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Top Challenges All Agency Owners & SEO Managers Face NOW
(and how to overcome them…)

If you work in an agency or manage an SEO department, regular and ongoing changes to algorithms pose extremely challenging logistical issues, not to mention some inevitable headaches in terms of website performance.
In this report we are going to explore a number of the main challenges and solutions that (from our discussions with industry peers) we believe are the most pertinent to the survival and growth of SEO departments in large organizations and SEO agencies.

William Penn wrote, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” This is far and away the biggest challenge that department managers and SEO agency directors face…now. In the past, the ability to service a larger number of clients was made possible because lower-tier link building & content production were easy and cheap to outsource. You could run a skeleton internal team that offered consulting, strategy, client communication and reporting, then leave much of the tedious heavy-lifting to a cheap external partner. Micro agencies with a client roster that ran into double digits weren’t uncommon or impractical, and more often than not, excellent results were achieved. Now that high-quality link building and superior quality content generation is a must in almost every campaign, many agencies find themselves scrambling to find enough hours in the day to truly deliver for their clients. Even managing an SEO department in a large organisation, time has been put under pressure as your one client (your employer) demands more hours from internal resource than ever before – thanks to the time-intensive nature of some of the “required” tasks of an up-to-date SEO. It can take several hours to secure that high-value link, it can take any number of hours to plan, research, produce, edit and format that piece of content. This is time that you probably don’t have because these are tasks that previously didn’t come out of the available bank of hours for that month.

One option to consider is the restructuring of your agency or your department. Processes will need to be re-designed and teams will need to be reshuffled and re-deployed to cope with the new and increased workload.This will invariably lead to new staff being required and almost undoubtedly a requirement for staff training. Initial investment costs in this solution are often high and the time and lost productivity that is required during the initial teething phases is often ill-affordeded. A restructure may also prove difficult if you are attempting to transition your existing client base into a new way of working and paying – investment in new staff is obviously costly. Longer term, the advantage can be the control that you’ll potentially achieve. Key issues to be considered however are whether you have the resource and capacity internally to take on the tasks initially and then maintain efficient processes long term when it isn’t an activity you are necessarily “specializing” in but rather a small part of what your organization or department is trying to do.

Outsourcing, amid today’s online climates, is often seen by some as “passing the buck,” but in reality, many SEO agencies and departments (with their current structure) are still uniquely positioned to provide the best possible service to their employers and clients by outsourcing various elements, becoming an aggregator of services. You can manage the various moving parts of a campaign and ensure goals are being met by bringing together dedicated experts to look after the individual elements. Being an SEO doesn’t mean everything needs to be handled by your team, the fact is that without the right stang structure and business processes, you’ll quickly find yourself treading water or drowning in client tasks.
Initial investment costs are often low and high levels of productivity are there from the get-go. The downside in the longer term is potentially a higher cost per unit when compared with doing this in-house but this is oset by the lower levels of risk (your “capacity” can scale and contract as necessary) and by the fact that your outsourcing partner is likely to be more efficient now and in the future since they are specializing in a niche area (e.g. link building or content production) so they take full responsibility for innovation, process optimization and staff training long term. It is often the case that internal teams do not achieve the scale or consistency that an outsourcing vendor can offer.

Budgets are stretched pretty thin because we are only just realistically emerging from an era where a $100 “outsourced SEO package” was actually probably delivering some results (there, we said it!). Transitioning from this situation is never going to be an easy challenge to overcome, particularly when SEO Consultant salaries in many parts of the world are at unprecedented levels and clients have certain expectations in terms of what they can get for their money.
How do you deliver results whilst maintaining profitability and staying within departmental budgets? How do you deliver results whilst maintaining profitability and staying within departmental budgets?

Better resource planning
If you run an agency or a department, you have people you work with who need to be organized, managed and motivated in such a way that enables you to meet the overall objectives of the company or the function of that department.
Digital landscapes shift, but that does not mean your existing teams aren’t up for the job any longer, it may be that the resources you have need to be put to use in a smarter way. One tactic that is worth considering is the division of labor. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, I believe it was originally devised by Plato and applied to an economy as a whole but the widely held definition as popularized by the economist Adam Smith is, “The separation of a work process into a number of tasks, with each task performed by a separate person or group of persons.” Most link building processes can be systemized (to a degree) and streamlined. In this case you will be looking at how you can best leverage the people and assets you have.

Strategic outsourcing
Very often in the process of reorganizing and planning your existing resources to better cope with the current search landscape, you’ll identify a few key gaps either in your base of skills or more likely in man-hours. A number of the agency owners we’ve spoken with admit that there is now a gap between the number of hours they’re used the billing (made possible by the cheaper outsourcing of the past) and the number of hours they physically have to service those accounts. That’s an issue that needs to be resolved ASAP – otherwise clients probably aren’t getting what they paid for. This is where you can utilize an outsourcing partner to plug these gaps – giving you back that capacity and allowing your team to concentrate on what they are best at.

