SEO Agency Benefits & Drawbacks
If you’re thinking of employing an SEO agency to help with inbound lead generation, you’re probably wondering what the benefits of hiring an SEO agency are. I’ve spent my entire career evaluating the work of SEO agencies, as well as presiding over the largest one in the SF Bay Area, so I’ve become very clear on when it’s a good idea to hire one.
This article will outline the benefits of an SEO agency, as well as the drawbacks. It will then describe which types of companies are ideal candidates to work with an SEO agency, and which companies probably shouldn’t do it.
But first, let’s take a high level look at what an SEO agency is, and what a campaign with one looks like.
What is An SEO Agency?
An SEO agency is a company that performs search engine optimization, meaning it gets your website to rank higher in Google’s search results for keywords inputted by people who buy what you sell.
The level of professionalism in this industry varies wildly, as there are few professional standards as there are for opening a practice as a doctor, architect, or even realtor. If I’m going to be honest, when I meet someone that runs an SEO agency, my skepticism grows a bit until I hear more. Is this a one or two person company that may not exist a few months from now, or a credible SEO company with a culture, experienced leadership, and a well-vetted team?
What you want to see in an SEO agency is at least ten employees (indicating they’re good enough at what they do to build a viable, long term business), a thorough campaign scope of work (see below), positive Glassdoor reviews (if employees are happier, your campaign is more likely to succeed), and pricing within your budget.
What You Can Expect From An SEO Engagement
SEO campaigns range from one-time technical SEO engagements that essentially “get the house in order” to multi-year engagements where the agency takes responsibility for organic lead generation, handling strategy, keyword research, and content production. Either of those types of campaign are fine, depending on your needs; however, you want to avoid agencies that fall somewhere in the middle, making a few tweaks to the website then performing occasional content marketing. When an SEO campaign fails, it’s often because of a lack of either or all of the following:
- Strategy: setting up a hub and spoke model that targets transactional, long tail keywords which result in MQLs
- Keyword research: Finding the low-volume, high value keywords that require significant time utilizing keyword tools and pondering keywords’ search intent
- Quality content production: Taking the time to deeply get to know the client’s business, sourcing a writer with genuine experience in the industry; and producing the best piece of content that’s been published online responding to each keyword’s search intent
To get everything you want in an SEO campaign, you’re looking at about $10k/mo paid to the agency, all-inclusive. (If you’re interested in learning what’s included in an SEO agency scope of work, see here.)
The Benefits of Working with an SEO Agency
The main benefit of hiring an SEO Agency is that specialists will handle a highly complex project that’s inorganic to your company’s core competencies. In the same way that you wouldn’t take on a home construction project yourself, a specialized project such as an SEO campaign should only be entrusted to people that do it professionally. Naturally, vetting the company that’s handling it for you is key here, as many SEO agencies aren’t up to the task.
If performing SEO does feel like it could fit within your organization’s competencies, you should do a cost comparison of what it will take to run a full SEO-lead generation campaign internally versus outsourcing it. Typically, 4 full time team members are needed to do SEO correctly in-house: a project manager-strategist, SME writer, editor-co-writer, and graphic designer. At our firm, we use 7 people to handle the same functions; however, we’ve seen 4 individuals work well when our clients have transitioned their SEO in-house.
If you are sure you can handle SEO internally, it’s still very likely a good idea to work with a top-tier SEO agency for a year in order to absorb their best practices.
In addition to this main benefit, there are several other benefits to working with an SEO agency:
- Access to knowledge of the higher level SEO strategies and content that work particularly well in your industry
- Access to resources that your company is unlikely to have, such as pricy keyword research databases and experts in analytics and marketing attribution that only make sense for an agency that offers specialized SEO services at scale
- Ability to leverage their content for other marketing channels such as e-mail marketing, social media, webinars, and conference presentations
- Adaptability in the face of ever-changing website standards and SEO algorithms
- Accountability for costly errors, such as failing to place keywords in title tags or allowing dead links to remain live, both of which can significantly affect keyword rankings and lead generation
The Drawbacks of Working with an SEO Agency
As clear as the benefits are, there are some real drawbacks to working with an SEO agency as well. They are:
- Difficulty of finding a good SEO agency, in that, as stated above, there aren’t professional standards gatekeeping the industry, nor are any of the directories or review sites (e.g. Clutch) objective, noncommercial entities.
- Delayed ability to evaluate results, given that it takes 4-6 months to see progress on any SEO campaign. This means you could be midway through a contract before you can begin to evaluate your SEO agency.
- Inability to write for your industry or brand, as unless the agency has worked for years to solve this problem as our agency has, you’re probably going to get assigned a generalist who isn’t able to grasp who your company is and what matters to your customers.
- A revolving team, as marketing agencies typically see a high turnover rate. This is why it’s a good idea to check the agency’s Glassdoor reviews to see how hard they seem to be working to build a good culture and retain their team members.
The Companies That Benefit Most from an SEO Agency
There are three kinds of companies that benefit most from working with an SEO agency:
- B2B companies in technical fields who have experts on staff that either don’t have the time, writing ability, or SEO training needed to produce lead generating content for an SEO campaign. (There’s a reason most of our agency’s clients are in complex industries such as manufacturing, construction, managed services, industrial IoT, and biotech.)
- Companies that offer specialized services that solve niche problems. These companies see great results from working with an SEO agency because of how well suited SEO is to answering questions and supplying the solutions to problems. (Many SaaS companies and medical device companies fall into this category.)
- Businesses where the average lifetime value of a customer is over $1,000. If several new, closed customers per month can pay for your SEO campaign, the ROI proposition is easy to justify.
Companies that Shouldn’t Hire an SEO Agency
Companies that are poor candidates to hire an SEO agency are:
- Those that sell something people don’t search for (very high level enterprise, referral-only businesses, or B2G contractors that respond to government RFQs), and
- Those that already produce content as their main business, such as review websites or news organizations
For companies in the first category, high search rankings simply won’t translate into the closed leads that you need to justify the investment. These companies should still invest in thought leadership, however, as the industry authority will help them close leads that they’ve acquired through networking or other means.
Companies in the second category, those whose core business is producing content, are already well set up to handle SEO in-house. The most knowledgeable writers about their business will already be on staff, so an outside SEO campaign is likely to generate content of lesser quality than what they could produce themselves. The one exception is when it comes to keyword strategy and research, as content businesses that lack SEO experience can still benefit from employing an SEO agency for a one-time consulting project.
Choosing an SEO Agency
By now you should have a better idea of whether it makes sense for your company to work with an SEO agency. If you’d like to know more about our agency in particular, you can schedule an appointment with us. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, we pride ourselves on being the best at what we do.