Inside Out: Managing Your Agency

Is it just me, or do too many agencies claim to be able to perform organic search optimization for clients? I mean, really. An agency that charges someone for doing “SEO” as part of a site build should be able to understand how to populate meta descriptions, and what to populate them with. Right? Sitemaps should be easily handled as well. None of that grab-a-third-party-tool and send over whatever output it coughed up as a legit sitemap – especially if that sitemap happens to include advertising links embedded in it and links to competitor’s websites.

What are agencies thinking when they do things like this? I’ll tell you what they are thinking: “We don’t understand it, the client certainly doesn’t, so anything we do will be good enough to justify the fee.”  Truly a case of not knowing what you don’t know.

I realize I’m casting dispersions broadly here, but, ah, I’ve seen it happen. So if you’re an agency and all upset, calm down. I’m not naming names here, but I have to ask. If you’re upset, why is that? Perhaps you need to review your own work for clients?

The real trouble is, as an in-house SEM, it’s on your neck if things go south. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to ensure your agency knows what they are doing, if you are using one. There’s a reason licenses are issued for drivers – it shows they know how to control a car. Well, in theory, at least. Come to Seattle and you’ll wonder.

Back to the point though, should we have SEO licenses issued to agencies to prove they “know how to drive”? Too many agencies made their name managing paid search programs in past years. Their transition to managing SEO consisted of nothing more than adding that to the list of services provided on their website. No talent to back it up, nothing beyond grabbing some best practices online, swapping a logo in place and starting to charge clients. While this isn’t the case with all agencies, far too many are still at this point.

I mean, can you truly trust a “full service agency” to do the organic search work carefully when they build web pages and actively choose to replicate the title tag across an entire subsection of the website? When they hand you the keys to your shiny new website and say it’s all done, did they really work in your best interest and include proper optimization techniques? Did they think to put in a robots.txt file and populate it correctly for your application? How well are the images optimized? Did they test page load times?

So many agencies claim to have worked for <insert-any-brand-here>. You see a long page dedicated to the logos of companies who are better off having worked with this agency. Want to test this? Contact the company, track down the person who managed the work being done and ask them if they’d hire the agency to do the same work again. Did the work meet or exceed the company’s expectations? While it’s completely legitimate to showcase your past clients, a design agency pitching websites on SEO work shouldn’t be using Google as a reference point. I’m pretty sure that agency did not lend Google any SEO support.

To provide some balance to this article, I’m not letting the in-house crowd off the hook. You’re enabling the agencies. By continuing to not understand the space you are paying them to cover for you, there is no oversight. By quietly paying for shoddy work and then simply shopping for a new agency, there is no accountability being built. Worse, many small-to-mid-size agencies will leave the interaction thinking you were happy with their work. They will then spin off, with your logo on their “clients” page to seek work elsewhere.

If you are an inhouse SEM, you have to take responsibility and manage those agency relationships with a firm hand. This does not mean you need to be riding their butts 24/7, or be rude in meetings. It means you need to know more than they know about the product they are building/working on for you, and more about the type of work they are doing. Yes, there’s a balance point here, too.

The reason you hired the agency was because you didn’t have the design resources to build the nice website. Fine, you don’t need to dust off your Photoshop skills, but if they were tasked with doing SEO, you’d damn well better know how to do SEO better than them. How else can you ensure you are getting top work from them?

I guess the point of all this really, is as the in-house SEM, you need to step up and manage your agencies. Learn who’s using an agency around your company, and for what work. Then pitch that you be included in the decision and screening process for future agency hiring. There are enough solid, knowledgeable online marketing agencies that can perform SEO properly that you need not settle for anything less than excellent.

Final word of advice for agencies. Don’t pitch me on a “neat css trick” to enable crawlers to see my content on a rich media page.  It’s cloaking. Call it that, and you’ll earn my respect…and maybe even the contract.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing


About The Author: is an in-house SEM with Microsoft, is a former Board of Directors member with SEMPO, can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites and is the author of two books: How To Make Money With Your Blog & Turn Clicks Into Customers.

Connect with the author via: Email


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • alanmitchell

    Hi Duane,

    It would help if there was a universally recognized ‘qualification’ for optimising websites for search engines, similar to that of the Google AdWords Professional qualification for paid search, but since SEO is harder to measure and more open to creativity that paid search (different methods may work for different clients), it’s difficult to compile a list of ‘best practices’ that all SEOs should abide by.

    Guess you’re right – it comes down to the client ensuring they are receiving value from the agency. But to do that requires the client has a decent knowledge of SEO practices themselves – to be able to ask the right questions and interpret the answers – which is unfortunately all too often not the case.


  • Marcus C

    A much more pervasive problem is that the in-house web team seems to know very little about SEO practices in general. They seem to think that with a tag here or there all of the sudden they will land on page 1 of SERPs. They seem to be more worried about orienting projects towards a minimalist budget and when a responsible agency or consultant explains all of the work that will need to be done to accomplish their goals they move on to an agency who will give them the price they have in their heads. It’s only after the have been screwed over by this do they call me back. By then management already has their suspicions of agencies, and it takes a great deal of time to work through.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide