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SEO Agency Week: How to Manage Partnerships with SEO Agencies

Episode Overview: A solid foundation for a strong, fruitful business partnership requires trust, clear communication, access to resources and acknowledgement of successes. Join host Ben and Searchmetrics’ Director of Services Tyson Stockton as they conclude Agency Week discussing how to successfully manage agency partnerships and implement productive communication methods.


  • Quickly onboarding an agency, getting them affiliated with processes and integrating them into company systems is important to setting up your company and the agency for success.
  • It’s important to reward and provide recognition to agencies as they meet milestones, fulfill performance criteria and acknowledge their efforts to nurture the partnership and keep motivation high.
  • Routine, multiple methods of communication is vital to progress and alignment, and can include weekly tactical standups, monthly executive conversations, email performance indicators and more.


Ben:                 Welcome back to the last episode of Agency Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this week we’ve been publishing episodes every day covering what you need to know to master the relationships between agencies and in house SEOs. Joining us for Agency Week has been Tyson Stockton who is Searchmetrics director of services and today we’re going to wrap up Agency Week by talking about managing agency relationships. Here’s the last installment of Agency Week with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ director of services. Tyson, happy Friday and welcome to the last episode of Agency Week on the Voices of Search podcast.

Tyson:              It is Friday. Thank you Ben.

Ben:                 Friday, Friday. The end is near. We’ve been talking a ton about agency relationships. Everything from what agencies do. Why do you need one? When do you need one? How do you find a good one? All right. We’re at the end of the road here. We’ve found our agency, they’re going to help us SEO the crap out of our website. It’s all smooth sailing from here. They’re hired, right? Just let them go to work. That’s it.

Tyson:              No.

Ben:                 It’s more complicated than that?

Tyson:              Yes. No, I would say once the paperwork’s done, the start of an engagement is going to be probably the most critical piece, and this is not just on the agency side, but this is also on the internal side when it’s like you’re hiring a new employee. That new employee, what you put into their onboarding and training then pays dividends in the output ultimately is. So I’d say at the very beginning of the relationship, that kickoff, what you’re doing to get them onboard into your systems, your process, the background stuff that maybe you couldn’t share during the negotiation period. That’s going to be the most important thing that I would say that you can do to ensure that you’re going to have a positive and the most beneficial interaction.

Ben:                 So, the first step in managing your agency relationships is just making sure that you get off on the right foot. And a big part of that, going back to our last conversation, was aligning your incentives. Talk to me about some of the ways where you’ve seen the incentives get misaligned early on and how do you set yourself up for success?

Tyson:              I think one specific is just being very direct in what the measurement and objectives are, because something like if you’re just saying, okay, the objective is to increase traffic. That can have very different interpretations of what success is.

Tyson:              So, you have to define it into, we’re looking for X percent lift of whether it’s a specific part of the site, the entire domain, the type of traffic you’re looking for, and then what are the measurement pieces to that. And then the other one that’s probably more often forgotten is progress KPIs. So just look at traffic from the side, both for your own sanity but also to have the best outcome. You want to be focusing on those leading KPIs, like number of tickets submitted, number of tickets resolved. What’s things like your SEO visibility, the crawl rate, all of those elements that aren’t necessarily going to be traffic or it’s not going to even be immediately traffic, but it’s going to be the pieces that are going to lead into your end goal, whether it’s conversions or orders on the site, et cetera.

Ben:                 I think there’s a couple of different things to think about here. First, what are the KPIs, and you mentioned the difference between leading and trailing indicators. How busy is the agency staying? Are they actually working? And then on the flip side, what’s the business performance?

Ben:                 I think from the business development side, where someone like me who’s more of a business development person than an SEO by trade originally, thinks about is great, what are our KPIs and how do we align compensation and performance and commitment to the objectives that we want to see accomplished?

Ben:                 And so as you’re setting yourself up for success, going back into the negotiation part, understanding what you’re trying to accomplish and then we’re awarding your agency when they meet the milestones, when they hit the performance criteria, but also rewarding them for their effort as well is something that’s going to keep them motivated and from an in house perspective, that’s one of the things that you need to do to maybe one of the underlooked part of hiring an agency is you need to continue to keep them motivated to prioritize your project.

