Redefining SEO Agency Expectations in a Changing World

When I set out to write this post, I wanted to provide a simple resource that decision-makers could leverage to assess how essential their agency partners are. If that’s all you’re here for, by all means, jump to that section below.

However, I found it may be helpful to start off with some background on some of the investments Seer has made over the past few years that helped us earn the ‘essential partner’ badge of honor from so many clients during this difficult time.

My Expectation of Our Agency

As an SEO Director at Seer, one of my core responsibilities is to ensure our team is equipped to drive and communicate value to our clients. Over the past eight weeks, the complexity of that challenge has been elevated.

The pandemic and resulting economic downturn have impacted all of our clients. Some find their products in higher demand than ever before, and they’re struggling with their supply chain. Others are dealing with the dire impact of losing brick-and-mortar sales, or drops in demand for their services.

Even situations that are categorically similar require thoughtful, nuanced, and unique reactions.

There is no cheat sheet or checklist we can provide our team during this unprecedented time.

We Prepared for the Unexpected

Despite all of that, conceptually, this is something we’re prepared for at Seer.

If you’re doing a double-take or rolling your eyes, I get it. It sounds absurd to claim to be prepared for what we’re facing today. But, let me explain.

Seer has been able to remain an industry leader in a tumultuous industry for nearly two decades. The strategic bets and investments we’ve made over the years have largely been influenced by Wil Reynolds’ innate ability to see around corners and anticipate what direction Seer should move in, along with our teams’ ability to execute on that direction.

One of the recent bets we’ve made is the need for our SEO Account Managers to be consultants above all else.

Business Consultants Who Specialize in Search Marketing

For the past two years, our hypothesis has been that every SEO doesn’t need to know how to do everything. We don’t need to train our team of 70+ people with technical skills to clean, join, and analyze big data at scale. Everybody doesn’t need to know how to troubleshoot complex javascript issues. The full team doesn’t need to master the art of audience interviews.

These are all specialized skills that we have decided to centralize.

One skill we do need every team member who influences strategy to understand is Consulting.

Anyone who has any influence over client strategy at Seer should understand their clients’ business goals and marketing plans, and how our SEO project can best support them.

We believe if we staff strong consultants on all projects, we can always position [and re-position when needed] ourselves to help our clients win.

Good partners are helpful.  Great partners are essential to your success.

As a result of that investment, over the last few weeks, we’ve heard the same phrase from clients: “Seer is an essential partner."

In a time when every line item on the budget is being interrogated, the vast majority of our clients are going to the mat to keep us on board.

This is not the result of a great technical audit or compelling keyword research - although those elements are important! Rather, our clients defining us as essential all have one thing in common: their teams are great consultants.

Establishing Expectations of Your SEO Agency

Seer isn’t the only agency capable of delivering great consulting in conjunction with industry-leading channel strategy. There are many good agencies out there and even some great ones. But how can you tell which is which? It may be the difference between an “essential” expense and one that is more so, “nice-to-have.”

In an effort to help you make that distinction, I’m offering this resource.

Below, you can find six statements that you should have heard from your SEO agency by now...

  • If these questions were already brought to you and they lead to productive conversations, that’s great news! Whether you’re with Seer or another partner, you’re likely in good hands.
  • If you haven’t heard any of these statements from your agency, consider reaching out to us to see how we can help.

6 statements you should have heard from essential agencies by now

1. “What business priority is most critical for us to support now?”

Our EVP of Digital, Larry Waddell, has been pushing an internal framework for the past few months that aligns business challenges with digital marketing strategies. This new way of thinking has opened the doors for more strategic and impactful conversations.

But what does this actually look like?

The business problem we most often are asked to help solve is around customer acquisition: Help me acquire more customers and drive more revenue. And for some clients, that’s more important than ever. But for others, we pivoted hard in March and April.

Consider those in higher education who were challenged with shifting from classroom learning to virtual learning over the course of a few weeks.

The challenges our Higher Ed clients faced were immense:

  • Ensuring students could receive their curriculum virtually
  • Equipping faculty with the resources, technology and tech support
  • Managing through communication around pivots for once-in-a-lifetime events

Over the past few weeks, our higher education account teams have looked beyond driving 2021 enrollments and instead supported a different business problem: Help me retain and support my students.

2. “We’ve evaluated our project plan and propose the following changes.”

In March, we challenged all account teams at Seer to review and revise their project plans. Simply put, if your project plan was developed prior to the pandemic and hasn’t been thoroughly reviewed, someone is asleep at the wheel.

We asked all teams to consider both long- and short-term needs. Some industries were hit particularly hard, and we needed to immediately pivot and align ourselves with new priorities. Many clients spent much of March and April in ‘wait-and-see’ mode, and we continued to try to advance the ball down the field where possible.

By reconsidering what business objective we’re primarily supporting and how our project plan aligns with that objective, we were able to ensure the work we’re focused on is highly relevant to our client’s current needs.

3. “The pain points and triggers of our primary audience are likely shifting. Here’s what we’re doing about it.”

Seer was one of the first SEO agencies to plant a flag on customers over search engines. This goes back to our RCS days. We believe that there is a person behind every search. And that person’s pain points and triggers were most likely changed in the last two months.

As such, one of the more exciting recent initiatives at Seer has been driven by our Sr. Content Lead, Teresa Lopez. In March, Teresa worked to identify how audience needs were shifting with Reddit Analyses. Most recently, Teresa has been using clients’ Paid Search Query reports to compare how user interest and conversions have changed from the period before shutdown orders and social distancing (hard to think back that far, huh?) to when it started to become more prevalent. We’ll be using this data to help our clients prioritize during this time.

