- Choose your services carefully
- Don't go out of your way with every potential customer to win the contract
- Don't write consistent, massive results
- Look out for the "Not-Invented-Here" syndrome
- Balance work in business vs. in business
- Performance-based offers are difficult
- Think carefully before signing exclusivity agreements
- To the success of your agency!
Before co-founding my current company, I headed the SEO team at a digital marketing agency that cares for SMB clients for six years.
I had no experience in managing a department, let alone in a company.
Of course, I've made a lot of rookie mistakes.
In this article, you'll find the top seven things I learned about running SEO in an agency – things I wish someone had told me back then.
1. Choose your services carefully
We positioned ourselves as a full-service digital marketing agency, but in retrospect we weren't.
By far not.
We didn't have enough experience or staff to be great at anything.
And even if we had all of that, I firmly believe (now) that you need to choose your niche carefully and get really great There.
Read on below
So we weren't a full-service digital marketing agency. In all honesty, we weren't able to use the full spectrum of SEO services either.
We did wonderfully on technical SEO, keyword research, and strategy, but we lacked content creation, link building, and digital PR.
As a result, sometimes our recommendations did not reach their full potential in implementation just because the content wasn't big enough and the supporting links weren't there.
This not only had a negative effect on the general perception of our SEO work, but also had an impact on the web design and the other services we offer.
Interestingly, the customers who absolutely killed it were content-oriented and PR savvy themselves.
In a symbiotic relationship, we created great content together while gaining links and PR – all on a solid technical basis.
The lesson: We shouldn't have offered any content creation, link building or digital PR. These weren't our strong suits. We should have worked with real specialists in these areas instead.
Read on below
2. Do not go out of your way to win the contract with every potential customer
Unless you have a massive sales team and you want a corporate contract where you have to go all out, you are not investing too much time in each prospect to win their contract.
Prospects often want you to do a lot of unpaid research before they possibly sign. Unfortunately, sometimes they're really just looking for free ideas.
This has been happening throughout the consulting industry for decades.
I know it's a shock that this has happened in search engine optimization too. What can I say? I was young and naive then.
First we all went out and wrote a detailed proposal for each prospect. But the ROI for that was too low.
Sure, we've won contracts – but we've also lost a lot.
Sometimes we got a resounding “no”, but sometimes we were completely spooky and knew that the view was probably just gone with our ideas.
Over the years we have refined our lead scoring process and made sure the prospect is informed of the baseball prizes early on.
We used case studies that described what we did, how we did it, and what we achieved for other clients.
And when we picked up positive signals, we gave a rough but tailored overview of what the prospect could expect from us.
If we were still good, we would describe it in a formal proposal.
When we got there at that point, we knew we had an 80-90% chance of winning the contract.
If the prospect wants more ideas and research from us during the sales process, they need to sign.
If they couldn't commit to the whole package right away, we'd start with something small to give them an idea of what it's like to work with us and take it over from there.
The lesson: If you run out of sales resources, be careful how much time you spend attracting prospects. Create an efficient sales process that works for you and results in a healthy ROI when you invest in winning contracts.
Read on below
3. Don't write consistent, massive results
Massive results often go unread – and their recommendations are not implemented. Who you are writing the results for should be your first consideration.
If it's a small business owner, do they need to understand your 40-page SEO technical audit? No of course not.
When making recommendations for a developer, do they need to understand the full content strategy that you have put together? Probably not.
Give them some background information, followed by any recommendations that are relevant to them theyB. how the internal link structure can be improved.
Write your results with the people who will need to respond to them in mind.
If they have different roles, write different results. Keep it short; Mainly state the gist, but give them the opportunity to delve further and learn more about the “why” of the recommendation.
And of course, each outcome should include a prioritized summary of what needs to be done, accompanied by the investment required and the expected impact.
Read on below
If you'd like to dig deeper, check out Areej AbuAli's article on the subject.
The lesson: Write all of your results with an outside-in approach, remembering that less is more. To do this, enable those who want to dig deeper, but make this optional.
