Episode Overview: SEO is known for its high learning curve, and it’s unpredictable nature keeps both SEO experts and beginners on their toes. SEO agencies are the backbone of many a marketing strategy, helping guide companies through the turbulent landscape of SEO and providing strategic directions and advice on how to best seize opportunities. Join host Ben and Searchmetrics’ Director of Services Tyson Stockton as they describe the different types of SEO agencies available, the business functions unique to each type and what company types they best serve.
- Some of the different types of SEO agencies available include one-stop shops (where they provide everything, up to coding and graphic design), specialty agencies (generally focused on specific aspects within SEO like content consultations) and contractors or individual consultants.
- Agencies differentiate themselves by the services they offer, which benefits different types of businesses. For example, individual consultants can provide focused strategies, and create high-level directions to the company to execute. Larger agencies act as global partners and typically build relationships and grow alongside the companies they work with.
- The type of agencies that generally raise red flags among experts are link-building agencies as they often specialize in spam emails.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
- Tyson Stockton: Website // LinkedIn
- The Voices of Search Podcast: Email // LinkedIn // Twitter
- Benjamin Shapiro: Website // LinkedIn // Twitter
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 is the director of services at Searchmetrics. Today, Tyson and I are going to start off Agency Week by talking about, “What are the different types of SEO agencies and services?” Okay. Here’s the first installment of agency week with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ director of services. Tyson, welcome to Agency Week on the Voices of Search podcast.
Tyson: Thanks Ben. Good to be back on.
Ben: Excited to talk a little bit about some of our agency partners. I feel like you are in the perfect position to talk about all things agency-related. I was thinking about getting ready for this interview and realized that you not only work with agencies, you, in some cases, operate as an agency or your team does. You also manage agencies on behalf of some of Searchmetrics’ clients, so you really see the whole picture of what it’s like to be a vendor and work with vendors. We’re going to start off by talking a little bit about the various types of agencies that are out there. Obviously there’s a wide variety. Give me the segmentation. How do you think about the lay of the land when it comes to marketing agencies?
Tyson: Yeah, and there’s a few different like groups or like clusters of how I’d place them. Of course, you’re going to get kind of outliers within that, but I’d say your first most obvious ones are kind of like the one stop shop, where they do everything digital marketing, they might even provide coding services, graphics. It’s like they’re your one stop and they do everything for you, like organizations. Then you’d have your what I’d consider like a little more specialty type agencies. That could be focused either within SEO as a whole, within content consulting, or within maybe even like niches within SEO.
Tyson: Then the third area is [inaudible] who actually have more like individual consultants or contractors that you bring. Those could be just someone that’s like very specific skillset that you’re looking to offset a member of the team, but I’d say those are typically an individual that’s doing their own consulting work versus like a full agency. I know that last one isn’t exactly an agency, but I personally put that type of resource in the same category, because either way it’s like you’re offsetting and augmenting your internal teams or your internal capabilities with those of a specialized third party.
Ben: I think you could take that segmentation and apply it to a bunch of different industries, right? You have your larger agencies that are broad, you have your specialized, and then you have individual contributors. As you think about SEO and you think about sort of the segmentation of who is actually providing work to what companies, I think that there are some enterprise-focused agencies. I’d put your services team there. You’re going to help the biggest, baddest companies on the block figure out how to optimize websites with millions of pages. Then there’s the guys that are emailing me saying, “Hey, I see that you have a backlink problem on MarTechPod.com or VoicesofSearch.com. I can get you more traffic.” How do you segment or divide up the difference between the types of agencies when you think about the scale and scope of the company?
Tyson: Yeah. I mean, that’s a tough one because it’s such a full sliding scale. To your point, you’re going to have everything under the sun and you’re going to get some that are going to be … Sometimes when the topic of agencies come up, you get very polarized opinions on it. Some people are very adamant against agencies, some are huge advocates of it. I think it’s more of what is the objective and then how you’re approaching it, but back to your question on like segmenting out the groups, you could put it in kind of like your enterprise medium and mom and pop type shop. Sometimes these agencies or different businesses will appeal to those type of businesses. Certainly when you look at those categories of like an enterprise business versus a mid size or even size of the websites, the skillsets required to operate for those can also be shifted and can be different. The problems that you’re going to have on a large multimillion page website versus a 200 page mom and pop website, the tactics and strategies are drastically different. The skillset required to drive performance is also going to be drastically different.
Ben: There’s also a couple different, I don’t know, product types or agencies that are specialized when we talk specifically about SEO. If we double clicked into, okay, there are SEO-specific agencies, not your digital marketers, not your individual contractors that have some SEO experience, but we are a dedicated search engine optimization and content marketing agency, obviously there’s a million spam artists talking about how they can do link building for you and get traffic. That seems to be something that’s focused on the small businesses. How do you think of products as your business scales and what do you need?
