Do You Need Your SEO Agency?
I know what you’re thinking. Outrageous, of course I need an SEO agency. How else am I going to do all the Optimising of the Search Engines?
It might be a controversial question, but with the rise of advanced analytics, a focus on vanity metrics by smaller companies and the impending move by large agencies from a performance to a consultancy-based model, is now the time to ask it?
What is the main goal of an SEO agency? This really depends on which one you’re talking to. The answer can be any of the following:
- To improve your rankings and traffic from organic search (the classic).
- To take control of your content strategy.
- To integrate your marketing with a single channel that influences all the others through content creation (a fancy way of saying “do your content strategy”).
Other answers include to build links (no!) or to get you to number one (please, no!).
The unspoken truth is, you don’t really need an SEO agency to succeed. An understanding of your own data and a good development team can normally get better results.
And what’s more, you can see those results yourself. Without that awkward monthly status call that always feels vaguely the same.
So, I unbiasedly interviewed myself, to ask some of the key questions I know you’re dying to hear the answers to:
Is SEO Dead?
Stop it. No, SEO isn’t dead. It won’t die while people still use Search Engines. However, what an SEO agency does on a day to day basis has been severely limited in recent years.
Why? The reality is Google has truly got much smarter. Its machine learning algorithm, RankBrain, has really taken the idea of “beating Google” out of the equation. It is a constantly improving approach, providing better search results by promoting pages that follow best practice and have good engagement rates. Better for the user, better for Google.
RankBrain is a major step forward in the careful balancing act Google has been DOING for years, between getting people to click on adverts and keeping people using their search engine by providing quality results. This activity is now automated and teaching itself all the time.
OK, I’ve relaxed a bit now. Why has this limited what SEO agencies can do then?
Well, one key thing is that major Google updates will start to be phased out completely.
I worked in SEO during the fun old days of Panda and Penguin. SEO people were Kings and Queens of the digital marketing world because we had the answers.
But this just won’t happen much anymore. An algorithm that teaches itself to show a different set of results for the same query, on an almost individual basis, will only make small changes on the fly.
Nowadays, the two things that SEO companies can advise on are the same two things that they very rarely have the resource to implement themselves. Best practice on-site changes are better suited to a development team and good engagement rates can be measured and improved by a product team.
Although they all have their own approaches, the reality is all SEO agencies are attempting to do one thing for you:
Drive people to your site from organic search results.
And their process generally has three core elements:
- Auditing and making SEO best practice recommendations
- Creating content and some form of outreach
- Monitoring their KPIs
I don’t want to throw all agencies into the same bucket, because some really are much better than others, but it’s true that most rely on these areas to fuel their retainers with clients.
But that’s good! I need somebody to audit my site!
You know what, you’re right. If you don’t know what the best practice approach is, then you need help from somebody with that expertise. But do you need an SEO agency?
Arguably, if you don’t manage your site and have developers to do that, they can learn and apply best practice themselves. It’s not like the documentation isn’t all online. Developers and designers follow a lot of more complicated best practice guidelines than these in their day-to-day work.
But if your developer is really more of an I’m-only-going-to-copy-and-paste-what-you-give-me kind of guy, these audits don’t necessarily need to happen every month, unless you’re commanding a site of thousands of pages, with multiple teams uploading content. This may need a bigger process change, but can still technically be handled in-house.
OK fine, but don’t I need somebody to create my SEO content and do my outreach?
I just want to throw it out there, the term “SEO Content” is my least favourite phrase in performance media. I like it less than “Integrated Media Strategy”. Less, even, than “Content is King”.
There are 2 reasons for this:
- If you’re a client it conjures up images of dull articles, such as “Top Ten Reasons You Need Car Insurance”.
- It suggests that some content isn’t “SEO Content”, and that rarely is the case.
There is a darker connotation to this phrase though. It suggests to clients that by creating this content your SEO results are magically improving.
I hate to burst your bubble everyone, but that isn’t true… just Google it.
The reality is, the only things we can change for the better are engagement metrics; things like bounce rate, number of pages visited, time spent on them etc.
These things really do make a difference to how Google ranks your pages, because they’re some of the best metrics we can use to judge how people are reacting to your content.
Unfortunately, these metrics tend to take a back-seat to rankings and traffic when SEO agencies talk about measuring success.
Is that bad?
It is, because this results in poor insights being used to create the content, and no true measure of how successful the content is to the business.
For example, if I’ve told my client that good SEO content ranks well, drives traffic and gets lots of shares then I will base my content on data that will help me achieve my goal.
