SEOmonitor – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Fri, 03 Sep 2021 13:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.1 5 common pitfalls to avoid so you maximize your keyword strategy’s business impact /5-common-pitfalls-to-avoid-so-you-maximize-your-keyword-strategys-business-impact-374205 Wed, 08 Sep 2021 11:00:32 +0000 /?p=374205 Get the most out of your keyword list and set yourself up for success.

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As an SEO agency, you already know the role that keyword research plays in understanding the business opportunities of your clients and how to gather hundreds and hundreds of keywords for your SEO campaign.

But how do you go from a large list of keywords to an articulated, coherent, data-driven set that ensures you’ve zeroed in on the objective and know where you’re heading? 

Jumping straight to execution, crunching tactics and tasks might work in the short-term, but without a well-defined strategy in place, the risk of wasting client resources and, ultimately, trust is high.  

And you’ll know a strategy is good when you trust it to leverage your performance and generate results for your clients while ticking all the following boxes:

  • Having a diagnosis which details the challenge to be solved. This helps you narrow your focus to a clear, simple problem that your client faces.
  • Deciding on a guiding policy that defines the approach you follow for solving the problem. 
  • Developing a set of coherent actions: the tactics you’ll use, step by step, in accordance with your approach to get the best results and solve the problem.

This logical structure, called the kernel of strategy, can help your SEO agency at every stage of campaign development, but for the scope of this article, we’ll be looking at how to refine the guiding policy by avoiding common keyword strategy pitfalls.

Let’s take them one by one, so you discover new ways to get the most out of your keyword list and set yourself up for success:

Pitfall #1 You include branded keywords in the mix

Branded organic traffic is not SEO traffic

The navigational keywords related to your client’s website or other websites (even competitors) won’t be valuable for your SEO campaign, as you can’t directly influence them. Plus, your client owns all the branded keywords, and they’re using other channels to amplify them (marketing campaigns, advertising, paid search, etc.). You don’t need rank tracking or SEO for that.

Mixing the two will muddle your data and will make your client’s position in the search landscape seem better than it actually is — which, in turn, will alter the strategy and your desired objectives. 

Think about this extreme example: including “Amazon” or “Facebook” in your targeted keyword group. All the relevant metrics would be artificially inflated — imagine the search volume numbers jumping to hundreds of millions all of a sudden. 

That’s why, when curating your initial keyword research, it’s important to define your brand keywords and group them separately. Or use a tool like SEOmonitor that automatically segments that for you and further identifies “brand of others” keywords, so you know to exclude them from your strategy and ulterior tracking.

Pitfall #2  You don’t take into account relevance

One crucial pitfall you can encounter when curating your keyword list is not to account for the relevance of each keyword included. Relevance defines, in this case, the client’s website ability to satisfy the search intent.

Here’s one conclusive example. Let’s say “London” slipped into your keyword list when you have a client like “University of London.” What is the user searching for when typing “London?” It’s a very broad search, so Google will try to guess the intent and offer different answers on the first page, from travel articles to institutional websites or wiki entries.

A low relevance keyword will inflate your overall data with high search volumes without bringing any search value for your client. Even if you manage to rank there, which is quite difficult, it wouldn’t matter in terms of ROI.  

That’s why you should identify and exclude them from your list. The big clients are especially prone to this, so take a closer look when optimizing your keywords for them.

To continue our University of London example, if you take a look at what the competitors are ranking for, there’s a big chance that “Oxford” or “Cambridge” are not in the top 20 for “London.” 

With SEOmonitor, once you correctly select your competitors, the algorithm is able to detect whether a potential low relevance keyword appears in the top 100 for any of them. If not, it’s clearly not a relevant keyword for either of you.

Pitfall #3 You include keywords with high SEO difficulty 

You can think about this category as the impossible for now. 

These are relevant but resource-hoarder keywords: they’ll require too much energy and time. Looking at the interplay between the difficulty to rank in the top 10 positions and their potential, including the competition already there, it’s clear whether you should bother with them or not, at the moment.

For instance, a newly launched fashion retailer might want to target “black dresses,” but they need to fight giants like H&M or ASOS. Passing the keyword through a difficulty metric system would probably indicate it’s a hard endeavor, and it would be a waste of resources to compete there now.

But after a few years, if the fashion retailer is highly specialized in “short cocktail dresses” and becomes established on the market, chances are it can outrank its big competitors and the SEO difficulty metric would indicate it’s an achievable feat.

Pitfall #4 You don’t mark highly localized keywords

The problem with these keywords appears when you track keywords at a country or regional level because the search volume aggregates all the locations there, while the rank only expresses a fraction of what the users performing those searches actually see — the result associated with a single location. So you might think you’re accessing the whole search volume, but you’re not.

“Restaurants near me” is a great example here. When you optimize for such a highly localized keyword, you should think about it in terms of one keyword, one landing page, one location, implying different SEO tactics. 

So be aware of these keywords in a broader market and group them accordingly.

Pitfall #5 You include tanking keywords in your target list

This pitfall is a tricky one, so it’s important to spot it as quickly as possible. Tanking keywords are keywords with a significantly decreased search volume over the past 12 months but which keep looking great as an average. 

Here’s one quick example. In 2020, the search for “how to cut your hair” spiked as people adapted to the lockdown. That spring spike completely vanished in 2021.

Keeping it in an SEO strategy would have been a mistake.

It’s a classic case of the average fallacy — You shouldn’t swim into a lake that is 1.5 meters deep as an average, right?

So you should look at year-over-year search trends to refine your list. Understanding current trends for your client’s industry and how demand and consumer behaviors shift is key in saving your resources and future performance.

In a nutshell

Keyword research is just the input for a well-rounded keyword strategy that helps you keep away from wasting your agency and the client’s resources, time, and ultimately trust. 

But to make the journey from a huge list of keywords to a strategic selection implies looking at the bigger picture and identifying what needs to happen and what needs to be avoided. In terms of keyword strategy pitfalls, that includes:

  • No branded keywords mixed with the non-brand ones.
  • Paying attention to low-relevance keywords that might infiltrate your list and skew your overall data without creating value for your clients. 
  • Excluding keywords with high SEO difficulty for now — you might return to them after you’ve grown your client’s website.
  • Spotting the highly localized keywords so you don’t mix their whole search volume with a ranking for one location.
  • Looking at year-over-year search trends and quickly spot a tanking keyword.  

These are just a few of the common pitfalls we identified as part of SEOmonitor Masterclass on Keyword Strategy. If you want to further explore this lesson and many others designed just for SEO agencies, then you can enroll for free and discover how to refine a keyword strategy or use forecasting for better SEO proposals.

Our masterclasses include assignments, key takeaways, case studies, and demos for agencies to study and use in their own processes. After completing them, you’ll be able to leverage strategic frameworks for your agency and make better decisions for your future SEO campaigns. 

Join our learning community today and help us bring more transparency to the SEO industry!

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How to prove SEO ROI and overall business impact /how-to-prove-seo-roi-and-overall-business-impact-350703 Wed, 28 Jul 2021 11:00:13 +0000 /?p=350703 Explain what success means and how to achieve it.

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Creating a winning SEO proposal for a new lead is hard work. You need to assess their SEO potential, identify the right strategy for them, and showcase the business value you can create. And then you need to explain it in a way that is meaningful for the client. 

A lot of proposals tend to jump directly to how the agency can do that for the lead, yet an important step is missing.

To make your business case compelling, the first thing you need to do is understand what success looks like for your potential client. Then you can speak their language, whether that’s revenue, transactions, conversions, or traffic. 

Kevin Gibbons, CEO and founder of Re:signal and SEOmonitor Masterclass educator, points out that what you should do is tie your activity back towards key business outcomes. If you can’t understand and explain exactly what success means and why they need SEO, then there will be no real alignment.

That’s where, Gibbons adds, a reliable forecasting methodology makes the difference. Or as he puts it, a forecast done well will help you define:

  • The WHY = What success can look like for the business and its growth potential. 
  • The HOW = The key areas of the market that the client can grow into.
  • The WHAT = The necessary actions your agency can take to achieve those business outcomes. 

If the what is pretty straightforward, the why and the how become just as straightforward with the right forecast in place: 

Set a realistic business development direction

If you don’t have the bigger picture behind your SEO proposal set, you won’t know where you end up. “The forecast is a great sense check on WHY you are doing this in the first place,” says Gibbons. 

This is the step in which creating a forecasting scenario gives you the right overview of the size of the opportunity. You not only get to evaluate if it’s the right lead for your agency but also if SEO is the right choice for the lead’s current business potential. 

“You need to give them confidence that the results are realistic. If you’re a new retail brand with very little organic visibility and poor brand awareness/reputation, it’s very unlikely you’re going to be able to start ranking competitively for “sportswear” or ”skirts” overnight,” Gibbons explains. 

“Your forecast model should take into account your current opportunity versus the size of the market and break it down into achievable bite sizes so that eventually you can eat that elephant – but you start one achievable bite at a time,” he adds.

SEOmonitor’s forecasting methodology allows you to model the data taking into account all the right inputs that influence your targeted keywords, to create a realistic scenario:

  • The CTR value — the average CTR curve for the top 10 positions on each individual combination of SERP features and devices.
  • The inertial trend of the non-brand organic traffic, based on search seasonality only (as if the website’s rankings would stand still).
  • The Year-over-Year search trend of the keywords included in the Forecast.
  • The ranking improvements of long-tail keywords (that are not part of the forecast) and their impact on traffic.

Clarify the client’s growth opportunities

The “why” that fuels your forecast and the SEO proposal is also based on how you curate your initial market and search landscape analysis. 

Narrowing down your keyword list and understanding where the SEO opportunities lie will be the solid foundation for your scenarios. If your forecasting input lacks the quality it needs, your estimates will be misleading. 

You need to know where you’re heading, the strategic way:

From keyword research to keyword strategy

You can think of the whole framework like this:

  • The keyword research is the input that you need to curate, organize and prioritize. 
  • The keyword strategy is the output — the narrowed-down, categorized keyword groups that inform your action plan and your forecasting foundation.

This framework will help you maximize the impact of your SEO efforts and keep you from wasting resources for both your agency and your client.

But, to do so, you need a correct diagnosis of the client’s status quo and the problem you’re trying to address with SEO. 

Map the client’s business 

The client’s website categories and buyer personas are crucial for your understanding of the business. You can address their product or service categories as a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis and pinpoint the ones that are the most prolific in comparison to their competitors in the search landscape.

There might be the case that the client wants you to focus on certain categories, but you can be proactive in showing them where their strengths lie. 

This view combined with the buyer journey will offer you the basis for evaluating demand and search intent — important for setting the right diagnosis. To better grasp the demand, you can think about what search queries the target audience used and reverse engineer the SERPs and the features Google highlights. 

Let’s take an example. 

Say your client is a small fashion designer with a fairly new website. It won’t make sense to battle big retailers (e.g. GAP and friends) on broad keywords like “dresses” or “jeans” from the get-go. Yet, the designer’s strength lies in customization, so you spot an opportunity for such things as “custom cocktail dresses” or “custom black dress”. Answering the search intent at every step of the journey with content marketing will prove an important part of your diagnosis and action plan: awareness (“little black dress for body shape”), interest (“best black dress”), and consideration (“custom black dress price”).