Tyson: Yeah. I mean, I guess the funny piece too on it, I feel like the link building agencies are oftentimes the picked on ones because that is sometimes a red flag.
Ben: Because that’s the one that has the most spam email.
Tyson: Exactly. I mean, and sometimes those services can also be questionable, not to say all are, but you definitely have them out there, but as far as like pairing it, I’m a firm believer looking at a couple internal elements before deciding like what the best fit is from like who you should be partnering with or if you should be partnering with someone. Rather than looking at like, “Okay, I’m a large enterprise company, I’m going to need a large enterprise agency,” I’m more of a believer of, “What does my internal resources and team look like? Where are my existing gaps among that? Am I looking to solve something from a lack of skillset or specialty in a certain area?”
Tyson: Are you going to go through a migration and no one on your team has ever gone through a migration before, therefore, you want to have someone come in and be the expert and make sure it doesn’t fall off the rails, or are you looking at something more in the sense of, “Hey, I know what I need to do. I just need arms. I need bodies. I need people to help drive this and I’m more looking to solve like a bandwidth scenario.”
Tyson: I think like the biggest thing for me is just matching what and being honest with yourself as far as like what you have internally and where your gaps are, and then using that as the proxy to find the biggest partner. I’ve seen scenarios where large enterprise businesses will partner with individual consultants because it was a direct fit for what their need was. Then I’ve also seen times they go with the huge multi-global agency and that’s part of a larger MSA and they’re helping augment the overall staff or workforce of the company.
Ben: On the flip side, when you’re working with agency partners, talk to me about how you think agencies are differentiating themselves. When you think about their segmentation, who are agencies looking for in terms of what are the types of customers and how do they describe themselves differently? From a vendor perspective, how do you see agencies segmenting themselves?
Tyson: Yeah. How agencies kind of set themselves apart, I would say, also kind of ties back to some of the pieces that we were mentioning earlier. You’re going to have the individual consultants that may be more coming in and giving like strategy type, like high-level direction to the company to execute on. Other times it can be very specific skillset-oriented. Then you also have like the larger agencies that are kind of, I would say, more positioning themselves as like, “Hey, we’re your global partner. We’re someone that you’re going to be able to grow with. You’re not going to outgrow us.” You have kind of like that side of it as well.
Ben: Yeah. It’s funny, I think of agencies segmenting themselves similar to how you talked about the different size of the agencies for what type of companies they’re looking for, but individual consultants are constrained by their individual experience. It’s one person, and so whether they’re a great strategist or a great operator, that’s how they’re going to sell their services. You get to the point where an individual consultant starts branching out, starts actually becoming an agency and listing other partners, and then it becomes an area of often specialization. “Hey, we are a company that works with the B2B SaaS companies and we really know these couple of tools and tricks.”
Ben: Then you get into the larger agencies that really start playing to, “We have a diverse portfolio and we’ve worked with all of these different types of companies,” because they have so many people, they can find someone with the right skillset to solve the problem. I think as an agency scales, they end up working out of specialization often, and basically being able to be a generalist. That’s why you see some of the larger companies that are essentially using a large agency to replace their SEO services going with these big consulting companies, but if they actually have an established SEO team, they’re just supplementing with consultants or the sort of medium-tier agencies.
Tyson: Yeah. I think that’s a really good point because I feel like you see both of like the individual consultants as well as like the true agencies differentiating themselves on like skillsets, but I feel like what becomes more pronounced with the larger, full agencies, or even someone that’s transitioning from an individual consulting to bringing on new team members, is when it’s an individual consultant, it’s very much like you’re purchasing or kind of partnering with that individual. It’s either their past work experience, their knowledge set, their specific work ethic, whatever it is, but it’s very like more simple in that sense.
Tyson: Then when you get into larger agencies, yes, you still have the specialization or skillset, but it’s also more of the approach because that’s how they’re able to scale the offerings across multiple consultants within their team. I think that’s a big piece or kind of a challenge that agencies also face when they’re getting to that larger and larger scale is you’re essentially selling a process or approach to solving the problem, whereas with the individual you might be leaning a little bit more heavier of, “This person is the right fit for us because of X, Y and Z.”
Ben: Okay. I think we’ve set the table here for the rest of Agency Week talking about the different types of agencies that are out there. For the rest of this week, what we’re going to do is talk about some of the services that you can expect from each of these types of agencies, figuring out when you actually need an agency, how to evaluate which agency is right for you, and how to manage agency relationships. Throughout all of this content, we’re going to weave in some of the perspectives from the agencies and try to give you a view of both sides of the coin. That wraps up this episode of 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 this 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 send him a tweet. His Twitter handle is Tyson_Stockton. That’s T-Y-S-O-N, underscore, S-T-O-C-K-T-O-N.
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 VoicesofSearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You could send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can 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 regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, in addition to part two of Agency Week with Tyson Stockton where we discussed what are the products and engagements you can expect from agency providers, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week, so hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.