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SEO Agency Scope of Work: What To Expect

SEO Basics, SEO Blog, SEO FAQs
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As an SEO agency CEO and longtime consultant to other SEO agencies, I have a unique view into what to expect from an SEO agency’s proposal. In this article, I’ll share what an SEO agency’s scope of work should look like. Scope of Work and Statement of Work (SOW) are often mixed up, but when evaluating agencies you really want to have a good handle of both. In this article, I’ll cover not just the deliverables found in the scope of work but the overall promise of the agency relationship you should be seeking.

SEO Agency Scope of Work – What to Expect

In a nutshell, an SEO agency’s SOW should include (1) the overall goal of the campaign, (2) a summary of campaign strategy and timeline, (3) the team members that will participate in the campaign, and (4) the deliverables that will make up the campaign. This last item is often what is often referred to as the scope of work.

I’ll now go through the four sections of an SOW.

SOW Section 1: Overall Campaign Goal

This section is one of the most important, and yet many SEO agency SOWs lack it. Why are you hiring a firm to do the campaign in the first place? You should be looking for bottom line goals such as Marketing Qualified Leads or even revenue figures in this section. It’s also alright to include the leading indicators as long as they aren’t phrased as the end goal. We’d all like high rankings and increased organic traffic, but they’re just a means to an end; the end itself is, of course, sales. 

However, a good SEO agency will also acknowledge the secondary goals you have for the campaign, which usually include some or all of the following:

  • Increased thought leadership or brand equity in your industry
  • Higher visibility to potential employees
  • Content for social media and email marketing activities
  • Generation of sales materials for both the sales team and the marketing team (for use in conferences, trade shows, and webinars)
  • Attraction of business development opportunities, speaking opportunities, and press
  • A more authoritative website with which to convert opportunities from non-SEO leads 

NOTE: If you’ve supplied your prospective SEO agency with KPIs in addition to overall goals, there should be a separate section for these towards the end of the proposal. We don’t want to get bogged down in specifics at the start of the SOW when the goal is merely to understand the purpose of the campaign.

Here is an example of a clear Overall Campaign Goal section, taken from an actual SOW for one of our real estate clients:

SOW Section 2: Summary of Campaign Strategy & Timeline

The next section should describe how the campaign will be executed: the strategy and processes that will be used, as well as the campaign’s time frame.

There are many different models for SEO strategy, and you may find it useful to consult an article we published recently comparing the strategy and pricing models of 10 SF Bay area SEO companies.  

But essentially, any SEO agency worth their salt will have a strategy that consists of the following pillars:

  1. Technical SEO Audit & Optimization
  2. Title Tag Audit & Optimization
  3. Ongoing Content Marketing
  4. Data Reporting & Refinement 

If you would like to see what proper SEO strategy looks like in abundant detail, please see our article on how to systematize SEO.

The time frame of the campaign should be at least 6 months, preferably 12, as it takes the first half of a year to build trust with Google and the rest of the time to produce the ROI your company expects.

SOW Section 3: Campaign Team  

You should know who will be executing on the strategy you’re sold by an agency. Not just the roles of the team members who will be participating in the campaign, but their actual background and experience. In an ideal campaign, you will have specialists attending to your campaign that cover the following areas:

  • Account Management
  • SEO Strategy
  • Content Editing
  • Web/Graphic Design
  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
  • Analytics & Reporting

Here is an example of what we included in an SOW for the Campaign Team section for one of our B2B SaaS clients.

SOW Section 4: Scope of Work, aka Deliverables

The main section most CMOs and VPs of Marketing expect to see in an SEO SOW is the scope of work. While I’d argue that the above sections are actually more important (I care less how you do it than whether it generates results), it is important to know that your SEO agency is using ethical, effective methods that reflect positively on your brand.

Deliverables from SEO agencies vary widely, but the ideal campaign scope of work includes the following:

  • Performing a full SEO & Conversion audit
  • Performing a competitive analysis
  • Conducting Q&A / Onboarding calls to learn about your company
  • Reviewing competitive differentiators, target audiences, and personas
  • Inspecting and, if necessary, rewriting title tags of all main pages
  • Generating a shared editorial calendar
  • Producing weekly, keyword-optimized thought leadership content
  • Meeting weekly to discuss results and refinements to strategy
  • Providing monthly and quarterly reports on goals and KPIs

Most of the above deliverables are standard, but a good editorial calendar isn’t. Here is what that can look like (an actual screenshot from a manufacturing & distribution client):

What You Should Not See in an SEO Agency’s SOW

You should have a good idea of what to look for in an SEO SOW by now. However, it can also be useful to understand what the red flags look like. Here are some things that indicate the firm is not up to the task of properly executing on an SEO campaign for your company:

Guarantees of specific rankings. We all expect to be on the first page, preferably in the top 3 results; but Google’s algorithm is just random enough that guaranteeing a top spot is unrealistic and indicates a less experienced or dishonest firm.

Lack of content marketing. Simply put, if your SEO agency doesn’t include content, it isn’t going to generate leads for you (except if your industry has extremely low competition). “Technical SEO-only” SOWs indicate a firm that is more versed in web design or advertising and less familiar with what is effective in the world of SEO.

Emphasis on lead volume over lead quality. More important than the number of leads an SEO campaign generates is whether those leads convert. Within the SOW, the agency should define both the target audience and the parameters for qualifying leads.

One-size-fits-all strategy. In its proposal, the agency may spell out a generalized strategy, but your actual strategy should be customized for your brand, target market, and goals. The scope of work should include that personalized approach.  

Indications of extra fees. While it’s perfectly reasonable for there to be a line protecting the agency from scope creep that mentions an hourly fee, there shouldn’t be much more than that. Proposals that call out all additional fees for things that border on expected parts of the service, such as consulting, strategy, or implementing basic changes, should raise an eyebrow.         

Before You Depart…

I hope this article has helped elucidate what the scope of work from an SEO Agency ought to look like in the context of the SOW. If you are amidst interviewing firms, I hope you’ll consider including us in the mix. We specialize not just in SEO, but in the style of SEO that is singularly focused on lead generation. Headquartered near Silicon Valley, we work with many large tech firms and have access to talent from the most innovative companies in the world, including Google. 

You can contact us here

Evan Bailyn

Evan Bailyn is a best-selling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.