Can you believe we’re at the start of a new year once again?
For many, the past few weeks have been spent enjoying mince pies, turkey and perhaps a few festive tipples.
With the celebrations well and truly behind us for another 12 months, however, it’s time to get back to business and finalise your marketing strategy for the coming year.
How Is Your SEO Agency Performing?
SEO remains a vital part of almost any business’ digital marketing mix and it’s still commonplace for most to outsource this to a specialist SEO agency. Why? It’s typically a better solution than recruiting an in house team for a multitude of reasons including:
- You’ll get access to a whole team of experts from across different areas of SEO.
- Your business will benefit from cross-sector insight and expertise.
- It’s easier to scale agency resources than in-house ones.
- You’ll usually not be expected to foot the bill yourselves for costly tools and software as the agency will be utilising these across their client base.
But; outsourcing SEO doesn’t come without its problems.
There’s still too many agencies who ‘do SEO’ without really being qualified to do so. Those who aren’t really experts in the field but those from other backgrounds who don’t understand how complex it can be to rank a site on the first page of the SERPS.
From web designers and developers who think that there’s little more to SEO than filling out the fields in Yoast to those who remember pre-Penguin SEO days and who have failed to evolve their practices.
The bottom line; SEO is tough.
It’s not some dark art as some might believe. Neither are any approaches guaranteed to deliver results. BUT, when approached in the right way, it’s a powerful strategy to drive cost-effective conversions for a business.
The start of a new year is the perfect time to audit your currency SEO agency, ensuring you’re working with the right partner for the growth you want to achieve over the next 12 months.
A 5 Step Framework To Audit Your SEO Agency
Here’s a simple, but effective, 5 step framework which you can use to audit your current agency and reassure yourself that you’re geared up to smash last year’s KPIs.
1. What Was Your Organic Year on Year Growth Like Last Year?
Log in to your Google Analytics dashboard and pull up the data for the whole of 2017.
Here, you’ll be able to quickly and effectively see the performance across the 12 month period at a glance whilst being able to make easy comparisons to the year before.
Head to the channels report (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels) and you’ll see something similar to the below:
Click into ‘Organic Search’ to filter the data to show only that which was driven organically; essentially that which your SEO agency are responsible for.
Compare the date range to the previous annual period here:
And you should now be able to see a clear Year on Year comparison.
How does it look? Have you seen strong growth? Is there a clear progression in line with that which was projected by the agency?
What counts as ‘strong growth’ is subjective; however hopefully you’ll at least have even some basic projections to compare against. For some businesses strong growth may be 20%, for others 100% or for some, even 5%. It all comes down to the specifics of the business and the market positioning which you started the year with.
What you really don’t want to see here, however, is mostly negative figures. If you do, this should immediately set alarm bells ringing.
Look individually at metrics including sessions, unique visitors, number of conversions and revenue (if an eCommerce store; if not, hopefully you’ve assigned a value per lead).
What’s your gut feeling here? Are the stats you see exciting? Satisfactory or frankly embarrassing?
If the latter; you need to ask the agency for an explanation. There might be one; there may not.
2. How Transparent Is Your Current Agency?
Ask yourself whether you could explain to someone else in the business, someone who’s never been involved in working with the agency on the campaign, exactly what it is that they’re doing each month for your investment.
By this we don’t just mean ‘doing SEO.’
Across any given period, lets say 3 months, what specifically is the agency working on?
If you draw a blank; that’s never a good sign.
As a client, you should be educated at all stages as to what activity is being carried out and why. Fingers crossed this has been presented either within monthly reports or as a quarterly strategy document.
Whether or not you fully understand it is a different matter, but you should at least be able to outline an overview as to the account activity.
Transparency is the key to building a successful relationship between agency and client yet its still something which so many get wrong.
As an agency; a client is one of the most useful resources you have available. They’re the industry experts and can be a goldmine of content ideas, for a start.
On the other hand, as a client, you want to feel that your agency value your input and opinion. Whether that’s discussing with you the most profitable areas of the business on a regular basis, asking for your insight to use within content and link building campaigns or continually making suggestions to improve conversion rates and engagement.
The more each party knows about each other, the better.
3. What’s Their Plan For 2018?
Do you know what activities your agency has planned for 2018? Have you discussed your goals?
Whilst this may not typically be done until the New Year itself, it’s important to at least know there’s a plan of action being put together.
The plan, in most cases, should come as a result of an end-of-year SEO review; analysing and discussing what worked last year (and what didn’t) as well as the financial performance of the campaign.
If you’re not yet sure what the 2018 plans are; ask!
Again, transparency is the key to successful agency and client relationships and the more you know about what is being done the more you can do to assist.
As an example; if you’re needed to comment on certain topics for content, when is that needed? Giving all parties plenty of time ensures a much better outcome and is something which can be planned for in advance.
If there’s no mentions of plans for the year, or the agency are reluctant to discuss this with you, you need to determine why. Do they have a strategy or are they just working month to month and hoping for the best?
4. What Metrics Are The Agency Reporting Upon?
When it comes to receiving monthly SEO reports; you need to know that the agency are reporting on the metrics that matter most to you as a business and what’s important to one isn’t necessarily to another.
Pull up a few recent reports and take the time to really look at them in detail. What metrics are being reported upon?
Traditionally, SEO agencies would simply reports upon the likes of:
- Search engine ranking positions
Times have changed, however, and clients are now wanting a much more integrated approach to reporting, one which actually gives the detail to determine the financial returns from a campaign.
As a baseline; you should typically expect to see a report which details:
- Search engine ranking positions
- Revenue / Leads generated
- Conversion rates
- Year on Year growth (across all metrics)
- A summary of activity carried out during the period
- Plans for the forthcoming month
Of course, businesses have different requirements and, hopefully, the report you receive has been put together based around a discussion as to the metrics which mean something to you as a client.
If you’re still just receiving a report which details ranking positions and traffic, perhaps it’s time to put on the pressure for the agency to showcase the value they’re bringing to your business?
5. What Return On Investment Are The Agency Delivering?
The bottom line across any campaign is what return on investment is being delivered?
This is something which they should be demonstrating to you, however you need to be able to set a benchmark over a certain period.
Of course, SEO takes time to deliver results and returns are unlikely to be seen immediately, however once a campaign is established you need to have the evidence that the agency is returning a profit beyond their fee from the sales generated.
It’s typically easier to calculate for an eCommerce store, however when they’re working on lead generation, it’s important that you’re still tracking which of these convert and which drop off. From there, it’s a case of working with the agency to understand whether the targeting is right and whether the traffic is delivering quality leads. If not, perhaps it’s a time to rethink the strategy?
If you’re geared up for growth in 2018, there’s never been a better time to audit all of your marketing activities, refine your plan of action and assure yourself that you’re working with the right partners.
If you feel you’re not, there’s still 12 months of the year left to work with an agency who can support you in your goals and drive the growth you’re looking for.