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What to Expect From an SEO Agency

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If you’re considering hiring an SEO agency, this article will help you understand what to expect. SEO agencies differ vastly in their quality, deliverables, and understanding of Google’s algorithm. While almost every web design and digital marketing company says they do SEO, the best results tend to come from pure-SEO agencies. In this article, we describe an ideal SEO agency’s: 

  • Scope of work 
  • Team structure 
  • Expectations of its clients
  • Time to break-even
  • Average ROI 

You can evaluate potential partners using the guidelines and benchmarks below.

What to Expect From an SEO Agency: Sub-par, Average, and Excellent

The following table lists the qualities on which an SEO agency is typically judged, describing each one in the context of a sub-par, average, and excellent agency.  

What to Expect from an SEO Agency
Agency QualityScope of WorkTeam StructureYour Weekly Time CommitmentBreak-Even Time3-Year ROI
Sub-parTechnical SEO only1–2 generalists1-hour meeting or email correspondenceNeverN/A
AverageTechnical SEO, basic content marketing3–4 generalists1-hour meeting + 2–3 hours reworking content1.5 years~200%
ExcellentAll of the above, with an emphasis on thought leadership5+ specialists1-hour meeting + deliverable review9 months~800%

In the sections below, we elaborate on each of the five SEO agency characteristics in the chart.

What to Expect from an SEO Agency’s Scope of Work

The scope of work of any SEO agency includes clear goals, strategies, timelines, and deliverables. These deliverables should always include an analysis of your meta page titles, inspection of the site’s taxonomy, removal of broken links, and basic keyword research; however, the best agencies also include high-end content marketing, also known as thought leadership. This is because, while the technical side of SEO is relatively straightforward, creating best-in-class content is much more resource-intensive and technically challenging.

There’s two reasons why any good SEO agency should include thought leadership content in their scope. The first is that Google’s ultimate goal—reflected in every one of their algorithm updates—is to give their searchers the best piece of content on the internet for the keyword searched. Thought leadership aims to do just that, and in doing so not only helps your site to rank, but also elevates the trust profile of your entire website. In contrast, content that is lower quality, or simply too infrequent, has minimal impact on rankings and no effect on your website’s overall profile with Google.

The second reason thought leadership content is important is that, once a visitor reaches your website, your next job is to convert them. A well executed campaign that focuses on thought leadership both establishes your expertise and encourages conversion, which is just as necessary for lead generation as high rankings. Typically, different team members would write content and analyze the page’s conversion rate.

In fact, having a diverse team of specialists is another key component of a success when working with an SEO agency. 

What to Expect from an SEO Agency’s Team Structure

There is no regulating body that defines who can call themselves an SEO agency, and some agencies consist of only one- or two-person teams. These teams are rarely able to deliver the work a successful SEO campaign requires, simply because there’s so much of it. They’re likely to provide basic technical enhancements to your site, such as meta title rewrites and 404 fixes, but without the other elements of a successful SEO campaign covered—thought leadership, conversion optimization, lead tracking, KPI measurement, and marketing attribution—you are unlikely to generate leads.

Many SEO agencies take the wrong approach by assigning generalists to the campaign. When each person fulfills many roles, typically none of them get done optimally, and SEO is a sport for perfectionists. While a generalist team can make a site look optimized, they typically deliver sub-par results, such as high traffic without much conversion, or high rankings for low-volume keywords. Specialists who take the time to do thorough keyword research, understand search intent, map keywords to their corresponding page types, and integrate the work into an automated lead generation system.

A truly superb SEO agency will assign a team of specialists that includes the following:

  • A campaign manager as your main point of contact, who keeps the various pieces of the campaign together
  • A high-level strategist to manage the overall campaign strategy, conduct keyword research, and analyze search intent
  • A subject matter expert writer to create in-depth content that deeply satisfies search intent
  • An editor who specializes in conversion optimization, SEO best practices, and aligning the writer’s content with your brand
  • A graphic artist to create custom infographics and images that make your pages stand out
  • A technical SEO specialist to conduct a full audit of your website and resolve any issues they find
  • A marketing analytics pro to set up data tracking and measurement systems to ensure your campaign is on the right track

While this looks like a lot of people, it’s this comprehensiveness that will allow your team to get back to your core business while your SEO agency handles organic lead generation.

How Much Time You Can Expect the Agency Will Need

While an SEO agency’s job is partly to give your marketing team back some time, a successful campaign requires some time commitment at the start of a campaign. A thorough onboarding period lasts between 4 and 8 weeks, as the SEO agency gets to know you and your business, establishes shared goals, and creates the content strategy that they will execute on for the rest of the campaign.

During this time, you can expect 1–2 hours of meetings per week, in addition to emails, approving content strategy, and reviewing drafts. This is the time our agency’s team aligns with you, and it’s a time when your C-Suite may want to be involved in high-level strategy discussions.

After this initial onboarding phase, you can anticipate spending one hour each week with the campaign manager, plus time to approve weekly content deliverables. For long-running campaigns, this time commitment will decrease substantially as your SEO agency becomes more attuned to your brand and preferences.

When You Can Expect to Break-Even

After all the planning and hard work that goes into a campaign, it’s exciting to get to the part where you see results. The average campaign with an excellent SEO agency takes about 9 months to break even, though this will depend heavily on industry, ranging from 5 months for less competitive SEO landscapes such as construction to 15 months for the highly competitive eCommerce industry. You begin seeing your search rankings rise 4-5 months from the time you begin to publish content regularly on your website—this is the “News Website Bonus” kicking in. From this point, you should also see increases in leading indicators such as organic traffic, engagement, and conversions.

The SEO ROI You Should Expect

An SEO campaign’s ROI should be positive towards the end of the first year, and rise steadily in years 2 and 3. This pattern arises from the need for a site to gain trust with Google and the time the onboarding process takes. However, once you’ve established your website’s authority with Google, new pages published can rank highly and generate leads within a week of publishing. The fastest results come when an agency has properly executed on the Hub & Spoke model of SEO.

Across industries, the 3-average ROI of working with a high-quality SEO agency is about 800%. This average varies greatly however, so to give you an idea of the industry spread, below is the Time to Break-Even and 3-Year ROI for five very disparate industries. For more detailed information as well as a full industry list, our report on SEO ROI can be found here.

IndustryTime to Break-Even3-Year ROI
Construction5 months681%
Industrial IoT7 months866%
Financial Services9 months1,031%
Oil & Gas10 months906%
Real Estate10 months1,389%

Choosing an SEO Agency 

We hope this article has helped you better understand not only what you can expect from your SEO partner, but also what sets those agencies apart from each other. If you have any other questions about working with an SEO agency, feel free to reach out. We have over ten years of experience helping companies rank on Google to automate their lead generation. 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.