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FEATURE: Choosing an SEO Agency Post-Penguin

by Jessica Lee, November 20, 2012

Audience: Site owners and website decision-makers

Estimated reading time:  5 minutes


  • Quickly identify red flags with conversations around links.
  • Ask questions that reveal whether the agency is in it for the long haul, or in it for the contract.

Choosing an SEO agency post-Google’s Penguin update brings about new criteria and discernment. There are certain “red flags” that a person must watch for, the most obvious being focus on attaining more links, without regard to quality.

Ale Agostini is managing director for Bruce Clay Europe. He recently took a minute to talk with us about choosing an agency post-Penguin, the SEO agency/in-house relationship, and the evolving results the European business community expects of search marketing.

Jessica Lee: You recently gave a presentation at a large tech conference in Europe about Google’s Penguin update, and how that’s impacting what types of SEO agencies businesses need to be looking for. Tell us about that.

Ale Agostini: Yes. It seems Black Hat link building in Europe has been widely used – probably as much as in the U.S. and maybe more. Now since Penguin, it’s a subject of discussion. I led a seminar where one part of the talk was how to judge an SEO agency in this new world of link earning, not link building.

So when someone is asking for a quote now from an SEO agency, promising 100 links is not a key performance indicator. We are trying to educate that the KPIs include traffic and more. And if you, as a customer, are talking about links in terms of quantity, and the agency agrees, this is a dangerous partner.

When someone is looking for an SEO consultant or agency, and they don’t know anything about it other than they know they have to do it, how do they go about doing that?

As a customer, you have to come up with a list of questions to try to figure out if the agency is just working to get the contract, or if they are working to become a long-term partner.

We can make the comparison between the human relationship and a partnership between an SEO agency and client. If an agency comes to you and says something like, “I will build you 1,000 links in a couple days,” this is probably a one-night stand relationship.

If they come to you with a plan, and they are going to look at the structure of your site, your competition and your content, this is probably more of a long-term relationship, a more “real” relationship – not just a quickie.

In the U.S., many agency clients are interested in getting their hands dirty; they want to learn and implement alongside their agency partner, what’s it like with clientele in Europe?

Ale Agostini.JPG
Ale Agostini of Bruce Clay Europe. 

Generally it depends on the size of the company. When it’s a small company with very few or no people working on their digital marketing, they just want the job done. They just want to get the results. If it’s a bigger company with a team in the marketing department, they are curious about learning how to do it.

You and I spoke maybe a year or so ago about the adoption of search marketing in Europe, and in Italy specifically. It seemed the publishing industry specifically was doing some heavy adoption. What’s that looking like now – what sort of businesses are doing search marketing?

In the last six months, for some reason, a lot of companies have started to build ecommerce. So now we are seeing that once they have built the store, they are looking for ways to bring people into it.

Ecommerce is growing in general in Europe, and I think this is also due to the Google Shopping development, which is becoming more important in the Google search results.

Mostly, adoption is very strong with any business where they see they can make money with search engine marketing. So I’ve seen dentists be very positive about investing money in SEO; I’ve seen companies in the publishing industry, which keeps growing because they need to get revenue from the traffic.

It’s a wide sample, and the criterion is: can they really find business leads online?

What sorts of things should SEOs be prepared for if they are looking to service clients in Europe?

In general, the level of knowledge of digital marketing in Europe is a few years behind the U.S., so first you have to understand if a customer has a good level of knowledge or not.

If they have a basic level of knowledge and they have never seen business coming from the Internet, most likely they will want to engage for a short time and be very careful with the budget.

On the other hand, if their level of knowledge is very high of digital business and SEO, they are most likely willing to have longer commitments, bigger budgets and more involvement.

Would you say that you have to do a lot of educating with your clients when they come on?

We adapt according to the customer. If we are talking with a more “advanced” customer, they will want training and very advanced services. If we are talking the “first try” customer, they don’t really see the need for training. They mostly need to understand very simple business concepts and awareness and that’s it, for example, I do this and then Google does that.

We notice here that when clients go to our SEO training, they really begin to realize everything that’s involved, which in turn, infuses trust into the business relationship. When you educate clients, do you feel that impacts the length of the business engagement?

Yes, normally when they receive the training, the relationship is more stable and goes longer … until the new guy comes in who is responsible for the company’s digital marketing and wants to change everything [laughs].

You can catch up with Ale on Google+, on Twitter @Agostini_Ale or on his blog at

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