One of the key decisions many companies must make in regards to search engine optimisation (SEO) is the decision on whether to create and build a team in-house or to work with an external agency. There are pros and cons to both approaches and many businesses often choose to go with a combination of the two: create a team in-house and work with an agency to support with best practice and on-going guidance.
If a decision is made to work with an SEO agency there are number of steps to be taken, including the selection of a range of agencies and later the management of a pitch process.
However, the step before the later will include a review of a series of proposals from the selection of agencies invited to submit. And in this post, I’m going to review some of the key factors a client-side marketer should look for in an agency SEO proposal.
Key factors in any SEO agency proposal
In my experience of reviewing proposals there are some common factors which you should look out for that I’ve listed here.
1. Initial audit and review
For any new SEO agency coming in, this stage gives them the opportunity to review existing performance and establish a baseline in which to measure future SEO efforts.
2. Keyword identification and prioritisation
This is when the real SEO work starts. The keyword identification process allows the SEO agency to begin selecting the keywords and keyword themes that are most relevant to the business.
3. Competitor benchmarking
In a similar way to the keyword identification stage, the competitor benchmarking process involves picking out the different competitor sets that the client should benchmark performance against.
4. Technical and backlink audit
This stage can be broken into two parts:
1. Technical – this involves analysis of re-directs, sitemaps, crawler access and source code
2. Backlink audit – due to Google’s various Google Penguin algorithm updates, it’s never been more important to have a natural link profile.
5. Content review – on-site and off-site
This stage also involves two parts:
1. On-site – a review of the effectiveness of all on-site content, including products pages, blog/articles, landing pages, support and on-site search
2. Off-site – an analysis of how and where content is being used on other sites and how it is being linked back to the client’s website
6. Social media review
This will involve an audit of how social media is currently being used and any gaps or opportunities that are not being utilised.
With many social media channels being key platforms in which to distribute and share content (both paid for and organically), an SEO agency should be able to advise on where a client should be investing in the social space.
7. Strategy and direction
Following the keyword identification, competitor benchmarking and review of existing technical SEO and content, the agency will be in a position to provide a detailed recommendation of the SEO strategy and direction the client should follow.
The strategy and direction the agency proposes should align with the client’s high-level goals and objectives as well as the business philosophy (e.g. rank well at all costs vs. white hat approach to SEO).
8. Planning, reporting and forecasting
Once the strategy and direction have been agreed, the SEO agency should provide a view on how they will forecast performance based on the plans they will put in place and how they will report on performance on a weekly and monthly basis. There should be an overview of:
- Alignment to business goal and objectives
- Main SEO KPIs and metrics
- Analytics tools and processes
9. Costs and resources
Finally, the agency will outline how they would propose to work with the client.
It’s important to have a clear idea about the history of the agency, their experience in SEO (as well as other earned media activities, such as content marketing and social media) and the size of their team.
And of course the agency will also provide a cost guide and a recommendation as to how they work (e.g. retainer, PRF etc).
Lastly, there may also be reference to a review or appraisal in order to look at a process for improvement in order to understand whether the agency’s process is effective. What will they actually deliver each month? What concrete deliverables are they committing to?
In addition to the main elements of an SEO proposal referenced above, the following factors are also worth considering:
10. Company fit
As is the case with any type of recruitment, it’s important that there is the right ‘fit’ and ‘chemistry’ between the client and agency, both at a corporate and personnel level.
For example, an agency may have an excellent level of expertise and a great track record of success but if this has been in a completely different sector or industry there may be issues with adaptability, e.g. compliance considerations in financial services or the medical industry.
11. Integration with other media
For most businesses, SEO is one of many marketing tactics at their disposal. It’s therefore important to consider how an agency’s SEO efforts will integrate with display marketing, remarketing and paid search.
The integration of paid and organic search is particularly important, especially in terms of keyword prioritisation and testing (for keywords, landing pages and headlines).