7 Lessons From Leading SEO at a Digital Marketing Agency

7 Lessons From Leading SEO at a Digital Marketing Agency

Before co-founding my current company, I lead the SEO team at a digital marketing agency catering to SMB clients for six years.

I had no prior experience of running a department, let alone a company.

Naturally, I made a lot of beginning mistakes.

In this article, you will know about the seven most important things I learned about SEO inside an agency – things that I wish someone had told me.

1. Choose your services carefully

We positioned ourselves as a full-service digital marketing agency, but did not look back.

Not by a long shot.

We didn’t have enough experience or staff to be great at everything.

And even if we had all of that, I (now) firmly believe that you need to choose your place carefully and become truly great Are you there.


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Therefore, we were not really a full-service digital marketing agency. Frankly, we were not great on the full spectrum of SEO services, either.

When we spoke of technical SEO, keyword research, and strategy, it was amazing, but lacking in content creation, link building, and digital PR.

As a result, our recommendations sometimes do not reach their full potential when implemented, as the content was not sufficiently good and there were no supporting links.

This not only negatively impacted the overall perception of our SEO work, but it also spread to web design and other services we offer.

Interestingly, the customers who killed it were Content Minded and PR-Savvy themselves.

Together, in a symbiotic relationship, we created great content while getting links and PR – all laying a solid technical foundation.

Learning: We should not have offered content creation, building links and digital PR. These were not our strong suits. We should have partnered with true experts in these fields.


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2. Do not go out with every possibility to win the contract

As long as you have a huge sales force and you are going after a venture contract where you need to go out, do not invest too much time with every prospect to win your contract.

Prospects will often want you to do a lot of unpaid research before signing them. Unfortunately, sometimes they really just want to get free ideas.

It occurs throughout the consulting industry and has been occurring for decades.

I know, it’s a shock that this was happening in SEO as well … what can I say? I was young and then inexperienced.

First, we were going out and writing a detailed proposal for every prospect. But the ROI was very low at that.

Sure, we won contracts – but we lost a lot.

Sometimes we got a clear “no”, but other times we were completely nervous and knew that the possibility had probably taken away from our thoughts.

Over the years, we refined our lead-scoring process and in the process ensured the possibility of finding out about ballpark prices soon.

We used case studies that described what we did, how we did it and what we achieved for other customers.

And when we were picking up the positive signals, we would provide a difficult but sequential framework as to what to expect from us.

If we were still good, we would describe it in a formal proposal.

By the time we reached that stage, we knew that we had an 80–90% chance of winning the contract.

If the prospect wanted to get more ideas and research from us during the sales process, they would have to sign.

no exception.

If they can’t commit to the full package right away, we’ll start with something small to get them thinking about working with us and prefer to take it from there.

Learning: If you are short on sales resources, be careful about how much time you give to winning prospects. Create an efficient sales process that works for you and leads to healthy ROI at the time you invest in winning contracts.


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3. Do not write one-size-fits-all, mass distribution

Massive deliverables often end up unread – and their recommendations are unimplemented. Who you are writing the deliverables for should be your first consideration.

If it is a small business owner, do they need to understand your 40-page technical SEO audit? No, not at all

If you are writing recommendations for a developer, do you need to understand the entire content strategy put together? Probably right there.

Give them some background after the recommendations which are relevant them, Such as how to improve the internal link structure.

Write down your deliverables with a glance to those who need to act on them.

If they are in different roles, write different deliveries. Keep them brief; Include mainly essentials, but give them the option to dig further and learn more about the “why” behind the recommendation.

And of course, each delivery should have a prioritized summary of the things they need to do, along with the required investment and expected impact.


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If you want to dig deeper into this, check out Ariz Abouali’s article on the subject.

Learning: Write all your deliverables using an out-in approach, and keep in mind that less is more. Enable those who want to dig deep to do so, but make it optional.

4. Beware of “Not-Invented-Here” Syndrome

As an SEO expert, it is important that you keep trying new things – to make yourself a tool, to improve yourself, and to improve your processes.

