The Case for Specialisations

The Case for Specialisations

17th April 2012

In many of the SEO consultancies I’ve worked alongside, little silos are appearing. One person or team does the link building. One does the onsite. One does the editorial. And some poor soul gets to write the monthly report.

This reflects what happened with some PR consultancies years ago – someone doing the ‘telesales’ to journalists, someone doing the writing. Many who took that approach didn’t last long – the focus moves away from creating rounded ‘consultants’ organised around clients’ needs for someone who understands their business and market, and a single point of contact.

With Google starting to focus on the ‘who’ as well as the ‘what’ of online content, with author credence beginning to matter, has SEO matured to a level where SEO consultancies are beginning to specialise around industry specialisms?

In any other marketing sector, as a client I would look for a specialist in my field – someone who understands the nuances of my industry. For the moment SEOs are claiming experience in e-commerce or business to business. I contend that SEO should be going further and segmenting its offering, particularly at an agency level.

Look at where PR consultancies are now – some specialise in pharma, some in travel, others in tech, whilst some are the ‘go to’ specialist in auto. Sure, many have more than one specialisation, but the ones who earn top dollar are the ones who have a niche in a field or a dedicated industry team. And it makes even more sense for SEO than for PR.

As a PR consultant, I learn quickly which are the high value sites in my sector, I learn to understand the nuances of those sites, the stories that a blogger or journalist will – and won’t – want. If I have just one client in that field, my only contact with those sites is from the perspective of a single client. If I have several I start, naturally, to build better relationships, even becoming the ‘go to’ person in my field.

If I constantly provide cracking stories to a writer, they’ll want to use as much as they can to keep their relationship with me warm – I am useful to them. If, however, I have only one client in a field, I approach that writer less often, and I’m expendable and forgettable. If I approach them too regularly with stories from a single client they are likely to specifically exclude a story from me simply to avoid appearing to have a bias toward that company.

This relationship can be the difference between placing a good enough story easily and the need to excel constantly in order to gain ‘coverage’ (the story with the link in it) – something that’s hard to do with a story about a bathroom suite or accountancy service without a lot of hard work and planning.

If I become a specialist in, say, house and home, my target sites are narrower, but I know them better. When clients come along, I’m already ahead of the game in terms of placing good quality content with links back. I don’t have to spend client time researching the targets – I know them already and have solid relationships built.

I also begin to understand what differentiates clients, and am therefore more easily able to identify stories that won’t just create a link but drive some keener custom to their door.


From the client’s perspective, it creates a dilemma. Where does the agencies loyalty lie, with me or my competitor? To them I’d say: the benefits way outweigh the risks. Most agencies already operate using ‘Chinese Walls’ somewhere along the line, most will have complementary rather than competing clients, and just think of the experience and expertise that’s building.

The further advantage for the client of an industry specific specialist team is their ability to create their own media properties. If I operate in a single field, my own blog becomes a specialist property: taking the example above, I can constantly create content on House and Home. Provided all other things are equal, my House and Home blog starts to look rather sexy to both search engines and to human readers.

As an agency this is a potent new business tool, underpinning the chances of a campaign’s success. I get to know the editors. I get to know client’s PR companies working in the field that may refer new business to me. I start developing an expertise so relevant that it becomes hard for clients to look at anyone else.

From a client perspective, I can say, hand on heart, that it would be great, just once, for an SEO company to be coming back to me with high quality suggestions for our SEO programmes based on knowledge of my client’s industry rather than  suggestions based on success achieved with a company completely unrelated to mine and probably irrelevant. Even if I can get my link on highly ranking travel site, it’s of no relevance to the site’s readership if I’m selling office paper. Google may love it, but there’s no value add. The same link placed on an office stationery site is far more likely to drive customers, and ultimately that’s what clients want from SEOs. There’s a tendency to forget that’s what they’re really paying us for – NOT to be top dog on Google.

Whilst good solid onsite practise is generic, everything you do to build site reputation isn’t, and basing your SEO activity and client recommendations on industry knowledge will beat basing your suggestions on internal structure every time, as well as offering your SEO teams a more varied and interesting role.


Written By
Claire Thompson has has 15 years PR experience and runs Waves PR, which she founded. She has great taste in wine and lousy taste in music. The two are not unconnected!
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