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SEO Agency Week: The Products and Engagement Strategies Agencies Provide – Tyson Stockton // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: SEO agencies offer plenty of services to get your website operating at a competitive level with other brands, but determining which services you need to accomplish those goals can be overwhelming and time consuming. Join host Ben as he continues Agency Week with Searchmetrics’ Director of Services Tyson Stockton, discussing the types of services and engagements agencies offer and useful strategies to determine what services your organization needs to be successful.

Summary

  • How to determine the services that are right for your organization begin with analyzing what gaps exist in your business, whether you need more expertise to fill knowledge gaps or adding consultants to increase bandwidth and production.
  • Another way to determine what services you need is to perform an audit of your website that will provide more insight to how your site is performing, how search engines are responding to it, etc.
  • When identifying opportunities from an audit, it’s best to break things down to a granular level to determine what agency services can achieve your greater goals.
  • For SEO agencies it takes weeks and months to truly understand and evaluate a client’s scaled website. Consider how an agency applies its solutions to problems you’re trying to solve as you consider hiring an agency.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome to Agency Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re publishing an episode every day covering what you need to know to master the relationship between agencies and in house SEOs. Joining us for agency week is Tyson Stockton, who’s the Director of Services at Searchmetrics. Today, we’re going to continue Agency Week by talking about what are the projects and types of engagements you can expect from your agency providers. Okay, here’s the second installment of Agency Week with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ director of services. Tyson, welcome back to Agency Week.

Tyson:              Thanks, Ben. Let’s keep it going.

Ben:                 Glad to have you here. Yesterday we talked about the different types of agencies and really there’s a couple of ways that you could think about what are the types of agencies, what’s the size of the agency, what’s their area of focus, are they specializing in SEO, are they digital marketer, and also what are the services that they’re going to provide to you. We’re going to double click into talking more about the products and services that you can expect from agency providers today. There’s backlinking. There’s technical SEO. There’s content audits. Help me think about what you can expect and should be asking an agency to provide.

Tyson:              I think that question gets down to really at the core of like what your need is, and I think that’s something that … I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily just overlooked, but I think the focus a lot of people think about is like “I want to get to here, so therefore I need someone to help me get there.” But I think a better way to start is to reflecting more internally onto your own team and your own business. The first piece that I always recommend looking at and being very, very honest about this is what are the current gaps. Are you dealing with expertise and you need specific knowledge set, or do you need bandwidth and you need more actual people that are shipping and getting stuff live to site?

Tyson:              I think those are the two most common areas, and those are the most critical pieces to have like a really strong pulse on because that’s how you’re going to have like the most successful and most beneficial interaction and engagement with a partner.

Ben:                 What’s the thought process and how do you think about figuring out if you need a strategy focused SEO agency, if you need an operational SEO agency? There are some agencies that focus on technical optimization, content optimization. How do you go through the self-auditing process to figure out which type of vendor and service is right for you?

Tyson:              Say like you’re a company and you’re, “Hey, I know everything that needs to be done. I need to just have whether it’s link building, content, et cetera.” It’s like that would be someone that I would say is a little bit farther along guessing or making an assumption to. It’s going to be someone or a team that has a stronger grasp around what needs to be done for SEO. Their knowledge in SEO is probably already going to be a bit higher, and then they’re looking to fill in specific skillsets and targeting, “Hey, this agency’s great at X, Y and Z. Therefore, they’re going to be a good fit.”

Tyson:              The other side of it too and it’s something that that does happen is sometimes you have a missing piece within your SEO team or even some cases like maybe you just have one SEO person and it’s like what else do they need to be successful? I think that’s where it gets a little … Gets more of the gray area because then you could be looking at an array of is it more of like an SEO analyst skillset that I’m looking for an agency to bring in the resource or support on? Am I looking for someone that’s more at a higher, maybe a strategic level where they’re giving me the strategy and the overall direction that I should be moving in? That is also going to depict a different type of engagement depending on where and what type of SEO work is needed to be done.

Ben:                 As you think of making this decision, obviously there’s this self-audit and you have to evaluate what capabilities you have on your team, are there any sources of data that you can look at to figure out whether you have a content problem, a linking problem, a technical problem that an agency can help you solve?

Tyson:              I mean, one other kind of approach that I think a lot of companies will use and we even do this sometimes with our clients is, is we’ll start out with having like a more thorough audit of the site, which is ranging from technical, SEO, content, site performance. It’s really doing like a thorough analysis of the entire website, how it’s functioning, how search engines are responding to it. Then that is essentially putting the foundation of your roadmap that then the partnership is going to be working towards. That’s assuming, “Hey, I don’t know what needs to be done. I just need to grow traffic. How do I do that?”

