I have just completed my first six months working in an SEO Marketing Agency - which is not a sentence I would have seen myself saying a year ago.
I have worked with agencies in the past, but I’ve only ever been employed as an in-house marketer. Being honest, I’ve always been a little sceptical of outsourcing marketing to agencies, but after a conversation with the team at i3MEDIA, I decided to take the risk and make the move.
After six whirlwind months here, I have learnt a lot; I’m a better marketer for one, and it has been an incredible learning curve into how agencies work and the benefits of outsourcing to one.
It’s probably worth disclosing - just in case it’s not obvious enough to remain inferred - that this blog is written specifically about my experience at i3MEDIA and not at any other marketing agency.
I’m not suggesting that all agencies are like i3MEDIA, nor am I saying that they’re not.
1 - It’s Not Just About SEO
I love SEO; It’s an art form. It’s about balancing technical knowledge with scientific data analysis and sheer creative nous - and it’s an incredibly challenging and rewarding field to work in. But any digital marketer worth their salt knows that focusing solely on one aspect of marketing is less effective than an integrated marketing campaign.
There’s little point in driving tonnes of traffic to a site without some CRO. SEO, PPC and social media do so much more for a brand if they are all working together cohesively using an integrated approach.
Plus, I’ve always worked in wider marketing roles, and in making the move I worried that I would miss the variety that my previous roles offered.
Much to my relief, SEO marketing agencies do far more than just SEO. At i3MEDIA, we’re SEO’s, we’re AdWords experts, and we’re social media advisors. We offer our expertise and advice to clients to help drive sales, improve conversion rates, increase AOV and encourage repeat purchasing.
Sure, for some clients we stick to SEO, for some we just do PPC and for some we’re working on SEO alongside separate PPC and Social media agencies. Whichever the setup, it works because we never allow a client to put all their efforts into just one marketing stream. We ensure that they know that the strategies need to be aligned, whether we are working on other channels or not.
2 - KPI’s Are Just the Beginning
As an SEO Agency, there’s only really one or two KPI’s we can be judged on. Organic traffic to the site and the site performance (bounce rate, conversion rate, time on site etc.). But for us, that’s just the beginning - I was amazed by the level of interest the agency takes in their clients KPIs.
Content writers are checking Analytics on big sales days to see if clients have hit their targets, account managers ask about results out of our control, staff offer advice on Google AdWords to clients who don’t use our PPC management service because they genuinely care about their results.
It would be very easy for us to hide behind “well, what we’re doing is working, the other channels are letting you down and that’s your problem” but we don’t. Sure, we don’t take responsibility for a client's faltering email campaign, but rather than letting them sink we’ll often offer help and advice on future newsletters or recommend potential promotions that might boost sales.
3 - They Really Know What They're Doing
I mentioned at the very beginning of this post that, for most of my professional career, I was very much of the belief that companies should opt for in house marketing over outsourcing to an agency. I think I need to address this directly and clarify why after just a few months in an agency, my opinion on this has changed.
Why I thought in-house was the best solution:
- Your in-house team/employees know your brand inside out
- You have someone working on your marketing for 40 hours per week
- Your staff are dedicated and really care about the success of your business.
I’m not going to spend too long discrediting my third point, as that’s been covered already; just because agency staff aren’t employed directly by you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care. In fact, in my experience, they surprisingly care quite a lot.
The first two points can be addressed together. Yes, when you employ marketers in-house, the result is staff members who know your brand and are working on your marketing for 40 hours per week, but when you outsource to an agency you get up to ten experts all working together on your campaign.
At i3MEDIA, I’m working within an incredible team. We have guys who specialise in technical SEO and onsite optimization, amazing wordsmiths in the content team, and a team who know how and where to find high-quality, authoritative links for client’s websites. And it’s all held together by the account management team who orchestrate the campaign and ensure that communication is as effective as it would be if we were working in the same building as our clients.
