At FATJOE we’ve been helping SEO agencies and teams expand their SEO and marketing services for over a decade.
In that time we’ve learned a thing or two not only about our clients but about the common problems SEO agencies face.
SEO can be tricky, we all know it, but working for an SEO agency can present some unique challenges only faced by those in the SEO industry.
In this post, we’ll cover the most common agency problems and how you can fix them to continue to deliver your clients successful results time and time again.
Problem 1: We Can’t Grow Our Client Base!
Developing your initial client base is one of the trickiest things an SEO agency, or indeed any marketing agency can face.
Sure, word of mouth can carry you some of the way, but to first get that initial burst and then turn it into consistent year-on-year growth you need to put in some serious work.
There are a number of ways to expand your client base that include:
Advertising and Networking
Advertising is the most obvious way to start increasing your client base. The problem here is that you’ll be competing against other experienced SEOs and marketers who will be as adept at getting their own site ranking well as they are for their clients.
It can also be tricky to properly manage advertising attribution, especially if it’s not a direct advert-to-sale process.
Advertising can be as much about creating and developing a brand identity and awareness as it is about directly generating sales or signups. The difficulty with this is that it can then be difficult to properly attribute your growth or sales to any one advertising channel.
As with networking events, it really can be a case of knowing you have to invest in your advertising on a holistic basis, even if you can’t directly tie results back to it all the time.
This leads to the next way to secure more clients – networking!
A company with a super profitable Google Ads campaign is the PERFECT SEO client.
How to get them?
Make friends with PPC agencies.
— Joe Davies (@fatjoedavies) March 12, 2023
There are so many great marketing and SEO-specific conferences where you can help expand your personal and company network.
These conferences can help you connect with your potential clients and face-to-face time will really help you understand what their particular pain points are and how you can best address them.
These conferences can also help you deliver a better product as they offer so many learning opportunities with talks and seminars presented by industry experts. If you really take on what they have to say you can improve your product massively.
No product truly sells itself, but one that has been developed with your specific customers in mind using cutting-edge techniques and processes is sure to stand out in a crowded market.
If marketing does its job, sales becomes unnecessary
— Ayman Al-Abdullah 🧱 (@aymanalabdul) March 22, 2023
Sales and Pitching
Sales, especially in SEO, can be remarkably difficult.
SEO is an amazing growth industry, but this does mean a lot of your potential client base might not have a clear understanding of the value proposition of SEO.
They might be unaware of SEO or, even worse, slightly aware of it. Sales in SEO can face a lot of difficulties when clients have heard of nightmare site penalties, SEO scams, black hat tactics.
Your sales team will need to bear this in mind and invest a lot of time and effort into educating the customer not only about your product but why they need it in the first place.
This can be very time-consuming but a comprehensive enough education throughout the sales process should keep them on board even in the treacherous seas of SEO and algorithm updates.
As with your sales process your pitching must bear in mind that not everyone will be aware of SEO and even those who are might be far jumpier about it than they would be for a traditional marketing campaign.
Easiest way to get unlimited clients (in any industry):
1. Teach everyone how to do what you do for free
2. Show case studies & results daily if possible
— Joe Davies (@fatjoedavies) April 5, 2023
Local agencies will often find smaller-scale clients who might not be convinced by SEO initially. Comprehensive sales decks and, ideally, in-depth customer case studies can really work wonders for convincing these clients to start working with an SEO agency.
Larger-scale agencies might instead find more established brands that are very resistant to changes, especially when it could (in their eyes) risk the website they’ve worked so hard on.
Adjust your pitches accordingly and make it clear your efforts will be complementary to the existing marketing pushes they have.
It’ll be time-consuming, but it’s vital to get the initial pitching right to align client expectations from the outset. If you get these in place you should be better positioned to have a free run at link building and such for them down the line.
As with pitching, onboarding is the best time to align customer expectations and to really head off some of the future problems your SEO agency might face.
Time spent during the onboarding process explaining your full SEO plan, your methods and techniques, and your outline for the client will pay you back tenfold if it proactively heads off reservations they might otherwise have had.
