An SEO agency can become a victim of its own success. Such agencies struggle to produce SEO results as they take on a growing number of new clients and expanded campaigns from current ones. One of the big problems these agencies must solve is how to go about creating a scalable SEO workflow; when agencies lack a scalable workflow, their staff gets bogged down trying to produce work and results for new clients on top of all of their existing clients. The result of this is poor performance, client retention issues, high payroll expenses — or all three. Let’s take a look at how to create a scalable SEO workflow so your agency doesn’t get caught in this trap.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you have the right job roles in place to manage your clients and the workload. Without this, your workflow will fail to produce results. At a minimum, there are three job roles your agency needs to have. Job title will vary at each agency. Here is a general look at each role and the responsibilities:
- Account Manager – client relationship, campaign goals/progress, expectation setting, content approvals, communication, meetings, reporting analysis along with obtaining access to the client’s website, Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Google My Business accounts
- SEO Specialist – research and analysis (keywords, on-site, link profile), analytics configuration, campaign strategy, target page/keyword selection, task selection/timing, content ordering/optimization, technical optimization and selecting links for removal
- Outreach Specialist – content asset strategy/production management, outreach communication and getting client website links published with a varying mix of brand/keyword anchor text
The First Month
To have the best chance at a successful SEO campaign, there are a number of tasks that need to get completed. The majority of these tasks can be done in tandem across different job roles, but some tasks are dependent on other tasks. Below is a list of the most important tasks that, in an ideal world, get completed within the first month of service for all new clients.
- Initial phone call to meet client, present questionnaire and request deliverables from client
- Get access to the client’s Google Analytics, Search Console and My Business accounts (or request the SEO Specialist to set these up if they don’t exist)
- Get access to the client website’s content management system and hosting control panel
- Kickoff presentation to walk client through your SEO process, meet the team, discuss campaign goals and set expectations
- Prepare base road map presentation for inputs that come from the SEO Specialist completing initial research and analysis work
- Complete research and analysis of on-site and link profile issues
- Fix any major on-site issues
- Send any links marked for removal to the Outreach Specialist
- Select initial page targets (probably limited to one to four pages based on client’s monthly budget)
- Complete keyword research for target pages
- Complete keyword strategy for target pages (these are your top keyword targets for each target page)
- Create a campaign strategy document
- Optimize target pages (title, meta description, header tags, body content and internal links)
- Complete research and analysis for a content asset to use for link building (see the Content Link Building Playbook for more information on this topic)
- Work with internal or external production resources to produce the content asset
- Build a large list of target websites for outreach that may be interested in publishing the content asset with a link back to your client’s website
- Begin outreach communication immediately after the SEO Specialist has the initial page/keyword targets ready, and the content asset is complete and approved by the client (see this white paper on Outreach For SEO to learn how to improve your outreach skills)
New Client Workflow
This diagram shows the five major steps of the new client SEO workflow:
At the start of the second month of service, the goal should be to have the majority of the client budget being allocated to the Outreach Specialist job role. The focus of the campaign now should be outreaching to websites to get them to publish the content asset with a link back to the target page using a varying mix of brand/keyword anchor text. The longer it takes to get the campaign to the last step, the longer the results will take and the lower your client retention percentage will be.
Resource Utilization Model
Under the above workflow, each new client will have a short-term spike in the Account Manager’s time usage. After the initial onboarding work is complete and the road map is set with the client, the new client will continually utilize a much smaller percentage of the Account Manager. The SEO Specialist role follows the same initial spike, but the ongoing time requirement is an even smaller percentage. Unfortunately, the Outreach Specialist role has the lowest degree of scale and each new client requires an increased amount of resources. The diagram below illustrates this resource utilization model for each job role.
Over time as you continue to layer on additional clients, your resources will become maxed out and new staff will need to be hired. However, each job role has a different level of capacity and scale, so you will not need to hire each job role at the same time. The Outreach Specialist will be the first job role that needs additional resources due to low degree of scale. The next job role to be hired will be the Account Manager. Lastly, the time will come to add additional SEO Specialists, as this job role has the highest degree of scale.
Existing Client Workflow
At this point, new clients should be moving quickly through the workflow to reach the Outreach Specialist, which essentially frees up the SEO Specialist role. There are two points when an existing client would circle back and require time from the SEO Specialist:
- Top performance has been reached for the target pages/keywords. Outreach time can now be reduced and reallocated to a new set of target pages. The SEO Specialist needs to work through steps three and four to identify and prepare the next set of target pages for the Outreach Specialist to focus on.
- The client decides to increase the monthly budget of the SEO campaign. This allows for additional target pages to be identified, optimized and passed to the Outreach Specialist to start link building to these new page targets. Again, the SEO Specialist needs to work through steps three and four to identify and prepare the next set of target pages for the Outreach Specialist to focus on.
This diagram illustrates these two points:
The Keys to SEO Scalability: Discipline and Training
Adhering to the workflow described in this post enables an agency to produce a consistently high level of work and results in an environment of dynamic client and campaign scope growth. However, implementing this workflow — and sticking to it — is easier said than done. After having taken a number of false starts ourselves in dealing with the challenges of growth, we have found these to be the most important factors to implementing a scalable workflow:
- Discipline — Leadership must avoid temptations to skirt its workflow rules to satisfy extreme client requests or staffers who tend to veer off course. By setting a good example and making sure everyone in the agency is accountable for successful workflow implementation, agencies can avoid most of the workflow bumps in the road.
- Training — Holding everyone in the agency accountable necessitates training — asking people to do something new without giving them a solid knowledge base and project management tools to support the campaign process will only lead to frustration and mediocre execution. A bit of patience is required, too — practice makes perfect.
As a final thought, growing SEO agencies should make a point of preaching patience to clients as well as to their staffs. A major cause of inefficient campaign management is the continual revisiting of strategy, tactics and goals driven by anxious clients. But clients need to maintain confidence in the plan and be gently reminded that SEO results don’t happen overnight. When clients give successful agencies the room to be successful, that’s when clients realize the greatest success themselves.