Ben:                 Tyson, talk to me about when you’re managing a relationship after you’ve gone through the initial trial period, you hit the ground running, everybody’s motivated. How do you keep the spark alive? How do you keep the relationship going?

Tyson:              Most important item is communication and we touched on it in an earlier episode, but having a communication cadence and I think oftentimes that’s not just we have weekly calls with the main people that are working on it. You want to have multiple pieces, whether it’s a monthly executive conversation and progress update, a weekly tactical standup and alignment on what’s being done that week. Email performance leading indicators of that communication element is going to be probably the single, I’d say, biggest asset you have in ensuring that it’s going in the right direction.

Ben:                 There’s two important parts here. One, regular communication. Hey, all the operational stuff that you’re doing, you can’t just let an agency go, because they’ll go off in whatever direction they want to most of the time, and expect that they’re going to walk down the road that you want them to. You need to stay regularly on the same page and make sure you understand what work they’re doing, why they’re prioritizing the projects, and understand what resources they’re applying to them.

Ben:                 On the flip side, there is the non-operational component. The strategic part, where you’re setting up your QBRs, your quarterly business reviews, your yearly evaluations, your milestone meetings to understand how the relationship is tracking and is everybody happy with the communication, how data is actually flowing.

Tyson:              That’s a great point, Ben. And I think it really is what both sides are putting into the relationship and the engagement and I have been on both sides and regardless, I think that is something that time and time again you see you can’t just expect, “Great, I hired an agency, they’re going to solve all my problems. Hard work’s done.” And yes, you brought them in for a specific reason and stuff, but it’s just like adding a new team member and what you put into this is what’s going to really drive it forward.

Ben:                 I’ve been a service provider, I’ve been an in-house employee as well and I can tell you that very often service providers, career development as often overlooked. They’re getting some of the training and some of the management that they get doesn’t happen because they are not in-house employees. They’re not part of the long-house term. And at some point the relationships can sour, whether it’s the people that you’re hiring for operations or whether it’s somebody that you’re hiring for a strategy. When you get to the point where an agency relationship isn’t working, how do you address that and how do you decide when it’s time to move on?

Tyson:              I think it comes back to a lot of the questions that we started with of identifying when you need to have an agency. And part of the piece that we talked about there is understanding what your long term vision and where you’re going that as a business. And so is it a Band-Aid move where you’re always planning on doing it and at some point you just have to take off the training wheels? Or is it something that could be very, very clear of projects over, we don’t have the need anymore, it’s time to move on?

Tyson:              But I think at those points too it’s definitely, I’ve seen the best of keeping that dialogue and that relationship going with the partner because ultimately if you’re in a position where you need support again and you have already worked with a different partner, that’s going to be your quickest and fastest way to get additional support.

Tyson:              And I know it’s not necessarily if it sours, but I think that’s something too that you can have a natural end and you don’t have to have a partnership end on necessarily bad terms. You can agree that, “Hey, we completed the objective, or what the need was for the time,” and then by keeping that dialogue and that relationship open, that’s going to be your parachute, your eject button, if you get in a bind because that’s going to be someone that you can plug in quite quickly to your organization.

Ben:                 I think it’s important to remember that these are relationships and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. And just like any relationship, we have to be open and honest about how we’re feeling, about how things are going, and sometimes you just have to make a clean break and I think that treating people with respect and being open and honest about what is actually happening is very important in not only managing the relationship to keep it going, but ending it in the appropriate fashion. Tyson, any last words on how to manage agency relationships?

Tyson:              Transparency. We’ve hit on a ton, but transparency, communication, and just clear alignment on the objectives. Those sound super basic, but it’s those type of fundamentals that I think prevents a lot of partnerships from really having the best and the highest yield.

Ben:                 Okay, great advice and that wraps up Agency Week on the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, director of services at Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Tyson, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is, Tyson_Stockton.

Ben:                 Just one more link in our show notes that I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to, where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search Podcast.

Ben:                 Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is VoicesofSearch on Twitter, and my personal handle is BenJShap. B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the workweek. So hit that subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed on Monday morning. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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