Thursday, April 19, 2012

Types of SEO Agencies and Approaches

Had an interesting discussion today with Jason Ramsey of CGR over lunch. We were discussing a long list of experienced Charlotte SEO ’s we have come into contact, with a few varying philosophies of how SEO for your website gets done. I am the Online Marketing Director for CGR Creative in Charlotte with a decade of experience in SEO, affiliate marketing, and Adwords PPC management and have met many SEO's and their company's models as well.

We were not coming to any conclusion about what is right or wrong for everyone. Clearly every project has different demands and ratios of on-page and off-page needs, depending on where it is in the SEO life-cycle, so no right or wrong fits all. We did agree the situation of being a complete marketing firm and design agency with it's own SEO and PR team provides unmatched flexibility to the clients of CGR.

For those starting at square one on this article, SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the art or skill of designing, structuring, and interlinking a website on the web so that it best represents the keywords you covet in the eyes of search engines. An easier way to say this same thing is that SEO is everything that goes behind making your company show up first in Google searches (no offense Y and B).
Basically, Google has about 200 factors they observe when judging which sites to rank first and establishing the order of results. This is beyond important to businesses that exist from web traffic because it decides who grows and excels and who goes out of business.
So, with the 101 stuff out of the way, the discussion was about the best way for a company to approach this need in business. If you are at the point of knowing what it is, why it is important, and choosing how to go forward, here are a few observations from two experienced experts in Search Marketing and Web design respectively.

An In-House SEO Position refers to a company hiring a skilled internet marketer to work from their office with the single goal of working on their behalf. This type of SEO position is considered by many to be the “holy grail” of SEO jobs from the search marketer’s position. This type is very appealing to experienced, independent SEOs like me. My experience being from many affiliate programs and generating traffic for income or referral income means a lot of changing markets. This is a great way to learn every niche and all things that work but the comfort of a single focus and single project is appealing to many SEO’s. The in-house jobs are often the best pay and benefits as well since the company covets your skills as the only person tasked with a lot of jobs related to the website.

When I say Agency SEO, I mean an SEO who is also you web designer. This sounds like a bad idea to those who know SEO, but there are more coming. 

Any SEO’s worth their weight know that a person who does web design then sells you SEO as a way to get residual income and an afterthought may not be the best choice, but that’s not the person I refer to here. In agency, I mean the design agency that has an in-house SEO staff. This is what I would see as an ideal situation for both the SEO who is job-seeking and ideal for the clients and web designers as well. Here you get the smaller number of clients, which the SEO likes; you also get the chance for more complete SEO.
An in-house SEO has the advantage of working directly with designers which makes it possible to be part of the site, structure, and construction process. A large part of the battle later on will be the way you decide to map out a site, the folder structure, and the URL structure. An in-house with the agency SEO works alongside the designers. This situation makes on-site changes, pre-design brainstorming, and creative updates or changes much easier to implement.
The last type of SEO is what I have heard referred to as “the grinder”. The pure SEO agency is often the lowest paying and highest volume workplace for the SEO looking for work. This situation generally has about 6-8 project managers perhaps, based off the Charlotte SEO grinder agency I am thinking of. Each of these account managers may have 8-10 accounts they are responsible for and doing SEO is all they do. This will encompass PPC, social, and both on and off page work. Now, let’s look at the problems with working with a pure SEO agency as opposed to a design firm that has its own SEO department, like CGR Creative. 

#1 problem with SEO only companies : Competing clients
Bet you didn’t know there are SEO agencies that only do a single field of SEO? Check out Surgeons Adviser. This is a Miami area SEO firm that does SEO only for surgeons and plastic surgeons. Now if you read through their client list, you will see overlapping areas of coverage. Also, a Charlotte Plastic surgeon of worth, like Dr. Hunsted, draws in clients from 2000 miles around. If your SEO agency has clients in the same field as you (which they do), then how can they be doing the absolute best on both of your behalf? This also happens a lot with Real Estate specialists in SEO. Real estate does require a skilled SEO with real estate experience, as it means a lot of smart IDX Integration. Perhaps David Kyle in Charlotte for that kind of specific background. But if you choose an industry specific SEO agency, ask to see their client list and decide for yourself if you are comfortable with the amount or lack of overlapping markets.

#2 problem with SEO only companies : No access to the original design of the site
I covered this above when pointing out the strengths of choosing a firm like CGR Creative that has a department for SEO and is a web design agency first. If you bring a site that is complete to a SEO only agency there will be limitations to what on page SEO they can perform.
Now there are people who will deny this and say they have plenty of design experience to implement any changes they may need. This assertion is generally true, but they also work on hours per month schedules and the changes they make will come out of your time. Also, no matter what kind of remodeling you do there are always limitations to what can be change after the fact.

#3 problem with SEO only companies: Lack of desire to build more
Now here is another up for opinion. An SEO only may also be thinking SEO only. Part of SEO is growing the presence and not just streamlining the presence you already have. A firm that has a design relationship with you has the ability to pitch new site ideas and new websites you may want to build to compliment what you have.
If you have an informative website that isn’t designed with clear call to actions or to convert leads well, you may need a separate one with that separate goal in mind.
A design agency that has daily conferences with the SEO department like we do at CGR has a place where one person can dream up what is best in theory and one department that can put that plan in action from scratch.
All your eggs in one basket is finally good advice when you need to make sure the eggs are done correctly from start to finish. Changing who is handling the development of your online strategy midstream is not worth the risk. CGR has attacked this problem by offering a full service web design and marketing agency with it’s own in house department dedicated solely to SEO and internet marketing like social media management and PPC.

Todd Kron
Online Marketing Director
CGR Creative, LLC

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