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It’s not you, it’s me: A letter to SEO clients everywhere

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Dear SEO clients:

It’s not you, I swear. It’s me. I have an agency hangover. I just spent the last four years in agencies, working with everyone from small, local clients to large e-commerce sites.

Just like in any other profession, experiences ranged from spectacular to ugly. But after solving some of the same problems and encountering many of the same situations over and over, my hangover could become your insight.

I’m going to let you in on some secrets. Some solutions to some common challenges I encountered. Some advice that has been quietly shared here and there (both welcome and not). As a search professional and a business colleague, if I can prevent costly mistakes and countless headaches, dear clients, I am here to point you in the right direction.

Start with an audit

You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Trust your agency or consultant to do an audit of your site and competitive analysis before any other work gets done. It’s the best starting point, and provides the road map on what to focus on in the short term and long term. If it’s SEO that you are looking for, you need an evaluation that involves a technical analysis, content review, an inbound link analysis and a usability assessment.

Benchmark everything

Before the work starts, have your agency capture benchmarks and make annotations of work completed or any site changes within Google Analytics. Take screenshots of your search results and of your pages. If you’re not sure what to benchmark, make a list and ask.

Band-Aids don’t work

Which leads to this – if your site isn’t operating well overall, SEO isn’t going to help. (On the other hand, you also don’t want to break something that is working – see the previous point about starting with an audit.) No matter what, good information architecture and design matters. And unfortunately, optimal design can be expensive. SEO is not a feature that can be applied after a site is created, nor will a Band-Aid approach to fixing a site design deliver the results you would expect.

Pay attention to your competitors, then let it go

As part of the assessment process, it’s OK to see how competitors rank, or how they are optimizing and promoting their sites. But just because your competitors are doing something doesn’t mean that they are doing it right, or doing it the way that will work for you. Take some notes, capture the benchmark, then let it go. Allow your SEO consultant or agency to track your progress against competitors. As the client, your job is to keep your eye on the outcome, so don’t get distracted by what the other guys are doing.

Diversify your traffic

I really can’t say this enough – from a search perspective, it’s fantastic to see client search traffic grow and convert, but it also can be extremely risky. If you don’t diversify traffic sources, there could be trouble down the road. Make sure your agency knows this. They may wow you with awesome search numbers while your referral traffic is in the toilet. Ask for a holistic report and have them explain attribution. Get the best sense of where your business is coming from.

Implement those recommendations

Numbers are great because they show progress and results, but expect regular recommendations to keep pushing your campaigns forward. And if you do get recommendations, please, I implore you, respond about implementing them. As a consultant, it can be monotonous and tiresome to repeat the same marketing recommendations every month. If they aren’t feasible, talk about what can be done. Perhaps you can take a phased approach. Nonetheless, you need to keep moving forward or else you and your consultant will get hung up on what you can’t do.

Don’t be held hostage by what you don’t understand

Don’t just collaborate, learn. If you don’t understand terminology or where numbers are coming from, ask. If you feel like it’s over your head, say so. A good consultant will stop and make the time to explain things. I have worked with clients that preferred a monthly call to dive into Google Analytics rather than receiving reports. The result was two-fold: we had lots of one-on-one conversation, and they learned what to look for in order to answer their own questions. I am not advocating for micromanaging your campaigns, but you should hold your agency accountable to empower you. If they can’t explain it in a way you understand, that’s a big red flag.

It’s OK to get a second opinion

Nobody’s perfect. In fact, much of the respectable search community would embrace this. Any internet marketer confident in their talents (and preferences) is likely to ask their colleagues when something’s unfamiliar. There are also countless forums and blogs where the community congregates to share ideas. Plus, wouldn’t you rather work with a human being with a sense of humility than a “rock star” who is too busy being right all the time?

I understand that this all may come across as unsolicited advice. But isn’t your agency relationship really just an extension of your business? Think about the relationship and the results, not just the task at hand. And please understand, it’s not you, it’s me.

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