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Talent Vs. Technology: Choosing The Right SEO Solution
Agency or platform? Columnist Thomas Stern explores how brands can discover the best SEO solution to drive results and maximize resources.
Deciding on the right SEO solution can be overwhelming. Brands and marketers must consider which tactics, strategies and service providers can bring a search campaign to life.
The goal of this article is to provide a guide that delivers a breakdown of considerations and help your brand select the best SEO solution to meet your brand’s needs. By asking strategic questions about the benefits and risks of utilizing a platform, agency or mix, you can reach confident decisions based on needs and available resources.
Comparing Partners & Platforms
When analyzing the pros and cons of an agency versus platform solution, the primary factors can be reduced to four basic elements — capacity, expertise, resources and responsiveness.
For the sake of this article, we’re considering agencies to be third parties that support brands — SEO consultants could certainly fit in this category, too. Platforms are tools that go beyond tracking keyword rankings and provide SEO recommendations, along with some level of efficiency-driven automation.
Agencies tend to offer more control of overall digital strategies by developing personalized strategies around your needs. Because many agencies offer complete marketing solutions, they are able to tie SEO into other marketing elements such as content, Web design and advertising. This can lead to more comprehensive and effective SEO strategies that can generate results across channels.
Platforms offer less integration, but they provide a variety of packaged SEO solutions that can support other digital marketing and content strategies and workflow. They create efficient process structures that automate and consolidate time-consuming tasks. Many platforms also provide instant access to up-to-date data and competitive insights, giving your brand the freedom to draw current industry standings and easily benchmark campaigns.
SEO platforms offer expertise within the realm of search, but often not much else. Their software applies cost-effective solutions that generate organic search results but lack a human element, which can be critical in deliverables like keyword research and page selection. When managed properly, platform solutions can drive SEO; but they will be limited in advice for optimizing within multiple digital marketing channels, which often have a symbiotic benefit with SEO.
Agencies are often composed of large teams of experts with backgrounds from various fields and industries. Good agencies stay up with trends and react quickly to changing market needs. Brands look to them as thought leaders and industry experts across many fields. Their diverse backgrounds come together to offer valuable knowledge and expertise that can be applied to complex marketing plans.
Agencies provide hands-on SEO, which allows brands more control over quality and strategy, but they often come with higher prices. Their ability to bring a human element to search helps identify problems, but their efforts can be time-consuming and more expensive than box platform solutions. Also, many partners require contracts with upfront commitments.
SEO platforms can offer shorter contracts, often at a cheaper cost. By eliminating manual updates, platforms can streamline processes and implement tactics efficiently, but with less personalized care. If knowledgeable internal resources don’t exist to extrapolate SEO recommendations from platforms, it can be difficult to maximize the dollars invested, even if the cost is less than paying an agency.
Many platforms offer standard customer service options that require users to submit requests through online systems. Others offer representatives, but they focus more on being reactive to issues than proactive to the needs of your brand.
Agencies are structured to provide more devoted and personalized services to clients. Your partner will provide specific resources to your brand and is responsible for understanding your industry and crafting personalized strategies developed around your needs. Fewer clients mean partners can build relationships and bring a human element to constructing and implementing a comprehensive SEO program.
Choosing The Right SEO Solution
These considerations can help marketers make informed decisions when choosing the best SEO solution for their brand. Here’s a list of questions to ask your team to help you determine the best path to reach the results your brand needs.
- Do you have a website content/technical team that understands SEO and can dedicate at least 50% of their time toward it?
Businesses lacking a knowledgeable team with the proper time to dedicate to SEO will require more personalized support from partners.
- Do you have a content team or PR team that can identify publishers and partners and curate optimized content and external link-building to support SEO?
Without a content team, your brand may require support from a platform or partner to offer complete on-site and off-site SEO.
- Do you have a large website? Do you have dozens of categories or thousands of unique products?
After 1,000 products, it can be cumbersome to manage SEO performance; sites of this size are best supported by a platform and/or agency.
- Is your website CMS or shopping-cart able to make SEO updates (e.g., meta data, unique pages, custom URLs) without the need of technical/IT support?
Limitations in the ability to update important SEO elements can require custom solutions or workarounds; sites like this are best supported by an agency and/or highly technical in-house SEO team.
- Are you ahead of your competition in ranking for all target keywords, or do you lag far behind?
If you’ve reached this point, congratulations! Don’t assume SEO is done, however. You’ll still need to optimize on- and off-page and continually enhance user experience. Platforms plus a knowledgeable in-house team can be a great combination here.
- How competitive is your industry? Do you pay an above average CPC?
If you’ve done a lot of SEO work and didn’t say yes to the question before this, you’re likely in a competitive industry. Excelling in a competitive search landscape often requires more than checking SEO best practice boxes. Highly competitive industries may require extensive and personalized dedication of an agency partner.
- Is your domain new? Have you owned/managed for less than two years?
New websites are limited by their authority in the eyes of the search engine. Building this authority isn’t done overnight, and it requires a diverse set of on- and off-page tactics. Depending on the size of the website, an agency or an agency plus platform is likely the best solution here.
- Has your website ever been penalized by search engines?
Recovering from penalties in search takes specialized SEO strategies from agencies to ensure issues are resolved and not repeated.
- Does the business case for SEO need to be made on an ongoing basis to internal stakeholders?
Often, internal stakeholders will naturally trust the advice and recommendations of agency partners, even if they aren’t different from those of internal marketing managers.
- What is the knowledge level of SEO for your organization and with internal stakeholders? Low, average or high?
A low to average knowledge level could be best supported by an agency that can help articulate the need and value for executing SEO-driven recommendations.
Below we’ve provided a visual guide to help brands identify the SEO solution that best fits their needs. What other considerations do you feel should be made when evaluating whether to choose an agency or a SEO platform?
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.