Your SEO consultant should acknowledge these shifts in consumer behavior and propose how to address it. The pandemic has sent shock waves through the global economy, and addressing the subtleties of this shift is paramount.

Your customers may now be faced with new problems and triggers to solve these problems:

  • For those serving B2B markets, how has your customers’ purchase journey changed? Decision-makers have traded in the potential for hallway conversations and weekly stand-ups for tri-purpose home + office + home school settings. Zoom usage increased a staggering 3,000% last month. Your clients may need different resources to make a case to keep or onboard new software. Financial departments are putting more scrutiny into all expenses. Have you spoken to your clients about this? Are you creating content to help them make a case to keep you?
  • For those serving B2C markets, how have your customers’ priorities shifted? Discretionary spending for many has led to lower demand for non-essential spending. But many product categories are still experiencing growth and thus facing more competition than ever. How are your customers reacting to emerging competitors and new messaging? Have you asked them?

4. “Here are a few ways we can support the shifts your Sales & Marketing teams are making…”

Over the past two months, the pandemic has been a force for innovation and digital acceleration.

One common shift we’ve been addressing is around event marketing.

Companies that previously relied on events to fill their marketing funnel found themselves quickly figuring out how to effectively run webinars.

It’s times like these where a great agency can position their main point of contact to be a hero. The administrative and logistical lift of shifting from in-person to virtual events is immense. While internal teams take on that responsibility, how has your SEO agency stepped up to think more opportunistically about the situation?

  • Do more with less. The biggest success factor of Enterprise SEO is an organization’s ability to leverage their sales and marketing strategy to drive SEO performance. By shifting from physical to virtual events, your marketing funnel may completely be flipped on its head. But for those that relied on filling the top of the funnel with events, there may be even more opportunity. A more captive audience, if you have the right message. A better drip campaign following the event, if you leverage the right tech stack. A higher yield on the webinar content if you repurpose it for site content.
  • Search data is customer data. You know the phrase, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” - That goes for breaking down organizational silos as well. Your sales teams are hurting. Marketing and communications teams are stressed. Search marketers have the opportunity to bring data to the table that can help. What are the observations from your Search Query Report that can help the sales team improve their follow up messages? What popped up on an internal site search last week that can help your customer support?

5. “If you get asked to make quick budget cuts, we have your back. Here’s some data that can support those decisions.”

In times of uncertainty, you want a highly responsive and data-driven partner. At Seer, one of the first actions we took in March was to run analyses for all clients to get in front of the question, “What marketing expenses can I cut?”

Seer pivoted quickly to build on both existing resources and develop net-new approaches to support our clients facing these questions. We understand the need to balance the criticality of becoming a more lean organization during tough times with the existential need to acquire and retain customers. Here are some ways we have repositioned our teams and offerings to try to help:

  • Wil Reynolds shared his thoughts on marketing during a recession with a scalpel vs a sledgehammer. He dives right into the weeds with you in an effort to unpack tactical ways to improve channel efficiency immediately. If you’re still casting the same wide net you developed in times of plenty, I can almost guarantee you aren’t using your budget effectively.
  • Our Data Strategy team launched new offerings, developed for today’s economic landscape. We understand that budgets have been cut, teams have been furloughed, and expenses have been scrutinized. But many of you still have goals to hit, and companies today must find a way to acquire and retain customers, or else. You may need some lean support to help collect, clean, and analyze data so you can run in the right, strategic direction. If this sounds familiar, these packages are for you.

6. “Here’s how we can help.”

A good agency asks how they can help when times are tough. An essential partner anticipates your needs and acts on it.

At Seer, we have no private equity board to report to. My division’s profitability targets are a lower priority than my charge to do the right thing for our clients.

Hitting our financial goals is great, but living into our brand vision and values is mandatory.

And so, when the pandemic hit, the first thing our leadership team did was ensure our team was taken care of.

The second thing our leadership team did was ensure we were in a position to flex as much as necessary for our clients going through hard times. This has resonated in a few different ways.

Pivoting resources to align with new priorities:

  • For clients who had content budgets slashed despite a full content roadmap to work through, we stepped up to fill in with our content team.
  • For clients who decided to escalate migration timelines, we shifted resources on a dime to ensure they had technical SEO support.
  • For clients who began meeting weekly with their c-suite and needed a reporting solution in place ASAP, we stood up the dashboards.

Adding value at no additional charge:

Seer hasn’t been immune to client losses and pauses during this time. We have clients in the travel industry and brick and mortar retail who were immediately hit hard. As such, we found ourselves with some extra capacity in the SEO division. We decided to put those hours directly back into our clients who needed extra help.

Over the past eight weeks, we’ve re-allocated nearly $100,000 of billable time back into our existing clients facing especially difficult times in an effort to better support them.

Helping those most in need:

For those clients who were forced to pause our engagements while they weathered the storm, we’ve put together a robust support plan that includes continued access to members of their account team.

This plan, just recently approved by our leadership team, will allow us to continue to have a monthly touchpoint with our clients to support however we can. Our hope is to continue to provide guidance to ensure we don’t fall too far behind the progress we’ve collectively made.


What Now?

Here comes the obvious soft sell: If you’ve read through this post and are interested in learning more about working with us at Seer, drop us a line. We’d love to have a conversation about your short- and long-term needs and how we can help.

Alternatively, at Seer we believe if all digital marketing agencies get better, we all win. If you're agency side and have questions about our approach to client services at this time, I’m happy to chat more and share what we’ve learned.

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Alisa Scharf
Alisa Scharf
VP, SEO + Generative AI