Most agencies suck at client communication. Odds are, if you’ve worked with more than one SEO agency, you’ve run into this. There’s a few reasons that this happens:
1. Rigid processes that don’t help startups
Agencies put in place rigid structure and process that are designed to standardize their operational structure. Operational structure typically includes everything from: team organization, audit processes, deliverables, and research. There are over 200 different factors that go into how a website performs in SEO, and standardizing the approach helps simplify these complex and often intermingling factors. It also makes time management easier, and reduces operational costs.
But, this often results in cookie cutter deliverables that don’t help startups looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
2. Focusing on short term value and quick wins
SEO is inherently a long-game, meaning it takes at least 30 days to see statistical significance. Why? Typically SEO requires internal cooperation on the part of the client to implement SEO suggestions. Start to finish, that can take anywhere between 1-2 weeks if the client is quick (and bought in). Then Google needs to crawl the changed pages, register them in their index, then compare vs. your competitors. Google may also re-crawl competitor websites and compare vs. your new version. Once all this adds up, it can take a while.
But clients aren’t always that patient, and require faster results. This leads a lot of agencies to prioritize quick wins that may not last, leading to short-sighted strategies that ultimately don’t help the client (and startups in particular) create an online moat that is hard to displace.
3. SEO is complicated, and hard to forecast
The best business decisions are made when you can quantify and forecast accurately. The problem with SEO is forecasting is about as accurate as licking your thumb and sticking it in the air. In most channels, linear forecasting works well, but with SEO that’s not the case. With over 200 ranking factors, competitor code changes, and search engine algorithm updates occurring about every quarter, it’s hard to quantify return on investment.
So because of that, SEO agencies are tempted to take a different approach – one of tasks, not strategic impact.
4. Lacking context
A common trend amongst SEO consultants and client reps is the inability to add business context to their communication. Common things you’re likely to hear:
|What SEOs typically say||What they should say|
|“Here’s the analysis”||“Here’s the analysis we talked about last week on how we could outrank your competitor’s content.”|
|“Here are the keywords you should be writing about.”||“Here are the topics we think will have the highest impact, along with common talking points competitors bring up, and related questions you should be sure to address. Roughly XX,XXX people in the US search for these topics yearly.”|
|“Your developers need to fix these SEO issues. It’s really bad for SEO if you don’t.”||“We found XX issues when auditing your website. Here’s the background on those issues, the goal we’re trying to accomplish in fixing them, and what we believe is the most efficient way to solve the issues. In the past when this has been fixed we’ve seen XX growth in traffic (or revenue)…”|
At the end of the day, it’s not the job of the CMO or CEO of a startup to understand SEO, that’s why you hire an SEO agency. Just make sure the agency you hire:
- Provides context, not jargon you don’t understand
- Reduces complexity and narrows the scope or project to a few clear priorities
- Ties recommendations to business values (preferably revenue and traffic)
- Proactively understands (and checks in with) what your organization values