I’ll find and target high volume keywords, I’ll probably use Buzzstream to find out what else has been shared, I’ll whack a few internal links into my copy to another page I want to rank (gotta get that link juice).
There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing any of those things. But you’ve missed the point.
Engagement metrics are the thing that we know improve rankings, so why focus on anything else? Look at your existing content. What is performing well with your users, and particularly the target demographic for your new content.
You can also improve current engagement metrics by testing updates on existing content through multivariate testing.
But most crucially – See what content is leading to revenue further down the line.
This is all you really need to be focusing on. If you’re telling me you can’t track that, I want to know why not?! And also, I want to ask you to get in touch with us so we can help you…
Nice plug. But content has nothing to do with sales, does it?
Why? Because it’s about the “top of the funnel”? Brand awareness?
It is about all of those things, but the reality is some of your content is just going to be better at keeping people interested and driving them to choose your brand. This is the content you should be creating more of and testing against.
In an age where we can track attribution and user activity across pretty much every channel, it’s extremely easy to see which content is having a more positive effect on your business. Imagine a world where you don’t have to explain rankings, long-tail traffic, reach, and impressions to a CEO who only cares about revenue! Well, that’s this world. We’re in that world.
How do I effectively measure content then?
Now that’s a question that I’m more excited about. I’m glad you asked.
The truth is, there are many ways, and it really depends on the goal of your business. At FABRIC8, we define a Critical Metric for our clients. This is one user action, event or behaviour that we focus all of our other efforts on improving.
This could be revenue, newsletter sign ups or even a retention event, like a second purchase. Whatever this metric is, we then track every path to it, seeing the impact of all the content we own across anything from social media and 3rd party sites, to our own website.
Take a look at our video on tracking the funnel, it should give you an idea of how insightful this process can be:
If this metric is aligned to the CEO’s own metrics, suddenly your world becomes an easier place.
There are tons of great tools out there to help you do this, we compare a few in a previous post.
But this structure of measurement allows you to start using a Growth Marketing model, not just on your content, but on all of your SEO activity.
Why is Growth Marketing better?
Because you can constantly test and improve. Small tweaks made constantly across an entire user journey can result in small percentage changes. But these small percentages are exponential when it comes to final conversion.
A Growth Marketing agency's approach won’t get thousands of visits from organic search, and then blame the quality of the website on the 90% bounce rate. Instead, we would start with fixing the bounce rate problem, then the next user fail point after that, and so on.
And by focusing on this, you shouldn’t be surprised to see more organic traffic coming in too!
So, do I need an SEO agency or not?
Well – you need a site that’s properly optimised for SEO, no matter what.
But the answer is all down to how much time you have. You don’t necessarily need an SEO agency – you can do a lot of it yourself!
Small to mid-size businesses:
The honest truth? You probably don’t need an SEO agency.
After all, it’s a big expense and after the initial analysis and optimisation stages, you may not see much difference in performance.
At FABRIC8, we think you’re better off making these changes yourself. There are loads of resources out there to guide you through the process.
Most of the processes are simple and there are specialist tools to help.
The only problem with doing it yourself is that it will eat up a lot of your time initially. However, once you’ve devoted that time to SEO at the start, it quickly becomes more manageable. This is because you’re simply monitoring and maintaining the existing standard of best practice. At worst, get yourself a freelancer for that initial stage.
Now, as Growth Marketing experts, we may be biased, but there’s one more thing to consider. SEO only gets people to your site, it doesn’t push them through your conversion funnel or persuade them to purchase.
However, if you focus on improving engagement and conversion, you’ll make the most out of existing traffic.
Growth Marketing encourages a powerful user experience that bring visitors through the journey. Work on this, and you’ll guide your audience pass the search, through to the point of purchase and increase your revenue, even on smaller levels of traffic.
Unlike smaller companies, we think it’s more beneficial for you to opt for an SEO agency. You probably have lots of pages on your site and are in a competitive market, so it’s a worthwhile investment.
Make sure you opt for a specialist agency that has experience in your industry. And if they mention link building or outreach, and especially “SEO content”, my advice is to get out.
However, if you’re an agile business, with a good product and development team, why not try the Growth Marketing approach? AirBnB, Deliveroo, Facebook and Uber, as well as countless other huge companies, use similar growth processes. They’ve done OK.
Over To You
Look, we know what we’re doing by stoking the fire of fury from a load of good SEO experts with this post. So, let us know what you think. Why do you think you still ABSOLUTELY need an SEO agency? Are we wrong? Or do you agree?