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On today’s episode, we will be talking to Chris Boggs from webtrafficadvisors.com. This is the Ecommerce Marketing Podcast, episode fourteen.
Welcome to the Ecommerce Marketing Podcast. Today’s guest is Chris Boggs. Chris has been involved in digital marketing since 2000, helping dozens of clients directly with their SEO, paid search, analytics, and social media. He has spoken at conferences and partner events all over the world about search engine marketing, social media, and integration tactics—including the promotion of biter SEO integration across all marketing channels. Chris is also the cohost of the SEO Rock Stars podcast. Welcome to the Ecommerce Marketing Podcast, Chris. How are you doing?
Chris: I’m very well. Thank you very much for having me on, Robert.
Robert: So today we’re actually going to be talking about how businesses can better manage external agencies that are supporting their digital marketing functions. And since you’ve worked with a lot of clients, do you have any stories you can share about either your experience or some of your clients’ experience working with agencies?
Chris: Sure. And I want to make sure that I’m sort of giving both sides of the story here. As a consultant, in the past year, I’ve worked with a few clients, where I’ve helped them to understand potentially what would be construed as “the bad side.” For example, in one case, I had a client that had had an SEO agency working with them for a long time, and in the past, maybe five/seven years ago, they’d had great success, thus the agency became somewhat tenured and was still in charge of the SEO program. Upon finally wondering if something seemed to be going wrong and getting an audit, it was pretty easy to see that the agency had become tenured and really has missed some pretty major stuff, including a major algorithm update with Google.
So it’s important if you’ve had someone doing SEO for a long time, to make sure that they’re up to date and also that they’re still sort of carrying their weight.
I would secondly say another example would be, if you’re a traditional agency or someone that’s somehow upping someone’s marketing and you’re outsourcing SEO, there can certainly be different levels of quality that you’ll find in the outsourcing space, and the same thing can exist where either someone might become accustomed to being able to deliver a small amount of SEO for a small amount of money or potentially there might be a bad best practice going on where potentially they’re using tactic that are outdated. This can be a dangerous spot, and I’ve got a client that it was pretty easy to intensify that one of the agencies they were using to support their—they were outsourcing to for the SEO side of some of their clients was actually doing more harm than good.
Now, on the flipside, just to finish off, I want to let you know that you can have a lot of value with agencies. And it really is important to have teams on both sides that can work together. and I know we’re gonna speak through some questions related to that topic, but I saw one—in one agency that I used to work for, we had a client that was able to add a subject matter expert internally, and over a two to three year time period, primarily with SEO but then across other functions, he grew his team and it sort of mirrored the way the agency was delivering on the various digital channels for them. So it was very helpful for that enterprise organization to have something to model the way they structured their internal team, and then of course they were able to benefit from having a strong in house team plus a strong agency.
Robert: Okay, so I guess there a good and a bad with working with agencies. But the—I guess the main lesson here with you as the business owner, you have to be really on top of everything, yourself, in order to have a successful relationship with agencies.
Chris: Unfortunately, the old saying that—the only way to get it done right is to do it yourself is somewhat—I mean, obviously it’s an extreme and it can’t be true in itself. You have to at least be able to check yourself or trust someone that can check and be neutral, I think, order to make sure you’re doing the right thing.
Robert: Okay. And some of our listeners are brands that probably need an agency. Some listeners just handle everything themselves—so we can keep that in mind just to make sure we help both. But why would a business or brand need an external agency to handle their digital marketing?
Chris: Well, I’m glad that you prefaced that question the way you did, because as much as things can be handled in hours and as much as you can grow and gain tremendous acumen in-house because of the nature of being sort of in the pool in that industry, right—so it’s very valuable to be able to grow someone internally. However they may be growing in some of the marketing functions and industry understanding. Well, most agencies are growing at a pace that exceeds that because of the fact that they’re working with multiple clients. So especially if they’re working with multiple clients in a specific industry, they grow at a faster pace. So I would argue, having been on both sides, that the value of an agency is the fact that they’re typically—as long as they invest in thought leadership—are able to remain up to date with the best practices.
The other part of that is that they can provide muscle or manpower—or woman-power or whatever you want to call it—that can help deliver on some of the SEO work streams that may require some additional resources, such as some of the content marketing efforts or some of the social media related efforts. This is where an agency can act as an augmentation of your internal team as long as they work well together and will allow you to farm out some of the work that could take a lot of internal hours—and therefore corresponding internal taxes, internal healthcare, all the things you gotta think of from that perspective of when you’re doing stuff in-house.
Robert: Okay. And once you get started with an agency, how should you set the expectations? How can you set up expectations properly and then hold the agencies to that?
Chris: Okay, great, so there’s two types of expectations that should be set in those kind of relationships. And they’re typically quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative ones should be based against certain goals, and obviously in this day and age, if we’re not using data analytics to measure where we’re at and where we’ve been, it’s very hard to predict accurately and hopefully where we’re gonna go.
So one of the key things I would want to do in the onset of a relationship with an agency is establish some key performance indicators and some goals that are realistic. And that has to be a two-way communication. Neither side can be overly aggressive or overly conservative for the relationship to work properly. You have to set goals that are attainable but not a piece of cake. So I think that the expectations form the quantitative perspective are that.
The qualitative perspective really has to be ensuring that you have the right people in place to handle the job. If it’s a large organization or even a midsize organization where you might have an IT team and a marketing team and PR team that would be involved in SEO, then you want to make sure that you’ve set it up properly in your expectation setting in terms of communication. Because every contract that you’re gonna sign typically has a certain amount of hours allocated towards certain tasks. One of which should be the project management.
So I think there is an important part. We could go on for a while why setting expectation in terms of how many of the hours or what percentages of the money that the client is spending is going towards project management. Those are kind of the qualitative expectations, I would say, to set at the onset as well.
Robert: Okay, and once you’ve set up your expectations, how can you ensure that some of these agencies won’t just be taking you for a spin with some meaningless tactics that don’t even give you and real traffic or real performance?
Chris: So that’s all part of the communication. And I think the important part of setting up an agency relationship is that mutual trust. Part of the mutual trust in the SEO world is that an agency should be able to tell you if something they did a few years ago is not working anymore or is potentially even damaging. And that’s a known fact. In SEO, Google says to do one thing, and then two or three years later, they say that’s bad. And then another two or three years later—because people still haven’t heard the time they said it was bad—there’s enough people doing it, they turn it into a penalty.
So it’s a very exasperating world from that perspective in SEO that we all have to live in, both the agency and the client. So in order to make sure that you’re not taken for a spin with meaningless tactics, that requires open communication. You can to have your expert, or whoever your feel is the smartest person in the room on your side, as per se on the client, really communicate with the strategist on the agency side and, if possible, strategists that are involved in other digital marketing channels. So if you have paid media going on or social media, all these people should be talking. And if they’re not doing stuff that makes sense for your target audience, then you’re probably being taken for a spin.
One example would be if you’re creating content that seems meaningless towards the eventual conversation path of one of your clients. Now, in some cases, for SEO, you can argue that you need to build some semantic relevance for your theme. But the fact is that nowadays especially, Google and Bing’s algorithm look at how the content is consumed and how the experience signals that are pointed to it through social shares and links and so forth. So that’s still the main rue of SEO, and to make sure you’re not being taken for a spin, you have to communicate openly, make sure that the stuff that’s being done speaks to your target market, would not lead to a poor user experience, and also is focused on the goal of driving relevant, meaningful traffic to your website.
One other thing that I’d say there, Robert, is that there are—it’s important to set micro conversions. You can’t have this goal of being number one for one particular term because that’s gonna drive an anticipated X amount of visits of which that percent will convert at X percent. You also have to look—in SEO, again, especially, although the gap is narrowing in the time to fruition—you have to look at micro goals. At a certain point, you have a certain amount of unique pages that are actually driving traffic. And one you reach that goal, you can start to look at maybe some broader traffic goals and time on site.
So don’t set yourself, when you’re setting expectations and when you want to try to measure that tactics against them, don’t make it one really big expectation, because you’ll get lost in trying to measure the tactics. Does that make sense?
Robert: Yeah, it does. And form everything you’re saying, it seems like a lot of communication plays a big part between the business and the agency. There’s a lot of back and forth going on. So how can someone ensure that your team on your side is actually working efficiently and effectively with the agency?
Chris: Well, there’s obviously a different number of ways that you could align your work screams and processes to be able to have checkpoints for performance management. And I think that that’s something that is important. Because what will end up happening, and I’ve seen happen across agencies in both small business and large business environments, is that since it is such a multifaceted work stream, SEO, there’s things that get dropped, right. Things get dropped and lay in the corner for a while. So one of the most important things is to leverage a system that’s helping you manage the workflows. And whether that’s something that’s internally grown through Excel or some sort of a database, or if you’re using potentially a project management system, that’s a way to make sure that you’re actually working towards all the projects that need to be done in order to satisfy the micro goals and the main goal.