Managing and expanding your client base is always difficult for an SEO agency. If you’re able to internalize and develop the points above you’ll be on your way to sustainable growth that helps head off potential client issues further down the road.
Problem 2: We Can’t Create Enough Content!
In this era of content marketing, consistent content creation is crucial for continued success.
Every client from a multinational tech company to your local plumber (why do we always pick on plumbers for these local examples?) wants content.
As convenient as it might seem AI simply isn’t the catch-all answer here as proper content, both for writing and graphics, takes time, effort, and human flair to create.
A proper content creation pipeline for an agency will include:
Strategy and Auditing
The backbone of any content marketing campaign is the strategy. SEO clients will always expect that you can include content creation as part of your services.
A scalable content strategy will help you secure sustainable success for your clients not just with the odd piece but with every piece you publish with them.
The problem is, developing this strategy will take time and expertise.
Unless you outsource it you’ll need to create this for your client including a full content calendar along with an optimization plan.
Each article or piece of content requires goal setting, research, and assessment of its performance over time.
The time and expertise required to craft an effective content strategy, and then analyse its performance following publishing, can make for a huge bulk of your resources.
The heart of good content is a clear and concise brief.
The trouble is that clients often won’t know how to produce this. After all, if they were great writers themselves, wouldn’t they just write the content?
They can also have trouble conveying industry-specific terms and concepts that might seem perfectly normal to them but will be foreign to you and your writing team.
One way to solve some of these problems is to create a scalable content brief that can be used to really eke the details out of your client.
A proper brief can really help pad out vague client requests or narrow-down overly detailed ones, but this also requires the time from your team to apply their expertise, and of course, once you’ve finally nailed down the brief with the client you then have to write the thing too!
A writer is only as good as the detailed brief they get from the content lead.
— Tina Donati (@Tina_Donati) November 9, 2022
Here we come to the crux of the matter, actually writing the content.
This is easily the most difficult part for any agency as, frankly, creating great content is bloody hard.
Primarily the difficulty is the time and expertise that it takes.
Bottlenecks abound for any agency using an in-house team as it can be really hard to scale your capacity reactively when you rely on an in-house team with a set size.
Scalability should be at the heart of any SEO agency and writing content for your clients can really hinder this if you’re not careful.
Clients like to feel involved and will often want to be part of the revision process. Pair this with your own internal revisions and potentially fluctuating client demand and you’ve got a recipe for potential agency disaster!
The best way to combat this is to be ready to outsource your content writing.
Outsourcing your content is a great way to maintain your scalability and with a repeatable briefing process, you can still maintain tonal consistency even if you need to take things out of house for your clients.
If you use an a la carte service without a monthly fee you’ll be able to turn to them whenever production exceeds your capacity without the need for an onerous retainer or the uncertainty of changeable pricing. This can help solve one of the biggest agency headaches out there!
Problem 3: Our SEO Agency Just Doesn’t Have The Capacity!
Scaling your agency is hard.
You have to balance the business’ turnover and meeting client demands with the capacity and capabilities of your team.
Managing your capacity can lead to several common SEO agency problems:
Efficiency and Time Management
Scaling your agency beyond the current capacity of your team can lead to major inefficiencies and team members have to scramble to cover each other and keep up production.
You might lose the personal touch of dedicated client managers as your team has to be available for all available projects and it can lead to burnout pretty quickly!
Equally, if you hit a leaner period it can be difficult to reorient a larger team and you might wind up having some team members twiddling their thumbs – very inefficient.
We all know a manager or salesperson who just can’t say no.
Overselling is an absolute killer for agencies as it can sour your clients and burn out your team.
The former is an immediate issue as it can of course cost you the client but the latter is more detrimental in the long term as you can lose valuable team members if this keeps happening.
Always bear in mind your capacity and limitations. Set up your SEO pricing model appropriately to best suit your ability to deliver and stick to it.
If you find this is happening a lot a productized approach with simple set deliverables could be the way to go, rather than a bespoke approach which can fall victim to scope-creep pretty quickly.
Bottlenecks, Balancing Acts, And Burnout
Inefficient setups can lead to a number of issues for both clients and the SEO agency itself.