Depending on your level of resource, you might not get the full 40 hours of work on your campaign, but on the same hand, you still might. But the staff here are experts and the processes so efficient - with access to so many marketing tools - that every hour worked on your campaign in an agency is worth four or five spent in-house.
Agencies know what they’re doing - they have to, if they didn’t, they wouldn't last long as an agency. They know the latest trends and strategies, their staff are experts in their fields, they know exactly how to rank your site in Google or get results on AdWords. They have access to marketing software that makes their campaigns incredibly effective, and their staff genuinely care about your business, as well as the campaign.
4 - There is Still Some Really, Really Bad SEO Going On
I’ve read all the blogs too; 10 bad SEO tactics to leave behind in 2018 etc., and I still do. Except whilst I used to just skim them and think “what a pointless and irrelevant article, people don’t still attempt these SEO strategies”, I now see the value in them - as there is a lot of really bad SEO going on.
In my six months at i3MEDIA, we’ve had clients join who have suffered a penalty due to past agencies employing dodgy “black hat” link building tactics, I’ve seen sites with awful URL structures, thin content, and companies who are targeting completely irrelevant keywords that won’t ever help them reach their goals.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in-house at companies who have a decent level of understanding when it comes to SEO but it has become clear to me that not all companies are as fortunate. Too many of the campaigns we work on begin with a month of undoing all the bad SEO that these companies have paid for, and it’s incredibly frustrating.
If you take one thing from reading this post, please make sure it’s this, and that you’re not currently doing any of the following:
- Buying links en masse or overly aggressive link building
- Creating a separate web page for every single keyword variant you want to rank for
- Creating lots and lots of pages at the expense of quality content
- Ignoring technical SEO (If you’re not technical, find an agency or hire someone who is, it’s so incredibly important to your campaign and most web developers don’t know technical SEO at all)
- Focus solely on SEO for Google rather than for humans. User experience is a key ranking factor and it’s only going to become even more important
Now seems like a good opportunity to point out the importance of choosing a good agency (or at least employing a knowledgeable marketer) to help you get ahead. There’s bad SEO going on all over the place, so it really pays to do your research.
5 - Communication Technology is Amazing
Years ago, I was at a meeting at an agency in Berlin where we were sat in a room with an online conference call setup between us, the U.K. and a New York office. A staff member from Memphis dialled in on the phone, and we were all working on the same strategy using a collaborative text editor and sharing data and information via screen share software.
In a moment of silence, one of the representatives from the Berlin agency said, “I don't even care about the NSA, technology is amazing”, and he was right. We work with local companies, and we work with companies located across the country, but it really doesn’t make a difference where we are.
Some clients prefer to meet face to face, some visit for a launch meeting and some we only ever speak with electronically - and there is nothing wrong with any of those options. We’re fortunate to be a short train journey away from London and in a location that’s pretty accessible for most of the U.K., but whilst it’s nice when a client can pop in for a coffee, communication technology is so advanced that it doesn't make a difference when they’re located at the other end of the country.
Here’s the thing; I’m incredibly fortunate to have worked for some fantastic organisations, from Fortune 500 companies through to smaller, family-run businesses - and i3MEDIA is an outstanding marketing agency. I clarified at the beginning of this post that the article is specifically about i3MEDIA, which is important to remember. As I pointed out, there is some really bad marketing going on both in-house and at agencies that will be hindering business growth - but I’m certainly not saying that outsourcing is the best solution for every single company.
After my first six months in an SEO agency, though, I really have learnt a lot, and I have concluded that a lot of companies who are currently doing SEO in-house would probably be better off outsourcing. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to employ an entire in-house team of five or more marketers, then as long as they’re experienced and enthusiastic then that is probably the best way to go for you. But I would say that, in most instances, if the choice is between employing one or two marketers in house or outsourcing - the knowledge and expertise you get from a good agency is likely to be the way to go.