Every SEO agency worth their salt is going to tell you they are focused on performance, something they should be able to back up with relevant case studies and/or award wins. During a pitch process it is very common to focus on positive outcomes such as these – we all want to see demonstrable evidence of success – but discussing recent client losses and projects that have failed can sometimes be even more revealing.
Often you will hear something along the lines of “[client] didn’t get it” or “[client] didn’t implement our recommendations”. These are of course common problems that most of us can empathise with, but my issue with these justifications is that they do not acknowledge the fact that helping to overcome such challenges is a part of an agency’s role. Ultimately, the goal of any consultancy is to affect change on an organisation. That is where the real value is.
Leading our SEO team, I am keenly aware that the performance we drive is a direct result of our ability to get recommendations implemented. The quality of our ongoing consulting is therefore equally as important as the quality of our deliverables, and one of our preferred methods of providing this support is through regular on-site consulting. On-site consulting is nothing new as a concept and is widely utilised across other service industries, but the merits of incorporating it into client-agency relationships are not commonly discussed within SEO – and I think that’s a shame.
Within the rest of this article, I’ll cover some of the biggest benefits that my team and I have identified from spending time on-site with clients. I hope it encourages both SEOs and marketers in general – whether agency or client-side – to embrace this approach and adopt this way of thinking as the norm.
Overcoming perception issues and raising profile
SEO has evolved massively over the last two decades but is undisputedly a young discipline when compared to other forms of promotion, and still regarded as a “dark art” by many.
As with any perception problem, the key to addressing this is through education: the more access organisations have to the processes, outcomes and people involved with making good SEO happen, the sooner things will change.
For many in-house SEOs, this type of education forms a key part of their role, and many have done a fantastic job within their own organisations. But promoting the benefits of SEO internally should not solely be the responsibility of the client, especially when the organisation does not have a dedicated SEO manager or team, as is still relatively commonplace.
Aside from issues of perception, another common problem SEO has to deal with is its lack of profile – SEO has a horrible tendency to be an afterthought.
Experienced practitioners will know all too well the incidental “oh by the way we’re migrating next week” that initiates the desperate scramble to either halt or steer a juggernaut already very much in motion, or UX changes bypassing SEO input for a myriad of reasons.
While a lack of understanding can breed a reluctance to engage, my take is that as long as SEO is an afterthought, our contributions have not earned the right to be part of the conversation. Again, the most effective way to combat this is be present and raise the profile of our channel directly within the organisations it stands to benefit.
Better organisational understanding
Organisations are complicated. Each is endowed with a unique culture – a consequence of their differing structures, systems and personnel. These factors can have a real impact upon the receptiveness of a business to certain ideas and recommendations, and therefore the way in which they should be positioned.
If you’re working with a start-up, for example, then you expect a certain degree of agility. The relative youth of the organisation should mean that technical debt is limited, systems are more unified and the desire for growth creates an environment in which new ideas are enthusiastically embraced. Equally, though, the transient nature of this type of business can make things chaotic. There is likely to be a constant need to pivot strategies and adapt existing methods of execution, which is far easier to achieve when everyone is in the same room.
Conversely, if you are working with a more established client that has grown by acquisition, then you are unlikely to find the same level of systemic unification – especially if they are split into distinct business units. In this situation, effective consulting will be more focused on navigating key internal stakeholders, understanding the political landscape and being present enough to pre-empt potential roadblocks.
This approach has been hugely helpful for one financial services client we work with, whose business is rapidly changing due to growth and internal restructuring. Our bi-weekly onsite days provide the perfect opportunity to catchup on any potential business changes, and if any of the proposed changes are likely to impact upon our work, amend the existing plan. What we deliver has therefore continued to be relevant and valuable to the business, which wouldn’t have been the case if we had rigidly stuck to our initial proposal.
Stronger working relationships
Many frustrations with the client-agency paradigm arise from a lack of empathy between the two parties. Both may be unified on the specific goals of a project but face unique priorities and challenges outside of this remit.
Being on-site with a client allows you to observe how they spend their time on a day-to-day basis, the questions they are commonly asked from other areas of the business and the frustrations they face within their own role. These observations can be invaluable for gauging the length of time certain changes will take, as well as the supporting information that is likely to be required and the possible issues that may arise.
A good relationship is built on trust and, as per the beginning of this article, this is often something missing with SEO. Seeing that our people are transparent, honest and trustworthy is one of the biggest benefits of our time on-site with clients as it forms a relationship far deeper than the transactional one that initially brought us together.
In fact, looking at our sales data, strong working relationships are one of the single biggest contributors to Builtvisible’s growth. Clients have either retained us based on the relationship or taken us with them when moving to another in-house role.
Strategy is an important part of any client-agency relationship, but results are largely dictated by the quality of the execution. To maximise the probability that a campaign is successful, agencies need to be less passive during implementation and place more of an emphasis on the quality of their ongoing support.
The addition of on-site consulting can be hugely helpful in this regard, by fostering stronger working relationships, increasing organisational understanding and helping to improve issues with internal perception and lack of profile – which would be more challenging obstacles to overcome when relying on remote communication.