If too much work goes through a single team member or department it can lead to severe bottlenecks for your clients.
Team members can struggle to strike the right balance between producing deliverables, managing clients and in-house tasks, if their accountabilities are not specific or streamlined enough.
Without an efficient team structure, you can set yourself up for a fall!
The easiest solution for SEO agencies is to outsource their deliverables and become resellers.
Focusing on outsourcing your deliverables frees up your team’s time for client management, outreach, and new lead generation.
Outsourced deliverables can keep results and products simple and consistent for your clients without the need to constantly grow or shrink your team to meet client demands.
Problem 4: We Can’t Recruit The Right People!
This is, of course, difficult to manage for any company but it’s especially tricky in the SEO industry.
The industry is, fundamentally, still quite young and is only now maturing into a set way of doing things and measuring success.
It’s really not so long ago that blackhat techniques could reap massive rewards and so reliable resumes and portfolios can be tricky to come by.
Industry certification is yet to be a fully established practice and instead relies on potential hires being proactive in developing their own portfolios.
Expertise in one area of SEO or proven results only in certain industries may not translate over to a more generalized SEO role and even if you do find the right candidate, even the most capable recruits can find the demands of an agency environment tough to meet.
Recruitment can also be a problem for SEO agencies due to:
As a digital-only industry SEOs have gotten used to the benefits this offers, including remote working or other flexible arrangements.
While these are being embraced by more and more companies it can be difficult to find an SEO hire if your company doesn’t offer these perks. The prospective hire might expect them and it can cause difficulties if it is offered only to them. Nothing kills the morale of your existing team quicker!
SEO is an exciting industry in part due to how new it is, but the youth of the industry naturally leads to a high price tag for experienced SEOs.
As much as they can help expand your SEO agency you really do need to make sure you’re in a position to accommodate these higher wages before expanding your team.
If demand doesn’t pick up as forecast you can be left holding the bag with higher costs and lower revenue.
Technical and Creative Balance
In an agency environment, your SEOs need to not only have the technical knowledge to implement your strategies.
They also need to have the creative capabilities to envision the client’s content plans and the personal skills to build rapport with the clients they manage.
As they are managing both the deliverables and the client management your SEOs need to be remarkably flexible and, as we all know, talented people are tough to find and pricey to hire!
If you’re an agency struggling to hire the right talent it might be best to instead outsource your deliverables.
Rather than taking on new hires that need to be onboarded and who add to overall operational complications, outsourcing can allow you to quickly and easily scale your offerings.
This lets you focus more on client engagement and retention for your existing staff and it can easily be scaled back should you ever hit a leaner period.
Problem 5: The Competition!
We’ve covered above how hard it can be to get new clients and recruit new staff. But who are you losing them to? Your competition!
There will always be a natural amount of client churn but your goal should always be to minimize that wherever possible.
By successfully managing your client retention you’ll increase their lifetime value for your business and create excellent knock-on effects such as word of mouth and case studies they can help generate.
The most important thing retained clients offer, however, is that it deprives your clients of them!
SEO is a hard-knock industry and by its very nature, your competitors will be just as experienced as you at luring potential customers away. New client acquisition is always important but so too is nurturing the client relationships you already have.
Aside from the above, your competitors can cause problems in a number of ways:
SEO is a $100 billion dollar industry but there is a limit to how many potential clients exist in any one space.
No SEO company can truly market itself to every potential customer and so there will always be a natural limitation to your available customer base. Your competitors will also be fishing at this spot and so it’s important to do what you can to stand out from them.
Cost, breadth of services, and niche specialization are all typical ways you can try to stand out within your niche market.
It’s a sad fact of life that as well as promoting their own services competitors will, eventually, try to badmouth yours in some way.
They may create keyword-rich articles dismissing your products or outbid you for your own key terms in Google Ads. They might try to make the most of any bad reviews you’ve received and drive traffic to those.
The best way to counteract this is through your own reputation management.
Don’t get down onto their level (what’s that old adage about wrestling with pigs) but instead pour everything you can into your own reputation management.
We’ve already mentioned the value of client retention and, done properly, this will naturally lead to glowing reviews across various platforms.
