It is clear to see that SEO is no longer the ‘stand-alone’, tech-based discipline it once was.
Of course, there will always be a technical aspect to search engine optimisation, but the roles of social media, great content, and PR are becoming more and more significant when it comes to contemporary SEO.
Because of this, expertise across a multitude of skill sets and disciplines is absolutely necessary if you want to succeed. As search engine optimisation has evolved along with growing tends in in-sourcing, the needs of many clients have shifted when it comes to where their SEO agency is concerned.
Often, clients will have people working internally to create content, execute PR campaigns, and run and maintain social media. Because of this, it may not be necessary for them to have an agency partner when it comes to executing much of the daily regular SEO strategy.
But, there’s no need for SEO agencies to press the panic button and consider alternative employment just yet, as they still have a vital role to play. However, this role is certainly changing, meaning that in order for search and SEO agencies to add true value, their traits and skills should be adjusted accordingly.
In order to illustrate how, let’s take a look at the three key components of SEO mentioned earlier: content, PR, and social media.
For many, there are certain things which the client is better placed to own when it comes to day-to-day SEO strategies. Social media management is certainly one of these, and some argue that content creation is another. However, when analysing the structure and skill sets of teams, it’s often found that content strategy, along with both PR and social media, is being disparately managed. In other words, content is often managed by teams who have no overriding structure, strategy or shared objectives in place.
Since teams tend to be working in isolation of each other, there are a lot of great opportunities which are being missed out on. This type of siloed structure is the enemy of effective and productive SEO. As a result, many companies need advice at a more strategic level, in order to better facilitate change and give in-house employees the skills and knowledge that they need to work in a way which is more integrated.
More specifically, when it comes to content, an agency could cover a variety of different roles, including auditing exciting editorial plans and content assets, assessing expertise and resources available in-house, running creative workshops, and putting a range of executional plans, KPIs, processes and objectives in place. Although this may not always be the case, more and more agencies are taking on the role of ‘facilitator’ where the agency and content strategy is concerned.
Anybody who works in PR, SEO or both will be aware that the lines between the two have somewhat blurred in recent years. Many search agencies have learned that PR skills, such as great story-telling, nurturing relationships with influencers and organising outreach campaigns are essential to their SEO strategies. On the other hand, the majority of PR agencies are beginning to realise just how important it is that they understand the basics of SEO, at the very least.
Where online PR is concerned, the role the search agency plays will depend on a number of different factors, including whether or not the client already has a PR agency in place, whether outsourced or in-house, and the expertise of that team. Some clients may need a search agency to run PR campaigns in full, from coming up with creative ideas right through to managing journalists, bloggers, and other possible influencers. But, agencies are finding more and more often that their role is to work alongside stakeholders when it comes to PR; ensuring that the PR agency has been tasked to look after influencers and working alongside them to help maximise these relationships from the perspective of SEO.
As with content strategy, this could involve putting in place processes or delivering training opportunities in order to ensure that their strategies and activity are aligned to the correct search strategy. In other instances, an agency could split ownership of media ‘lists’ in order to ensure that each stakeholder is managing those relationships which they are best placed to own. However, what works well for one client may not work at all for another, showing how search agencies increasingly need to be more flexible so that they can adapt to the situation.
Social Media Management
Whilst ‘likes’ on Facebook or ‘retweets’ on Twitter are said to have no direct impact on a website or company’s search engine rankings, social media definitely does play a role which is absolutely vital when it comes to owning brand search results, garnering links and distributing content. Obviously, there are many instances where outsourcing the day to day management of social media pages to an agency will work well, however, for the most part, social media tends to be mainly owned by clients wherever possible.
Many companies are recognising the need to be ‘on brand’ and immediate in their communication with fans, followers and customers. This means that there is a lot of emphasis on empowering clients to use social media in a manner that is more effective, not just in terms of the key role it plays in SEO but also more broadly, for example the role it plays in supporting other business features and functions, such as customer services.
When it comes to the agency’s role in social media, this could involve helping their client to better understand their customers through the use of social networks, blogs and forums, understanding the types of conversations that they are having and how their purchasing decisions are influenced. Furthermore, an agency could work alongside a client to create social media policies, provide support and training to the in-house social media team, and ensure that they have the strategies and structure in place to execute their social media strategy with confidence.
What Hasn’t Changed?
Even though the areas of SEO mentioned above tend to describe a role for the agency which is more consultative, there are still some areas where it’s possible for agencies to be a little more hands-on.
In the vast majority of cases, clients tend to require hands-on support where four of the main key areas are concerned. These include creating the overarching strategy in the first place including all of the analysis and planning which goes into it, ongoing analysis and reporting, technical SEO, and quick identification of new strategies in line with new trends, algorithm updates, and so on.
Any good agency should have a range of processes in place to analyse commercial objectives and establish the role that search can play when it comes to meeting them, using customer insight and data, market data, other marketing channels, the competitive landscape, broader marketing resources, internal resources and analytics, keyword data, and a range of trends. The ability to make sense of all of this and use it to identify and prioritise opportunities, construct a good strategy and make realistic predictions is usually far from easy, and the majority of clients will require hands-on agency support. Furthermore, the experience and insights which can be gained from working with other clients who share similar challenges can often be invaluable to the client, not to mention the fact that an agency provides an extra pair of eyes which are willing to challenge the status quo.
Since search agencies tend to be at the forefront of developments and updates in SEO, along with the fact that they have a greater level of access to tools and technologies, many clients look to them for help developing prioritised strategies and plans when it comes to search engine optimisation. The technical aspects of SEO can often be confusing to those who are not in the know, therefore it can be easy to make simple mistakes which can potentially undermine a client’s content strategy, PR and social media.
Outsourcing is Dead
Fundamentally, search engine optimisation can no longer be ‘outsourced’ in the sense of the word that clients can simply leave their SEO to a search agency and never pay any attention to it again. Success in SEO today comes from the agency and the client working together on SEO strategies and functioning as partners. Increasingly, the role of the agency is becoming one of ‘joining the dots’ where in-house SEO activity is concerned. It demands that agencies be more open when it comes to methods of sharing information, processes, and even templates which can be passed to the client to work on. It also means that agencies have faced a need to become more adept when it comes to understanding digital transformation.
One of the most important traits an agency needs to possess in order to be successful in the SEO world of today is flexibility. Without flexibility and the ability to adapt to different needs and requirements, it is difficult for an agency to deliver bespoke solutions which are tailored to internal resources, objectives, and skill sets. It is impossible for SEO to be commoditised, as it cannot be packaged and bought ‘off the shelf’. As such, it is vital for search agencies to be fully equipped to uncover and deliver what the client needs for good SEO, even if this is different to what they believe they require.
Do you work for or own a search/SEO agency? Have you noticed any recent changes in how you need to work with your clients? What are your thoughts on this?