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November 14, 2012

Making the Search Agency House a Home: Moving to a Place of Communication

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Moving is one of my least favorite and most favorite things to do all at the same time. First, you have the laborious process of finding that place you really want online. And then actually going to those places that make the cut just to find out that most of them don’t meet your expectations.

Hands in the Shape of a House

Your new agency home and relationship is a team effort.

And when you find “the one,” you immediately get starry eyed, and think about all the possibilities that lie ahead – many of which are true, and many of which are expectations viewed through rose-colored glasses.

But when it comes down to it, the real purpose of moving is that you’re making progress, you’re embracing change and you’re starting fresh, with new perspective.

I recently made the decision to start looking for a new place. I’ve moved many times in my life, so I’ve created guidelines in my head for what I want and don’t want in a new home. But I am also a realist, and know that to get some things, you have to give up others.

All of those hopes, concerns, expectations and realities of picking up your things and moving to a new place are also what a lot of people experience when they choose a search marketing agency.

Whether it’s their first time or their fifth time, each beginning brings a sense of positive change and a whole new set of expectations.

So just like looking for a new place to live, taking the time to choose your search agency wisely is the key to happiness. Let’s look at some of the things you can do before you start a new relationship with a search marketing agency.

Put the Time in to Find the Right Place for You

Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, it’s a pain. But making impulse decisions about that agency relationship – especially if it’s long term – can turn out very badly. So put in the time to find what you need to know prior to the initial conversation with the agency.

And look at everything with a discerning eye. Sometimes the surface looks great, but when you give a second glance, you might find something that seems a bit “off.”

Take this apartment listing I found on Craigslist:Craigslist Apartment Listing

Who doesn’t want sunny and bright? I know I do. So, I clicked through and got this:

Craigslist Apartment Building Image

At first I was blinded by the ultra sunny Pleasantville-esque sky. And if you were in a hurry and didn’t use a discerning eye, you may not have noticed they Photoshopped the crap out of it. You also may not have noticed the creepy Alfred Hitchcock vibe with the gray, sterile façade and dead trees just below that ridiculously blue sky.

My point is, listen to what the agency is saying about itself, and look closely at the brand to make that initial assessment. With that apartment listing, they made claims about something they are that is the exact opposite of what they really are. That within itself is a red flag.

Here’s a couple tips for getting to know a brand online:

  • Check out the website, dig around, do they offer value on their site to their audience aside from just having a façade? Do they offer any solutions you can take with you right then and there (as in, the form of content)? Do they give straightforward and clear information about what they do and who they are?
  • Are they making overt promises? Are they promising rankings and/or over-the-top results? Of course, it’s natural to have case studies and talk about wins, but just keep your discerning eye on what those results are.
  • Does anything feel off? If so, what? It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a dumb question or not, note it and be sure to ask the agency about it when you have the initial conversation.
  • Do they have any sort of community to speak of in social networks like Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook, or do they contribute to other communities and forums to demonstrate thought leadership? It doesn’t mean the agency doesn’t do great work if they aren’t engaged socially, but it does potentially say something about how connected to and active they are in their industry.
  • Do they have any reviews, and can you trust those reviews? Get referrals if need be from past or current clients. And don’t just trust a star rating, either (some people spam those).

Know What You Want, Be Willing to Compromise

Do you know what you want out of your agency? I mean, do you really know? Chances are that if you’ve been around the block with vendors, you have that little list of things you want and don’t want that’s been formulated from experience. Just like I do when I go apartment hunting.

On the other hand, you may have no idea what you’re looking for other than you want results. And results are part of it, but there’s often other nuances about the relationship and the process that are equally as important.

These are the things you may not find out about until months into the business relationship, when you start to notice those cracks in the new paint. And oftentimes, those cracks were already there, you just didn’t see them because you had those rose-colored glasses on. And it wasn’t even the intention to hide those cracks in the first place.

Man with Rose-Colored Glasses

Are you wearing rose-colored glasses when you start a new agency engagement?

So when engaging in a new search agency relationship, communicating these expectations out loud with your internal team, and then out loud with your prospective agency is an important part of finding that fit and setting expectations.

Some things to consider:

  • How the agency will work as an extension of your team – the workflow, the process. Every company has operations that are unique to it. Both the agency and the client need to communicate how they work, and find a middle ground that satisfies both users in terms of deliverables, communication and so on.
  • The kind of relationship you want – the type of communication, the give and take. Define what you want to use your agency relationship for. Is it to tap into creativity that perhaps you are lacking on your team? Is it to use them as a sounding board for new ideas? Is it to act as a checks and balances for the procedures you have in place? Let your agency know, so they are in the right mindset to deliver what you need.
  • How you define results, how the agency defines results, and then understanding and agreeing on it. The idea of what the results are may evolve and change over the course of the engagement, but it’s important to understand the expectations. It’s the agency’s job to understand what results are expected, and then use education to set the tone for a more realistic approach if they are too “pie in the sky.”

After you’ve given some thought to these, know what and when you’re willing to compromise. Just like any new home, no business relationship is 100 percent perfect. Know the things you are willing to let go of in order to get those other things you’ve prioritized as important.

And be realistic. Search marketing will not fix all your business problems, but it can help bring them to light and offer better solutions than what you’ve had prior. The relationship you have with your agency can help you identify those not-so-obvious problems. You know, those things you would be able to see if you hadn’t “lived in that place” for so long? Just like moving to a new place, new perspective brings about new ideas.

On both sides of the relationship – the client and the agency – be sensible about compromise. The ideal backyard may not be waiting for you at your new place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a lovely, comfortable home there with a lot of indoor plants.

For more in the in-house and agency relationship, stay tuned for this month’s SEO Newsletter, publishing next week, which will dive into all aspects of the matter. If you haven’t already signed up, do it now so you can be the first to know!

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