Map the client’s SEO opportunities

Apart from matching website categories with demand, there are numerous ways of spotting the SEO opportunity.

You can start with the high-opportunity keywords uncovered in your research phase — the keywords with the lowest difficulty to reach the top positions and the highest potential traffic once there.

You can evaluate the desired keywords that have missing landing pages or cannibalization issues and start fixing those immediately. 

Then, there’s the problem of timing: spotting seasonal keywords and using them when their peak approaches is another low-hanging fruit, provided you get their timing right. Some, like holiday and actual season-related products and services, are straightforward. It’s the industry-specific ones that will give you the advantage. 

Again, for the sake of clarity, let’s take an example. 

Your client is an online bookshop preparing for the summer season. Of course, such queries like “best summer holiday reads” or “books to take on the beach” will be addressed. Yet, there might be high-opportunity keywords related to an exclusive event or book with the writer’s autograph, or new editorial launches for the summer months that will be seasonal and industry-specific.

A robust rank tracker can help you work efficiently in prioritizing and segmenting your keywords accordingly, with advanced filtering capabilities to highlight keywords with issues, keywords with low difficulty, high opportunity, and so on. It will save you hours of manually sifting through your initial keyword list.

Set a shared definition of success 

Once you’ve uncovered the most relevant keywords out of your research and you found your answers to the diagnostic question, it’s time to test the viability of your SEO proposal. 

That’s again where forecasting comes in handy in qualifying both the lead and the size of the opportunity. You can create multiple scenarios with your team and calibrate your keyword strategy until you have a realistic, solid proposal — sharing the final version with your client will further the trust and pave the way for setting expectations. 

As we’ve said in the beginning, you should always have a shared definition of what success means for the SEO campaign: additional traffic, additional conversion, revenue, etc. That way, you make sure you track what matters for your client and you both evaluate the SEO performance with the right lens.

The keyword strategy and forecasting exercise are great opportunities to uncover new business potential, as well. This, in turn, positions your agency as a business partner, not just the people executing the SEO tasks.

In conclusion

To prove the ROI of your SEO proposal you need a good understanding of the client’s business and market, the right keyword strategy in place which becomes the basis of a realistic forecasting scenario.

All of these processes ensure that both you and the client speak the same language and know where you want to go in order to achieve business goals and growth targets.

After hundreds of hours of research with our agency clients and many years refining the know-how inside the product, SEOmonitor’s team decided it’s time to distill all that knowledge into a series of masterclasses.  

We’ve launched SEOmonitor Masterclass for agency people to further their knowledge with business frameworks applied to their environment and processes. The first two on SEO Forecasting and Keyword Strategy can be freely accessed at masterclass.seomonitor.com.

Both masterclasses include assignments, key takeaways, case studies, and demos for agencies to study and use in their own processes. After completing them, you’ll be able to leverage strategic frameworks for your agency, maximize the impact of your SEO efforts, and make better decisions for your future SEO campaigns. 

Join our learning community today and help us bring more transparency to the SEO industry!

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The SEO agency KPIs dashboard: a way to unlock growth /the-seo-agency-kpis-dashboard-a-way-to-unlock-growth-350539 Wed, 21 Jul 2021 11:00:50 +0000 /?p=350539 Having accurate real-time metrics for immediate action will keep you in control.

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The challenge of growing an SEO agency as the business becomes more sophisticated translates into staying on top of two major components — the client acquisition process and the client retention process.

The acquisition process is usually tricky to scale because you need to have your best consultants doing the SEO proposals followed by the pitch, and they have limited time in a day. So you can decide to focus on your client retention and improve that to unlock your agency growth.

If we consider the type of growth that happens for a subscription-based business model, improving client retention can also mean lower costs of re-acquisition and maintenance. Plus, your agency can overcome the plateau effect, which is bound to happen as the business develops. 

Improving the retention rate means efficiency over time. Both in terms of resources invested and revenue per month, along with a higher cash flow predictability, as higher retention (compound revenue) can outgrow a higher acquisition rate. Think about your customer acquisition cost versus the lifetime value of that client — research shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5% is bound to increase profits by a scale of 25% to 95%.

But, you probably know the already old business adage: you can’t control what you don’t measure. It’s like driving a car with a broken speedometer. You have no idea how fast you’re going as you enter a speed limit section.

So, the first order of business to tackle: measuring churn rates and retention. What’s behind the churn rate is a whole ecosystem that you need to keep track of, ideally in one place: client profile, SEO performance trend, client engagement, communications, goals or transactions, etc. 

Here’s where an operational dashboard makes the difference between growth and crisis. Having accurate real-time metrics for immediate action will keep you in control:

How to develop your SEO agency operational dashboard 

To scale your SEO agency with speed and efficiency, you should consider the daily tasks that need fast reactions and real-time data and what historical trends you need to be aware of to make data-driven decisions. 

Another thing to keep in mind: not every metric is actionable or critical. And not every metric is essential if it distracts you from your business strategy in the first place.

The challenge is to calibrate the delicate balance between objectives, metrics, and results, translating into managing resources, processes, and profit margins within set growth limits. 

You can start with the fundamentals:

Your SEO agency business model

Think about the types of contracts you sign, the lifetime value of those accounts, and how you keep track of them now. It’s a good start for understanding the forces that impact your churn rate and your current portfolio trends.

You may define the following parameters to include for each client subscription and get an even deeper understanding of your agency landscape: contract type, start date, end date, monthly recurring revenue (MRR), client profile, and even account manager.

You can also include the average revenue per account (ARPA) metric to have a clear picture of where you’re standing regarding business revenue, as it highlights your growth trends.

Make sure you don’t include one-time clients and special projects when calculating MRR, or you’ll lose revenue accuracy. Keep track of them in a separate line.

In the end, you can also correlate these parameters with new business metrics like new qualified leads or new monthly clients, for instance, to further optimize your overall strategy. 

The current visibility of your clients

Another key indicator to closely watch that underlines the state of your SEO campaigns and your performance as an SEO agency is the Visibility metric. Calculated as an impression share that takes into account the ranks of your keywords and their monthly search volumes, it offers you a real-time check on the state of a campaign or overall portfolio.

To have a complete picture, you should measure visibility trends (daily, weekly and monthly). You’ll be able to show how your SEO performance directly impacts business results and know when something is wrong before you get that client email.

You’ll also get to compare visibility scores with the health of an account, the allocated resources and the type of client to gain a deeper understanding of your current portfolio. And how you can further grow it.

The health of your accounts

After looking at the visibility score, you can consider every account’s status in your current portfolio. You can define that as the health of accounts and assign it as a percentage or score. 

It may be the goal set at the beginning of your SEO campaign versus its current status, or it may be a client engagement or client feedback score. 

Whatever makes sense for your SEO agency to define as client health, it is an efficient way to spot what accounts are on track, what accounts are in danger of getting behind, and quickly address those already behind that need fast action. 

A color-coded system might be helpful in that regard. You can also set alerts when a certain percentage or score needs immediate attention. 

No more satisfied clients on paper only!

Budgets and allocated resources per client

Where is your focus in a given timeframe? Being able to pinpoint where you allocate more resources in a month or if you went past a client’s negotiated budget can support you in optimizing internal processes.

That’s why an overview of budgets and human resources allocated per campaign, together with the campaign’s daily or weekly health status, can help you better prioritize and manage your clients.  

You will be able to compare resources with client type, current status, and even historical status (weekly, monthly, or quarterly). This comparison will give you an accurate overview of where and how you spend your resources and what needs to be changed or further defined to lower the churn rate. 

After all the groundwork is done, you’ll have a good foundation for your KPIs dashboard that you can test and iterate, so it’s genuinely actionable and answers your business questions. 

The state of your monthly reports

In a nutshell, reporting influences retention heavily. 

To know the reports’ status for each client in your portfolio is a hidden growth opportunity. It’s your time to take the client’s “pulse,” talk to them in their language and further develop your collaboration.

So having a real-time overview of your client portfolio and when reports are due in your operational dashboard is another critical aspect. Don’t forget to match clients, reports, and account managers for better accuracy and set notifications in advance. 

The communication value of your monthly reporting is not only in how you present your SEO results but in delivering the report on time. 

Making dashboards actionable and adopting them across the agency

Now that you’ve developed the operational dashboard with all the relevant KPIs, which your whole team has access to, you need to make sure they use it. 

  1. The operational dashboard should cater to every SEO agency role 

Your operational dashboard can help your account management with their daily status check and prioritization. 

For instance, if a batch of clients appears to be reaching the end of their contract period, your Customer Success team will know it’s time to set new meetings and start creating SEO proposals for extending the collaboration and keeping the retentions steady. 

Or, maybe, you have a big account with health issues, and your technical SEO team can immediately investigate.

Each role in your SEO agency should use this internal dashboard to do their job with more efficiency.

  1. The operational dashboard should improve your SEO agency’s processes.

To make the internal dashboard usable, you should also think about timing and metrics. 

When does each role need it?

Is it daily for technical issues? Is it monthly for client reporting or, maybe, to check the MRR and ARPA status? Do you need to see the weekly clients’ health and the status of your CS team?

Think about how you get this kind of data now. Maybe you have known unknowns in your current tools, and you keep postponing a dashboard optimization. Or perhaps you have various excel files with tens of tabs each.

Your operational dashboard should help you understand where’s room to grow, your current bottlenecks, and the trends in aspects like new clients, churned clients, MRR on track or behind, visibility trends, client engagement, and so on.

It may seem like another thing to add to your workload, but if it’s a simple and easy to comprehend dashboard, you will gain valuable time for quick actions and decisions. 

Plus, all your team will have the same version of the truth to check and return to regularly. You’ll be in control of your business processes while the “car drives itself” under your careful watch.

We know deciding on what to include and what to leave out of an operational dashboard is a struggle. That’s why we consulted with SEO agencies and designed a dashboard solution that fits your needs as part of our robust SEO platform.

Join us, and hundreds of SEO agencies clients, in the journey of bringing more transparency to the SEO industry. 

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Is it time to completely rethink your keyword management process? /is-it-time-to-completely-rethink-your-keyword-management-process-349863 Tue, 29 Jun 2021 11:00:16 +0000 /?p=349863 How many keywords are you managing right now, for how many clients?

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You’re probably expected to manage tens or hundreds of thousands of keywords at a microscopic level, so you don’t miss a thing. And the difficulty only multiplies the more clients you have in your agency portfolio.

Yet, there is so much you can do with your SEO retainer time for one client. So many man-hours pass on routine campaign management and monitoring tasks. Time that you could invest in increasing the value of that account by spotting the next business opportunity.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. 

It’s clear that you create the most value by doing strategy for your clients — and tracking every development affecting their keywords is crucial for the campaign’s performance.

So you need a process that helps you leverage the agency’s resources and automate the most labor-intensive parts of the job while controlling strategic interventions on execution. 

Here’s how:

Before execution: Segment your keywords strategically.

You can start thinking about an efficient management process from the strategy phase — how you choose your SEO battles reflects how you segment your keywords.

