When it comes to your SEO strategy, there are limitless options in terms of the tools and technology that can assist you with uncovering critical issues and pointing you in the right direction for what to optimize next. Nowadays, businesses have the option to choose from hiring full-service SEO agencies, purchasing tools à la carte to create a piecemeal tool suite, or integrating their data into a comprehensive SEO platform that is accompanied by agency-like services. If this sounds like enough to make your head spin, fear not. The answer is simpler than you think. Listed below you’ll find several questions to ask yourself that can help inform what the right solution is for your business.
But first, let’s define the different types of service models you can choose from:
SEO Agency Services
Agencies come in all different shapes and sizes, and believe it or not, having a small SEO budget no longer prohibits you from tapping into the expertise these agencies can provide. Though the typical contract is usually 12+ months, agencies are often willing to compete for your business. This means you can hire an agency for anything from shorter-term projects such as helping complete a migration, or road mapping out a strategy for your new blog – to a fully-built SEO strategy and with implementation help. There are two different types of agencies: Full-service vs. strictly SEO-focused.
A full-service agency can be advantageous for your business because it allows you to manage multiple digital channels under one roof. Many large agencies offer enterprise-level reporting, allowing you to get a roll-up of cross-channel performance. Reallocating spend is also much easier under this model – and oftentimes, you’ll be working with an account manager who keeps tabs on all-channel performance. If you’re looking to stay nimble, a full-service agency may be the way to go.
On a related note, an SEO-only agency is just that. While you might be losing out on some cross-channel SEO/SEM synergies, SEO-focused agencies can offer a greater breadth of SEO services such as having a deep expertise in local and international search, as well as dealing with companies of varying sizes and maturity levels.
Depending on your available in-house resources, outsourcing to an agency may make the most sense. Agencies often have vendor partners to facilitate things like link-building and development work.
One of the best pieces of advice when choosing an agency is to make sure you understand the scope of your engagement prior to signing a contract. Make sure you can answer these questions:
- Will the agency perform an audit? What does it include?
- How many calls do I get per month with my account manager?
- What does the support model look like?
- How many deliverables will I receive per month? Can you show me an example?
- Do you provide monthly reporting? QBRs?
- Do you implement on my site?
One caveat with hiring an agency is that you’re allowing someone else to be the gatekeeper of your SEO strategy. Your SEO agency has ownership over your data and reporting, making it difficult to part ways at some point in the future as you scale your internal SEO resources. By outsourcing your SEO, you also fail to establish SEO expertise for your own brand, losing the insights and knowledge the agency is gaining on your behalf. If you’re planning to hire an in-house SEO, bringing in an agency may not be the right choice. They tend to focus on scaling their services while yours will be on scaling your team and internal SEO knowledge. It may be worthwhile to explore an SEO platform and tap into their support services to help support your in-house SEO.
There are a host of SEO platforms that allow you to integrate your analytics data and gain insights on the fly. When choosing a platform, it’s important to be realistic about your level of knowledge in order to determine how much support you’ll need.
A platform can be particularly useful if you have in-house SEO resources or are looking to increase headcount in this department. Automated reporting, pre-built dashboards, and push-button insights are just a few of the ways your team can save time. Built to be intuitive, customizable and scalable, platforms are beneficial for brands that would prefer to spend their time making optimizations rather than piecing together data sets. Brands who use enterprise SEO platforms see a 25% increase in content published with the same workforce according to Forrester’s TEI Impact Report.
The ability to marry various sources of data and layer them on top of each other for your entire team to access in one central location makes a platform an attractive choice. You’ll also reap the benefits from any integrations that your platform has with other vendors. Platforms often integrate with the tools and systems your team is already using, allowing seamless workflows and the consolidation of multiple tools. For instance, SEMRush, Dragon Metrics and Deep Crawl are just a few of the integrations that come standard with a Conductor package.
Bottom line, whether your knowledge of SEO is limited or advanced and no matter the size of your SEO team, platforms provide a level of support, seamless workflows, and reporting that ‘SEO tools’ just can’t.
Before signing up for a platform make sure to ask yourself these questions:
- Can I demo the tool?
- How many keywords and competitors can I track?
- Will there be live onboarding sessions so I can learn how to use the tool?
- Who is responsible for configuring my account?
- What type of support services are offered?
Every facet of SEO including link-building, technical health, content optimization, tracking social visibility, and so on, has a tool associated with it. Most tools use a freemium model, allowing you to demo first and then choose to upgrade. As you may have guessed, piecing together a bunch of smaller tools can quickly add up – not to mention the stress of cobbling together data sets for manual reporting and managing renewals and licenses. For that reason, tools like SEMrush and Moz look to simplify this by providing you with a tool suite. A fully equipped subscription to one of these providers can cost on-par with an agency, especially if you’re setting up multiple users.
Tools can also be a great way to augment your agency/platform offerings and can provide you with more ownership over your insights and data. For example, every business should have access to a crawling tool of some sort whether it’s through SEMrush or using the free version of Screaming Frog. Below are some top picks if you’re considering going à la carte:
- SEM Rush (All-in-one SEO tool and crawler)
- Moz (All-in-one SEO tool and crawler)
- Majestic (Backlinks)
- Ahrefs (Backlinks)
- DataStudio (Reporting) – free
- Screaming Frog (Local crawler) – first 500 URLs are free
- Deep Crawl (Cloud-based crawler)
- OnCrawl (Cloud-based crawler)
- App Tweak (ASO)
- Buzzsumo (Social) – free
- Gtmetrix (Pagespeed) – free
- Webpagetest.org (Pagespeed) – free
- KWFinder (Keywords)
- Answer the Public (Keywords) – free
- Keywords Everywhere (keywords) – chrome extension, free
Before diving head-first into creating your own tool suite, you should analyze the cost. While you might come in under budget, it’s important to factor in any support services or additional headcount you’d need in order to get the most out of these tools.
Now that we’ve summarized the different SEO offerings, take some time to meet with your team and outline your needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to SEO – and the approach you choose should be based on how much time you’re willing to put into SEO, your level of SEO savviness and the growing organic marketing needs of your organization. If you’re unsure what the best fit is, a platform is a good consideration since it provides you with dedicated support to get your SEO program off the ground, focuses on your team’s SEO strategy and expertise, and is a scalable solution for your team’s future needs.
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