Choosing the right SEO agency can be a daunting task in itself.
Considering the complexity of what is needed from an enterprise SEO agency adds an entirely new level that can be overwhelming.
With so many SEO agencies popping up all over, how do you know which ones truly know how to optimize a website with the latest in Google’s algorithms without trickery or spam?
My experience over the last 20 years has found me on both sides of the fence.
I started my career building an SEO agency from a few people and a handful of clients to more than 500 clients and 100+ employees in less than a year.
Cut to several years later (2006) and I’m on the other side for classmates.com (at the time a very large company) and interviewing for agencies to provide extra support.
Since then I have worked for Concur, Smartsheet, ADP (managing usedcars.com), Nordstrom, Groupon, and now GitHub.
With each enterprise organization I manage SEO for, I bring in a consultant and an agency (if there isn’t already one on contract).
The jump from working with a small to medium business into a large organization with corporate bureaucracy is not easy for anyone, especially an agency.
Partnering with an Enterprise SEO Agency: What You Need to Know
A big factor in how your enterprise SEO agency will perform for you is having a clear understanding of what you will need them for once they are onboarded.
Setting up expectations during the RFP process will not only help you weed out the capable from the not-so-capable, but will set you and them up for success in the long run.
Drafting up a business case with your agency and tools for SEO will help you get organized on your needs and what your plan is for your agency going forward.
The business case will also help communicate expectations with key stakeholders and gain buy-in.
Where to Find Enterprise SEO Agencies to Choose From
I personally have a list of agencies that follow me with new in-house roles and I recommend agencies as a consultant for clients depending on their needs.
Agencies will always say they can do anything but, from my experience, I know who can do what better and will always recommend accordingly.
If you don’t have your list, a tweet to SEO pros, or a post to a Facebook Group asking for recommendations can help.
If you have time, attend a few conferences (e.g., SMX Advanced, Pubcon, Mozcon) to gather your list.
Peruse the booths, talk to speakers from agencies on the topics that your needs focus on, and talk to other attendees.
Get to know other SEO professionals at an enterprise level and ask them who they use, who they like, and why they like them.
If you are planning on reviewing a large number of agencies for a specific need, then a Request For Proposal (RFP) is needed, but not always necessary.
As long as you are clear on what your needs and expectations are, you shouldn’t have any problem during the review process.
Allow each agency to chat with you one on one about your expectations, and present to a larger team as a second step.
I usually like to get a list of what the other teams would expect (in Groupon’s case, we had five SEO teams plus several business verticals across the global organization I needed to coordinate with).
This requires several meetings upfront but saves time and follow-up from unexpected questions when it comes down to the agencies presenting.
What Makes an Enterprise SEO Agency Different?
Agencies with enterprise-level experience will usually skip past the obvious fixes since they have an understanding that there could be business reasons for them.
An example is the Nordstrom website. It’s a blaring SEO issue that anyone going to “nordstrom.com” is redirected to “shop.nordstrom.com”.
I’ve always said that any SEO that didn’t bring that up doesn’t know SEO.
However, they should:
- Continue with the understanding that there could be a business reason.
- Follow up with the impact vs. effort it would take to fix it.
- Be open to feedback with any pushback (or explanation) the SEO team might give during a review.
An agency that hasn’t worked with a complex, enterprise-level site might not understand that:
- It isn’t as easy as it appears.
- The business might not support it.
- There could be legal reasons.
- The fix might not be scalable.
Enterprise agencies will also understand that the level of engagement for a larger company might be higher than most of their smaller clients.
Enterprise SEO agencies need to be proactive since the SEO team at the company is more often distracted by all of the work that needs to get done.
Regular check-ins and open communication are critical to the success of the relationship. I have always worked best with agencies that have local offices and/or make frequent in-person visits.
The best agency I have ever worked with has an SEO manager that:
- Sits in the office under contractor status with their own desk, company email, logins to tools, and reporting.
- Attends regular meetings between engineering and verticals across the organization.
In the end, the relationship is that of an extension of the team that regularly communicates, proactively suggests growth strategies and foundational fixes, and follows through to ensure the work is getting done.
Managing Your SEO Agency
The key to managing your enterprise SEO agency is to keep the levels of communication flowing.
Give them the tools and access they need to become successful and help them champion any work they need through.
Too many times I have inherited strong and capable agencies that fell quiet with no actual work done in a matter of weeks, or even months.
Frustrations were on both sides, to no one’s fault.
Contracts are always signed with positive optimism and a solid plan. But with communication dropping, and little to no support, the agency can’t be successful – and your SEO will fall short.
Set up expectations and a plan (roadmap) of deliverables that the agency should follow.
Be supportive where you can when they need you to be, and follow-through with other teams the agency needs to complete work as promised.
Have at least weekly check-ins with a clear list of what they are working on, what your team is working on, and expected delivery dates.
Talk through where you all are at with tasks for each, and always end with any recommendations they might have to keep the work flowing.
Monthly check-ins with key stakeholders always help to hold everyone accountable.
Other teams can make use of the agency, but also need help understanding their role in work that needs to be done.
I like to end each quarter with a report on tasks completed and ROI on the projects or tasks completed more than 3 months prior.
In some cases, I have seen weekly, monthly and even daily reporting, but then the agency becomes a reporting agency rather than an SEO agency, and when the contract is up it isn’t renewed.
Find your sweet spot for communication and expectations, adjust as needed, and review the contract as often as you all feel it is necessary.
When you all are working together then you will see the success for SEO that both sides are there for.
Featured Image Credit: Paulo Bobita