If SEOs had a penny for every time we tried to explain our job to someone, we’d be the world’s wealthiest profession.
“I work for an SEO agency!”
“Huh??” - or, even better - “That’s nice, dear”
Despite SEO being a marketing fundamental for any business with an online presence, plenty of people outside the SEO industry bubble still have no idea what we do. This is a problem when it comes to hiring an SEO agency, as most business owners have to do at some point.
So we’re here to answer the theoretical million-dollar question… What in the newfangled tech-adjacent acronym is an SEO agency?
Now, there are actually two parts to this question:
WHAT IS SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation and is the most common name for a series of processes aimed at increasing the position of a website or a piece of content in the rankings of search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo. You can also do SEO for websites like YouTube or Amazon, which each have a built-in search engine for ranking user-generated content. In any case, the end goal is to get your brand, product or piece of content on the first page of search engine results to help your target customers find you more easily, driving increased revenue.
WHAT IS AN SEO AGENCY?
SEO agencies are teams of experts in search engine optimisation who take control of a client company’s online marketing channels in order to craft a strategy for increasing the visibility of the client’s domain on search engines by targeting the correct audience with content that brings in high-converting, organic traffic.
We’ll get into the who, the how and the why of everything shortly, but all you need to know for the time being is that working with an SEO company is the single most time- and cost-effective solution for companies looking to grow visibility and revenue online.
What do SEO agencies do?
So… what do we do all day? After all, ‘optimisation’ is such a vague term that might even seem a little buzzword-y at first.
There are those who will tell you it’s all about keywords. It’s not. There are also those who will tell you that it’s all about backlinks. It’s not. The truth is, SEO isn’t ‘all about’ one particular thing. It’s a bit of both and it’s also so much more.
That’s why SEO agencies are teams. There are several different sub-areas that make up the broader picture of SEO and go into building a great strategy. An SEO professional will typically be a specialist in one of the following areas, ideally with a general understanding of them all and how they overlap.
CONTENT: Content is one of those things that everyone thinks they can do, but very few do well. Content marketing is essential for SEO, but it’s a lot more than just peppering some keywords on a page of content talking about how great your company is. Creating great content is a much broader picture rooted in understanding and answering user intent, building topic authority and creating well-structured, engaging pages people actually want to read.
LINK-BUILDING: Google certainly was not the first search engine, but do you ever wonder how it became the biggest? The answer: PageRank - a nifty little algorithm designed to resolve the problem of search engines being filled with low-quality, keyword-stuffed pages. PageRank works on the assumption that the more high-quality inbound links a website receives, the more likely it is to be of high quality itself. It’s a bit like a search engine’s word of mouth, and in that analogy, inbound links, or backlinks, are the recommendations one domain gives to another.
Despite being a critical ranking factor for all search engines, 92.6% of pages in SEO analytics tool Ahrefs’ database have fewer than three backlinks, with 66.31% having none at all. Coincidentally, 94.3% of the pages in Ahrefs’ database receive absolutely no organic search traffic whatsoever.
Link building is therefore a crucial part of any SEO strategy, but unfortunately it is also misunderstood by many and exploited by agencies prone to using terrible, exploitative black-hat tactics to rank clients' websites, which often result in penalties.
DIGITAL PR: You know when we mentioned exploitative, black-hat tactics? Well, digital PR is the opposite of that. Digital PR is the gold standard for how to earn a high-quality, natural backlink from authoritative domains and is the backbone of many of our strategies here at Reboot. Like regular PR, the work that a digital PR company does involves running original data-driven campaigns to attract the attention of journalists from relevant publications. The only difference is the end goal: getting a backlink from those publications to your website and reaping the benefits to your link profile. The extra bit of brand awareness doesn’t exactly hurt, either!
What to expect from an SEO agency
Because SEO remains a fairly unfamiliar discipline to people outside the industry, managing client expectations is one of an agency’s most important responsibilities. From the client perspective, not knowing what to expect can also leave you vulnerable to exploitation from agencies trying to mislead you about the results of their strategy. So let’s make this all abundantly clear:
WHAT YOU SHOULD EXPECT:
- Clear and open communication: The best SEOs take an educational approach to client work, letting you in on the how and the why of their strategy so you understand what you’re paying for.
- Questions about your business: Despite what countless checklists on the internet will tell you, SEO is not a one size fits all solution. Sure, there are certain procedures that all projects have in common, but your SEO strategy should be built around your users and what you can offer them.
- Changes: Often, in order to get the results you want, a little renovation work is necessary. Sometimes, your agency might want to shake up a website, piece of brand messaging or an asset you feel protective over. However, as long as you’ve chosen the right agency, you should be able to trust these changes are for the best.
- Regular, in-depth and data-driven reporting: Like most services delivered on a retainer, it’s standard practice for agencies to deliver a monthly report detailing the work they’ve completed. SEO reports should clearly outline not only the work completed, but the data behind it and contain a monthly update of your rankings and organic traffic.
- Long-term planning: Did you know that Google made more than 4,500 changes to search in 2020? Or that Googlebot - the technology used to ‘crawl’ the web and determine search engine rankings - is constantly operational and can easily crawl the same websites every few days? Rankings therefore fluctuate based on how consistent a domain is with its optimisation and SEO needs to be done on a forward-thinking, ongoing basis.
WHAT YOU SHOULDN’T EXPECT:
- Instant results: If an agency is promising you first-page rankings within the first week and overnight spikes in organic traffic, they’re lying to you. Not only do truly effective changes - like content creation, running digital PR campaigns or, if necessary, restructuring your website - take time to implement, but search engines also rank websites based on more than 200 factors, which are constantly evolving and something of a mystery even to the most experienced SEOs. Sustainable, long-term gains therefore generally require a few months’ patience for search engines to get with the program.