That means categorizing them so you can:

  • edit irrelevant and misleading keywords from the start,
  • quickly scan your keyword groups and see how they evolve,
  • closely watch the keyword opportunities you’re actively building content around,
  • keep an eye on keywords that your client wants you to focus on.

That means categorizing them so you can:

  • edit irrelevant and misleading keywords from the start,
  • quickly scan your keyword groups and see how they evolve,
  • closely watch the keyword opportunities you’re actively building content around,
  • keep an eye on keywords that your client wants you to focus on.

Eliminate harmful or misleading keywords for an effective campaign

Understanding and acting on your client’s SEO opportunities highly depends on the quality of keywords you choose. 

That’s why it’s essential to filter signal from noise — focusing on the insights that would be valuable to the client’s expectations and doing away with the large volume of irrelevant data. Automated keyword research usually has its pitfalls, because keywords that aren’t important to your objectives, or that can waste your time and budget can inflate your list. We’re talking about such keywords as: 

  • Misspelled keywords — that can duplicate your search volume data if they’re not included in close aggregations. 
  • Low-relevance keywords — that can’t account for the user’s intent with your website offerings.
  • Low search volume keywords (<50 searches per month) — that even at their ranking best will create a low ROI for the campaign.

With SEOmonitor’s rank tracker, filtering out the noise is easier than ever. Based on your website input, the platform can do the research for you and automatically group keywords into categories that make sense from an SEO perspective (e.g., high opportunity, keywords with issues, highly seasonal, etc.) while labeling or downright excluding misleading or harmful keywords.

Choose the relevant keywords from the start.

You need to identify and leverage the high opportunity keywords, so you make the most of your agency and your client’s resources. 

Here segmentation becomes the act of translating the client’s business strengths into actionable tactics through two significant lenses: the client’s website categories and target audience, and the business/SEO opportunities:

The buyer’s journey

Segmenting keywords based on customer journey (from the basic “awareness, interest, consideration” model) allows you to provide more targeted value for each type of customer. For example, for buyers in the awareness stage, you want to create content that targets users with search intent that’s still somewhat informational, giving them valuable insight into what they’re looking for—and leading you right to your brand.

You already know the client’s business based on your extensive prior research and their key input on target audiences so that you can start your reverse engineering based on the target’s search queries. 

With retail and e-commerce, this is generally straightforward—you’d just get the intersection of product category and search intent and quickly spot the opportunity:

  • “What is business casual” will prompt a content marketing tactic for your fashion client’s blog or digital PR efforts.
  • “Best cocktail dresses” can give you a hint into optimizing a specific landing page for the user’s interest.
  • “Short versus long cocktail dress” will highlight a desire to choose the right style for the user, which you can include in your client’s blog or product pages.
  • “Buy H&M black cocktail dress” is undoubtedly an indicator for consideration, so you need to make sure all the relevant landing pages are in place.

SEO opportunities

It’s also important to identify keywords that you could easily rank highly in but aren’t using yet. 

Low SEO difficulty keywords with high search volumes or high conversion data will be a good investment of your resources. For example, your client’s website ranks in the top 20 for “dresses for cocktails” but it doesn’t have “cocktails” in the title — this is a quick win and a straightforward task for you. 

These are probably the keywords you should focus your attention on first. 

Or you can look at year-over-year search trends and identify exploding keywords: keywords that show a definite ascending trend and that will be relevant to your SEO campaign in the near future. For instance, leveraging the “near me” search queries in the summer-autumn of 2021. Spotting a relevant keyword in the search landscape that none of your competitors are checking out is quite the competitive advantage:

In SEOmonitor’s rank tracker, you can set what we call smart groups. These are dynamic keyword groups that are automatically updated based on the conditional criteria you set, such as landing page, conversions and conversion rate, opportunity, difficulty, revenue, etc. 

Having the right keyword groups at a glance makes it easier than ever to manage a multi-faceted campaign targeting various segments and identifying how things are performing.

During execution: Optimize your daily routine.

The reality is, you only have a limited number of hours in a day that you have to prioritize based on your client portfolio. Therefore, to be efficient with time, you need to optimize your daily routine as you enter the campaign management phase — the big chunk of your workflow, most probably.

Easily check critical insights.

The first thing you need to make it an efficient process is to establish key performance indicators and a system for easily monitoring campaign progress towards SEO goals:

The SEO objective status

Can you quickly answer how the overall performance of a specific campaign is progressing?

If you set an objective from the start and track your agency’s performance against it, you will get a clear picture of where you’re heading. This, in turn, will grow your efficiency in managing that campaign — are you on track, or is it at risk? 

An agency dashboard that provides a holistic view of each campaign and all your campaigns across the portfolio might come in handy here. Based on your campaign data, you can set up an operational dashboard to give you the critical data at a glance:

  • The overall campaign Visibility and its trend on desktop and mobile. 
  • The client’s objective status tracking.
  • The client’s business health based on sessions and conversions data.

The visibility trend

Rank changes are easy to understand and trust. Group-level metrics are not. And manually checking the visibility for each keyword would be insane. 

So you need a Visibility metric that is consistent and reliable. Calculated as an impression share, weighted against search volume, this metric will help your team understand how each target group is faring on desktop and mobile.

Still, you need to explain what changed. And do so without being misled by non-SEO performance actions like adding or deleting keywords from your campaign and so on.

That’s why SEOmonitor’s rank tracker automatically explains the keyword-level causes behind the changes in a group’s visibility, based on performance, while the algorithm guards against including your administrative actions. 

However, all this automation can only make things easier, not complete the task by itself. You still need to look at the data and employ your intuition and experience to identify a cause. 

Keyword issues and alerts

SEO is a constantly shifting battleground, and you need to stay on top of changes in real-time if you want to maintain competitive rankings. Yet, without automation in place, you’d have to check these manually at regular intervals, spending time on tedious tasks without the guarantee that you’ll catch a significant change as it happens.

With tools like SEOmonitor, you can set email alerts for when the visibility changes or check critical insights in the overall campaign view on your dashboard, categorized as:

  • Issues — missing landing page for a target keyword, keyword cannibalization, etc.
  • Victories — keywords achieving their best rank, SEO objective overachieved, etc.
  • Losses — Visibility drops on specific keyword groups or across the SEO campaign
  • Opportunities — new keywords that are generating clicks but need to be tracked in your campaign 
  • Competition trends — competitors outranked or, on the contrary, a competitor’s Visibility increased or decreased, etc.
  • Market trends — YoY trend for All keywords, seasonality trends, etc.

No matter the system you choose to use, don’t forget to make it streamlined and repeatable, with the nudges in place to help you work smarter.

Block time for reporting and leverage automation

To accelerate your monthly reporting process, think about it throughout your campaign management, not just when you’re getting close to the actual report deadline.

If you make it a process on its own, with insights saved as you get them, annotations on important changes, and faster data curation, you’ll get the time needed to craft the narrative — and better explain what happened to your client.

Let’s take a look at each of them!

Use the power of annotations.

As we’ve seen until now, categorizing keywords is essential, as they’ll give you group-level metrics that:

  • Report which categories have shifted
  • Monitor the keyword sets you’re building content around
  • Observe the keywords your clients are looking to optimize

So you already have key metrics to assess during your daily or weekly processes. You can leverage this process to include quick saves and annotations on Visibility changes, ranks achieved, etc. 

Once you have the insights you deem relevant, you can manually annotate the findings — adding notes as to why you think something has increased or dropped. Then, should something happen frequently, you can look back at your notes while writing your monthly report to backtrack accordingly.

Automate your monthly report building where it counts

As we’ve already hinted at, data gathering is a hassle when you need to open 3-4 tools, many spreadsheets, create screenshots, and so on. 

To go even deeper with efficiency, aside from saving crucial information as you see it, you can leverage data curation with tool integrations. Once you’ve decided to include such inputs as SEO objective status, group Visibility trends, key ranking changes, competitors’ status, etc., you can think about automating the data extraction process — with API, Google Data Studio, or even Google Sheets.

Then, you should define an agency template to make the process streamlined across the organization and keep your communication clear. You’ve already set the expectations with each client, know what the KPIs to report on are, and other necessary tasks included. 

In a nutshell

The end goal is to implement an efficient process from the start, leaving room for building strategies and thinking creatively—the factors that will drive client satisfaction and retention.

Create an efficient system by:

  • Optimizing your daily routine
  • Choosing the right keywords to focus on
  • Segmenting your keyword strategically, so you don’t waste resources
  • Blocking time for reporting
  • Using automation for insights gathering and monitoring.

Leverage SEOmonitor’s Rank Tracker and Reporting Management system to save time and resources with efficient campaign management. Keep track of everything happening in client campaigns without painstakingly going through each contributing factor every day.

Let us help in your journey to manage campaigns more efficiently — not just one keyword at a time. 

The post Is it time to completely rethink your keyword management process? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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How to show the business value of your SEO proposal /how-to-show-the-business-value-of-your-seo-proposal-349540 Mon, 14 Jun 2021 11:00:52 +0000 /?p=349540 Forecasting SEO performance is still a thorny subject in the industry.

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Clients often ask for a forecast to estimate their ROI with this type of marketing investment. Agencies are caught between building a realistic business case and explaining that they’re all scenarios, not promises.

Think about it like this – you both need to know where you’re going, or you won’t have a clue when you’re there. But it’s all about how you set expectations from the start.

Let’s imagine the following scenario: a Client Service Director argues about the benefits of presenting a business case to a new lead to make the sell.

Yet, the agency’s CEO wants to make sure the initial internal evaluation is on point. After all, it makes sense to calibrate your model first and then show the opportunity.

With the right forecasting methodology in place, you can do both and prove your SEO services’ business value.

The big question is how to go about it.

What does SEO success mean for your client’s business?

To invest in SEO, a client needs to understand how that strategy translates into sessions, conversions, and ultimately revenue. So, as an agency, you need to connect the business metrics with the non-brand organic traffic and keyword ranks – the data that you directly impact.

Keywords are influenced by many variables that you need to consider when designing a trustworthy methodology to create realistic SEO scenarios.

And even before that, the way you do your keyword research influences those scenarios:

  • What is the client’s industry trend like?
  • What is their business trend? Are they in a growth phase, or are they plateauing?
  • What is their market share in terms of organic real-estate (their visibility compared to their competitors)?

Understanding the opportunity for growth

The competitors’ keywords gap analysis

It’s common sense, but it can sometimes escape the client’s focus – showing them who their real online competitors are in terms of queries and search intent.

A perfume shop, for example, will be in tight competition with big retailers such as Amazon more than competing perfume shops, deciding to offer online services.

Exploring the client’s domain in connection with the competitor landscape, will give you an overview of the overlapping and non-overlapping keywords, together with their key attributes (search volumes, seasonality, etc.). This is one significant way to understand which keywords are worth introducing into your SEO proposal and ulterior strategy so as not to get sidetracked by misleading keywords.

Continuing our perfume shop example, although the client might want to focus on a specific set of keywords, you’ll be able to make a compelling, data-based argument on why it’s important to improve non-overlapping keywords.

