Lee Odden

Should Companies Hire Multiple Search Marketing Firms?

Hiring Multiple SEM Firms

On occasion TopRank will get calls from prospective clients that ask about hiring multiple SEO agencies in an effort to get the “best of both worlds” in terms of best practices and performance through competition. On the surface, I suppose I could see how someone might think this might make sense but in practice, it really doesn’t.

The “two is better than one” philosophy might work when it comes to getting a second opinion from a doctor or a mechanic but with SEO, the last thing a company needs is two agencies stepping on each other to make on-page optimization recommendations. Even worse are the possibilities for confusion with link building.

Imagine hiring two PR firms for the same business and a journalist getting two different pitches for the same thing from two different agencies. Will that really generate better results or just create confusion?

Coordinating with another agency adds additional costs for each consulting firm as they now need to coordinate work with both the client and another agency.

If a company wants to get the best search engine optimization results possible, they should hire the best SEO agency for their organization, not hire two or more thinking it will turn out like some kind of “SEO apprentice”.

With many web sites, it’s enough of a challenge to get all the client side stakeholders on board with the changes in content processes and attention to keywords and links. Having two agencies coordinate which parts of the web site they would be responsible for would add to what is often already a challenging situation.

Most web sites run off of templates either from WYSIWYG editors like Dreamweaver or a content management system with a database. SEO edits to those templates can affect the entire site or large portions. In that situation you can’t always segment one part for one agency and one part to another.

The other consideration is that adding another outside agency adds to the client side cost for managing the engagement. Managing multiple vendors means more time from the client side and managing two or more vendors who do the same thing, competitors really, adds even more.

“What if we create microsites for each segment of our business and hire a different SEO agency for each?” This is a real question that I’ve been asked and you can imagine my answer. First, we don’t believe in creating microsites just for the purposes of SEO. You can get the visibility you want on different categories under the same domain name through the right mix of on page SEO, internal linking and unique inbound links from external sources. Creating multiple microsites will only dilute SEO efforts with each site treated as its own search engine optimization project.

Not many companies have the unlimited or large online marketing budgets that sit behind requests for multiple SEO/SEM vendors. But for those that do, I would strongly encourage the effort to be put into hiring a single, strategic agency that can provide both high level consulting and training of client side staff for ongoing SEO and link building. Then retain the SEO agency for continued strategic direction, training and implementation when needed. Avoid the additional overhead and headache of hiring two competing agencies willing to work on the same web site for what can be accomplished by hiring the right SEO firm from the start.

There are many search marketing practitioners that read this blog and I am curious if other client side search marketers or other agencies have engaged in a successful and sustained program working with multiple SEO firms on the same web site?

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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 integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.

Comments

  1. Wil Reynolds says:

    Lee to add to this:

    1 – If you have 2 SEO’s on the same domain, one’s aggressive tactics can kill the results of the other

    2 – It is extremely rare that 2 SEO companies will have equal results and equal customer service skills. Meaning even if you do with with 2 on two different sites, more than likely you’ll find yourself liking on over the other either in how they respond to you or in results.

    Most GOOD SEO shops will turn down an opportunity if there are to be 2 SEOs on the SAME site because they ultimately want to be responsible for as much of the outcome as possible and having someone else in there will only cause issues and infighting.

    Infighting will just lead to you have to manage the two, taking more of your time away from what matters most.

    Unfortunately we have pissed in our own pool with so many bad SEO shops who overpromise that clients are starting to think this is a good idea to hedge against a bad experience.

  2. Lee – I’ve dealt with it numerous times. Usually turns into a non-productive brawl. If the first company doesn’t work, then move on. Some SEOs are great in one space and horrible in others

  3. Probably depends on the scale of the client. I’ve worked with a couple of small businesses where this kind of arrangement has worked out well. I perform the on-page SEO in terms of Keyword Research, site architecture, etc., and work with an SEO Copywriter or Linkbuilder for the more ongoing components. The important thing, though, is that I am the one recommending the other providers, so there’s no “shoe-horning” going on 🙂

  4. Lee, it seems more to me like the client doesn’t understand how SEO works. For us in the business, I think much of our job is to set proper expectations. How long does it reasonably take for matured SEO practices to fully take hold? Four months? Six months? One year? If the client thinks that their total results are immediate — and there are some immediate improvements — then it’s probably best to reset those dials. To me it sounds like those clients have been burned before and they’re looking for people who can keep each other honest. That’s too bad because they’ll be right back where they started.

    It’s about trust and expectations.

  5. Charlie, yes I’ve seen vertical specialization but I think this happens more with generalist SEO/SEM firms.

  6. Excellent points Wil and I think you hit the nail on the head with your point about either bad SEO shops or more often, overzealous sales efforts, creating a poor experience.

    David, what you are describing is a bit different. When there is a lead agency that works with independent contractors or hires other vendors for things they don’t specialize in, I think that can work fine.

    What I’m talking about is when you have two full service SEO agencies, worlds collide.