Tyson:              Then other companies, maybe they’ve already been able to go through that and they have a more seasoned SEO on the team or several seasoned SEOs on the team that are able to identify the works and the needs that need to be done. But I’d say regardless if you’re having the agency come in to have those identification of like these are the big rocks that are going to drive the biggest change in performance, or if you’re doing that internally, that has to be the foundation piece that then is going to lead and depict what your roadmap and what your initiatives are.

Ben:                 They all too often offered SEO audit, something that I think all agencies generally start with, agencies and consultants. Either they’re sending you spam emails and saying they’re going to get you some backlinks, or they’re saying, hey, we will look at your site. When you are going through the SEO audit process and agencies are starting to come up with suggestions, how do you figure out what is actually true and what’s just BS in a way for them to add additional dollars and resources onto their quotes?

Tyson:              That’s a very tough challenge for businesses because oftentimes when companies are bringing in these resources, they might not have the expertise on the team to actually determine are they blowing hot air at me or…

Ben:                 It’s like bringing your car to the mechanic. What do you mean I need new brakes? I just got them replaced six months ago. True story. It just happened to me.

Tyson:              Yeah. I think that’s in the previous episode, I said too, it’s like you oftentimes get these polarizing opinions of agencies and that to me is a key reason for it. I mean, really I would say the two reasons is that element, which you do run into, and then also the other element is not scoping and kind of defining what the engagement or the partnership’s objectives and roadmap is. But those are the two areas that I feel like oftentimes creates this frustration. I think you could say the soft skill size of having an agency that has a good reputation and personal referrals from other companies that they’ve done business with and you have kind of like that soft side almost like background check, the same thing that you do if you’re about to hire someone to join your team.

Tyson:              But then there’s also like the piece of like digging into the specifics during the process. I think that’s also the area with the audits because audits you have such a range of like just because two agencies do an SEO audit, there’s no guarantees that what you’re going to get back is going to be even close to being on the same level. Having the line of sight of what does the end result look like, what am I going to get back from that, and then what level of granularity is it going to be. A perfect example of this, a lot of times people are going to say, “Hey, you have an opportunity in site speed. You have bad site speed or site performance. You need to improve that to improve your rankings.” Excellent. That is a massive-

Ben:                 Excellent. You could say that about every website, but go on.

Tyson:              It’s something like that. Then you’re going back to your development team and just saying, “Improve site performance.” It’s like I guess my recommendation or what I would advocate for is digging into those specifics and what level of granularity are we going to get to. Are we going to break down all the individual pieces within site performance and then have a priority of how those are impacting SEO and then what individual tasks go within each of those, or are we just going to be leaving it at, “Hey, you have a problem in site performance?”

Ben:                 I think in general when you think about the audit, A, some of the conclusions might be useful, some of them might be padding and fluff. What to me is useful when you’re going through the audit is to understand the thought process that an agency goes through and understand how you’re going to be able to communicate. Because at the end of the day, the agency partners are really going to be advising you on things that most likely you should be doing to improve your performance or you should be giving the green light on what the strategy is. Figuring out what the thought process is, how do they communicate, do you just bottom line understand what they say and what the rationale is?

Ben:                 That ends up being to me the most valuable part of the audit is here’s how you would work together and the level of detail that you’re going to go into and what the working relationship would look like, not necessarily, “I spent two hours looking at your site and now I know the whole thing.” It takes weeks and months to be able to understand and truly evaluate a scaled website. You should be thinking about how the agency is approaching the problem you’re trying to solve more than do they have the right answer.

Tyson:              That’s a huge piece. I mean, breaking out that last part into a couple of additional items, I would have one area being what’s the communication plan, so cadence, stakeholders, objectives of those individual tracks, those are all things that I want to have fleshed out from day one, and then also ownership of it. I think this is something that’s really important is tying owners to the work that’s being done, not just on the agency side, but also on the internal side. Who’s going to be informed, consulted on, responsible, accountable, and having that alignment at the start of the project or the engagement?

Tyson:              My experiences also leads to the best end results because that’s where things can also like kind of fall off the rails and your communication schedule, like prioritization of initiatives and strategy, that’s essentially going to be the framework that’s going to help keep things going the right direction.

Ben:                 Very rarely is there anything called an SEO whisperer. Very rarely can somebody just look at your site for a few hours and say, “This is what’s going to make the biggest change and start driving traffic that you didn’t know existed.” Most of the time it’s about small ongoing optimization. The more that you’re able to understand whether you can communicate effectively with an agency, understand what they’re promising, the timeline and how they’re going to deliver, the more successful that relationship’s going to be. That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ Director of Services. We’d love to continue this conversation with you.

Ben:                 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. 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, just head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions, your SEO questions, or you could even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. 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.

Ben:                 If you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, in addition to the third part of my conversation with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ Director of Services, when we talk about whether you need an agency or not, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. Hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.