Let’s say you found out that a competitor to our perfume shop had dedicated pages for aroma-based perfumes, with listings that target “vetiver” or “white musk”. Replicating this won’t involve changing the client’s product line and will add new valuable keywords to the mix.

The client’s market share

Another way to evaluate the client’s business status quo is by using the Visibility metric as a market share indicator. Calculated as an impression share and weighted against search volumes, it shows you the growth potential compared to the client’s competitors and the total shares.

As it’s expressed as a percentage, you’ll know where to focus your attention.

For instance, if it’s a competitive market, and the main competitor has a Visibility of 70%, then improving the rankings for high-volume keywords in the top three group will be a game-changer. You’ll also know which keywords to select for a winning SEO strategy.

Transparent calculations for a realistic timeframe

After thoroughly researching and selecting the targeted keywords at hand, modeling how the non-brand organic traffic might look if a particular performance is achieved in a timeframe of 6 or 12 months will help your agency set the right expectations.

To do so, you need to look at all the variables impacting your keyword list:

  • Search seasonality and the keywords’ year-over-year trend.
  • How the inertial traffic influenced by seasonality only looks (as if the website’s rankings would stand still).
  • The performance in time toward the SEO goal, calculated as linear or exponential.
  • The average CTR curve calculated for the top 10 positions for each mix of SERP features and device segmentation, showing you the actual clicks that manage to reach your client.
  • The long-tail keywords and their impact on forecasted traffic.

With this model in mind, you get to estimate sessions and conversions instead of ranks. For instance, in SEOmonitor’s forecasting module, the estimation of the additional conversions is based on the estimated additional visits multiplied by the corresponding conversion rate of each keyword included in the calculation. You can verify each input and output at an individual keyword level and see what makes a realistic or too far-fetched scenario.

Thus, you transform the loaded notion of forecasting into a more tangible idea – various additional traffic scenarios which translate into possible business results, moving the conversation towards marketing added value.

To make a case for a certain scenario, you can highlight what their traffic would look like with and without the proposed SEO campaign, being transparent about what went into your calculations and what assumptions you’ve made.

Letting the client understand the overall opportunity and what’s in it for their business will help you set a common ground for success.

Is it the right budget for the client’s business now?

When your agency builds a business case, another important thing is to evaluate the direct connection between SEO performance and results, correlated to an objective benchmark that both you and the client can easily gauge.

Compare the SEO budget and forecasted results to its equivalent in Google Ads, and you’ll have an external comparison showing the worth that SEO brings. For instance, if the estimated Google Ads Value for your realistic scenario is $55,000 for 12 months, then a $500 to $700 retainer seems more plausible than a $1,500 one.

In contrast, if the estimated Google Ads Value reaches $250,000+ for the same 12 months timeframe, it’s clear that we’re talking about international SEO on a highly competitive market and a $5,000 to $7,000 retainer at least.

Instead of guesstimations and the painful back and forth of establishing a budget benchmark, you’ll now have an overview of where the business is and how you can contribute in terms of revenue. So these calculations can help you set the right price for that client profile.

Even if you choose not to put that forecasting scenario in your proposal and instead negotiate KPIs after the SEO technical improvements are in place (the 3rd or 4th month of collaboration), you’ll have an important internal calibration tool at your disposal.

The forecasting exercise helps assess if the new client’s objective is worth it and keeps your agency accountable for the SEO strategy you propose.

Is the campaign going in the right direction?

An initial business case with variable scenarios helps the agency define success for the new client. Then, it’s just as important to track the SEO campaign’s progress once it’s in place. After all, forecasting is just a way to estimate a possible future and set “a north star” for both of you. The rest depends on how the strategy evolves against the shifting context.

Here’s where reforecasting plays a significant part.

Perhaps the agency decides to share KPIs for the first time in the 3rd or 4th month of collaboration after implementing the audit requirements. Or it’s time for the quarterly review, and the initial SEO strategy and subsequent forecasting are scrutinized. Either way, it’s crucial to revise and adapt.

Maybe there are new keyword lists to add and model into a traffic scenario or a digital PR opportunity to add to the overall plan. Maybe the client has additional products or services that they want to optimize that weren’t included in the starting plan.

For instance, coming back to our perfume shop and its pandemic challenges, it’s important to touch base regularly to see what new opportunities are in store. They might be looking to branch out in the home fragrance industry but don’t know how much demand is in their target market. As their SEO agency, you can re-pitch an SEO campaign based on search data for “home perfumes” and design a creative digital PR campaign with that hook.

This step of the client relationship-building process is an added advantage in proving how you’ve created business value and what more you can do.

Summary

Effectively communicating your proposed SEO campaign’s value is crucial for potential clients to decide if the price is right, the timeframe is right, the ROI is worth it, etc. It’s also a way to keep your agency honest and accountable.

A trustworthy forecasting methodology helps with all of the above, as you get to:

  • Establish a common definition of what success looks like – rankings achieved for relevant keywords, Visibility achieved against competitors etc., which directly translates to additional traffic, conversions, revenue.
  • Establish a realistic budget based on the client profile and its Google Ads equivalent value.
  • Keep track of the SEO objective and reforecast when it’s the case to adjust the strategy.

SEOmonitor’s forecasting module supports SEO agencies to do all that with reliable data and all the necessary variables, taking into account seasonality, YoY trends, and more.

Plus, with the Google Slides integration, you get a Proposal Builder that automatically pulls the forecast data and transforms your business scenario into a pitch-ready presentation.

The forecasting module is just one of the solutions SEOmonitor develops for agencies to acquire, manage, and retain more relevant customers.

Join us in our quest to bring more transparency to the SEO industry!

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How SEO forecasting can help you get the right clients /how-seo-forecasting-can-help-you-get-the-right-clients-349247 Tue, 08 Jun 2021 11:00:57 +0000 /?p=349247 Why using a realistic forecasting methodology can give you a competitive advantage.

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Whenever your SEO agency receives a new inquiry, you need to assert the potential that lead has in terms of SEO growth.

It’s a resource-intensive and uncertain process.

You have to keep many variables in mind:

  • The lead’s digital business landscape and potential
  • What that lead wants to achieve for their marketing efforts
  • Their available internal resources
  • The right price that supports your agency and satisfies the client

As your team juggles with all the necessary inputs to gauge the viability of the lead’s SEO objective, you may also evaluate if it’s the right fit for your agency’s DNA.

Or, as Edward Coram James, founder and CEO of Go Up, puts it, “You can tell a lot about someone from their email requests. For instance, maybe it’s someone who inquires about pricing but refuses to set up a call…”

…a situation that clearly determines the way the relationship will play out and the value of efficient communication – or lack of.

Sometimes it’s obvious that you should just say no.

For the other times, if it’s not a case of clashing values and visions, you need a straightforward qualifying process and a reliable benchmark to “keep you honest,” according to James.

And that’s where a realistic forecasting methodology becomes a competitive advantage.

Why use a forecasting methodology to evaluate your leads?

Once you’ve decided that it’s the type of business or project you want to work for, then it’s all about running the numbers.

“From a business point of view, considering the sustainability and reputation of our agency, it makes a lot of sense to choose clients where we feel we can do a really good job,” James said.

That translates into evaluating two main things:

  • The potential client’s SEO objective and how realistic it is
  • What an SEO campaign is going to look like for the lead in terms of budget and ROI

Using a forecasting tool helps with both of these things as you create a pitching campaign and analyze your targeted keywords and the variables that influence them.

Considering search volumes and seasonality, year-over-year trends, SERP features, average CTR curves, the device mix, and so on, you see how traffic can look like for that lead if certain ranks are met.

You can even correlate the direct impact you can create for the client’s non-brand organic traffic and how that relates to business results – sessions, conversions, and even additional revenue for e-commerce leads.

“If we are able to get them into the top 10, top five for x, y, and z, and it actually results in a substantial increase in inquiries, then we have a first opportunity hint. Going through their analytics data, we also gauge their conversion rate,” James said.

That’s how the initial forecasting exercise works to determine the possible increase in the number of inbound organic leads.

Crunching the numbers can lead to “unworkable” results as well.

For instance, if it’s a business that will reach the desired objectives in three years and needs to invest around $20,000 to $30,000 per month to do so, it’s not a plausible scenario to further pitch to.

But if the numbers look good in your scenario, then the qualifying process continues.

Building the business case with forecasting

A way to align your team

Doing a forecasting exercise at this stage not only helps you evaluate the potential of the lead’s growth possibilities but is also an important step in the agency’s internal calibration.

For Go Up, this is a “viability test,” which includes both the forecast and a deep dive into technical issues, SEO opportunities, and other important bits of a preliminary audit done by the strategy team.

If what the strategy team evaluates is in accordance with the forecast scenario, and there is significant ROI to pitch to that client, the agency can make a solid proposal with all internal views aligned.

To decide if a lead is worth pursuing and control the process, the strategy team is unaware of the findings of the initial forecast analysis while focusing on:

  • The lead’s website issues, domain authority, etc.
  • Keyword opportunities and the “market share” of that business in terms of visibility
  • What key resources are needed for a successful SEO campaign: technical SEO, PR, UX, CRO, etc.
  • The budget versus the SEO possibilities

In the end, spotting the right opportunity is a matter of answering the following questions:

  • How much revenue is out there for the client to get?
  • How long and how resource-intensive is it going to be to reach those targets?
  • If all the resources are spent in the agreed amount of time, will the client be ROI positive?

If you can come back and say that for a $5,000 monthly budget, you can generate $2 million in a year, then the ROI is clear on both sides.

If, on the contrary, the lead’s SEO objective is unrealistic, and your internal exercise has proven it, you can help them become aware of that. Then, you can set a new target or, depending on the case, explain to them why SEO is not the right marketing approach for their business at the moment.

“When using forecasting, we take that whole setup as being 100%, then look at the slice of the pie that we think is realistic, which might be 30%,” James said. “Then, being really conservative, we carve that to 15%. So, we can measure the revenue that 15% will generate – it’s what we compare to the output and the required budget.”

Doing both the forecasting exercise and the viability test becomes a way to assess the strength of a potential campaign while keeping all the involved members of the agency accountable. That’s why, as a process, it then generates the necessary confidence to communicate with a lead and highlight what works and what doesn’t.

A way to showcase the SEO opportunity

Gauging the SEO opportunity is, as we’ve seen, a strategic exercise in itself.

With a clear understanding of the lead’s search landscape, the specific search terms that you can optimize and their traffic, the comparison with their competitors, etc., and the forecast scenario in the back of your mind, you can articulate their growth potential.

For the sake of transparency and clear communication, you can present the data range you’re basing your strategy on and explain how that translates into the business opportunity you’ve uncovered.

“There was a financial services company launching a new platform who came to us and said that if we can get them 300 paid signups within year one, then this campaign will have been an absolute success,” James said.

To evaluate the viability of that objective and pinpoint the opportunity, the agency removed anything that looked highly transactional, short-tail keywords, and so on and designed the internal forecasting exercise around long-tail keyword sets – based on thorough research from a similar business.