These will help cement your reputation in the eyes of customers and place you above your competitors every time.
It’s not enough that they’re taking your clients, now they’re taking your staff as well?
We’ve already covered how hard it is to get them in the first place and now their heads might be turned by competitor’s offers.
The simple fact is you will have some staff turnover. It’s only natural and, hey, you can benefit from it when you snag yourself an amazing new hire!
For your existing staff just make sure that you foster a warm and open environment where they feel comfortable airing any issues they have.
If you focus on developing a small tight-knit team you can ensure you’re all optimally focused on your company goals and really make them feel part of the business’s success.
Do what you can to lighten their load and allow them to focus on what they really enjoy and know and they’ll generate remarkable results for your clients.
When it comes to outdoing your competition one underrated tactic is simply adopting their services as part of yours.
We’re big believers in outsourcing (you may be able to tell!) and it can really help you in so many ways when outperforming your competitors.
Outsourcing can help you diversify your product offerings, expand your work capacity, and take on quality new products without diminishing your own services or your own in-house team.
Problem 6: Communication Breakdown!
Communication is one of the main things clients will assess in their experience with an SEO agency.
Proper communication helps set the client expectations properly, as we’ve mentioned above.
It can also help you convey wins to your clients and help them understand why these results are excellent results.
Many agencies face a problem in conveying the story of their campaign and efforts to their clients. Without proper comms, the client may be in the dark about what is happening, or might simply expect that paying for SEO once will see them shoot up to #1 for all of their keywords.
Communication can be a real sticking point as:
Too Much Is Bad For Efficiency
Hopping on a client call every other day, either at the client’s behest or your own is obviously overkill but many don’t draw the line soon enough when it comes to cutting down on client communication.
It might feel counterintuitive to preach less client communication but it really can help streamline the process and keeps things nice and efficient.
Some clients might want to schedule a call after every ranking change or traffic fluctuation which, while understandable, simply isn’t sustainable.
Try setting out a clear schedule for check-ins if you’re engaging in a longer-term project. For agencies offering set deliverables try to stick to initial chatter about the order details and a closing talk once it is done.
Too Little Is Bad For Relationships
Conversely, not communicating enough is clearly bad for business.
Clients are trusting you with their website which in today’s world is the life and soul of their company.
Be sure to lay out clear timetables not only for project delivery but also for check-ins and make sure to make yourselves available for interim calls if the client needs them.
You can be perfectly clear that it’s not intended to be a daily check-in and you’ll often find that the mere knowledge they can contact you if needed is enough to satisfy them.
They might also simply want to hear a human voice when they first start out to help confirm you’re legit! Don’t begrudge your client this and use it as an opportunity to start building your rapport with them.
It’s Hard To Speak The Client’s Language
It’s easy to get lost in a world of metrics and updates but just remember your clients almost certainly aren’t SEOs themselves.
A wall of jargon might get their backs up and might be seen as you hiding behind smoke and mirrors to obscure the real results of your services.
Work on clear and concise reporting. Even for large-scale or experienced customers, this can be greatly appreciated and the door can always be left open for more in-depth reporting if they need it.
Be clear about what your deliverables are and how you intend to achieve them.
If you’re clear and firm about this your client will be reassured and you’ll be better placed in case you need work to expand your capacity. You’ll know exactly what it is you’re after and exactly what you promised your client.
Problem 7: We Can’t Manage Our Client’s Expectations!
Managing your client’s expectations is one of the biggest challenges you can face as an SEO agency.
SEO can be presented as a golden goose for rankings and sales opportunities and clients may buy into this. It’s of course excellent if you can secure these results for them, but they do need to know it’s not the absolute given it might be pitched as.
Hopefully, if you’ve worked on the communication problems we’ve mentioned above you’ll already have a headstart on mitigating these problems, but the most common ones we see are:
This isn’t just restricted to the overselling of your capacity we mentioned earlier, but it certainly goes hand-in-hand with it.
Overpromising results, or simply providing too specific a guarantee is a recipe for disaster.
SEO is unpredictable and so too are the results of your services. Obviously, you should back yourselves but be careful to avoid promising your client the world, or even specific movements in rankings.
