Three Signs You Should Fire Your SEO Agency
Published 4/11/2012 by Pete
Search Engine Optimization is hard. That’s why most people hire an agency to handle their organic search needs. It’s easier than learning even the basic necessities of SEO (let alone keeping up with the constant new developments), and the price you pay for a team of experts with different areas of expertise is often a much better value than hiring a single person in house.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of SEO agencies out there who, either willingly or unknowingly, simply aren’t pulling their weight for their clients. But you don’t need to learn SEO to spot a company that’s bluffing its way into your marketing budget. So to help you out, here are three signs that it’s time to give your SEO agency a fond farewell.
1. They Use Keyword Rankings as Their Primary Success Metric
At its core, the goal of SEO is to increase your website’s visibility in the search engines. So when the analyst you’re working with sends you a report showing that you’re shooting up the SERPs for a bunch of really relevant sounding keywords, you do a little happy dance and send them a blank check so they can keep doing whatever it is they did. But if all you’re getting as a regular report is an Excel doc telling you where you sit for a big list of search terms, you might not want to sign that check just yet.
I could spend a good couple of hours pointing out all of the holes in using keyword rank as your primary yardstick for success, but there is one major reason why this method is flawed: Search is becoming more and more personalized for each user in a number of ways.
Google and Bing are both using social media signals to serve up tailor made search results.
If you’re logged into Facebook and searching on Bing, you’ll notice that websites, news stories and other content that your friends have liked will float to the top for related searches.
Likewise, Google will serve up content that members of your Google+ circles have +1ed.
Search is also becoming hyper-localized, and there’s no better example than the recent “Venice” update to Google’s search algorithm. In the Big G’s own words:
“This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.”
Vague, huh? It turns out that Venice’s main purpose is to serve you local results for the broadest search queries.
Before this update, the first page for a search for the term “dentist” would provide users across the country with mostly the same results – Wikipedia pages about dentistry, the ADA website, etc.
Now, depending on where you live, you might not see a single national or international website above the fold when you search for “dentist.” Venice has notably changed the search landscape of Google to the benefit of businesses with websites that give off strong geographic signals.
It’s possible, for the time being, to turn off search personalization. By doing so, you can get a look at the raw SERPs for any term – a leader board, of sorts, allowing you to see who’s done the best job optimizing by the classic SEO standards. But the personalization of search has no end in sight. If your site is the first result for a Facebook user in Seattle, someone conducting the same search in Chicago with no social media profiles may not see you until page two.
So, while it’s good to know where you stand in terms of unfiltered search results, it’s inaccurate to say that being in the first “pure” organic position will get your business in front of as many eyes as it would have a few years ago.
2. They Don’t Have a Google Analytics Certified Staff Member
So, if search rank is distorted by personalization, how can you measure the effectiveness of SEO efforts? By determining your businesses key metrics for success, and tracking the impact organic traffic has in helping you reach your goals.
- •Are you most concerned with revenue from visitors who reach your site via non-branded, organic search?
- • Do you want people to stay on an important landing page for the duration of a video about your company?
- • Or is every sign up for your newsletter invaluable to your business’s bottom line?
Whatever action a user can take that you see as an indicator of success, chances are that it can be tracked in Google Analytics.
Of course determining the actual impact of SEO on these performance indicators is a whole different story. It’s sad to say, but many SEOs will simply look at the goals they’ve set up in analytics, tally up how many conversions came from organic visitors, and just assume that any positive trends for the month are the result of their work. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
I’m not suggesting that these SEOs are intentionally misleading their clients. Most are just naïve, and don’t know how to pull the real juicy, actionable info from the sometimes daunting Google Analytics interface. That’s exactly why every agency needs an analytics certified professional on staff.
Someone who has gone through the certification process knows how to draw deeper connections between seemingly unrelated data sets. They can build the custom segments and alerts to measure whether or not the work their team is doing has provided a return on your investment. They can sort through historical data and determine if your business truly saw a 50% increase in organic conversions last month, or if it was just normal seasonal behavior. And, hopefully, they will let you know when efforts need to be corrected, such as when a search high volume search term isn’t providing any benefit to your bottom line or when the wrong landing page has been optimized for a choice keyword.
3. They Promised You X Number of Links Per Month… Before You Even Spoke With Them
While points one and two are, more often than not, signs of inexperience or inability to keep up with the newest SEO trends, the upfront promise that an SEO vendor will make it rain links on your site is a red flag, indicative of nefarious black hatters.
I can’t tell you how many firms I’ve seen offering nonsense like a Standard, Premium, and Master of the Universe link building package. What I can tell you is that hiring a company with a website that promises you 200, 500 or 1,000 one way, followed links per month is akin to playing with fire near an open canister of gasoline. It’s a guaranteed way to (at best) burn through large amounts of cash or (at worst) get burned by the search engines.
Link building requires link worthy content – The sort of information that someone would want to link to if they simply stumbled across it on their own.
A good link builder takes your existing assets (or helps you build them if you lack content) and presents them to the owners of relevant, high quality sites whose visitors stand to benefit from a link to your offerings.
The search algorithms are advanced enough to determine when a website has a logical reason to link to you. So links from sites with a stake in your industry will be rewarded, while those links that don’t have a strong, logical connection will usually be ignored.
There’s a very noticeable disconnect between the basic principles of link building and the promises set forth by these insane, nonsensical link packages.
- • Ask yourself, how can anyone guarantee any number of links without knowing whether or not you have link worthy content?
- • More importantly, how can anyone know that there are enough websites within your industry to sustainably build X number of links, month after month, without doing a great deal of research?
I’ve seen how a lot of these companies operate, and it’s never pretty. Link farming, paid links, exploiting open source web applications, content spinning… They’ve all been used, and the sad thing is that, for a short time, these strategies actually work. This is primarily because the search engines seem to honor almost any link to some degree for a short period of time to prevent competitors from sabotaging each other through spammy links.
So it’s easy for a company to quickly build you a huge profile of crummy links that artificially inflate your rank in the search results. After a few months, the search engines discount the links, stripping all of the benefits your site had received from them. If these shady linking tactics continue for too long, there is also a risk that your site will be removed from the search indexes. Of course, by this point your SEO vendor has already shaken you down for a good chunk of change, so they’re ready to move on to the next wide eyed business owner.
These three tips are just a sampling of the signs one might see to give their SEO provider an early retirement. Have you ever sent an agency packing, and if so, what were the reasons? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check back regularly for more tips to help you navigate through all things in online marketing.