This weekend, I met for coffee with a friend who worked in the home services industry. He was lamenting that his firm had a contract with an SEO agency over the last few years but he just wasn’t sure whether or not they were getting a return on investment for the money they’d spent with them.
The total was well over $100,000 in the lifetime with the consultant. They were both concerned that if they stopped, they’d lose organic search leads… and if they’d continued, they’d simply be throwing money down the toilet. I asked them 3 questions:
- How had the SEO firm quantitatively proved their return on investment? One of the first things that we do with our clients is a thorough job of ensuring every lead – phone or web – is identified as a lead from search engines. Even with Word of Mouth, we request our clients always ask their customers how they’d heard of the business. This information is passed on to their sales team or their CRM where they can tie any conversions to search traffic. Not only had the consultant done this, he never asked them whether or not they were getting business from the organic traffic.
- If you got rid of the SEO firm tomorrow, what work would stop? When we do SEO work, we’re researching keywords, researching competitors, writing articles, doing graphics, getting client photos, and even recording videos to try and enhance every page to make them more remarkable and shareable. We, of course, optimize the site and also ensure the customer journey is clearly marked to drive search engine leads into contact forms for scheduled sales meetings, free trials, free downloads, or demonstrations. In 3 years, this SEO consultant never touched their site.
- How are you ranking on non-branded terms regionally or nationally? SEO consultants tend to throw around things like you’re ranking better than last month on X number of keywords. Great… but what are those keywords? If the keywords include the name of your company, that’s helpful but not search engine optimization. Of course, your company should rank for its corporate name, product names, or people within the organization. The real ROI of search engine optimization is tackling keywords that are non-branded but show an intent to research the next purchase decision. In three years, this client only ranked in the top 3 results for branded terms. The closest non-branded term was #6.
The only reason we do SEO is to drive business. The only way to justify SEO is with new business. I’m not sure how you say you’re executing search engine optimization strategies for a client without actually providing them a strategy, delivering and promoting content, and providing accurate reporting that reflects your efforts. It’s not overnight… but within a few months a client should be seeing the leading indicators of articles and the site gaining traffic.
What Was the SEO Agency Actually Doing?
There’s only one thing this consultant could be doing… backlinking. I pulled some additional reports on backlinks and identified a handful of sites that the agency was posting articles on that were ~300 words a piece with a keyword-rich link back to the client’s web address. There’s only one problem…
It isn’t working.
The sites were pitiful that the links were shared on and they were linkfarms for more of his clients (or other SEO consultants). The sites weren’t compelling, weren’t ranked, and weren’t driving any awareness to the customer.
This is a strategy that used to work… but Google has modified its algorithms several times since 2011 (see the infographic below) to stop this gaming of search engine results. Today, search engine optimization requires a ton of creativity and effort.
What Would I Do Different?
A colleague in the industry calls the strategy that we follow linkearning, rather than linkbuilding. We develop content strategies for our clients that include research, articles, infographics, micrographics, and videos that are tightly focused and thorough. Once we develop the content, we promote the content through paid strategies and public relations, driving relevant, high quality links back to the source. No games, no hacking, no cheats… just hard work.
Ironically, the folks at Bubblegum did exactly THIS strategy with the following infographic, The Evolution of Search Engine Optimisation. It’s a beautiful infographic, well-researched, and perfect for my audience. And guess what? They earned the link!
Oh, and if you click through on the infographic, you’ll find a beautiful interactive page to experience the Evolution of SEO!