Instead, take a step back and see what trackable and reasonable KPIs you can set for your services.
Create your pricing model in a way that provides clear and deliverable metrics for measurement and success. If, for example, you adopt a productized approach like we have you won’t be able to overpromise as your products will have set parameters.
It’s rarer to see this as marketers tend to have no lack of self-belief, but this can still happen.
Conduct market research and even try out competing services on dummy sites to really see how you stack up.
You may feel you are pricing yourself well for your margins but when you try out the competition you might actually find you’re woefully underpriced for the results you deliver.
Make sure you’re certain of this before you make any pricing changes, but there’s nothing worse than underselling yourself. Remember, you can double your prices, lose half your clients, and still make the same amount of money.
Working With Bad Clients
Bad SEO clients never turn into good SEO clients. Cut them loose fast.
— Nathan Gotch (@nathangotch) January 23, 2023
You might fall back on the old adage “the customer is never wrong” but, frankly, they can be.
Bad clients can eat up your time and that of your staff with unreasonable demands or fundamental misunderstandings of what you offer.
You can, of course, try to resolve this using your excellent client communication but some clients are simply a lost cause.
Focus instead on nurturing long-term relationships. The best clients will trust your expertise, respect your boundaries, and be enthusiastic, responsive, and helpful.
Bad clients can lead to burnout in your staff as they consume resources and quite possibly end up negatively rating you anyway! Remember: you can fire a client if needed. You just have to be nice, respectful, and firm.
Setting yourself up with clearly defined product offerings can really help set and manage client expectations from the off. If you focus on clearly defined deliverables you won’t find yourself falling folly to overpromising, undervaluing those services, or struggling to define them to problem customers.
Problem 8: We’re Struggling To Deliver Our Reports!
Once you’ve completed the work the next problem you are likely to encounter is when you go to report back to your client about the amazing work you’ve done.
Communicating your results in SEO can be hard, whether you’re talking to a complete newbie or an experienced SEO veteran.
A newbie might not understand the terminology you throw at them, or might expect unrealistic results. It’ll be up to you to educate your customer as part of the reporting process so they can truly understand the progress you’ve made.
Alternatively, an experienced SEO might have preconceptions about how they feel things should be handled. You might need to tactfully educate your client on why their way might not be best, or why you’ve taken a particular approach.
Luckily, most of this potential confusion can be cleared up by taking a few key steps:
Setting Clear Goals
One problem agencies might have is not sufficiently setting or explaining their KPIs.
You can choose from any number of potential KPIs (most commonly rankings, traffic, conversions, or a mix of all of them) but the key thing is to agree on them clearly with your customer.
This will set a defined yardstick by which your results can be measured. Don’t overpromise or set vague and wooly goals that are hard to measure. Instead, set some defined KPIs with a little leeway but the typical nuances of SEO fluctuations.
If you set these out from the start you’ll be able to tailor your reports accordingly to really emphasize the amazing progress you’ve made in relation to these goals.
Understanding The Analytics
On the one hand, reporting seems pretty simple. Rankings go up = good. Rankings go down = bad. The trouble is that proper SEO reporting needs much more depth than that, even if that is the key takeaway.
Proper reports will include not just the ranking/traffic/conversion changes but also in-depth analytics as to why that has occurred and your roadmap for securing additional progress down the line.
It takes time to develop the expertise to understand the many many analytics platforms out there and to develop your own understanding of the best way to bring those together for a cohesive report for your client.
Another quick takeaway is that ROI analysis will always be the most interesting aspect for your client. Make sure to include a proper breakdown of this in your reports, even if takes additional time to track it down for each channel and to calculate it accordingly.
SEO can take time, yes.
But the real hard part that most SEOs suck at has to do with reporting.
– Mixing and reporting wrong metrics
– % numbers that don’t mean anything without context
– Not showing how things fall into bigger picture
– Not explaining KPIs properly
— Irakli.zv (@irakli_zv) April 16, 2023
Too Much/Too Little Time On Reports
The time taken to get this expertise leads to the final problem. Reporting back to your clients is typically one of the most time-consuming aspects of SEO.