  7. Andrew, I agree. Not setting proper expectations is probably the single most common reason companies have poor experiences with SEO firms/consultants.

    The 4-5 prospects that I am referencing in the post above were all on their 2nd, 3rd, 4th SEO engagement and were operating on some assumptions that doubling up on vendors would work in SEO as it had worked for them in other industries.

  8. Lee, I didn’t mean to imply that I disagreed with your post (I just re-read my own comment and saw that it did not have the tone that I intended). When you have a large client and two agencies, there is no doubt that the two agencies are almost always going to be working at cross-purposes.

    I was just trying to say that there are ways for it to work with smaller agencies, although I would recommend clients START with ONE provider and expand only if that first provider is allowed to recommend whom to work with.

  9. Dear Lee,
    I don’t think that companies should heir multiple marketing firms. Targeting and analyzing a definite customer base will increase a company’s output and business productivity. This is the main reason, ventures heir marketing agencies. hiring more than 2 agencies might increase database but its not necessary that they will work on same track.It may lead to two different concepts of consumers mind. rather than going for 2 agencies companies should believe in one agency’s working and they should emphasis over its proper functioning and whole some work out over customer base.

    Regards,

    Alex

  10. “Ugh!” Your analysis is spot on!

    I worked on a project to advise best practices for ecommerce & SEO. Project manager was an “SEO expert” but actually only new PPC. Client didn’t know difference. SEO expert’s approach: SEO comes later after 60 days of PPC to identify keywords. OUCH! I spent hours trying to train client so they could understand their decisions, then left project – too many sleepless nights. Site was developed with non-SE-friendly URLs with no keyword mapping to pages. Site has duplicate content issues – working with them again in “repair” mode. AND no landing pages were not discussed for PPC campaigns.

    Sounds like client education is key, prior to engagement, to avoid issues you discussed here.

  11. Lee its depend on the client.if the client does’nt understand the working of seo.

  12. they should hire because it would increase the competition and the work output would of better quality.

  13. Being on the client side this time, this article really hit home as we’re trying to improve our organic rankings, it has been asked if we should be using two SEO firms. We’re actually in the situation where we are working with an SEO firm here in Minneapolis, and a Web Design agency out in California. I manage the communication between the two, while the SEO firm sets the strategy for the web design changes, and the Web Design agency executes the changes. (We kept them on board because they had designed the site originally, and they could implement changes in their own code, much faster than someone else. Faster=Less Expensive). This system has seemed to work well for us.

    @Andrew Eklund – Managing expectations with SEO/SEM can not be stressed enough. I understand how long things can take to start affecting your rankings, but the person that writes the check, will always want results YESTERDAY.

    With the economy getting tight, people are looking more and more to have their website perform where their traditional advertising and marketing might have. This means when paying for SEO consulting; every day, week, or month that goes by without a positive change in their rankings, (or being on page 1 for selected key words) they began to second guess investing money in SEO. They start to get nervous where their next lead is going to come from, and when they will be on the top for their list of keywords.

    Again, managing expectations that this will take time, and using PPC will help drive the needed traffic in the mean time, seem like great advice.

  14. Hi David, I agree with you on the lead agency angle. That works best.

  15. Hey Dana, that’s spot on: Client (or prospect) education is key.

    Sometimes companies don’t want to hear what you have to say when you are conservative with estimates but it’s always better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around.

  16. Depends on the context, imho. Multiple sites can be done with multiple agencies. Minisites too, imho. It’s easier getting a link to your homepage than to a inner money page, anyways, which is why I like microsites. Not to mention that exact match domains get a boost in G, per Matt Cutts (for being exact match, in and of itself). Then there’s the fact that you get better anchors with exact match domains. Plenty of good reasons to do minisites imho, and I’m a fan.

    Depends how granular you’re getting though; at one point you’re better off letting affiliates mine that longtail for you. 4-5 word phrases? Yeah, no minisite there…

  17. BTW, the title of this post is absolutely brilliant :D.

  18. So, Lee, just out of curiosity, if you find yourself coming in as the second SEO shop, do you just back out of the deal?

  19. Hi Michael. If there is no “lead agency” designation, we wouldn’t bite as the first or the second SEO shop.

  20. Hey Gab, to me mini or micro sites (for SEO purposes only) are a maintenance pain in the ass but then again it depends on what kind of site it’s for.

    If you’re publishing sites to monetize content, then I see your point. If you’re optimizing content for a known brand and there is no distinct content or marketing reason for a microsite, it’s likely a waste of time.

    SEO for lead generation and sales is a very different thing than using SEO for content monetization.

  21. Great article and great comments. I can’t tell you how many times we “discover” by accident that we are not the only ones at work in link building for certain clients.

  22. Derrick Wheeler says:

    Hi,

    Bssed on my personal experience, there are reasons to work with more than one SEO company.

    Some companies are really good at creating long-term enterprise level, international search strategies. So called thought leaders.

    Other SEO companies have really good tools for diagnosing structural and code issues.

    Some companies have strengths in link building and social media.

