’t communicating as well as they could. If this is the case, a one-time request should give you enough information to see that your firm knows what they’re doing, and that they are working hard. Once you have this information, you’ll get the best results from your SEO firm by trusting them and letting them do their work.

But if you ask for information and get the run around, or your SEO firm can’t explain what they’re doing with specific detail, or you see a sudden flurry of activity and a then an explanation 2 to 3 days later, then your SEO firm might be hiding the fact they’re not doing much work for you. If this is the case, you shouldn’t try to manage the SEO firm yourself, you should fire them and find an SEO firm that will treat you right.

Effectively Managing The Relationship With Your SEO Firm

SEO is a long-term marketing strategy. Results rarely, if ever, come quickly, but not all SEO firms communicate this well during the sales process. After all, it’s not exactly what clients want to hear. If you’re under pressure to get results from your online marketing efforts in less than 4 to 6 months, then SEO isn’t the right fit for you. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising would be a better fit. But even PPC is not simply a water faucet of lead flow that can be turned on and off at will–unless you want to waste a lot of money per lead.

It’s easy to start an SEO campaign with unrealistic expectations for how long it will take to start generating results, and how large those results will be. If your SEO firm hasn’t set good expectations for you, the only solution is to do it yourself. The reality is this–if can’t commit to at least 6 months of SEO, and some patience during that time, you shouldn’t start.

Another tidbit of information many SEO firms don’t share is how much time they’re spending on your account. Without an explanation, many clients come to the table with a subconscious assumption that at least one person is working full time on their campaign. But most of the firms I know charge something between $100 to $200 per hour. Let’s assume in your case it’s $200 per hour, and you’re paying your SEO firm $4,000 per month. That means they’re spending 20 hours per month on your account–not 160. This isn’t a bad thing. The reason you are hiring a firm is because they get certain results, not because of how much time they spend getting those results. Sure, you could hire one entry-level SEO employee for $4,000 per month and get a lot more hours, but you probably wouldn’t get better results from those 160 hours than you would from 20 hours provide by a team of experts.

But if you’re only buying 20 hours per month from your firm, then that time is precious. It takes your firm a few hours to put together a full report, which is part of the reason most firms only do this monthly (another reason is that when it comes to SEO related metrics, weekly fluctuations are largely meaningless). Another hour or two may be spent on project management activities like assigning tasks to different team members and communicating with them. That leaves perhaps 15 hours for the work to be done that will directly produce results. If you decide you want a weekly update, and you ask your SEO firm for a phone call every week, either you’ve just removed 25% of the most productive time your firm is spending on your account, or you’re asking your SEO firm to spend more time on your account, which cuts into their profits. Either way, your SEO firm is going to want to push back.

But where I see the largest problems in client/SEO firm relationships is when a client starts telling their SEO firm what to do. Some examples include:

  1. “We need to be #1 for such and such keyword.” When a client says this, they assume they know better than their SEO firm which keywords will generate the best results. But keyword strategy is a bit more complex than choosing a few of the most obvious keywords and ranking well for them. There’s a good chance that by telling their SEO firm what keywords to focus on, the client ends up with less traffic and lead flow than they could have had otherwise.
  2. “Our lead generation needs to increase by X percentage by the end of the month.” Setting goals can be productive. But these goals need to be couched within a long-term, realistic plan, and it’s unrealistic to expect certain results within as short a time span as one month. SEO firms don’t control Google, nor how many searches people are performing for keywords relevant to what a client does, and so the best an SEO firm can do is follow best practices, innovate where possible, and then wait and hope for the best. No matter how much experience a firm has, SEO is a process of trial and error. A better goal would be to focus on a certain percentage increase within a 12 month period.
  3. “Please get us more links, we need more links.” Maybe a client needs more links, or maybe they don’t. A lot of links probably won’t help a client’s SEO efforts. It may hurt their efforts if a lot of low quality links get built. When a client pushes for a lot of links quickly, they’re putting pressure on the SEO firm to take shortcuts just to make them happy. The firm may compromise and do what they’ve been asked them to do, even though they know they shouldn’t, but in the end that means nobody will be happy.

The real key is to stay above such details. When starting work with an SEO firm, choose a small number of key metrics to measure the success of the campaign. Those metrics should not include the number of links built, rankings, or traffic. These are secondary metrics. Primary metrics include sales, leads, downloads, and signups.

Once you and the SEO firm are clear about the metric by which you will measure success, focus on that metric and only that metric. Set goals that include specific deadlines. When that metric doesn’t look like you want it to, but you’re not yet at a deadline, resist the temptation to dive into the details or try to fix things. Wait for the deadline. All sorts of digital marketing campaigns from SEO to PPC and content marketing to conversion optimization have ups and downs as firms go through that process of trial and error, as well as due to factors like search engine algorithm updates, the activities of competitors, and time.

Many SEO firms do a great job doing SEO, but not such a great job communicating. This can make clients feel uneasy about whether or not work is getting done. A lot of SEO firms also neglect to set realistic expectations with clients during the sales process, for fear that by painting a less rosy picture than a competitor, they might lose that client’s business. If you want to get the most from your SEO efforts, look for a firm that is frank with you, perhaps even telling you things you don’t want to hear. That kind of straightforward communication will help you trust the firm for the long-term. Make sure the firm sets realistic goals with you that are focused on the metrics that matter. And then be patient and let the firm get the work done. If you hire the right kind of firm and follow these simple tips, you’ll have a long and fruitful relationship.

Joshua Steimle is the CEO of MWI, a digital marketing agency with offices in the U.S. and Hong Kong.

Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshsteimle/2015/03/13/why-you-should-never-micromanage-your-seo-firm/

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