In a dynamic world of search engine optimization, client-vendor/consultant relationship often go through a critical stage: one trying to gauge the other.
Is my consultant doing the job promised as indicated in the contract? Is my client serious enough to consider implementing my guidelines?
Once there are early signs of lack of cooperation or delinquency in carrying out task, trust levels plummet and distrust grows. Just like an employer firing an incompetent employee, clients can also fire an SEO agency; agencies, in most cases, clients would like to retain business and receive income.
Committing to an SEO agency is not like buying eggs in a supermarket that when you find spoiled ones, you simply throw them out and look elsewhere to buy. For SEO projects, clients prepare and send request for proposals, evaluate agency performance and price points, among other factors, and decide only if there is a good match after up to several weeks of deliberation. Sometimes, clients don’t even pick any agency at all and take a different route such as hiring an in-house specialist.
So what are the common causes of clients cutting ties with SEO agencies they’ve invested so much time and effort before commitment?
1. Agency lacks clear reporting mechanism. Even if the agency prepared a comprehensive sample of reports during the pitch process, those reports are nowhere to be found. Instead the agency relies on a new template that doesn’t include no mention of insights, improvements and next steps. Client becomes uncertain of the project’s progress.
2. Agency fails to deliver results. SEO is a performance-based discipline that clients expect improvements: visitor traffic, micro conversions, sales, enhanced search visibility or all of the above. Usually, a project commences with baseline measurement report that is used a convenient comparison point. If later reports provide no improvement despite implementing agency recommendations, clients may think the approach is outdated. Presenting no alternative solutions, the agency becomes expendable unless it makes necessary changes and delivers desired results.
3. Client’s messy internal company politics. The SEO agency becomes caught in a messy dispute among stakeholders inside the client organization. The marketing department, the lead team, cannot get leverage with the IT team tasked in implementing recommendations. The communication team fails to coordinate on link building opportunities and copywriters refuse to get their creativity ‘disrupted’ by content recommendations and keyword usage. This adds to the burden an agency needs to handle as multiple stakeholders can’t stay on one page, leading to its ineffectiveness.
4. Client decides to change in business model. The client, perhaps acquiring a subsidiary or enters into a partnership, suddenly finds the old business model agreed with the agency obsolete. If an ecommerce website decides placing its products on shelves of supermarkets cost cheaper than receiving orders online and shipping them to homes, the original SEO strategy needs revision. If client finds the new strategy not feasible or financially burdensome, the agency then becomes unnecessary in the business process.
5. Agency shows increase in suspicious activities. This may include rise in number of inbound links from remotely related websites. As links not only improve (or negate) equity to the value of a website, they also associate with reputation of a company. As the Penguin update revealed that disavowing links is a painful process in cases spam links are difficult to remove (remember that some link building entities charge clients to place and remove links that are later determined as spammy). Any proven association to such type of practice deserves sudden firing with no further explanation required.
6. Agency doesn’t offer work flexibility. This one includes agency that doesn’t adjust to changes in the perceived search signals. For example if Google highly recommends looking closely at mobile indexing, the agency fails to make necessary update in its strategy and insists on implementing the original one as that one was the basis for pricing and resource allocation.
7. Agency is an expert in only one thing. The supposed SEO agency might turn out to be just a link building agency that brings no additional skillset to the table. When it showcased case studies of past clients ranking well on some keywords, client apparently got amazed and failed to do further due diligence. Now the agency recommends keywords that they are more likely to succeed in link building rather than strategically beneficial to a client (but more difficult for the agency to handle and show results for)
Even as Google provided a checklist and steps in how to find the right SEO agency for you, shortlisting can be far from procedural especially with a client with distinct, multi-layered expectations.
Drawing from a long-term blueprint, set a small, achievable target with your agency. If it can be trusted in small tasks, it could also be trusted in more challenging ones.