    And even other companies focus on helping to hire, organize, and train an in-house SEO team.

    It’s hard to find one company that is THE best choice for all four of these initiatives. Especially for large complex organizations that have thousands of large complex websites.

    It is rare, I’ll admit, that a typical website needs more than one SEO company, but using multiple companies does certainly have it’s place.

    Being succesful at it requires working with companies that have mutual admiration for eachother, a strong sense of co-opetition, an understanding that there really aren’t many long-term approach secrets in the industry , and a willingness to put the client’s needs first.

    Best,

    Derrick Wheeler
    Sr SEO Architect, Microsoft.com

  23. Hey Derrick, a situation like Microsoft.com will millions of pages and businesses is obviously unique to the vast majority of SEO engagements.

    TopRank is one of those agencies engaged by several Fortune 20 companies specifically for link building and social media promotion expertise. However, these were projects or focused on specific segments of the overall business.

    The effectiveness of a multi-agency engagement is largely dependent on the client’s vision and ability to manage the relationships.

    The situations I described in the post are based on smaller companies, $1bn or less, that sought to put peer agencies in competition with each other rather than a “coopetition” situation.

    Regardless, the vast majority of SEO engagements need only 1 agency to achieve desired results.

  24. Derrick Wheeler says:

    Lee,

    Totally agree with you. Just wanted to introduce a scenario where it makes sense to use more than one. As an agency-side SEO for over ten years, I was involved in the scenario you outlined on many occasions. The most common example was working with a client that hired a design/development company that said they included SEO as part of the design/development process. This usually ended up with a bad working relationship because our role became criticizing their work and usually ended up creaping their scope. 🙂

    Great article by the way. Very thought provoking.
    –Derrick

  25. I appreciate the perspective Derrick, because it is unique and I don’t think many SEO practitioners have had the opportunity of the scenario you describe. It does make sense, especially where larger budgets are in place and there’s need for high degrees of specialization.

    Also, thanks for stopping by! Hope we can earn many more return visits. 🙂

  26. Well! I believe that there is very big assumption before one hires 2 SEO agencies. The client assumes that there would be synergy in the system and the output would be much better than their individual works. But for the partnership to work, conducive environment is needed which incentivize both the parties not only financially but also emotionally and professionally.

  27. Personally I think there is enough free info out there that a firm can have one of their employees learn seo and come up with an seo plan for their company.

  28. I have seen it work great but only because one SEO agency worked on local marketing and the other the parent companies visibility However I don’t think two SEO companies should share a campaign, too many chances to point fingers if something goes wrong.

  29. As a lot have been said about the tactical aspects here, I would not go into much technical details but would like to draw your attention towards a new aspect. I believe that SEO, apart from being a scientic methodology of site promotion, is also an art. Every SEO or rather Search Marketer has got his or her own strategy and planning which is unique to himself/herself. No two SEO plans can be the same and every strategy has got its own essence. If more than one SEO firm is hired, the flavour is lost and and as we all know that Search Marketing is not only about higher rankings but also generating more and more business and we do not want to confuse the targeted visitors with our multicolour, multifaceted approach. Right?

  30. I think hiring two firms works out very well. I has been my experience that in doing this, one agency comes out on top. Normally the company that comes out on top ends up being the agency with the best customer service, teaching attitude, and responsiveness to the business needs. We all can admit some of the top agencies out there can have a little bit of a condescending attitude. We don’t maintain these condescending agencies.

  31. darkrule999 says:

    Companies should only hire the most appopriate SEO firm for them. Having one more can result to conflicting results. For instance, keyword research results might vary thus over-highlighting the results made by the firm that comes out on top. This could lead to a highlight to one aspect of the company and a negligence to other aspects that might have attracted search engine queries.

  32. Hi Lee –

    Our search marketing firm just had a situation like this.

    A prospective client wanted us to do a quote for SEM and SEO services. We did the paid search quote, as well as a quote for a site audit, keyword research, and SEO plan plus staff coaching. Pretty standard stuff.

    Since the client did not know what phrases they wanted to focus on, it was kinda hard to give a price on executing on the plan that hadn’t been put together 🙂

    Anyway, they took a look at the price (which was mid-range)and said, basically “well, for that we would expect you to do the plan, execute on it, and get some results in 1-2 months.”

    Since they have a page rank of 4, and their competitors are up there in the 6, 7, and 8 range, with a whole lot more high value links, we felt it wouldn’t be fair to promise dramatic results in 2 months, on key phrases we hadn’t yet settled on.

    Anyway, long story short, we talked our way out of the SEO engagement. The hook? They asked us to “supervise” the work of a lower-priced search marketing agency.

    Of course, I told them I wasn’t comfortable suprvising the results of another search marketng firm’s work, but they could come back to us if they want to take a second look.

    I have a feeling the other search marketing agency will be calling me for sympathy in about 30-60 days…

    best

    George

  33. That’s an interesting scenario you’ve described George and it makes one wonder, “Where some companies are getting their information from?” Do they play vendors in other industries this way or is it something unique to search marketing?