However, beware of the “not-invoked-here” syndrome and avoid things you didn’t make yourself.

This applies to research and processes as much as equipment.

Be open to say goodbye to the things you have created when you come up with a better option. When a new team member joins, or is moving away from a custom-built CMS, it can be like shortening your keyword research process again.

We saw this many times while working with our clients’ development partners. They were holding onto old technology when they were a better option at a lower price.


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He felt that his strong suit had become his cryptocurrency.

Learning: When you know that there is a better option out there, do not hold onto anything. Don’t get too attached; Always be ready to move forward. Keep your eyes on the prize: provide the best service you can.

5. Balance in Business vs. Trade in Business

The agency’s life is busy, chaotic and thrilling. It is dangerous to be distracted.

I will always plan my week neatly, but will not meet the occasional requirement.

When a potential Dream client calls you and wants to consult you on their SEO strategy, it is difficult to focus strictly on their plan. Or when a large customer suddenly cancels a contract.

Many times, I did not have a good balance between working on the business.

I was the premier SEO, and our relatively small team saw me improving and refining the SEO services we offered. In that role, I needed to spend enough time in business, or things would fall short in the SEO department.


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Things get a lot better when I hire an experienced SEO. He brought the balance back for me.

Learning: Carefully balance how you spend your time as an agency owner or team lead. When you keep your SEO offerings state-of-the-art, don’t give the business side of things.

6. Performance-Based Deals Are Difficult

Potential customers often ask us if we were open to doing performance-based deals. We often refused, but when we said yes, we became something that barely paid us money.

Performance-based deals are tricky because you need to determine that KPI will determine your performance.

Is it just a lead, or is it a qualified lead or sale?

What are you paid during that initial period, where you are investing and creating organic traffic, but seeing some results?

What happens if your client’s company is sold?

What if they stop working with you, or vice versa?

Performance deals can feel like a complicated wedding that can easily flare up.


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To add to this, these performance-based inquiries are sometimes a sign of a struggling business – or even before they go into their final hands.

You do not want to go down with them.

Maybe the peers with whom I have discussed these types of deals and I have not found the right way to do performance-based deals. Although I can tell you that they are definitely slippery.

Learning: Discuss every aspect of these deals with your potential partner. Talk about what does and does not make for a successful partnership.

7. Think carefully before signing exclusivity agreements

Customers can ask you to sign an exclusivity agreement, preventing you from working with other companies like them.

They do not want their rivals to benefit from what they have learned by working for them.

While it always makes sense to me, keep in mind that:

  • By agreeing on this, you are potentially losing business to your rivals.
  • You need to ask enough in return to make specificity for your time.


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We signed exclusivity agreements with many customers and were the most successful.

Nevertheless, in most cases, the exclusive agreement gives us more revenue in the long run than lower revenue.

Competitors of customers and companies (who were excluded) in the adjacent niches also noted this success and contacted us.

Still we could not work for them.

There were times when a customer was spending 50K / year with us, but we were putting away 200K / year in revenue.

We were so eager to sign this customer that we did not give enough consideration to ensure that exclusivity meant nothing to us, as customers were not raising their budget.

In another case, the contract value of a customer is actually Decreased by While a large flow of inquiries from competitors and businesses in the proximal bottom.

When this happened, it was clear to me that we had not thought this through.

The signing of the exclusivity agreement was a major commitment from our side, and we should have asked for a significant and comparable commitment on their behalf as well.


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We should also negotiate a shorter exclusion period and determined that if their commitment was reduced, they would lose exclusivity.

Lesson: When a customer wants to sign an exclusivity agreement with you, do not be blinded by the short-term reward. Think about the downsides for you, and make sure the exclusivity agreement leaves room to address them.

For the success of your agency!

We all start somewhere and learn a lot of hard lessons along the way.

Hopefully, these seven lessons of mine will help prevent you from repeating these mistakes.

Or at the very least, they may make you think twice before signing a performance-based deal or exclusivity material.

For your success!

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