SEO in Focus

Why Your SEO Process Needs To Be Agile

  • January 21, 2019
  • Steven van Vessum

In this edition of SEO in Focus, we're discussing Agile SEO with Kevin Indig!

The full agency SEO audits have to stop. The time in which you wait 1-2 months for an audit with 30-40 recommendations is over.

With more and more companies working agile, 3-5 good recommendations per month are much better.

Welcome Kevin! For those that don't know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for having me! I'm an American/German living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Until recently, I ran SEO at Atlassian. I mentor startups at the GermanAccelerator in the field of growth, meaning user-acquisition, retention, and monetization. I've been in the SEO/Growth space for almost 10 years and love to share the lessons I've learned on (opens in a new tab) and in my weekly email newsletter, Tech Bound (opens in a new tab).

A few weeks ago there was a heated discussion going on on Twitter. You believe massive, 100+ page SEO audits that takes months to put together need to go. Can you explain why?

Here's the Twitter thread (opens in a new tab). It was heated indeed!

To be fair, SEO audits do have value. What I find ineffective are bloated lists of cookie-cutter recommendations.

Sending a client a list of 100 things to do is overwhelming and distracting. I heard the argument that you should present all recommendations to the client and then let her/him pick the ones that can be implemented. One SEO that's relatively known in the scene bragged about his 100+ page audits. That, to me, is wrong. Instead, recommendations should be a mix of quick-wins and big returns.

I've worked on the agency and in-house side myself. I made the mistake to just load off a huge list of recommendations to the client and think that shows the value and justifies the money. But then, being on the in-house side, I learned that that's just not helpful.

SEOs should provide targeted recommendations, depending on the client's market, product, tech stack, capacity, and goals. Bloated cookie-cutter audits are a cheap cop out of truly understanding the client to me.

What does the perfect SEO process look like according to you?

I start with a detailed briefing that covers questions around the history of the domain(s), penalties, resources, business model, goals, pain points, product(s), … Everything that helps me to deeply understand the business I'm dealing with!

Depending on the goals, resources, and pain points, I then conduct the audit. The briefing helps me figure out the best approach because an audit looks different depending on whether traffic dropped, maybe due to a technical issue or a penalty, or the business simply wants to grow. There are several reasons why a company would hire a consultant/agency and an initial audit should be conducted accordingly.

I seek out the 3-5 most impactful recommendations that are doable for the client and create very detailed briefs, including raw data from the audit and several ways to implement it. I help with the implementation by answering questions, QA, and handholding.

Once the initial recommendations have been implemented, the client gets another 3-5. This way, priorities are clear, the workload is doable, and overwhelm is kept to a minimum. Of course, the recommendations have to move the needle. I put a high emphasis on regular contact with the client to provide guidance, show how much I'm doing for them, and be available for questions. That mostly happens via video call, but also phone calls or Email.

Either, reportings are set up and I make sure they communicate progress, or I set something up myself. That could be as simple as a continuous update on rankings or a fully-fledged dashboard to show the KPI and several other metrics and understand progress.

Everything should start with understanding.

  1. What is the client's product, market, and business model?
  2. What does the client say she/he wants?
  3. What does the client really need?
  4. What can the client implement?

All these questions have a ton of nuance to them. No two companies are the same.

A client is not a client. There is the company and there's the person that brings you in. Both might have different goals. The person bringing you in might want to impress her boss to be promoted and needs you to help her overachieve. The company might need to hit a certain revenue goal. You need to understand those dynamics and then position yourself accordingly.

You mentioned defining 3-5 recommendations per month to work on for the customer. Why is that?

That's what I've seen possible to implement in my experience. Most bigger companies simply don't have enough resources to get more done. And, 3-5 implemented recommendations per month is actually a lot. That could be 36 to 60 improvements within a year, theoretically!

Granted, with "recommendations" I mean bigger projects, not optimizing 10 meta-titles. We're talking about technical things like fixing hreflang-tags, working on site speed improvements, or redirecting a bunch of pages.

Another important point to keep in mind is that sites and businesses change over time. It's an illusion to think that you come up with 50 recommendations and then work them off over time. Instead, what happens is that the customer picks a few recommendations and most of the rest never gets implemented.

Ross Hudgens explains how this is good for both the consultant/agency and the client as it makes for recurring revenue (and a potentially long-lasting relationship rather than a hit 'n run?). What do you think?

Ross explains that here (opens in a new tab). I think Ross knows his stuff as he runs a big agency himself. And I think he's right.

As long as the quality is kept at a certain standard, it's in the interest of the client and the agency to keep the partnership going as long as possible. It's a big hassle to find a new agency and much more convenient to have someone who knows your company well. For the agency, sustainable relationships bring in more revenue, which stabilizes the business.

What tools would you recommend using to efficiently manage this workflow? And how do you make sure your customer implements your recommendations according to your specs?

There are several sides of management: managing your own tasks, managing your recommendations to the client, and managing projects on the client-side.

In the end, you should use for yourself whatever you prefer. It could be something like Trello, Evernote, Apple Notes, or Email.

When it comes to managing between you and the client and the client's projects, you should try to accustom to what the client uses. If the client uses Jira, go with Jira. You want as little friction as possible because it can create a big overhead. In the best case, you can drive internal projects forward without your main contact having to interfere too much. I've seen consultants work with the client's devs right in JIRA to get things done. That's exactly what I'm talking about!

You have to show your work and results, of course! The client needs to see how much you do and what the impact of your work is. I like to use ContentKing for that purpose because it's easy to show what changed.

If you could give one piece of advice to SEO agencies, what would it be?

Get better at understanding what the client (the company and your point of contact) really needs!

If you could give one piece of advice to brands working with SEO agencies, what would it be?

Set your agency up for success!

Oftentimes, companies expect agencies to "just work because we pay them for it".

Don't make that mistake. Instead, take your time to onboard the agency as good as possible, give them the information and contacts you need, and specify what you actually want to get done. Better to invest more time upfront than taking forever for the agency to be effective.

Want to start doing Agile SEO?

Let ContentKing monitor your site for issues and changes, in real-time!

Steven is ContentKing's VP of Community. This means he's involved in everything community and content marketing related. Right where he wants to be. He gets a huge kick out of letting websites rank and loves to talk SEO, content marketing and growth.