- Infinite revisions: This is a tricky one, and often a cause of conflict between agencies and their clients that causes long delays to project implementation and can dissolve professional relationships. Agencies are not going to get everything right first time, so it’s generally assumed that any content will need to go through at least one round of revisions during the approval process. The issue arises when a company’s approval process is not streamlined, leading to an endless amount of revisions from different teams with competing interests. Agencies will charge for additional revisions after a certain point, so it’s important to make your wishlist for the strategy as clear as possible and streamline the internal approval process to only the people who need to see it.
- Cheap SEO: Let’s get one thing clear: a high price does not guarantee good SEO. A cheap price, however, does guarantee bad SEO. This is a high-skill field and one that is in increasingly high demand. Agency teams often include people with web development and programming knowledge, copywriting and graphic design skills and experience with running multinational outreach and PR campaigns, as well as the tools needed to do their jobs. An SEO agency that markets itself on affordability will cost you more than just their agency fees in the long-term. For more information, we’ve written articles on the cost of SEO and how to choose the right SEO agency.
Do I need an SEO agency?
We’ll keep this simple: if you are a business and you have a website, you need to invest in SEO, and hiring an agency is the best option you have. SEO helps ensure that anyone looking for your products or services online can find them and that they choose your business over a competitor… at least, it does when it’s done well! SEO is therefore an exercise in maximising your potential customer base by making you visible to what is essentially a captive audience.
Not only that, but without an SEO audit, you may have serious technical issues with your website without even realising. You’d be surprised at how many pages - or even entire domains - aren’t even in Google’s index, which means, according to the world’s most popular search engine, they don’t exist!
Hopefully we’ve convinced you, but in case you need a little push, here are five signs you need an SEO agency.
- You’re ranking poorly (or not at all) on SERPs
- You’re getting little to no organic traffic
- Your traffic isn’t converting
- You’ve experienced a sudden drop in rankings and/or traffic
- You’re in a competitive niche
Why hire an SEO agency
For every page like this one telling you that you need an SEO agency, you’ll find another telling you that you can do it yourself. They’re not wrong, you can do it yourself. It’ll just be a waste of time.
We’ve covered this topic much more extensively in our posts on ‘Why hire an SEO agency’, ‘Why you shouldn’t DIY your SEO’ and ‘SEO: in-house versus outsourcing’, but let’s give you a basic breakdown.
This one is pretty simple. How many passionate marathon runners do you think could out-pace Mo Farah? It sounds ridiculous, but these are the kinds of odds you’re dealing with when you decide to compete against the SEO agencies hired by your competitors by taking on the task yourself.
There are certain marketers who sell entire courses promising that with their help, you can rank higher than your competition on the first page of SERPs. But there’s one important thing you must never forget - these people make their living from selling you a course, and that is their main objective. Agencies, on the other hand, make their living from providing results.
Courses will generally teach you an introduction to SEO and a few handy tips you could just as easily find with a Google Search, putting you on the same level as the average entry-level graduate getting their start in the industry. You will then use this knowledge to attempt to outsmart and outperform teams of people - more than 60 people in our case - who do SEO all day, every day and have been doing so for years.
Not to mention, if you’re a business owner, you already have a job. By doing SEO yourself, you’ll be taking on the work of not just one full-time position, but at least four of them in addition to everything you’re already doing.
Building an in-house SEO team is pricey. Recruitment costs in any industry are expensive, and in terms of salaries, you get what you pay for. If you’re looking to hire SEO executives with experience to help transform your online visibility, you’ll have to be offering at least £25,000 per year to attract talent and much more for senior, managerial positions. That alone puts your expenditure on salaries above the £75,000 mark, as you will need to hire multiple people if you have any expectation of results.
If you already have in-house capacity for content creation, a lone ‘SEO manager’ might be able to keep things ticking over, attract some low-level traffic and keep you out of Google’s bad books, but their efforts won’t be nearly enough to help you vie for first-page positions, especially in a competitive niche.
Or, you could overload them with the work of at least four people, cripple their wellbeing and job satisfaction, drive them to quit, probably leaving a bad employer review as a memento of their time with you, and force you to start all over again. Just a hint: we don’t recommend this option.
There are a couple of options when it comes to outsourcing your SEO function, including hiring an agency. The other two options - hiring a consultant and working with freelancers - come with their own set of risks and benefits, and generally only work well if you have an existing, if under-resourced, in-house digital marketing team.
While there are many competent, talented and reliable SEO freelancers out there, there are also a lot of amateurs, who may have completed the same beginner SEO course once marketed to you, posing as experts. If you find one of the good guys (usually through word-of-mouth), you will likely still run into the same problems as with the aforementioned lone SEO manager if you attempt to offload your entire operation onto them: burnout, slow delivery and potential knowledge gaps.
Consultants, meanwhile, do just that: they consult. It is not their job to implement and manage a strategy, merely tell you what you’re doing wrong, recommend some additional training and map out some next steps for your team. This can work great if your SEO team could use some upskilling, but is not a great option for businesses with limited in-house resources. The recommendations consultants give, such as recruitment, investment in new tools or industry training, also constitute an additional expense, which is something to keep in mind.
What is Reboot SEO agency?
Reboot Online Marketing is an industry-leading SEO agency, well-known for our eye-catching campaigns and in-house SEO experiments. We are a team of 60+ specialists in the various pillars of search, including technical SEO, link-building, content and digital PR. Our creative digital PR assets have earned natural, high-quality backlinks for our clients from high-DA websites like Rolling Stone, Grazia, GQ, LadBible and more.
Want to find out more? Get in touch with us to discuss your campaign needs.