James explained:

“We analyzed what’s left after removing everything that looked really juicy. Did we have an attractive value proposition after that? We took the combined search volume of all of those different long-tail keywords and realized we could provide ROI in the first 10 months of the campaign. We did the conversion rate estimate based on their sister website and then thought – if we’re increasing that conversion rate by 20% and hit the targets on 70% of these keywords on the first page, are we hitting that 300 signups mark? The answer was yes, so we went to the client and said: These are not KPIs, but we think that there is a business model to be had here.”

In the end, the financial services client increased even more than the initial objective, and it was their internal use of the forecasting methodology that made the growth potential clear from the start.

Still, for Go Up, this is also the moment when they clarify that they set KPIs after the first technical improvements are in place:

“If you literally just change the title tags on a website, you’re going to get an indicator quite quickly as to how Google interprets that change and how much it moves the needle for the client,” James said.

Setting this kind of expectation makes the agency confident to provide a forecast scenario in the third or fourth month of the collaboration and set hard KPIs.

“Once we have the initial changes done, we can say all of these keywords here can reach top three, these top five, etc. We go back to the forecasting and then set proper KPIs. We’ll often tie ourselves to those targets financially,” James said. “We’ll ask the client to withhold 10% of the monthly management fee. And if, after 12 months, we don’t hit these KPIs, then we waive that 10%. But, if we do, then we send you a nice invoice for that 10%.”

Pro Tip: Whether you present the forecast scenario in the pitching stage or use it as an internal compass, don’t forget about the importance of reforecasting, either. Quarterly business reviews are a good moment to take the client’s pulse and present new SEO opportunities that you’ve spotted during the past months.

In summary

Qualifying clients for your SEO agency involves a lot of work and resources while balancing all the factors you need to consider for a successful collaboration.

If it’s a lead that gets you excited and is a good fit for your agency’s culture, it becomes a matter of evaluating the viability of their SEO objective and opportunities.

Go Up’s use of SEOmonitor’s forecasting module is a straightforward way to internally assess if the client’s ROI is worth it, keeping all sides accountable.

After all, building a business case with forecasting helps you:

  • Gauge the “market share” of the lead and its growth opportunities.
  • Understand where you can make a difference and how that can correlate with business results.
  • Evaluate the consistency of the ROI and be honest about the potential performance of a campaign.

With SEOmonitor’s methodology, you can do all that while also showcasing the added business value your agency can create, modeling additional traffic, conversions, and a Google Ads’ equivalent cost – which can be an indicator of setting the right budget.

The forecasting module is just one of the solutions SEOmonitor develops for agencies to acquire, manage, and retain more relevant customers.

Join us in our quest to bring more transparency to the SEO industry.

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Is it time to switch to a new SEO tool? /is-it-time-to-switch-to-a-new-seo-tool-347690 Wed, 14 Apr 2021 11:00:56 +0000 /?p=347690 The biggest factors that influence the decision to purchase a new SEO tool.

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The SEO industry is constantly changing and evolving.  Your SEO agency’s needs also change as your business grows. The tools you use will shape how you direct your growth.

So it’s important to stay up-to-date on what’s new in the space to decide whether adopting a new tool would benefit your business. Yet, it’s always a question of prioritizing what’s critical for your business requirements.  There are many factors at play here:

  • Some SEO platforms solve problems that you maybe didn’t even know existed – to identify these, you need to stay abreast of new advancements in the industry.
  • Some solve a particular problem, which you’re already aware of – in these cases, it’s just about identifying which tool is the best fit for your agency’s needs.
  • Some offer a seamless experience that helps you optimize your SEO workflows.
  • Some offer competitive advantages in terms of features or pricing.

In our interviews with top SEO agencies from around the globe, we’ve gathered various insights into the factors that most influence the decision to test and even switch to a new core SEO tool.

Here are some of the telltale signs that it might be time to start prospecting for new SEO software in your tool stack.

Your current tool isn’t giving you the right data or functionalities

Accuracy and functionality are the biggest pain points SEO professionals have with their tools. Does your current solution give you enough data? Does it provide the right data? If not, you may not be able to deliver on your SEO goals.

Have you ever come across either of these problems?

Unreliable or incomplete data

Some SEO platforms simply provide more data features than others, while others charge extra to view specific metrics, like:

  • Google’s “(not provided)” data.
  • Brand/non-brand organic traffic segmentation.
  • Mobile vs. desktop traffic.

Having this data is invaluable for SEO professionals. But having to pay for it granularly can be a hugely limiting factor, particularly for smaller agencies.

For example, mapping the traffic data from Google Analytics and matching it with the keyword data from Google Search Console to get what’s “(not provided) means you can show clients the direct impact which SEO has on other business goals – like how increasing ranking for a keyword affects conversions.

SEO platforms that provide this type of data as standard can give you an advantage when it comes to acquiring and retaining clients by highlighting the connection between SEO and business results.

Or it can be an issue of unreliable metrics – misleading or opaque calculations, issues that pertain to technical changes and not your SEO performance, and so on.

Think about the Visibility metric. If it’s calculated as an average of positions for a set of keywords, then changes based on adding or deleting keywords on that list will be misleading, leaving you to figure out why the score fluctuates.

Paul Wood, Director of Indulge Media, points out that innovation in how an SEO tool calculates a key metric is a deciding factor. Even more so if it’s something the agency used to do with spreadsheets and many hours spent before finding out about such an efficient metric.

“The more interesting scenario is when you suddenly become aware of a tool that’s out there that does something your team didn’t even consider,” Wood said. “When you see it in a tool, that’s a moment when you change the way you’re thinking about things, about how you structure your work. And then you start to work differently.”

This is how the right SEO tools should work – solving agency pain points, even the ones you might not have thought were possible to resolve.

Functionality issues

Speed is a huge factor in the SEO industry.

Search professionals need access to accurate, up-to-date data at the moment to implement campaigns and track performance.

Because when your software malfunctions, you need to get the problem solved fast.

This is why it’s essential to consider the quality of support provided when selecting an SEO tool.

Ideally, you should get access to a dedicated account manager who you can approach for quick resolution of issues on an as-needed basis, as well as regular support calls to review your agency’s needs.

When Paul Friend, Head of SEO, and Ben Foster, Managing Director, from SEO Works decided it’s time to choose a different core SEO tool, they scored ongoing and ad-hoc support as one of the “hundreds of different relevant aspects when selecting the right tool.”

As part of their decisional matrix, this was one point that needed to match key functionalities like keyword features including universal rankings, overall market visibility scores, content insights, forecasting and reporting capabilities, link building capabilities, competition insights, and many more.

After all, when you’re evaluating or considering upgrading your existing tech stack, you need to see how well a solution performs based on your agency’s specific needs.

You want to be seen as a leader in innovation

Digital is always moving, and SEO professionals have to be up-to-date with new developments to remain competitive. Agencies need to be at the forefront of innovation, so they constantly look out for new technologies that will set them apart.

Paul Wood says that they “make an effort at least a few times a year to have a proper review of what’s out there in terms of tools.” They focus primarily on accessibility and UX when assessing new tools on the market, like:

  • How easily they allow you to export data.
  • How they facilitate collaboration between internal teams and clients.
  • How many functionalities can be integrated into a single platform.

The team at SEO Works also highlights the importance of always being on the lookout, with members keeping each other informed. They have an extensive training program in place, too – so everyone is onboarded not only with the tools but the specific methodologies the agency uses for top-notch SEO strategies.

Going even further, agencies like SEO Works develop proprietary tools, showing how their innovative approach can be a competitive advantage for clients in their portfolio.

You’re growing or scaling your SEO agency

Digital adoption has accelerated globally by at least 3-4 years in just a few months, according to a recent McKinsey Global Survey of C-level business leaders.

This drive toward a digital-first approach is only expected to continue, which means that scaling needs for SEO agencies are likely to be high right now, as well as for the foreseeable future.

Meeting this growing demand for SEO services requires agencies to scale operations efficiently while also staying competitive themselves. If you’re growing your agency, it’s a good time to test your tools and see if they have the right set of functionalities to promote and support this growth.

Fast-growing agencies need more capabilities, like:

  • Access to more users: As you add new clients and employees, you want tools that allow you to have unlimited users (ideally, at no extra cost) and facilitate collaboration across teams.
  • Unlimited API access: Your SEO tools need to work seamlessly with your other business tools as you grow your overall technology toolkit. For example, we’ve made it as simple as possible to export large quantities of data through the SEOmonitor API, letting you pull the campaign and keyword-level data into your preferred internal systems (like Klipfolio) and customize client reports.
  • More efficient workflows: Operational dashboards, integrated systems, and organizing capabilities for your client portfolio, all make a difference in helping you get the status quo at a glance.

In the words of many SEO professionals we’ve talked with, the highest value an SEO platform can bring is to help you not waste time.

The right tools will help you do this, but ineffective ones can leave your team spending too much time on technical processes, which will seriously impede your ability to scale.

Your tool isn’t collaborative enough or customizable

SEO professionals need to have stable processes and methodologies across all teams. The best software is built with this in mind.

Collaboration and customization are the most important things that agencies prioritize when choosing SEO tools. And lots of features facilitate this, like:

  • Multiple user access: Unlimited access for team members and clients, with customizable client view permissions.
  • Collaborative features: Real-time annotations, comments, and sharing capabilities for both teams and clients.
  • Tracking metrics: A centralized agency dashboard that lets teams monitor performance and tasks, as well as align on goals.
  • Personalization features: From filtering campaigns by account managers to an editing mode that optimizes your time for keyword management, to saving customized reporting templates across the agency, there are many capabilities you should consider.

A robust SEO solution, which combines multiple functionalities like these in a single platform, helps optimize internal workflows and gain a holistic view into agency operations.

Your tool isn’t cost-effective

Different sized agencies have different budgets.

Optimizing costs is crucial, particularly for scaling agencies. You have to hire more people and use more resources in your tools to handle a larger volume of clients, and you don’t want to scale your costs at the same rate.

Some questions to ask when evaluating the cost-efficiency of a particular tool are:

Does it offer flexible pricing and use of resources?

Most SEO software solutions have a fixed subscription cost, which includes a set number of domains and keywords. But if your use of the tool’s resources fluctuates from month to month, your pricing remains the same.

Other platforms give agencies the ability to upgrade or downgrade each month, so you only pay for what you use. Having no predefined plan supports agencies better evaluate their expenses based on campaign volume on a specific timeframe.

Are there any extra hidden costs?

Some tools have an attractive base price but come with hidden costs and extras that can quickly add up, especially when you’re onboarding lots of new clients and handling larger campaigns. These include:

  • Per-user costs: Will you be able to add unlimited users (including clients) at no extra cost to allow for internal and external collaboration?
  • Migration fees: Is there an hourly or fixed rate for migrating from your existing system to a new tool?
  • Integration costs: Are there multiple integrations to important tools of the trade (Data Studio, Google Sheets, API access, etc.) included in the price?

So if your current software isn’t making the most financial sense for your business, it could be time to test a new one.

When is the right time to start prospecting for a new SEO tool?

The answer is, you should never stop your critical analysis.

Innovation is an ongoing process, especially in this rapidly-changing industry. So your core SEO tool of choice needs to keep up the pace and constantly update its capabilities.

