Episode Overview: It takes extensive planning and collaboration for most companies to reach a collective decision to hire a SEO agency, but another important decision remains. Which SEO agency is right for your company or organization? Join host Ben as he continues his Agency Week discussion with Searchmetrics’ Director of Services Tyson Stockton as they share the best strategies to help narrow down your choices and identify which SEO agency is a good fit for your company.
- Finding the right agency for your organization or business requires a fundamental understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve and defining criteria in request for proposals for agencies to fulfill.
- Analyzing a SEO Agency’s reputation, whether it’s investigating how they interact with clients on LinkedIn or comparing the ratings they have on Google, is just as important as evaluating the services they offer.
- One of the best ways to save time in the decision process is to quickly narrow down your choices. Immediately disqualify agencies you’re not interested in and prioritize ones that you’ve had face-to-face time with or schedule a meeting to have that experience. A strong partnership built on face time with an agency will be easier to work with.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
Ben: Welcome to Agency Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re publishing an episode every day covering what you need to know to master the relationship between agencies and in-house SEOs. Joining us again for Agency Week is Tyson Stockton, who is the director of services at Searchmetrics. Today, we’re going to continue Agency Week by talking about how to evaluate if an agency is right for you. All right, here’s our fourth installment of Agency Week with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ director of services at Searchmetrics. Tyson Stockton, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Tyson: Thank you, Ben. How’s it going, BenJShap?
Ben: We’re getting by and excited for our fourth installment talking about agencies. We’re finally to the point of making a decision. We’ve talked about what are the agencies that are out there, what are some of the services and engagements that they provide? Do you even need an agency? Let’s say we’ve made the decision. “Hey, look, we got some gaps in our capabilities. We need to onboard some external help. We need to amplify what we’re doing, come up with a better strategy. SEO is important to our company, let’s go find an agency. How do we find an agency? How do we figure out who’s good?”
Tyson: Well, first piece I would say is, number one, do your inventory. So, look at your own team. Where are your gaps? Where is the exact means of the engagement? Then reach out or then start your search from that, but always start with that. I also look at it in three different buckets of identifying what needs to be done, the strategy or order in which you’re going to deploy that, and then the actual implementation of the initiatives and tasks. Think of those areas, see where you have gaps in your own team business as a whole, and then that’s when to reach out to like the agencies. That’s already going to help you kind of be like, “Am I looking for a specialist? Am I looking for a general one?” But that’s going to help narrow your search off the bat.
Ben: So, step number one, understanding what problem you’re trying to solve so you can find an agency that fills that gap. What’s step number two?
Tyson: Step number two is defining that criteria and then looking for proposals to that or opening an RFP.
Ben: RFP, request for proposal. Did I get it right?
Tyson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: Request for project or request for proposal, it’s a request for help where you’re going to send the criteria and the same criteria to multiple different agencies. When you’re filling out the RFP process, what are the things that you’re putting in your request for proposals? How much detail do you need to get?
Tyson: I would be very detailed because the offer that you put in in creating the criteria is going to determine the quality that you’re going to get back from these agencies, and also save you a ton of time. If you leave it really loose-ended, you’ll see what ambition or what direction they take it, but also you’re going to get a lot, a huge array potentially, and it’s not necessarily going to be a fit.
Ben: So, Tyson, give me some example criterias of what you would put on your RFP to find a good SEO agency.
Tyson: You have your basic obvious ones on objectives, but very specifically, I would also look at how are they validating the initiatives or strategy that they’re making. This is where you want them to be specific and not saying just SEO knowledge and general understanding of how things are going, but what data are they going to back to it or what resources do they have to then validate those initiatives.
Ben: Yeah. I think understanding that their ability to use data as opposed to rely on previous experience is important. How are you going to figure out what works for us, not what’s worked for you? On the flip side, it’s also useful to say, “What are the companies and projects that you’ve worked with that are in a similar space? We are a B2B enterprise software product. Have you worked with that type of company before? Have you worked with companies with 200 people or more? Have you faced problems managing technical and content audits?” Things along those lines, right? “What comparable experience do you have?” And that leads you into the ability to ask for references. But before we get to the reference check piece, how do you figure out how to actually get people to fill out your RFP? How are you sourcing the agencies?
Tyson: So first, I would reach out to my personal network, and this is reaching out just to other friends that I have in other companies, whether it’s just people that I’ve worked with in the past or even maybe colleagues for competing companies, and then actually just see who they know and who they would refer as being almost a personal recommendation to it.
