SEO is a complex industry to be involved in as you can ask 5 experts to solve a websites ranking problems and you’ll most likely get 10 different strategies. The issue is 8 out of the 10 will work and each one will have strengths and weaknesses.
So how do you appoint an agency?
Hiring a reputable agency with a strong track record is the route a lot of companies go with but that also has its weaknesses as you may get the A team in the pitch but the C team actually works on your project. Conversely hiring a small agency may mean that they simply don’t have the resource or aren’t geared up for expansion leaving you frustrated with your level of service.
Having seen a few of these scenarios lately I thought I’d write a post on a few quick checks you can make to ensure you are getting value out of your agency.
1. Brand vs. non brand
In my opinion an SEO agency is appointed to increase the levels of both non brand and brand search traffic. The issue arises in the reporting of the traffic figures. Combining them and claiming improvements is the tactic often used. The traffic from brand search is affected by all your marketing and PR activities, not just your SEO strategy. In a recent pitch I evaluated a clients’ traffic growth over the year and found that they were getting roughly 1.3 million visits a month from brand. Traffic from non-brand phrases was 1,034 after spending a great deal on the previous agencies campaign. Needless to say it was the first time they had seen the segmentation.
2. Out-dated promotional techniques
There are many fads that pass through our industry. These get sprouted as the latest quick wins and then fall out of favour just as quickly. I recently got asked about “page rank sculpting” and why we aren’t doing it as it clearly works! A quick Google search will refute many of these out-dated techniques and as long as you’re getting your information from reputable sources you’re well within your rights to question the techniques used to promote your site.
3. Traffic Tagging
This is another one that I see too often. Most of the time Google Analytics lumps paid search from traffic Bing, Yahoo and others into the organic search pot. Make sure your set your utm_source variables up from all your traffic generation activities. It’s really important to segment it all correctly so that you have accurate measurements on your SEO growth. Check your email campaigns, map listings and any display campaigns properly to measure them all accurately on the same platform.
4. Writing News Content
Writing news content is NOT SEO. There are a number of content agencies out there that go on and on about how writing thin, irrelevant, news content will help your rankings and traffic. They used to be able to back it up with out-dated web analytics software that did a particularly bad job at ignoring crawler traffic, often showing massive traffic improvements when in fact all this traffic is crawler traffic.
If you’re currently signed into one of these contracts measure the quality and quantity of traffic from the landing pages that they are creating and see what the bounce rate and average time on site is. You’ll be amazed at how little this traffic is engaging with your brand.
5. Traffic Quality
Last, but by no means least, what is the traffic generated doing on your site. Are they bouncing or engaging with your site? Is the conversion rate anywhere near the retail average for your sector? If your traffic is growing but all the usability metrics are getting worse question the quality of that traffic. A good agency will be trying their hardest to come out at a ROI model and show how much revenue is increasing due to their efforts. It is not always possible to quantify this exactly for a lead generation model but agree an attribution model with them based on lead count and average conversion rates. That will give you a good ballpark figure on how the campaign is performing.
I am sure there are many more scenarios that you could check to ensure you’re getting value from your search agency but you can check all of these in fewer than 30 minutes so it’s well worth wading in for your peace of mind!