When you encounter these signs with your existing solutions, they may not be serving you as well as they should be, like:

  • When you don’t get access to the right data or functionalities.
  • When you want to be a leader in innovation, which means you need innovative methodologies.
  • When you’re growing or scaling your agency, and you need more capabilities in place.
  • Or when you want to be more cost-effective.

We understand that an SEO agency’s core tools are crucial in winning more clients and managing them more efficiently.

That’s why our team at SEOmonitor is committed to designing specific solutions that help you acquire, manage, and retain relevant customers.

Join us and our SEO agencies community in the journey to bring more transparency and measurability to the SEO industry.

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What is the right price for your agency’s SEO services? /what-is-the-right-price-for-your-agencys-seo-services-346602 Mon, 08 Mar 2021 12:00:31 +0000 /?p=346602 Whether or not your agency’s pricing is on point is a pressing question when dealing with a potential client.

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How many times have you found yourself thinking that you sold your agency short?

Or been anxious that the client won’t accept your fee?

Maybe you’ve been caught in endless and disappointing negotiations where the value was lost altogether.

Pricing feels like a black box. As markets continue to shift and SEO services diversify, setting a benchmark gets fuzzier and fuzzier.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

After all, it all boils down to two important things – the right balance between a good profit for your agency and a good deal for your client.

What’s behind the ‘right price’?

To determine what good profits and deals look like without the inherent subjectivity, you need to go back to the drawing board and analyze three important components: cost, price and perceived value.

You also need to understand the relationship between them:

  • Your incentive to sell is defined by the difference between cost and price – you don’t want to cover just your costs but make a profit.
  • The client’s incentive to buy is defined by the difference between the perceived value of what you’re offering and the price – how your client perceives the value of your services informs their willingness to buy them.

Get too close to the operational costs with your pricing, and you’ll lose the motivation to make that sale.

Get too far out into the perceived value with your pricing, and you might lose the client if they perceive the agency as too costly.

It’s a balancing act to determine the sweet spot for your price, between the cost and the perceived value.

It’s also a question of who gets the most value out of your agency services to create a relevant threshold and how to create a data-driven benchmark to determine the most effective margin with available search data.

Let’s take them one by one.

The customer segment makes a difference

Your SEO agency’s DNA will inform how you determine your client segments, whether based on geographies, size, or industry.

Also, according to the range of services you offer, you’ll know what clients don’t suit your needs – for instance, an early-stage startup won’t be a good SEO client for various reasons (lack of product-market fit, lack of budget, no SEO foundations to begin with, etc.).

Furthermore, think about the difference in creating SEO value for a startup and an established e-commerce company with a few technical issues.

You can use a strategic tool like the business model canvas to start mapping your current client portfolio and determine who’s your ideal client profile, answering questions like:

  • Who are the customers?
  • Where are they in their growth stage?
  • What are their revenue streams?

Maybe you specialize in a specific vertical like medical SEO, lawyers SEO, B2B SaaS, etc. Or perhaps you’re interested in focusing on online businesses only or enterprise only.

It’s also crucial to look into your agency’s history and analyze your failures in selecting clients and projects. You’ll remember the bad deals and the misaligned offers – map them and learn from them:

  • How were your profit margins for each one of them?
  • How many hours did you spend?
  • What other resources did you use?
  • What was the monthly recurring revenue?
  • How did all of the above affect your income?

Knowing who to refuse to secure specific pricing and not destabilize your policy is just as important as identifying your preferred client segment. That way, you don’t start negotiating from scratch every time a potential client contacts you.

After all, if it’s not a qualified lead, you must say no.

Articulate the (perceived) value & forecast it

After figuring out what clients you want to work with (those who make sense from a pricing point of view), you need a straightforward process to help them understand your value.

Even if you know your gross margin (the gap between your costs and your potential pricing) and your lead qualification principles, you must evaluate a rather uncertain input to make the formula complete – the perceived value of your agency’s services.

There are many possible variables in your qualified lead’s head: your brand, your referrals, other players in the market, other offers received, their history with other vendors, etc.

It’s hard to take all of them into account and it’s a slippery road, anyway.

It’s more efficient to establish a data-driven process through a reliable forecasting methodology. It will make a difference in your positioning and help you be transparent and trustworthy while bypassing the subjectivity inherent to perception.

Translate SEO results to business outcomes

In order to determine the relevant inputs that will impact the client’s business, you need to take into account:

  • The non-brand organic traffic that you can directly impact through the SEO campaign.
  • Search seasonality and the year-over-year trend of your targeted keywords.
  • The inertial traffic influenced by seasonality only (as if the website’s rankings would stand still).
  • The performance in time towards the visibility improvement target, whether linear or exponential.
  • The average CTR curve for the top 10 positions, for each mix of SERP features and device split, showing you the actual clicks that manage to reach your client.

All of the above data will allow you to estimate results in terms of clicks and conversions instead of rankings, thus making a closer connection between your proposed SEO strategy and their potential business outcomes.

Moreover, you’ll be able to highlight the difference in traffic with and without your proposed SEO campaign. This means you’ll also be able to calculate what the equivalent in PPC looks like – an objective number to anchor the price in.

Bringing in this external comparison will show the worth SEO brings, giving clients a chance to research and assess the projected outcome with a clear context in mind.

Set the right price

With this equivalent at hand, you’ll not only create a trustworthy pitch, but you’ll also know the perceived value benchmark. Plus, you’ll be transparent from A to Z, an added value in terms of client relationship building.

Let’s say you have a client whose estimated Google Ads Value is $875,000 for the 12 months forecasted scenario. A $10,000 retainer may not sound as far-fetched anymore, considering this client must be a player in a highly competitive international market and the added conversions you can generate are no small feat.

Or maybe it’s a client with a $63,000 estimated Google Ads Value for the 12 months timeframe. Then, a $500-700 retainer seems more plausible – it’s probably an SMB within limited geography, needing help to raise the bar in their market.

No matter the client profile you want to serve at your agency, with this efficient use of search data you’ll be able to create realistic business scenarios that help dictate your pricing without the painful guesstimations.

Once again, you can make the point that SEO is an investment and the traffic you’re generating for the client is there to stay. There is a cumulative value that goes beyond the paid media results if you think long-term.

Plus, for accountability purposes, you can go one step further and set your SEO objectives following the forecasting benchmarks, thus having a reliable starting point to measure against.

Monthly retainers. One-time projects. Success fees.

Considering the agency business model and that SEO is a long-term investment, the monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is the pricing that makes the most sense.

But the question of one-time projects will appear – should you or shouldn’t you accept them?

As with any clarification process, it depends on how your defined pricing policy integrates exceptions.

Sometimes, accepting a one-time deal can bring benefits if you consider:

  • Technical audits as a separate service.
  • Consultancy services.
  • SEO training.

It can also work if you feel there’s a distinct benefit to be gained.

Maybe it’s a new vertical you want to enter, or an experimental project your agency wants to explore. In these cases, you can agree on a 3-month project and set the expectations accordingly – no rigid results, but an experimental setup to pinpoint SEO potential.

Of course, this can be a starting strategy that leads to next steps, should the initial results be promising.

When evaluating such leads, it’s good to do your preliminary keyword research with the “low-hanging fruit” lens and spot the SEO opportunities early on. For instance, evaluating the targeted keywords’ difficulty or the additional traffic generated if those keywords reach the top 3 will give you a good idea about your client’s market and your potential ROI.

Another added value for your SEO offers is the success fee. You should do it every time you start a collaboration. You’ll not only communicate confidence from the get-go, but you’ll add an extra layer of motivation for your team to deliver beyond the agreed-upon results.

Do we consider competition?

The right price is mainly influenced by your costs, your profit margins, and your client profile. Yet, you should be aware of your agency’s competitors and their pricing policies, in order to see if they anchored the perceived value on a different scale.

If you find yourself on a different level than what the market is accustomed to, your positioning and perceived value play a major role in the final decision.

In business theory, this approach to pricing is called the value-based approach.

In an HBR article, A Quick Guide to Value-Based Pricing, you’ll find the following definition:

“Value-based pricing is the method of setting a price by which a company calculates and tries to earn the differentiated worth of its product for a particular customer segment when compared to its competitor.”

Now, with all of the inputs at hand, you’ll know how to set and explain the differentiated worth of your agency.

Summary

Creating a pricing strategy that resonates with your agency’s business model can be a tough endeavor.

Analyzing cost, price, and perceived value, you get to think about all the components that keep the balance between your incentive to sell and the client’s incentive to buy:

  • The cost structure of your agency.
  • The customer segments that you want to cater to.
  • The customer profiles to whom you’ll say no.
  • The perceived value of your SEO services, calculated through a reliable and transparent forecasting method (making the case for the additional visits and conversions you can bring and how that might look in a PPC campaign by comparison).

SEOmonitor’s forecasting module highlights the Google Ads value equivalent, letting you see all the calculations down to a keyword’s level, for the sake of a transparent and valuable pricing decision (which you can present to your clients).

This is just one of the many solutions we’ve developed to help SEO agencies acquire, manage, and retain more customers.

Join us in our journey to bring more transparency to the SEO industry.

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How to (re)build an SEO agency today – Part 3: Changing business models /how-to-rebuild-an-seo-agency-today-part-3-changing-business-models-340880 Tue, 22 Sep 2020 11:30:04 +0000 /?p=340880 Without in-person meeting, curating client relationships with more attention in the digital landscape is crucial for retention.

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How would an SEO agency be built today? 

This was the challenging question behind our three-part analysis on the state of SEO agencies in an uncertain 2020. Our team at SEOmonitor designed this strategic experiment to support agency leaders think about the forces influencing their business and where the opportunities lie in optimizing or evolving their agencies.

Firstly, we explored consumer and business trends since the pandemic started, to understand how the markets and behaviors shifted. Then, we analyzed about 36,000 SEO and digital marketing agencies worldwide to highlight their current business models, using Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas (BMC) tool.

To end our strategic thought experiment, we’re asking What’s next for the SEO industry and how can SEO agencies evolve in the new context?  We’ll explore the answer by looking at business trends with a high impact on the SEO industry, making sense of the Business Model Canvas  — your agency current state and what you can change —, and bringing them together.

We’re basing our insights from research, interviews with SEO experts, and practical examples found during our Circle sessions — a mastermind-like workshop for agency founders and top managers to work on pressing matters. Mainly, the ones focused on the future of agencies and the BMC with Luke Lauer (Managing Director at TitanGrowth), Greg Walthour (CEO and Founder of SocialSEO), James Finlayson (Head of Strategy at Verve Search), Nick Wilsdon (Senior Partner at TorquePartnership), Radu Marcusu (CEO at Upswing) and Cosmin Negrescu (founder of SEOmonitor and an SEO agency). 

Let’s begin!

Business trends that influence SEO agencies

Narrowing the lens on the consumer and business trends that we’ve tackled in the first part of this trilogy, you need to start addressing the ones relevant to building an SEO agency today. And, more importantly, establish which are here to stay and which are just a fad with no long-term implications.

This is one important step in understanding the new context that shapes the business. To help you see clearer, don’t forget to place them on Gartner’s Hype Cycle — an innovation curve that indicates whether it’s just hype surrounding a particular trend or it’s getting productive and mainstream.

