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What Stops Companies from Hiring SEO Firms?

Mike Krass • April 25, 2017 • 6 minutes to read

SEO Firms: To Hire or Not to Hire?

The Chief Executive at a large residential real estate development company asked me a really good question the other day:

Why would I hire your SEO firm instead of a full time employee?

I responded with the answer that I’ve found to be true about hiring consultants of any type over the course of my career.

Professional services consultants are most commonly hired for two reasons:

  • Specialty: A particular firm, agency or group specializes in certain types of services within particular industries, sectors or verticals. After they pass a vetting process, you are hiring rockstar partners as opposed to investing time and money into recruiting and managing a new batch of (potential) rockstars of your own.
  • Scale: Professional services firms exist to help their customers scale to support a specific need. Take Tom O’Brien (VP of Legal at ExtraHop Networks, one of our clients) or Sabine Chalmers (Chief Legal Officer at Anheuser-Busch/InBev) as prime examples; they drive the legal and general counsel strategy of the entire business but partner with third party law firms to help write policy, submit briefs and handle a lot of the day-to-day grunt work.

Let’s make this relevant to SEO: Why would companies hire third party SEO agencies?

I’d stick with my original answer - specialty and scale.

Let’s take a current client of ours (who will remain nameless) as an example.

  • They are a B2B business with a long sales cycle. Buyers conduct months of diligence and research before they even invite this company (and their competitors) into an RFP process.
  • This business sells software in the form of annual licenses, seats and service packages (e.g. “support”). They are a 8-to-9 figure business in terms of annual sales.
  • More than one-third of all net-new customers enter their sales funnel through Organic Search. Additionally, Organic Search has the highest lead-to-customer close ratio of any marketing channel.

So, why did they hire us to assist them?

  • Their “SEO manager” is the Director of Web Marketing. She is responsible for web content, marketing automation, email marketing and SEO.
  • She has neither the time (scale) or SEO experience (specialty) to put together and execute a SEO strategy.
  • In this instance, she hires us for both our ability to scale (without bringing on liability to her team in the form of FTE’s) as well as our speciality working with global, enterprise software businesses to help grow their SEO performance.

Are there any reasons not to hire an SEO firm?

There are quite a few, in fact! Here are a few of the most common answers I give to businesses who are interested to invest in SEO for the first time.

Your business doesn’t sell anything online (no e-commerce goals from search). Why invest in showing up in search rankings if they won’t affect your bottom line online (or off)?

There isn’t any search activity for your specific niche. We use tools like Moz, Majestic SEO and BrightEdge (amongst many others) to determine this.

You don’t have an online presence of any kind. Hiring an SEO firm to take you from 0 to 100 is going to take a significant amount of time and capital that could be invested elsewhere to move your business forward.

I believe that I a) need to grow my Organic Search presence, and b) require a SEO firm to help me out with that.

Awesome! I’m glad that Organic Search can play a strong role in your growth strategy.

Before a business invests in SEO for the first time, I recommend that they read this fantastic Reddit thread from 2016 titled What’s stopping you from spending money on SEO?

While there is a lot to unpack in this thread there are a few common themes that I’ll outline in bullets.

  1. Ambiguity between what is proposed and what is actually delivered: Businesses should conduct regular check ins (we meet with our SEO customers every week) to track the progress and format of what we proposed compared to what was actually delivered.
  2. Clear explanation of approach and/or methods: A great case in point is our home grown 6-Point SEO Audit. When we tell clients we’re going to perform a SEO audit across their site, we show them each and every part of their website we’re going to audit as well as show them the tangible output they will receive.
  3. Also mention why this approach could not be done "in house": While I can’t speak for other SEO firms, our SEO team members all have 10 or more years of experience working on SEO for websites both large and small. Does your company have the ability to hire a half dozen SEO’s with a collective 60+ years of experience? If so, then by all means lead this practice “in house”!
  4. Lack of expertise or more expertise represented than actually possess: This one is tough to judge. Oftentimes we break our agreements into 90 or 180 day projects for the first year to show them our expertise with the option to cancel the contract if things are not working out.
  5. Budget that is not appropriate for goals desired: There is an old saying “Champagne taste on a beer-bottle budget”. More often than not, you get what you pay for.
  6. Assurances and/or projections to deliver results: Nothing in life is guaranteed. NOTHING! Anybody who can ‘guarantee’ SEO outcomes or results is handing you a bill of sale that they cannot 100% back up (in my opinion).
  7. Confusion over the ROI of investing in SEO: I’ve heard this one many times and it was brought up on the Reddit thread. Compared to Paid Search (where you can easily quantify if clicks drive sales or conversion activity) SEO is a bit more ambiguous. Here’s an example: If you double your Paid Search budget, and the campaigns perform the same, you should expect to double the outcomes. The same cannot always be said for SEO.
  8. SEO agencies with subpar/not optimized websites of their own: The cobbler’s son has no shoes. SEO agencies are usually so busy optimizing other people’s websites that their own falls by the wayside. Be frank with these firms; why is your website not optimized for search? How come you don’t rank for any of the key terms or queries you should appear for?
  9. A proven track record of long term ranking increases on multiple websites: We address this up front with all new customers by showing them SEO results for multiple clients over two or more years of working together. Net Promoter Score and client referrals could also help you assess whether this SEO firm will work for you or not.

Keep some of these points in mind as you go through the procurement process for a SEO agency.

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