If you’re providing thorough and detailed reports that not only contain your current progress but a breakdown of how you got there and a look ahead to the future, this will take time.
Too many agencies struggle with the idea that the reports will look after themselves or the idea that they don’t really need to pitch those results back to their clients. Yes, results do speak for themselves to a degree but you still need to inform and educate your client about what you are achieving and how.
Never underestimate the power of narrative in your ongoing sales and your reports are an amazing time to invest in this.
The main sticking point across all of these reporting issues is the time it takes. If you dedicate too little time to it your client will feel abandoned and left in the dark. This can make the client relationship tenser even if you’re dedicating that time to producing excellent results for them.
Conversely, if you spend too much time on your detailed and narratively thrilling reports the client may love them but you might actually be lagging on the deliverables. If you’re too caught up on reports you might wind up with the cart in front of the horse as you don’t have the time to produce the results you then want to report on.
One easy solution is to consider outsourcing your deliverables. This will free up your time to report on the results of those deliverables without dropping the ball on making actual progress for the client.
Problem 9: Performance Problems!
The last, and biggest, problem we have is struggling to deliver the performance you promised.
Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us… Etc, etc.
The most essential part of selling SEO as an agency is being able to produce results and deliver on your promises.
The problem is this is remarkably difficult with so many moving parts to contemplate. Some of the biggest hurdles you’ll face are:
Possibly the most obvious difficulty an SEO agency can face; achieving rankings for your client. This extends to traffic, sales, and conversions – all the typical big-picture metrics.
Achieving rankings requires legwork and constant monitoring throughout every stage of the process.
You also need to monitor what the competition is doing. Just as no man is an island, so too is no SEO project. As you react to market trends your client’s competitors will do so too.
Things aren’t static and, as such, it takes constant work to keep tracking performance and spotting trends and opportunities for growth.
In the hassle of all of this, it can be easy to drop the ball on securing your clients’ new links or content or to take so long doing so that the opportunity is missed.
Work to expand your team’s capacity to compensate for this, whether through new hires or outsourced SEO.
Monitoring Google Updates and SERP Changes
It isn’t just your competitor’s rankings that constantly shift, but also the algorithms you’re working with and against, along with the very SERPs in which you are trying to rank.
Google updates produce a volatile environment in which rankings can tank (or skyrocket!) through no fault of your own.
As such you need to remain dynamic with your processes and ensure that they are scalable and reliable. You have to allow yourself enough time to adjust your reporting alongside the direct manual work for outreach, content creation, and more.
It can be a difficult balance to strike but if you don’t do so your client’s rankings will suffer accordingly.
We’ve mentioned already the importance of managing client expectations and the easiest place to start this is by setting the correct KPIs for your campaigns.
The simplest way to set yourself up for failure is to promise your client results based on KPIs that are unreasonable or, even worse, can’t be tracked properly.
Don’t chase the wrong keywords or “vanity metrics” that don’t actually help your client out, even if they look flashy.
Take the time to knuckle down and produce a thorough roadmap for your plans, including your KPIs.
The legwork of your campaigns can easily be outsourced but the nitty gritty of reports and strategy can’t be outsourced without losing focus for your clients.
Fixing The Common SEO Problems Faced By SEO Agencies
The vast majority of these problems boil down to two distinct areas – lack of time and lack of capacity.
The quickest and easiest fix for both of these is to outsource your SEO deliverables.
The most profitable marketing agencies insource strategy and outsource deliverables.
— Joe Davies (@fatjoedavies) March 29, 2023
Focus on bringing the reporting and client management in-house and free up your time by outsourcing the deliverables to reliable partners.
Ultimately you will build rapport and results for your client with the strategy you design and the reports you deliver, not by showing off how many hours it has taken you to secure a single blogger outreach link.
Clients are wowed by the ROI and the results and outsourcing your deliverables lets you focus all of your efforts on this.
It can help you keep your teams small and dynamic meaning you’re best placed to deal with the disruptions and developments that are part and parcel of the exciting SEO industry.
Couple this approach with clear and reliable SOPs to provide a repeatable and consistent experience for your clients that will deliver for them every time.
Head of Content
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