That’s how you consider the trend’s scale and its second-order effects — the string of consequences a trend has, that are not visible at first glance. Remember Henry Ford’s innovation in producing serialized automobiles? A second-order effect that the accessibility of automobiles brought was actually in retail, as people could travel further and carry more products, so bigger convenience stores could be developed. 

A good question to ask at this point is What are the potential consequences of a system/market change you’re considering? And what are the consequences of those consequences?

Remote work

Here’s a trend with a long-term impact, which is definitely here to stay as more and more companies are transitioning to full-time policies of remote work. 

For an SEO agency that can mean a rise in productivity, yet it also implies new ways of doing recruitment or new business which need creative solutions. There is a slope of disillusionment implied here, as teams start feeling the fatigue of Zoom meetings, and other disadvantages like a lack of proper office setup or increased work hours. 

A potential second-order effect, in this case, is a change in the agency workflows — maybe transforming some parts of the creative process into an asynchronous one. But this means taking care not to affect creativity or the feeling of belonging in the team, as it can backfire without the synchronous brainstormings and workshops. 

Also, when it comes to hiring, remote work may mean a real threat in losing staff — people are more accessible now than pre-March. SEO agencies need to find ways to keep their culture while online. It may as well be an opportunity to enhance company culture and access top talent on a global level.

Agile planning acceleration

Digital transformation has been pushed at the forefront of many businesses, as online consumption spiked out of necessity. Because of this, business operations had to embrace agile planning, going from monthly cycles to even weekly cycles, as Nick Wilsdon pointed out during a Circle meeting.

This is probably another trend that is here to stay, which opens the door for agencies transforming their implementation-only status into a more consulting role — helping businesses accelerate their digital systems with know-how and specific search data. 

There’s an interesting second-order effect that could happen as SEO agencies take on a more strategic and consultative place. Strong competition between the traditional consultancy firms and the transformed agencies throughout the market could ensue. 

Leveraging search data 

Another trend that accelerated throughout the pandemic, that Google also highlighted for businesses, is the importance of search data in determining thriving markets or significant consumer behaviors. 

Probably here to stay, the leverage of search data can go beyond the strategic level and inform how businesses transform their operations. For instance, as Nick Wilsdon further pointed out, analyzing search data to understand the customer journey and what people are asking about a certain business can inform customer support and their new frequently asked questions materials. 

Again, the SEO agency’s supporting role at a general business level can continue to grow. 

Yet, a second-order effect can see the rise of a new type of company that only leverages search data for sophisticated research — consulting firms using search data for business analysis, without any direct relationship with SEO.

These are some of the main trends we uncovered. You can continue this exercise of current trends analysis with what you discovered and what the consequences could be, until you find 3-5 significant trends for your agency context. 

Actionable business trends and the new business model canvas

With your actionable business trends explored, it is time to create a new business model canvas, guided by the idea of how an SEO agency with significant resources can be shaped in today’s world.

In short, the Business Model Canvas or BMC designed by Alex Osterwalder is a strategic tool that helps you present an existing business model and make it practical for all the agency’s stakeholders. It is also a tool that enables you to think in the future and create patterns between its building blocks of customers, channels, activities, revenues, and more.

Think about the business trends you’ve discovered

This intermediary step is one that we, at SEOmonitor, introduced to help you be mindful of the external forces influencing your choices.

So which ones are relevant for shaping a better business model for the agency? 

For instance, in our debate with TitanGrowth’s managing director, Luke Lauer, he mentioned hedging as an interesting trend of risk management. In investment, hedging means protecting your portfolio by taking an opposite position in a related asset. If you see a negative impact on your current X stock, you don’t sell, but invest in a different Y stock that will reduce your risk of loss. As an agency, hedging can imply diversifying your client portfolio — because you never know which industries could be affected in the future, you can treat your portfolio like an index of multiple industries to target.

Choose customer segments and connect them with your value proposition

See how a big trend like remote work can affect both the SEO agency and a possible customer that had to adopt it. Would they want to work with an agency that has a client service team covering all timezones? Maybe you can highlight your distributed team and multiple markets know-how as a key proposition, and even target brands that have international coverage. 

If you choose hedging as a lens, there are multiple ways to go about it: getting more clients, probably coming from tech and eCommerce, or targeting brands that need to make this transition. Attacking more verticals than before, to have a diversified portfolio in that respect, and offering them your data know-how. Or diversifying your services which can become a transition to a more consultative role or an integrated digital marketing positioning — another potential differentiator in today’s global market.

Think about new channels and customer relationships 

Once you’ve established the targeted customer segments and the key proposition that differentiates you in solving their particular problem, it’s time to address how you want to build relationships with them and which channels you can use to reach them.

The pandemic made Zoom one of the most sought after channels — weekly video calls are the norm in taking the customer’s pulse and managing their projects. With agile planning in sight, this means a closer relationship between the agency and the company, while coordinating in sprints and becoming more strategic about SEO. Maybe even considering having a project manager working directly with the client or an SEO specialist at their disposal for fast decision making on both sides. It also means being present in the client’s internal channels, whether Slack or other messaging channels they work with, to intervene fast, point out opportunities, and show you care.  

You can go even further, as Greg Walthour mentioned, and appoint a Customer Satisfaction Manager auditing each client relationship and ensuring potential frustrations and conflicts are mitigated in time. Without an in-person meeting, curating client relationships with more attention in the digital landscape is crucial for retention.

The pandemic also took offline events out of the picture for some time, which was an important business development channel for agencies and companies alike. Radu Marcusu pointed out how they moved their Upswing Power Sessions online from the start of the lockdown, managing to gather over 350 qualified participants who didn’t have any contact with their agency before — a better targeting method, as well. 

Now is a good opportunity to leverage data-driven outbound marketing for the agency, and even think about experimenting with the sales funnel and automation in qualifying your leads. 

Data-driven outbound would take into account far more variables when thinking about potential customers and your lead generation efforts. Traditionally, agencies would target based on revenue, yet now you have access to things like the technology that is powering the client’s whole website (e.g. Drupal), year-over-year shifts in their keywords or their monthly market share (YoY Trends). That can be leveraged for highly-targeted messaging, better choosing your marketing channels, and presenting specific offers from the get-go.

Connect your new key activities with resources and partners

Once you know how to reach your designated target and what you want your key messages to be, you need to think about the changes in your agency’s key activities, resources, and partners.

Consider hedging again, in terms of new services, thus new key activities for your SEO agency — you could integrate paid search, digital PR, or training and consultancy. Or even expand your agency with an Analytics department for both your clients, and internal research and development. 

This implies different resources you need to take into account (new hires, new software etc.) or extending your partnerships with software providers, freelancers, or other specialized agencies. 

Also, remote work comes into play and poses new challenges for your key resources and culture — on the one hand, good specialists are now reachable from any part of the world, but on the other hand, recruitment and onboarding become more difficult. 

Juniors, for example, need more direct contact with their seniors and teams to grow in their position. Plus, how do you hire for culture fit? 

You can think about longer onboarding periods, hiring an HR consultant, or developing new online tactics for people management (informal Zoom rooms, virtual mentorship programs etc.). Or you can orient your hiring efforts to experts and project managers that have the experience and autonomy required in the current context. 

This is a good time to start building processes and templates that make your culture more palatable and scalable.

And, if you think in terms of heightened digital adoption, you can evaluate key partners that can refer you, such as traditional agencies in need of SEO complementary services or VC groups supporting new tech ventures and SaaS companies in need of speed and agility. It’s also a good point for investing more in your reputation management activities altogether — the kind of marketing or PR you do for your own agency, the awards and accolades you showcase, the relationships you’re building, as everything is digital and visible. Don’t miss out on media coverage and award ceremonies opportunities, for they are more valuable in the actual context.

Analyze your costs and revenue streams

Getting your other building blocks in order, it is finally time to look at cost structures and revenue streams.

Remote work brings a drop in costs for office space and commute, but can imply new types of packages for your employees. For instance, a budget to set up the team’s home office or to cover a percentage of utility bills (electricity, IT infrastructure etc.). Or, in order to cultivate culture, periodical company retreats that combine strategic work with team building activities.

If you choose hedging, then new resources and new partnerships developed with your agency expansion become new costs in terms of salaries, software subscriptions or subcontractors. In turn, diversifying your services with monthly offerings and/or your client profiles or verticals means new revenue that supports your MRR (monthly recurring revenue) growth.

Leveraging your data and analytics skills in itself can become a new revenue stream, if you decide to offer consultancy and training for SMBs and enterprises.  

Or maybe you develop a proprietary tool. At first, it’s an investment which alters your cost structure, but can transform into a new business channel at the same time.

Applying BMC to your agency – Shifting business models

The point of doing this strategic exercise is, in the end, to see how they’re all connected — macro-trends affecting the globe, business trends relevant to the SEO industry, and every segment of an agency business model that can suffer changes and unexpected transformations.

Osterwalder continues to document shifting business models, as the BMC is a tool to be used multiple times in the life of your agency. You can take your leadership team and consider this an exercise in change management — understanding how every part of your agency business can transform and what that means to the business as a whole. 

As the market changed dramatically in the last few months, it’s an opportunity to understand how your business model can shift and what’s next for the SEO industry after COVID-19.

At SEOmonitor, we’re committed to helping SEO agencies navigate uncertainty, so we adapt our solutions to the current context. Search Trends, the Client Health Tracker or the Reporting board are just a part of our specialized tools and resources.

We’re also continuing these thought experiments with more agency founders and top managers in the Circle, to help agencies focus on what matters now. You can find out more about the selection process and topics in the following material. 

Do you work in an SEO agency? Try SEOmonitor!

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How would an SEO agency be built today? Part 2: Current business model(s) /how-would-an-seo-agency-be-built-today-part-2-current-business-models-340448 Wed, 16 Sep 2020 11:30:00 +0000 /?p=340448 In Part 2 of this series, we explore the current business models of SEO agencies – including value propositions, revenue drivers, key resources, and more.

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There are about 36,000 digital marketing agencies worldwide, based on our research on platforms like UpCity, Clutch, and our trials and users. Out of these, about 60% have SEO services integrated into their main activities. New agencies keep appearing, even in the current challenging context — more than 200 were created so far in 2020.

With this in mind, our team at SEOmonitor designed a strategic experiment in three parts, starting from the question —  How would you build an SEO agency in 2020? 

In the first part, we’ve explored trends, based on search data, and Gartner’s Hype Cycle to understand what’s transient and what’s here to stay, whether or not accelerated by the pandemic.

In this second part, we’re looking at the status quo of SEO agencies and their current business models, introducing another strategic lens to guide our research: Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas or BMC.

A new lens: the business model canvas

In Osterwalder’s words, BMC is a strategic tool that helps you paint out an existing business model and make it tangible for all the agency’s stakeholders. 

The right part is all about capturing your business value with an in-depth look at customer segments and relationships, value proposition, channels and revenue streams. The left part includes means to deliver that value with key activities and partners, cost structures, and resources. 

We’re challenging this meta-analysis of SEO agency business models with the BMC, as it offers an opportunity to understand specific jobs to be done while asking focused questions. It’s an exercise that can lead to business optimization in novel ways. 

