Youâ€™re not getting the results you want from your SEO firm, but youâ€™re not sure exactly what the problem is. You just know you were expecting something more than what youâ€™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. Youâ€™re not sure if theyâ€™re hiding something and trying to get rid of you, or if thereâ€™s a legitimate reason for the push-back.
Iâ€™ve run an online marketing firm for 15 years. Iâ€™ve worked with hundreds of clients. Iâ€™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 shouldnâ€™t micromanage themâ€“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 arenâ€™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 theyâ€™re doing, and that they are working hard. Once you have this information, youâ€™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 canâ€™t explain what theyâ€™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 theyâ€™re not doing much work for you. If this is the case, you shouldnâ€™t try to manage the SEO firm yourself, you should fire them and find an SEO firm that will treat you right.
Effectively ManagingÂ TheÂ 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, itâ€™s not exactly what clients want to hear. If youâ€™re under pressure to get results from your online marketing efforts in less than 4 to 6 months, then SEO isnâ€™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 willâ€“unless you want to waste a lot of money per lead.
Itâ€™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 hasnâ€™t set good expectations for you, the only solution is toÂ do it yourself. The reality is thisâ€“ifÂ canâ€™t commit to at least 6 months of SEO, and some patience during that time, youÂ shouldnâ€™t start.
Another tidbit of information many SEO firms donâ€™t share is how much time theyâ€™re spending on your account. Without an explanation,Â 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. Letâ€™s assume in your case itâ€™s $200 per hour, and youâ€™re paying your SEO firm $4,000 per month. That means theyâ€™re spending 20 hours per month on your accountâ€“not 160. This isnâ€™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 wouldnâ€™t get better results from those 160 hours than you would from 20 hours provide by a team of experts.
But if youâ€™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 likeÂ 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 youâ€™ve just removed 25% of the most productive time your firm is spending on your account, or youâ€™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 isÂ when a clientÂ starts telling their SEO firm what to do. Some examples include:
- â€œWe need to be #1 for such and such keyword.â€ 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. Thereâ€™s a good chance that by telling theirÂ SEO firm what keywords to focus on, the clientÂ ends up with less traffic and lead flow than theyÂ could have had otherwise.
- â€œOur lead generation needs to increase by X percentage by the end of the month.â€ Setting goals can be productive. But these goals need to be couched within a long-term, realistic plan, and itâ€™s unrealistic to expect certain results within as short a time span as one month.Â SEO firms donâ€™tÂ control Google, nor how many searches people are performing for keywords relevant to what a clientÂ does, and so the best an SEO firmÂ 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 beÂ to focus on a certain percentage increase within a 12 month period.
- â€œPlease get us more links, we need more links.â€ Maybe a client needs more links, or maybe they donâ€™t. A lot of links probably wonâ€™t help a clientâ€™sÂ SEO efforts. It may hurt theirÂ efforts if a lotÂ of low quality links get built. When a clientÂ pushes for a lot of links quickly, theyâ€™reÂ putting pressure on theÂ SEO firm to take shortcuts just to make themÂ happy. The firmÂ may compromise and do what theyâ€™ve beenÂ asked them to do, even though they know they shouldnâ€™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 doesnâ€™t look like you want it to, but youâ€™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 asÂ 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 clientâ€™sÂ 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 donâ€™t want to hear. That kind of straightforward communication will help you trust the firm for the long-term. Make sure the firmÂ 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,Â youâ€™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.