Client/employer education
The pricing out of the market of many small businesses, those used to seeing solid results on a skeleton budget, is a derivative of evolved digital landscapes. Some would argue that this has impacted the industry positively, forcing “cheap package” suppliers out of the market and there is some truth to it but it has also impacted on the ability of many good quality SEO agencies to work with genuine clients that simply have smaller budgets.Education must sit at the core of your client communication. You can often win many around to considering an increase in budget or at the very least better understanding the pressures and landscapes your are working within. Hopefully they’ll have put some of that money, that you’ve been making them all these years with top search engine positions, away and will be prepared to invest for the future. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try to educate, inevitably some client accounts have become almost untenable. From a consulting perspective, it’s often dicult to get results in the current landscape with a skeleton budget – without taking a risk or getting buy-in from the client for a really long term. From a business perspective, it’s hard to turn a profit from a client account that has a miniscule budget but requires a huge amount of hand-holding and account managing (Because they’re operating in a game with new rules e.g. “smaller volumes of links”, “potentially longer time before seeing results” etc – the client some would argue understandably has a lot of questions.) You may have to break up with some of your clients – but that’s likely to be for the best. You’re not being greedy or arrogant but rather doing the honorable thing for them and for you. Ultimately the best solution is likely to be a combination of these things. Educating your clients or your employer about the changes in the SEO landscape, re-organising your resources and intelligently outsourcing certain areas to augment your capacity and capabilities is the real recipe for success.

Staff morale
The current landscape of SEO and digital marketing warrants an increased focus on analytics, algorithm changes, and attribution — among other things. All of this requires more time, and can infuse a fair amount of uncertainty within an organization.. These things subsequently (in a number of cases) have led to an increase in work-related stress for in-house and agency staff – they feel a need to do more with the same amount of time or resources and this is an eventual recipe for burnout and very much the shortcut to an unhappy team.

Division of labor
This was covered in the previous section in this report in more detail, but it is worth mentioning in this section also. Another clear advantage of the division of labor – by getting the right people in the right jobs, you can massively boost morale as people become world-class in a very specific area (hopefully one that they enjoy). We all know how satisfying it can be working on something you are good at.

Securing extra budget
Sometimes there’s no other solution but to secure more budget. That’s not going cup in hand to your boss or employer but rather devising a credible plan to secure the financial clout your team needs to achieve the goals you’ve been set.

Being open to change
Standing still in today’s SEO landscape is probably the worst thing you can do. The best agencies and teams are adapting to their surroundings, and if you want a happy team where burnout isn’t a remote possibility and the solid results keep rolling in, then carefully managed “change” is a good thing. Stagnant practices lead to de-motivated stagnant teams. And if you think that burying your head in the sand and wishing really hard for the good ol’ days of SEO is going to bring them back, then the next 18 months are going to be a rough ride.

Identity Crisis

“What are we actually ‘in the business of’ ??”

This is a common feeling among the agency owners and department managers that we’ve spoken with. There seems to be an issue of what we as an industry should be focusing on and what we should be labeling our craft. As far as we’re concerned, search engines will continue to live long and prosper and whilst search engines reign supreme online in terms of helping the masses find what they are looking for, there will be a place for SEO. Just because the techniques and responsibilities are changing, it doesn’t mean it’s dead. Secondly, whatever you want to call it…SEO, content marketing, social media marketing, inbound marketing, internet marketing – a focus on the outcome is what is required.

Carefully define your niche
A surefire way to navigate through uncertainty and a crowded marketplace is to carefully define your niche and what your organisation is going to become known for. Ultimately this will be defined by your long-term goals and resources, but as the landscape changes, there is an increasing demand for specialisms in the industry. There are plenty of “me-too-full-service” agencies out there, but the ones that are cleaning up are the ones that are known and regarded for their work within a specific area or niche. It’s a big industry we work in; nobody can possibly be good at every single little aspect.

Be confident
Our industry is a daily firehose of content; there is a tremendous amount of noise. Have confidence in the path you set for yourself and your team – don’t change course on the whim of a “thought leader” or a single piece of data. Reading for professional development is important, but carefully processing what you read, and balancing that with your own experiences, is essential.

Focus on outcomes
Don’t get caught up in the industry noise of what we should be labeling ourselves or constantly changing your corporate branding just to keep up with the latest buzz-phraseology. Ultimately focus on what you want to achieve for your employer or clients. If your clients rely on you to drive rankings in order to keep the phone ringing then they probably are unlikely to care whether you call yourself an ‘SEO’ or an ‘inbound marketer.

Achieving “Quality”
As an industry we were somewhat accustomed to low-quality forms of link building in the past – we weren’t particularly happy that it worked, but we accepted it. Now, many are hyper-sensitive to the notion of quality whether it be link building, content or anything to do with the optimization of a site. Achieving quality is of course, an admirable goal. That being said, understanding it, for many, is proving to be a complex challenge usually as a combination of the other challenges discussed in this report (Time, money, skills, etc).

Standard setting internally
The first step toward a solution is of course to understand how you are going to be defining “quality”.  There are many opinions as to what constitutes good quality content or a good quality link but ultimately you are going to need to set standards within your business. Issue sets of rules, develop guidelines and publish material internally, helping everyone involved understand what is expected and what everyone is working toward. Proactive management of outsourcing partners. Many large organizations argue that in order to keep standards high, they want to keep everything internal. This is sometimes a valid argument; however, developing strong working relationships, with an outsourcing partner that specializes in an area where you as a business lack, is a surefire way to achieve quality. Some say “You can’t outsource actually caring about something.” We agree, and why it is important to work closely and often collaboratively with any partner that you go into business with. Outsourcing elements of a project doesn’t have to mean compromising on quality.

Evaluation of existing practices
As many organizations pursue “quality”, it may mean the assessment and evaluation of current link building and content production practices – if it doesn’t align with your current/future strategy, what can be changed? Or is it time to move on from tactic X or Y?

This post is from the Skyrocket SEO who is an outsourcing partner to many well-known companies and well-respected agencies, providing high-quality link building & content production solutions that help to drive results.

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