So having a tool, basically, is the short version of that answer.
And then what needs to happen is there needs to be a regular cadence of meetings. One of the things that I have actually been pretty outspoken against is having too many meetings. Because what ends up happening, and I alluded to it earlier, is that a number of hours will be spent that you’re paying for on meetings and having ten people in a meeting—and then it’ll take one or two people an hour, probably, to even schedule that meetings. So as a business owner, and you’re thinking about that, it’s “Why do I want to have meetings?” So that point has to be reached where the meetings are gonna be productive and they involve the right people talking to the right people.
So instead of having the whole agency team meet with the whole client team once a week or something, there should probably be smaller meetings happening at the technical level and then at the content level and maybe at the PR level and then there could be a broader meeting that happens every few weeks at the executive level. I would make sure, since most SEO contracts are six months to twelve months, that there’s at least a quarterly executive checkpoint, which should happen either onsite at the agency or onsite at the client where the executives can get together and the executive sponsor of the client from the agency side can take the client out to dinner—amongst other things.
But those kinds of meetings need to happen, because if there is a formal process and all the different layers of the company are working together with each other, then there will be effective and efficient work flow because everyone will be held accountable to each other at their level.
And I think that’s very key, because a lot of times, as I mentioned before, if something gets stuck and dropped in the corner and forgotten about, there’s usually one or two people that are involved with that that are becoming almost hurting feeling’d about it. So you have to understand there’s humans involved along with the tools, and making the right communication flows happen, as you mentioned, Robert, that’s key, will enable you to improve that efficiency.
The last thing is, obviously, the longer the relationship lasts, the more often it is that the client and the agency can get together. if they happen to be in the same town, that should be every couple of month that these teams are allowed to get together for lunch or something, especially if they’re going a lot of work together. if they’re out of town, maybe that’s one a year or, at the least, even a small agency and a small business should make it a point, I think, to me face to face once a year. And that really would be the final thing I would say towards promoting working efficiently and effectively.
Robert: Okay. And you have brought up tools a few times in some of the answers you’ve given. So I was just wondering, what are some tools businesses should be using to handle their communications and working with agencies? Do you have some that you can just mention or that out think are good that some businesses should be checking out?
Chris: Well, you know, there’s some ones that I’ve used across some number of clients. One of them would be called Basecamp. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that one. It’s a pretty popular one. Zoho.com has some as well. The thing about Zoho is it’s got the ability to work across project management and some of the other workflow type of tools that may be out there. There’s tools within our industry of SEO also that include and incorporate things. so LengthDex, BrightEdge, Conductor—all these enterprise level tools have the ability to incorporate workflow patterns, as well as assigning certain people to tasks and allowing certain levels of executives to see different dashboards within the tool that will show the level of completion and the level of implementation and things like that.
So if you’re talking about hardcore SEO, the ones that I just listed are very good for that. then the broader ones like Basecamp and its competitors, those are more along the lines of a broader project management tool that you can then use—Asana, by the way, is another one that I’ve used that’s pretty good. And then 37Signals is one that I’ve seen around. And then, lastly—just because I don’t want to make it seem like I’m giving any particular company extra love—I guess that’s probably all of them…
Robert: And what about if somebody’s interested in hiring an agency. Do you have any tips for them on where to find them? Are there directories out there? What should businesses be doing when they’re trying to look for an agency?
Chris: So there’s a lot of different ways to try to find agencies. Obviously, networking is very important. I had a recent client in Miami that needed to find a new SEO agency, and I just worked with them to essentially create an RFP, a request for proposals. It’s an important process to try to leverage if you can to at least have a basic set of questions that you’re gonna ask every agency that you may want to work with you or consider working with you. In the case of Miami client, I also thought it would be a good idea, since it was a local type of product or service, that they could potentially benefit from a local agency. So I worked with them to identify some quality agencies based on their reviews and other feedback that I was able to receive through my network. So, really, finding a reference or referral or asking for referrals, as well as having a set list of questions.
There’s a few recent articles that are put out there. They’re put out there every once in a while by some of the leaders in the industry. I can’t think of who just wrote one, but it’s something to the effect of “5 Questions You Should Ask Every Agency.” I think it might have been Stephan Spencer, actually, that put it out who’s a longtime contributor to our industry. But having a set of questions, asking them to all the agencies.