4. Watch out for the "Not-Invented-Here" syndrome
As an SEO expert, it is important that you keep trying new things – in order to develop tools yourself, to improve yourself and to improve your processes.
However, be aware of the "not invented here" syndrome and don't avoid doing things that you didn't create yourself.
This applies to research and processes as well as to tools.
Be open to saying goodbye to the things you created when a better alternative emerges. This can be as small as restoring your keyword research process when a new team member joins, or as big as removing a custom CMS.
We saw this several times when working with our customers' development partners. They held onto old technology that they had built themselves when there were much better alternatives at a lower price.
Read on below
What they thought was that their strong suit was their kryptonite.
The lesson: Don't hold onto something when you know there is a better alternative. Don't get too infected. Always be ready to move on. Keep an eye on the price: they offer the best possible service.
5. Balance between work in business and in business
Life in the agency is busy, chaotic and exciting. It's dangerously easy to get distracted.
I've always planned my week properly, but rarely done the essentials.
It is difficult to focus strictly on your planning when a potential dream customer calls you and wants you to consult about their SEO strategy. Or when a major customer suddenly terminates a contract.
Sometimes I didn't have a good balance between working in business and working in business.
I was the head of SEO and our relatively small team focused on me further improving and refining the SEO services we offer. In that role, I had to spend enough time in business or the SEO department would go downhill.
Read on below
Things got a lot better when I hired an experienced SEO. That brought my balance back.
The lesson: Think carefully about how you spend your time as an agency owner or team leader. Don't let the business side suffer while you keep your SEO offerings updated.
6. Performance-based offers are difficult
Potential customers often asked us if we were open to performance-based business. We often refused, but when we said yes we came across some who barely made us money.
Performance-based business is difficult because you need to determine which KPIs will drive your performance.
Are they all leads or are they qualified leads or sales?
What are you getting paid in this first phase of investing and building organic traffic but getting few results?
What if your client's company is sold?
What if they want to stop working with you, or vice versa?
Performance deals can feel like a complicated marriage that can easily go wrong.
Read on below
On top of that, these performance-related requests are sometimes a sign of tough business – or even the last gasp before they go down.
You don't want to go down with them.
Perhaps the coworkers I spoke to about these type of deals haven't figured out the right way to do performance-based deals. What I can tell you, however, is that they are sure to be slippery.
The lesson: Discuss every aspect of these deals with your prospective partner. Talk about what makes a successful partnership and what doesn't.
7. Think carefully before signing exclusivity agreements
Customers can ask you to sign exclusivity agreements that will prevent you from doing business with other similar companies.
They don't want their competitors to benefit from what you have learned by working for them.
That always made sense to me, but remember:
- If you agree to this, you may lose your competitors' business.
- You have to charge enough for the exclusivity to be worth it.
Read on below
We have exclusivity agreements with several customers and most of them have been extremely successful.
Nevertheless, in most cases the exclusivity agreement cost us much more sales in the long term than in the short term.
Customer competitors and companies in adjacent niches (which were also excluded) saw this success and turned to us.
However, we couldn't work for them.
There were times when a customer spent 50,000 a year on us, but we turned away 200,000 a year in sales.
We went so far as to sign this client that we didn't think enough about making sure that exclusivity continues to make sense to us as the client hasn't increased their budget.
In another case, a customer's order value is actual decreased while receiving a large number of inquiries from competitors and companies in related niches.
When this happened, I knew we hadn't thought this through.
Signing the exclusivity agreement was a massive commitment on our part, and we should have asked them to make a significant and comparable commitment.
Read on below
We should also have negotiated shorter exclusivity periods and stipulated that they would lose exclusivity if their commitment waned.
The lesson: If a customer wants to sign an exclusivity agreement with you, don't be fooled by the short-term reward. Think about the downsides for you and make sure the exclusivity agreement leaves room to address them.
To the success of your agency!
We all start somewhere and learn many difficult lessons in the process.
Hopefully, these seven lessons will help you avoid repeating the same mistakes.
At the very least, they'll make you think twice before signing that performance-based deal or exclusivity content.
To your success!