Ben: I just helped manage this process for Searchmetrics recently. We were looking for a performance marketing agency, and the first thing I did was while I went to the people that I’d interviewed on the MarTech podcast that I thought that had some credibility, just like you did, people that are in your personal network. And the second thing that I did was I asked for advice, and a great place to do this, go to LinkedIn. “Hey, who do I know that works with a great performance marketing agency?” You get some other recommendations and intros from the people that you already trust and can validate are credible.
Tyson: Last thing too is it’s pretty easy to find the well-known incredible players in the space. If you know the specialty that you’re looking for, it’s not that … I mean, we all know search, so it’s pretty easy to find the companies that are going to rise up to the top. And I think also going with the reputation of the company. And both our services and I think other companies that I’ve seen do really well in this, reputations become quite apparent and also you hear about it around the industry. So it’s not like you’re uncovering and looking into the deep corners of the industry to find this, it should be easy to find. Otherwise there could be something there.
Ben: I think that’s important and that’s good advice. Generally, the best SEO agencies specifically are probably pretty good content marketers, and so it’s a sign of an SEO agency if that they are visible and public in places that you would expect, the forums where SEOs are talking. Hey, if they’ve been a guest on the Voices of Search podcast, they’re probably pretty credible. They’re on a search podcast that I listen to. If they’re on Quora answering questions about SEO and their answers seem reputable, hey, that’s a good place too, right? If they’re on LinkedIn and publishing content, if they’re on Twitter, those are all places where you can really get to understand how a company is, well, marketing itself and if they have the resources and capabilities to be able to market themselves, hopefully they’re running a successful business and maybe it’s worth a shot to have them fill out your RFP. I guess the last question we have is, “Okay, somebody’s gone through and filled out my RFP. How do I evaluate those RFPs and how do I finally make the decision of who’s the right agency for me?”
Tyson: In the beginning of the RFP process, I mean, typically you get a lot of applicants in this, so assuming that you have plenty to choose from, I would disqualify as many right off the bat as you can, because this ultimately is just going to save time, it’s going to save heartache on all sides. So, disqualify the ones that you’re not truly interested in. And then with your smaller set, have more personal contacts so you get a taste of what it would be like to working with them. So, typically in person would be my recommendation for that, you just get a better feel of how that would be once you guys actually sign the paperwork. So I’d say eliminate as many as you can in the beginning and then also when you get to the later stages, have that face time and spend a little bit more than just a phone call or two to see if it’s going to be something that’s going to work out.
Ben: When we were going through the process of hiring a performance agency for Searchmetrics, we had an initial RFP. The companies that we were really interested did an audit, came in, gave us their conclusions and then the last step that we asked for was for them to put together a 90-day action plan and to understand, hey, what is the timeline that it will take for us to see significant impact to our business. And I think that that construct is a great one to not only figure out who’s going to be organized, who’s going to be credible, are they going to set up milestones and deliverables that are going to map to what you need to accomplish, but it also gives you a sense of what the working relationship is going to be like. At the end of the day when you’re hiring an agency, that’s really what matters the most. Sure, they need the prerequisite knowledge, but you got to make sure that you’re going to be able to work with this collection of people to be successful.
Tyson: That’s a good point, Ben. And I wouldn’t also jump over the negotiation process. It’s not the most fun part of the overall contract.
Ben: It’s my favorite part.
Tyson: From the service side, I can honestly say that’s the least favorite part. The fun part is where you’re actually talking about what you’re going to work on, what the strategy is.
Ben: See, you’re an SEO. I’m a recovering business development guy. I think about this totally differently.
Tyson: Yeah, no, negotiations, obviously it’s important and it’s going to be a very critical piece. But yeah, I’d say from my side, from the services, is that’s definitely the most tedious of the steps.
Ben: It’s honestly one of the most important parts. And as you get down to the end of the agency vetting process and you’re going through negotiations, you’ve at that point pretty much figured out who you want to be working with. Going through the negotiation process and setting yourself up for success is an incredibly important part of the process. It’s not just about who can grab the most dollars off the collective plate, it’s about aligning your incentives and making sure that you’re going to be able to work together efficiently and that you’re not being pulled opposite directions. And we’re going to talk more about that tomorrow as we discuss managing agency relationships.
Ben: So, that wraps up this episode of agency week on the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ director of services. We’d love to continue the conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Tyson, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can send him a tweet, his handle is Tyson_Stockton.
Ben: Just one more link I want to tell you about in our show note, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests, you can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions, you can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course you can always reach out on social media, our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter and my personal handle is BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
Ben: And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing knowledge in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week, including tomorrow when Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ director of services, and I talk about managing agency relationships. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.