Don’t just ask one—last thing I would say. Don’t just fall so enamored with the first one that you meet that you don’t have something to compare them to. And then identify if you think you can trust them. We’ve been talking a lot in this episode about communication and the importance of communication and entrusting that the hours that you’re paying for are gonna go towards the best possible outcome. So that has to be part of it as well. So if you can develop that trust with someone over the phone and trust them enough to do this work for you, that is great and you should trust that ability. But if you’re typically someone that needs to see someone in person in order to make a decision like that, then I would actually require that as part of who you would want to work with, whether they were to come and visit you at least to make a proposal and make the deal.
Or even better—especially if you’re a local business that’s focused on attracting people in your area and you’re in a large metropolitan area—not that there’s not great SEOs in smaller towns. But typically, you’re gonna have a great pool to choose from. And look locally. Look locally and act globally, I guess you could say.
Robert: Okay. And actually, one last question came up. I was just thinking about some of the listeners who might not—they might want to do the marketing themselves, or maybe they’re not at the stage where they can hire an agency. What should they do? Do you have some websites or resources they should be working with to try and get the same type of performance that—it’s hard comparing them with people who are working with agencies, but how can they get some similar results but doing it by themselves?
Chris: Well, what by themselves means—either they have to devote themselves to becoming an SEO verses running their business, or they have to divert someone in their business to becoming an SEO, which is the more likely scenario. I would be very cautious, as a business owner, to just suddenly decide that you want to take over SEO and do it, because it’s gonna become frustrating and you’re gonna end up wanting to take shortcuts.
Outside of that, you can certainly identify someone that’s smart, maybe that has some technical abilities and background as well as marketing abilities. That’s a great mix if they have them both. And then have them learn SEO along with a tool, as well as courses. So there’s some conferences that are out there, there’s some programs that are well respected. I don’t want to name any of them rather than SEMPO, right now, because there’s a number of organizations within SEMPO that provide training and so forth. SEMPO is a Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization. I have been on the board of that organization for a long time and I’m currently vice president of programs, but amongst our membership, there’s a lot of providers of training. For example, we have a training page there.
So there’s other resources online that can guide you to training. Again, you want to make sure that the training is gonna be current and not something that’s five/ten years old or even two or three years old when it comes to SEO.
And then have that person—and trust that they’re gonna need to spend a fulltime job, at least for a while, doing SEO. Don’t just think it’s something you can add on to someone else’s work stream. That’s what I would caution. Whether it’s yourself as a business owner or someone else that you think can just go ahead and do the SEO too, because that’s a—in a lot of cases, it’s a faulty statement. Maybe you can do SEO fulltime or have someone do SEO fulltime for six months and then switch to more of a maintenance mode, but it’s gonna take probably six month if you’ve never done it.
Robert: Okay. And how can our listeners find you if they want to talk to you, learn more from you? Where can they find you?
Chris: Thank you—and that’s the other thing I would say that you would require of the SEOs, is that they become part of the community. And I certainly was very active within forums back in the day in the mid-2000s. I don’t know that those are as valuable anymore, but finding and acting in the community is an important thing. So @boggles is my Twitter handle. Webtrafficadvisors.com is my website and my business right now. So thank you, Robert, for allowing me to promote those.
Robert: Also, you forgot to mention that you cohost the SEO Rock Stars podcast.
Chris: You know what, I have to mention that. Especially Brandy Shapiro-Babin over there would very, very mad if I didn’t mention that. I love that show. I actually—it’s pretty much a weekly show that I do with Aussie webmaster, great friend and longtime veteran in the search industry. You can check us out on iTunes and IHeartRadio as well. It’s called SEO Rock Stars.
Robert: Any final thoughts, Chris Boggs? Have we covered everything? Is there something we missed to mention?
Chris: Well, there’s a lot more, right, Robert? And hopefully we’ve covered the high level in terms of the values and potentially some of the perils of working with an agency. It’s something that you can really probably benefit from. There’s the old saying, buy it or build it. So the agency is typically the buy it, but there’s nothing preventing you from building it from within while you’re buying it. So grow your team with an agency. Leverage the agency’s knowledge end the way the operate to learn how to perform some of the SEO tasks in house, at least, and that’s, to me, the best kind of relationship, the best long term plan in order to be able to reduce your cost and gain increased efficiency.
Robert: Okay, Chris, thank you for doing the podcast.
Chris: Thank you Robert! Have a great day.
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