Plus, there is a particularity here: the agency business model has a universal core in terms of functioning and monthly recurring revenue. However, different aspects vary based on the agency’s focus. Just like a bundle: various properties and functions (teams, services, industries), a universal job to be done (helping clients achieve their digital marketing goals).

The current agency business model: Who are the customers?

SEO agencies practice different customer segmentation approaches, so they can showcase either range or sharp focus.

Therefore, some agencies cater solely to one local or regional vertical, one market or even act as resellers, having other types of agencies as part of their customer segmentation. Others embrace the full market. 

Let’s see:

By geography, we identified the following segments:

  • Local businesses that are in the proximity of the SEO agency
  • Regional businesses 
  • International brands 

By vertical (industry):

  • Agencies focused on a single vertical regionally: e.g. auto dealerships or lawyers.
  • Agencies focused on a single vertical internationally: e.g. SEO for global SaaS companies.
  • Multiple targeted verticals and only those: e.g. eCommerce, travel, fashion, and real estate.
  • Online only: focusing on companies that derive most of their revenue from online transactions.
  • B2B only.
  • White label services only targeted at digital marketing agencies or brands.

By size:

  • Small and medium businesses
  • Enterprises
  • Consumer brands present in Fortune500

Focusing on a single vertical shows deep expertise: SEO for lawyers or Dealer Spike targeting dealerships in 8 branches. Highlighting 2 or more verticals means you’re positioning the agency in terms of local/regional market know-how and accessibility, as is the case for Blue Corona.

Catering to both SMBs and brands with a mix of services are agencies like Ignite Visibility that position themselves as international experts with multiple-industry know-how.

Or there can be B2B- or online-only focus: OuterBox is one example, as is Directive Consulting. They showcase their eCommerce or software expertise in the value proposition, so you know where they stand.

Why do customers buy the agency’s services?

In terms of positioning, there are specific patterns to take into account based on customer segmentation and more: how well does the agency address the customer segment needs? What is the distinction in terms of price, services, methods, etc.? What is the brand angle?

If we think about vertical-focused agencies, then the distinction is upfront: deep expertise in an industry makes them the appropriate choice for those client segments.

If we look at the expertise angle, there are other ways to showcase it — know-how of a technology vendor like Magento or Shopify as Best Response Media and Smarketa do it, or by unique proprietary software and algorithms which underline deep tech, data knowledge (e.g. Upswing’s COVID-19 Data Trends or TitanBOT from Titan Growth).

If the approach is the angle, then there is always the full-service digital positioning (e.g. Crafted) which implies executing complex projects from start to finish: strategy, creation, social, design, and so on. Or a mix of services and price: bundles of SEO services sold at a monthly fixed price just like a regular subscription, which gives the client a sense of control.

There’s also the delivery angle which is less used: explaining a manifesto or methodology. It’s more than a differentiator; it’s an explanation of a way of thinking about the SEO agency’s role. Re:signal does this by having a dedicated page for their Think – Plan – Do – Measure method. 

Or the price angle — SEO service-packages for a monthly fixed price just like a subscription, so the client feels in control. WebFX, Pixelcutlabs, Guerrilla Agency etc., are some of the agencies that decided to use this as a selling proposition.

How are the value propositions promoted, sold, and delivered?

Here’s a building block that is currently under a lot of pressure, as channels are shifting after the pandemic.

Yet, the following conventions in the industry continue to dominate the way agencies reach their clients:

  • Events and business networking: conferences and industry events were the norm for promotion and meeting potential clients, strengthening relationships, and studying the competition. In time, some agencies took ownership of the process, so they started organizing industry events. In contrast, others co-hosted such activities with other important stakeholders (brands or publishers). In current times, shifts to online, virtual summits are more likely.
  • SEO: in the lines of practice what you preach, why not showcase your quality work by doing it for you as well? Think about a regional agency targeting keywords like “SEO Chicago” or “SEO Ontario” and presenting the results as proof. 
  • Referrals and recommendations: word-of-mouth remains one of the most powerful channels, mainly if you target a particular vertical. Or if you want to enter a new market segment.
  • Media coverage: not as widely used, but some agencies generate reports and studies that get covered in national media or industry publications. 
  • Free data-exploration tools: another not-so-frequent channel that acts as a differentiator is using proprietary tools to help potential clients, and present expertise and results. For instance, Upswing’s Visibility Report is a free tool for brands to evaluate their online visibility based on search performance.
  • Pay per lead aggregators: Digital agency aggregators like Clutch or Upcity, professional associations, and even chambers of commerce can function in terms of acquisition, being specialized and targeted. 
  • Educational content: whether general marketing advice on their blog or guest posting, whether podcasts or webinars, agencies have a lot of know-how they use to build trust in their particular offering. A compelling case is when agency leaders create educational videos or, even further, associate with academia and create digital studies. 

Depending on targeted customer segments, the channels will vary and will be prioritised in accordance:

Digital Nexa uses educational content in the form of their webinar series: the Digital Growth Show, to present general marketing know-how or to answer client questions. Builtvisible creates resources and sustains an active blog to help their clients and potential clients understand what services they need. 

Edit, on the other hand, usually organizes the SearchLeeds event, while Upswing creates Power Sessions as a form of owning the channel and generating business leads. 

How does the agency interact with the customer through their journey (acquisition, operations, retention)?

Apart from the channels focusing on acquisition and brand development, this question involves client management and retention: how the client relationship looks and what’s particular for an agency.

One crucial aspect from this point of view is having personal account managers and being able to continually check the status of your campaign with a singular point of contact. This is one of the things that makes or breaks contracts. 

The other one is reporting: it’s not enough to perform, you need to present results and be transparent about issues. That’s why an interesting pattern in analyzing SEO agencies is looking at the ones that access self-serve reporting platforms to allow full transparency and a semi-automation of the process. It’s a novel way of doing the monthly report, which dictates more trust in the relationship and tools as well.

How does the agency earn revenue from the value proposition?

There’s no one answer to this question, but it’s essential to keep in mind that most agencies function based on monthly recurring revenue or MRR, which usually involves:

  • Monthly fees for SEO campaigns.
  • Monthly fees for content development.
  • Fixed monthly bundles of SEO services.

Depending on their range of services, they complement it with multiple streams that can imply: 

  • One-time technical audits
  • One-time advisory projects
  • One-time reporting setup projects 
  • Digital marketing training sessions
  • Affiliate fees from software tools or hosting (Hubspot, GoDaddy, Wix, Yext) 

Some of these services are widespread, while others may have surfaced in the last couple of years. For instance, offering training and/or consultancy services is on the rise, going even further to business consulting during the pandemic — advising on new sales channels, new market segments to address, adapting to remote work, finding new target audiences for clients etc. 

Furthermore, some agencies become resellers for tools like Hubspot, which provides a significant portion of the income. 

What uniquely strategic things does the agency implement to deliver its proposition?

In terms of activities that secure market positioning, agencies design their services in correlation with their customer segments and their value proposition. After all, SEO means many things nowadays.

Some agencies choose to offer strictly SEO-related services, while others go the full-service route, to capitalize on the various needs a digital marketing project has: 

  • Outreach and link-building
  • Website design and implementation
  • Local business presence management
  • Content writing
  • Paid search campaigns
  • PR with a link-building focus
  • Conversion rate optimization or CRO

These are the primary services identified, but there are a lot of in-between cases, depending on the agency’s strategic choices. For instance:

Higher Visibility developed an integrated search positioning with local SEO services, link building, eCommerce SEO, paid search, and even franchise SEO, social media, CRO, plus penalty recovery, while targeting both SMBs and Fortune500 clients. 

Straight North presents itself as an internet marketing agency, having a full-fledged suite of services in SEO (local, national, B2B, enterprise, etc.), but also PPC, display advertising, email marketing, and web design, and so on.

What Key Resources does an agency require to fulfill its value proposition?

The leading resource a business has is human capital. For agencies that means an in-house team with specialized roles and, for some, an extended, outsourced team comprised of freelance collaborators — usually, for more content development, graphic design etc. Based on their value proposition and size, there can also be data analytics departments involved, web development teams, etc. 

Then, there is the digital infrastructure required to execute the agency’s key activities properly. This is a necessary resource, just as familiar as the first one, including both tangible and intangible assets. 

Yet, if we go further down the line, something specific for agencies that can create a unique market advantage is the proprietary methodology involved in the way they do their job.

What can the company NOT do so it can focus on its Key Activities? 

When choosing services, there’s also a lot you have to say NO to. As an SEO agency, you can focus on your core mission or, as seen before, explore other complementary services in-house. 

But, no matter the case, the key activities need to be balanced with key partnerships. In our research, we identified the following types of strategic collaborations that agencies choose to enhance their projects: 

  • Media companies for link-building
  • Rank Tracking platforms
  • CRM platforms 
  • Web Hosting platforms  
  • Complementary agencies

In the case of Impression, that means opting for a plethora of SEO software providers, while in the case of Found, it means enhancing their CRO services with key partners such as Monetate and Optimizely, for their data analytics efforts. 

What are the agency’s major cost drivers?

Looking at cost drivers and how they link with revenue is a strategic exercise in itself, as it highlights what elements clients are willing to pay for, where to optimize costs, or what new services can appear.

From the agencies we researched, we evaluated the following points as the main costs:

  • Office spaces: although this is a cost challenged by remote work and a new way of doing creative business, for agencies that target brands and proximity, it is still a substantial cost.
  • Payroll: the team which includes account management, SEO specialists, content management, outreach and PR, to name the usual departments, represents another crucial cost. This can be expanded to developers, a business development team etc., depending on the size and scope of the agency.
  • Software: software fees for research, ranking, reporting etc., software development costs, specific tools subscriptions etc.  The tools of the trade are crucial for quality work, so they represent an expense and an opportunity for cost-efficiency.
  • Outsourcing: freelancers for content development, graphic design or other complementary services are another relevant cost line. 

To complete those, of course, you need to take into account the agency’s profile, as there may be other relevant costs to add (subcontracted project teams, sales/marketing/PR budgets etc.).

Conclusion

After deep-diving into BMC, it’s probably time to challenge your agency. You can explore further questions and examples, and build your version here, in an interactive piece, that will closely guide you.

What’s next? The reality is that SEO agencies have versatile profiles which support them in a particular market, but can become limits for other types of development. With each choice made to include or exclude a service / client / niche, this means new gaps to fill. Think in terms of new customer segments generated by accelerated digital adoption, new channels like Zoom, Slack or virtual pubs to connect and promote, new resources like automation tools for efficient business processes etc. 

We’re ending this series with an overview of How would you build an SEO agency in 2020? based on input from various agencies. We’ll collect it as part of a strategic workshop for SEO business leaders and we’ll challenge the opportunities and risks the current market poses. Be the first to find out when the final piece will be live. 

At SEOmonitor, we’re committed to helping SEO agencies navigate uncertainty, so we adapt our solutions to the current context. Search Trends, the Client Health Tracker, or the Reporting board are just a part of our specialized tools and resources.

The post How would an SEO agency be built today? Part 2: Current business model(s) appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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