Jonathan Saipe

How Accountable Is Your SEO Agency?

23 May 2011, Jonathan Saipe

Anyone involved in digital marketing will know how much performance data is available to assist in tracking online marketing campaigns and ROI.

The same applies to search engine optimisation where SEO’ers are provided a constant deluge of campaign data be it from web analytics or specialist SEO software.

At the most basic level, the setting up of Google Analytics ecommerce tracking (below) will reveal whether or not your organic performance is providing good ROI or not.

Measuring revenue by channel with Google Analytics

Given this, you’d think that accountability wouldn’t be an issue as the truth is often seen in the numbers.

In-house or outsource?

Having personally run hundreds of SEO training courses over the last few years, it never ceases to amaze me how many businesses are still being left high and dry by their SEO agency or web design suppliers.

One of the most common reason organisations want to take SEO in-house is that they cannot justify the on-going costs of running an SEO campaign using an agency, when the rewards are not proportional to the financial outlay.

Poor quality link building practices

One particularly popular recurring complaint is that “my SEO agency has been acquiring irrelevant links that has cost excessive amounts of money with little in the way of reward”.

Having recently carried out an SEO audit for a large chain of hotels, I was privy to astonishing examples of links that had been purchased from contextually irrelevant, low quality websites or directories. To add salt to the wound, the agency had not only charged the client for their labour but had also considerably marked up the net cost of the links.

Measuring link velocity from tools such as Majestic SEO is one way of measuring accountability, as you would expect to see a steady growth in link uptake, but of course they have to be the right links.

Measuring link velocity

Getting the basics right

Link building is only one of many examples where agencies need to demonstrate accountability.

Getting the basics wrong such as error 404’s, missing metadata, no sitemaps, domain canonicalisation issues, poor quality content, bad site structure (the list goes on), is simply not forgivable and makes you wonder what agencies are actually doing when running SEO campaigns?

SEO campaign errors and warnings

Tools (above) provided by SEOmoz allow marketers to regain that control by providing easy-to-understand dashboards and reporting. Organisations hiring SEO agencies should be privy to the software they are using in order to maintain complete transparency and trust.

Education is key

Whilst SEO agencies have a moral responsibility to run search campaigns ethically and to the best of their abilities, the blame for poor performance (or at least poor bang for buck) also falls into the lap of the client.

Having worked agency-side since the mid-90’s, the adage “the output is only as good as the brief” rings true. Managing your agency, or should I say challenging your agency, is key to any successful relationship.

But herein lies the problem. If you can’t challenge your SEO agency due to your own lack of understanding of the intricacies of running SEO campaigns, then inevitably you may well not be getting the best out of an agency.

SEO, like any other digital strategy such as PPC and email marketing requires constant testing and measurement to identify cause and effect. Challenging your agency will encourage such testing which otherwise may have been put on the back-burner.