If there’s one thing that I hear over and over again from clients contacting me for the first time, it’s this:
“I’m paying a web/SEO agency a monthly fee, but to be honest I’m not really sure what they’re doing for it, or even if they’re doing anything at all.”
When a client starts working with me, they often share with me the reports previous agencies have done for them and ask me my opinion. Of course, there are agencies and freelancers doing great work (and their clients probably aren’t approaching me in the first place), but the ones I see are normally pretty bad.
Long on reports, short on work
What these agencies generally have in common is that they send long monthly reports, full of graphs and graphics and statistics.
Reports are important. You have to know, and to have laid out on paper, what your agency has done in return for their fee. Fancy reports with graphs and statistics are even nicer. But reports are not the same as work.
Often when I look through reports sent to my clients by previous agencies, they seem to have done little or no actual work – that is, anything that might actually improve the client’s search engine ranking or website conversions. Instead they have created a long report of website or SEO performance, without really doing anything to improve it.
The white-label reporting market
These days there is a huge market for web development and SEO. As such, there is a huge market for tools and platforms that help us do these jobs. These tools and platforms are all competing with each other, and have to make the best value proposition to us the customer.
Aside from automating some simple jobs like plugin updates, there really isn’t much a platform can do automatically to improve anything about your website or SEO. They are tools that need to be used correctly in order to make a difference.
One thing they can do for you though, is automatically create great-looking reports, and this is a massive selling point of just about every SEO platform on the market.
Now again there’s nothing wrong with this. I use Brightlocal and SEMRush automated reporting to send my clients statistics about their website and SEO performance and they are invaluable. But let’s say it again: Sending reports is not the same as doing work.
The right tool for the right job
Problems can arise when clients pay for a service without looking into exactly what they need and what the agency is going to do for them. The client assumes that the SEO service will improve their SEO, without realising that it’s primarily based around monitoring, coming up with keyword ideas, or something else that does indeed pertain to SEO, but isn’t appropriate to them and isn’t going to grow their business.
The agency offering the service take the money and do the job. They might be aware it’s not going to make a big difference, but it’s not their job to advise the client, just to push and sell their particular service. I think this is wrong. Digital services are a wide and confusing area and part of being a reputable agency is to advise clients well, including when your services aren’t appropriate to them.
Make sure you know what you’re getting from your retainer. Is it just monitoring and reporting? Is it keyword research? Is it link building? What exactly is the agency doing for the money, how long should it take and how much should it cost.
What actions have been taken?
If you’re paying monthly for services to help you grow or rank, you should as a minimum expect to see on your monthly report what actions have been taken to improve your ranking or grow your business. If you’re paying for a certain number of hours (e.g. 10 hours a month), you should see a breakdown of where the time has gone and be able to discuss that with the agency.
If all the work is passive and ongoing (e.g. we have continued to host your website, we have continued to monitor your citations, we have continued to send you reports), then it’s time to start wondering where your money is going. It’s time to start asking around and having a frank conversation with you agency about what you can actually expect from their services in terms of business growth.
There are lots of great agencies doing a brilliant service, and just because a service isn’t the right one for you doesn’t mean it isn’t great value for someone else. Knowledge is the key. Understand what you need and what your agency is providing, and don’t be afraid to have the difficult conversations or to go elsewhere if you don’t think you’re getting what you need.