What should a client-side marketer look for when evaluating an agency SEO proposal?
One of the key decisions many companies must make in regards to search engine optimization (SEO) is the decision on whether to create and build a team in-house or to work with an external agency or consultant(s). 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 external advisors to support best practice and on-going guidance.
If a decision is made to work with an SEO agency there are several steps to be taken, including the selection of a range of agencies and later the management of a pitch process that is covered in other articles and guides from Smart Insights included in the Agency Toolkit.
However, first businesses need to tender for SEO and review proposals from a range of agencies. 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. Of course, any proposal must stand out, so we have a more detailed SEO proposal template in Word included in our SEO toolkit including 10 factors that can be used to differentiate between proposals.
1. Initial audit and review
For any new incumbent SEO agency, this stage allows them to review existing performance, identify problems that need to be fixed, and establish a baseline in which to measure future SEO efforts. Identifying 'quick wins' is popular both with the agency and client, so techniques used to do this should be detailed.
2. Keyword identification and prioritization
This is when the real SEO work starts. The keyword identification process allows the SEO agency to work with existing keyword target lists to prioritize keywords and keyword themes that are most relevant to the business. Clients are looking for more quantitative techniques that show the opportunity and returns from SEO. To help make the proposal more specific ask for how the agency will review a specific product category, then this example category can be reviewed throughout the proposal.
3. Competitor benchmarking
In a similar way to the keyword identification stage, the competitor benchmarking process involves picking out the different types of competitors in the search results that the client should benchmark performance against.
4. Technical SEO audit
The technical audit will check that Googlebot and other search engine robots can successfully crawl and index different pages this involves analysis of re-directs, duplicate content, sitemaps, crawler access, and source code. It's difficult based on a proposal for a client to understand how one agency process is better than another, so to make it more specific you can specify a particularly challenging area of the site.
5. Backlink audit
Owing to Google’s various Google Penguin algorithm updates, it’s never been more important to have a natural link profile. Identifying poor quality links as part of link detoxification is important here, so look for the process and tools that the agency uses.
6. Content quality review – on-site and off-site
This stage also involves two parts:
- On-site – a review of the effectiveness of all on-site content, including products pages, blog/articles, content marketing assets like infographics, landing pages, support, and on-site search
- Off-site – an analysis of how and where content is being syndicated or used on other sites and how it is being linked back to the client's website
7. Social media review
This will involve an audit of how social media is currently being used and should show any gaps or opportunities that are not being utilized.
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.
8. 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).
9. 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
10. 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 a reference to a review or appraisal to look at a process for improvement to understand whether the agency’s process is effective. What will they deliver each month? What concrete deliverables are they committing to?
In addition to the main elements of an SEO proposal referenced, the following factors are also worth considering:
11. Company fit
As is the case with any type of recruitment, there must be 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.
12. 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 prioritization and testing (for keywords, landing pages, and headlines).
So, that's how I see it giving a round number of factors to consider. How do you see it - are there other areas you emphasize to?