Lee Odden

Andy Beal on Running a SEO SEM Agency

Andy Beal has been around the block and then some when it comes to building SEO-SEM firms. Today he posted his “Top 10 Business Mistakes Search Marketing Firms Make“. Here are Andy’s tips 1-10 and I’ve thrown in my own thoughts and observations after each.

1. Charging a “Set-up” Fee.
We’ve pretty much moved away from this but not 100% as some small projects warrant it. It does help companies spread costs out, but it also has to be managed properly since so much work occurs during the first 60-90 days of a campaign.

2. Offering Too Many Service Options
We’ve been sticking to Search Engine Optimization, Blog Marketing and Online PR for the past few years and it’s working great! PPC, web design and usability are typically outsourced to partners or simply referred. While it’s important to keep abreast of trends and tactics, strategy should be consistent. It’s just the execution that changes as consumer use of the internet changes. Example: SEO and SMO.

3. Their Business Doesn’t Scale
This is a consideration for any growing business. There’s nothing wrong with running a 12 person $1m-$2m SEO shop. There’s also nothing wrong with a 25 person $5m-$10m search marketing business either.

4. They Spend More Time on New Clients Than Existing Ones
This is a very good point. It’s much more expensive to find and take on new clients than take care of the clients you have. One of the most common issues in the SEO biz is companies that start to grow also start to experience high client attrition levels. That’s not good for anyone.

5. They Fail to Understand a New Client’s Goals
Or they fail to help the client understand what goals are important. How many SEO firms take money from companies that are fixated on rankings and clueless about ROI? We spend as much time helping clients with implementing conversion tracking and analytics in many cases as we do with generating traffic.

6. They Fail to Realize Clients’ Goals Change Over Time
I see a lot of SEO/SEM firms that fall into a certain comfort zone with their clients after a certain period of time. Without active project/account management and program audits, changes in the client’s business will not be reflected in their search marketing program.

7. They Rely On One “Expert” to Provide All Client Recommendations
This can certainly be challenging because regardless what anyone says, it takes a lot of information to understand SEO strategy, tactics and the business side. Knowledge transfer and training should be one of the primary objectives for a growing search marketing agency. One of the reasons iProspect became such an appealing acquisition was due to their SEO training program.

8. Client Information is Silo’d
This one is critical. When the individuals working on SEO implementation don’t understand the particular needs and goals of the client, they are not empowered to make the right decisions. Team communication by account managers is absolutely important and helpful both for the staff and the client as Andy suggests.

9. They Turn Speaking Engagements Into “Sales Pitches”
At the last Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose, I saw a great example of this and also a great example of what you should aspire to. All I can say, is Matt Bailey of Site Logic has it down! His presentation is so enthusiastic and engaging, so full of useful information that he hardly needs to mention his company or contact info because people flocked to him like moths to a flame afterwards. No sales pitch required.

10. They’re Scared of Losing Their Top Talent
A smart business will diversify their talent and focus on treating staff fairly and generously. The culture and environment as well as communication skills are just slightly MORE important than the technical and creative optimization skills of the SEO team in my opinion. At the same time, not everyone is cut out to play a critical role in a growing organization and staff changes are often necessary or those people will move on.

Andy offers some great recommendations in his post – anyone in need of consulting or training should look him up.

I wish the SEO/SEM conferences would include more of this kind of information in their programming as I think it would attract a worthwhile audience.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.