Opinion

How search agencies are failing clients

Online Marketing Gurus’ chief marketing officer and former King Content CMO, Wasif Kasim, looks at why so many search agencies are failing clients and how the industry needs to lift its game.

It was during my time working for King Content, when we were on the hunt for a great search agency, that I realised there was a major problem in the industry.

At the time, my internal team’s strengths lay completely in creating SEO friendly content, but we needed a lot of guidance with pretty much everything else SEO. We needed an agency that could handle the technical stuff and who truly understood the perfect marriage of SEO and content working together to skyrocket leads.

I sat down with boat loads of agencies, ranging from your massive agencies to tiny ones no one had heard of. I gave them all the same brief – put together a 12 month roadmap on how you’ll help us grow with SEO and Adwords. Leads per month was the main KPI for the plan.
The result? Every single agency, except one, came back with boilerplate responses – screengrabs from SEMrush or similar tools, lots of “fluff” about why they are amazing, and very little about the actual “plan” across SEO that would help us achieve this incredible growth. They focused on the generic techniques. But they didn’t give us a bulletproof roadmap for revenue domination.

SEO is too often treated like a dark magic, where the magician won’t ever reveal his secrets. All that means is that the client is kept in the dark about how the agency will actually get results. Clients are just expected to be comfortable with not really knowing what is going on. You wouldn’t expect clients to accept that with their other marketing channels, so why should they accept it with their SEO?

Here are some of the things search agencies commonly get wrong.

They pitch poorly
When a client meets an agency for the first time, the agency’s pitch says a lot about them. It shows how thorough they were with their research, and how devoted they are to helping the potential client grow their business. If that pitch is generic, undetailed and not results-focussed it’s a fail.

During my time at King Content, there was only one agency that put together a fantastic pitch that did what I actually asked them to do, they developed a 12 month roadmap – a mix of quick, mid-term, and long term wins – and a thorough breakdown of focus areas across AdWords and SEO to dominate growth.

It was intense. It was information overload. But it was good. They had poured a whole week into doing this – all for a tiny client starting off at a couple grand a month. This “care factor” was exactly what I was looking for. That pitch got them the job. And the continued quality of their results guaranteed they kept it.

They grab the cash and run
Too many agencies will become complacent as soon as they have the client on their books. If the agency’s primary motive is money, they’re not likely to put lots of effort into helping a client’s business. They’ll just go the quick and easy route before leaving the client high and dry.

They’ll use Black Hat tactics, such as creating spammy content and generating poor backlinks, to give a client’s website a quick boost. Then the search engines catch on and the website plummets down the rankings. It may even get a manual penalty.

They’ll use shortcuts to cut down on their time, which also cuts down on quality. They’ll use software that spins existing content on the web into ‘original’ posts. The structure and grammar of these articles are often questionable, as they’re written by machines. This kind of poor-quality content doesn’t build authority. And no authority means no conversions.

The best search agencies genuinely care about the work they’re doing. They show that they’re not just in it it for the money. They’ll actively avoid Black Hat tactics to ensure a client’s site is protected. Then, they’ll use customised techniques that benefit the client’s site and comply with search engine guidelines. This is undoubtedly one of the most important criteria in choosing an agency.

If the growth of the client’s company is what drives the agency, the client is far more likely to achieve the desired results. The success of any SEO and PPC campaign depends on this, so clients should always go with the agency that cares about helping their business.

They don’t treat all clients equally
Obviously, every agency will go out of its way to land and keep big clients. But what about the little guys? Not every agency cares about a client that’s bringing them less money. But the best search agencies treat all of their clients equally.

It’s a cop out for search agencies to claim they don’t have the time to invest in their smaller clients. If the agency has quoted accurately upfront then they won’t massively over-service (although a little over-servicing upfront can reap huge benefits for the relationship down the track) or impact profitability. Remember, small clients become big clients with the right support.

If a client feels like a single drop in a sea of clients, they won’t feel confident about the agency’s work. But if the agency focuses on a small client in the same way they focus on a large client, they can rest assured that this kind of devotion will yield results.

They’re terrible at reporting
Clients need reports that are both useful and easy to understand. Not too generic and not too complex. It’s critical to be able to splice, dice, and view data in minutes so the client can immediately understand if the campaign is actually making an impact.

It’s simple really. A good report should tell the client:

  • How much their campaigns are costing them
  • Which campaigns are working well vs not working well
  • The positions in the rankings
  • Conversions achieved from traffic
  • The return on investment

Oddly enough, too many agency reports won’t tell a client these things. Instead they will be overly complex or overly simple – often deliberately obscuring the actual results and not addressing whether the campaigns are actually worth the investment.

Now that I’ve joined a search agency, I feel like it’s my responsibility – and indeed everyone’s in the industry – to raise the bar. It’s time we all do better.

Wasif Kasim is Online Marketing Gurus’  chief marketing officer

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