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The flexibility requirement for SEO agencies
SEO requires a broad skill set, but in an industry where things are constantly shifting, columnist Casie Gillette argues that perhaps the most important skill is the ability to adapt to change.
Tell me if you’ve encountered conversations like these before:
- “We actually don’t care about conversions; we just want organic traffic growth.”
- “We’re re-branding and are no longer calling ourselves [insert term].”
- “We’re launching a new product today. Can you provide us tagging and content?”
I’d like to tell you these situations are rare, but if you’ve worked in the SEO consulting field for any period of time, you know they aren’t. As SEOs, and especially for those on the agency side, you are often the last to know what’s happening. Regardless of how much you try to keep yourself in the loop, sometimes information gets to you after the fact.
Flexibility is crucial, and the ability to adapt your programs and deliverables at the drop of a hat is key to long-term success.
Let’s look at the above scenarios, for example.
Scenario 1: goal adjustment
After spending six months creating a customer-focused SEO and content strategy, building a program around mid-volume, highly relevant keywords, we increased organic conversions for Client A by 25 percent YOY for three straight months. While organic traffic had decreased due to a change of keyword focus, we felt good about it because we had changed the targets to focus on more relevant terms, and it appeared to be working.
Come to find out Client A was looking for an acquisition and needed to show traffic growth — not lead growth.
All of our SEO programs are highly geared toward conversions — focusing on the right keyword targets, generating content for the right audience — and building a program around the buying cycle and revenue is always our goal. Except when it’s not.
We immediately took a step back, first evaluating our keyword targets and content. Questions we asked:
- Are there high-volume keywords the site already has a presence for we can focus on?
- Which content pieces are already performing well organically but can be enhanced?
- Are there top-of-funnel content opportunities we can take advantage of?
Keyword targets were shifted, longer-term recommendations were moved to the front of the priorities list, extra content was created focused on answer boxes and question-based content, and the focus on conversions became secondary.
It’s a strange feeling to change not just your strategy but your program goals. However, sometimes you just have to give the client what they need, not what you think they need.
Scenario 2: strategy update
Client B was launching a new product, and after countless hours of competitive research, conversations with execs and product managers, a specific term was settled on to describe the product. A content strategy was created, the PR team was integrated, and after a year, the client moved into position one, dominating the highly competitive term.
Fast forward to year two, and the executive team decided they wanted to use a new phrase to describe the product — and all mentions of the previous term were to be scrubbed from the main site.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. After all, when you work with clients for years, you’re bound to see rebrands and/or product shifts. The challenge here was the new phrase didn’t have any existing use or awareness. They made it up!
Our strategy had to account for the new phrase while at the same time ensuring existing visibility for the original term wasn’t lost. In this case, we turned to the blog.
- We updated posts using the original terms to include cross-links to the product page.
- We made sure our content strategy included posts that stayed within the theme of the original term without explicitly focusing on the term.
- We refreshed old posts to keep them relevant and in search.
Along with the blog, our link-building strategy, primarily focused on third-party editorials, also ensured the product was associated with the old term, often utilizing keyword-specific cross-links (yeah, yeah… all very white-hat, I assure you) directed toward the product page.
Admittedly, the client did lose some visibility for the first couple of months but was able to regain positions after the above steps were taken.
Scenario 3: re-prioritization
Client C was working on a new product launch. They gave us some light details and told us they’d keep us informed as launch got closer. Fast forward two months, and we get an email that the new product has launched and they would love to know our thoughts on the product name. Additionally, they want to know what they’ll need to do to improve their presence in the market and would love some content and tagging recommendations ASAP.
Sometimes what you think is important isn’t. In the agency world, there’s always a fine balance of providing recommendations that drive results and giving the execs what they want.
In this case, we had a laundry list of items that needed to be done. However, because this was the CMO’s priority, we had to shift some things around and make sure this was taken care of.
Our first steps included:
- evaluating competitive products.
- analyzing search results for relevant terms and content needs.
- providing targeting recommendations (tagging and on-page content).
- providing blog post ideas based on SERPs.
Additionally, this product area had to be integrated into our ongoing recommendations and planned deliverables reprioritized.
The good news is the client was able to improve their presence quickly and was very happy with the results. The bad news is, this led to slower organic growth, as some of our bigger initiatives had to be put on hold.
That’s agency life
I’m often asked what it is I like about the SEO industry. While there are many answers, I usually find myself talking about how no two days are ever alike — things change quickly, and you are constantly on your toes.
This certainly has its pros and cons, but it also speaks to the fact that as SEOs, we can’t get set in our ways. We must always be adapting, staying abreast of trends, testing new things and staying agile. The days of cookie-cutter SEO are long gone.
Stay flexible my SEO friends! And the next time you encounter a situation like above, remember, there’s likely another one of us out there who is going through the same thing. You are not alone.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.