What is the role of an SEO agency in 2022?

By Aaron Rudman-Hawkins
January 11, 2022
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Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve seen the role of an SEO agency change beyond recognition. We started as the ‘website geeks’ who sit beside the IT team, with no one having a clue what we do or how we do it. We just “did that internet stuff”.

Skip to today, and we’re the highly regarded and well sought after creative digital marketing ambassadors for our clients. We speak to the decision-makers almost daily and are integral to many of their business decisions. We have massive influence and often monopolise most business marketing budgets through our digital channels.

It’s hard for many of those new to the industry to truly grasp this change as it’s completely different to just a few years ago, but that is the reality we find ourselves in and the pandemic only accelerated that change.

I wanted to share some insights into what I foresee the role of the SEO agency being in 2022.

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We’re digital business advisors 

One of the most valuable things we provide at Evergreen, in my opinion, is the business advice we give to our clients. We don’t even talk about ‘SEO stuff’ on those first few calls with the client. No, instead it’s all about them, their business, their plans and their goals.

Only once we understand where a business is and where it wants to go, can we then overlay the SEO side of things, if that is indeed what is needed. Sometimes it isn’t the right option and it’s important that we agencies are always honest and tell the client what is best for them – even if that means turning potential work away. We do this every month, without fail, for prospects that come to us.

Our role is to listen, truly understand, and then present ideas and options. We should use our SEO expertise to run scenarios, present hypotheses and explore the different options we have.

As SEO agencies, we cannot give any guarantees (we’ve never been able to). As I say to people regularly, Google is guarding all of the gates and holding all of the keys. It’s the internet godfather of SEO and that isn’t changing anytime soon. So we need to fall in line and listen to what Google wants in order to perform well. Fortunately, as SEO agencies we have a wealth of expertise, tools and data insights that can educate and inform our decision making. This gives us a degree of confidence in our recommendations that allows us to advise our clients on what is best for them and their goals.

Only once we have had the initial business conversations, are we then equipped and able to have the SEO conversation.

Let’s remember, we’re digital business advisors first, SEO’s second.

We’re digital strategists first and foremost

We all know that SEO success comes down to a blend of solid technical foundations, content, and links. That is to put it in its simplest form of course, but one very important element that is often lacking from SEO agencies is the iron-clad clear strategy behind that desire for content and links.

The role of the SEO agency in 2022 is going to take an ever-greater role in digital strategy, and this builds on my first point about being a business advisor. First, we need to understand a client’s business, then we need to build a clear digital strategy that aligns with their business goals.

I speak to prospective clients pretty much daily when running The Evergreen Agency. A high proportion of the clients we speak with, pitch to and ultimately end up working with have previous experience working with other agencies. When we get into their previous activity, I’m regularly amazed at the sheer lack of a plan, paired with lots of ‘doing’ and no clear road map, objectives or KPIs.

Our role as an SEO agency in 2022 will be to remember that we’re digital strategists first and foremost. We shouldn’t get into any of the ‘doing’ until we have a rock-solid strategy and crucially until our clients have bought into our ideas, plans and objectives.

This sounds simple enough, but you’d be amazed how many agencies are still approaching a client’s SEO campaign by defaulting to keyword research and a technical audit before they have had the conversation around what the client wants to achieve or their growth plans. Bonkers!

We’re creative thinkers

Go back a decade and the very idea that an SEO professional was ‘creative’ in any sense of the word was absurd. SEO agencies (or Internet Marketing agencies as we used to be called) were the technical people, we left the creative ideas with the creative or PR teams; content marketing teams weren’t yet a thing for the most part.

Thankfully those days have changed and now the SEO agency is not just allowed but encouraged to be as creative as possible in their output and work. In fact, we need to be creative.

One of the best things about the Internet and Google is that by default, it orders what it thinks is the best and puts it at the top of its search engine. For us SEO professionals, this means all we need to do is a quick Google search and we can establish what is the best out there right now for anything we want to rank for – brilliant when you think about it, eh?

We can use this research to help us decide how to be more creative, what kinds of creativity we should be considering and where it is going to work best. As SEO agencies, we should be creative in all areas of our business. We can be creative with our keyword and competitor analysis. We can be creative with our content ideas and our digital PR and link acquisition strategies. We can and should be creative at every touchpoint for our clients as this helps our clients stand out in a very crowded, very busy online world.

So, let’s remember in 2022 to be as creative as possible, let’s not default to a Keyword Planner for all of our ideas and on the client for content ideas because they know their industry best. Let’s put our creative hats on and have some fun.

We’re a sounding board

This is an important one. A big part of our role as an SEO agency is to listen to our clients and be a proverbial sounding board for their ideas. Don’t shy away from getting them on a call once or twice a month and just letting them tell you everything that is going on within their business. You’ll be amazed how often they are sitting on absolute gold, in terms of intelligence, which can feed into your content marketing and digital PR strategies.

Clients often won’t share their ideas unless asked and some will even need to be actively encouraged to open up. In 2022, SEO agencies need to work harder to make this happen, in order to see optimisation work at its best and make digital strategies so much more authentic by sharing, educating and offering insights that have come straight from the horse’s mouth.

Every SEO agency is fast-paced and there are always 101 tasks to be done. However, we all need to remember to step back from the ‘doing’ and engage in detailed dialogue with our clients, to let them speak at us, so we can extract those little nuggets we’d otherwise miss.

We’re an agony aunt/uncle

Sometimes SEO takes longer than we would all like. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we have to change tack and sometimes, things go pear-shaped (algorithm updates for example). The best SEO agencies (of which I’m including us as one of course 😉) place a huge emphasis on the relationship with the client.

We are their agony aunt/uncle and encourage them to share the highs, lows and realities of their business fortunes. When we partner with a client we’re asking them to trust us, to trust our plan, our expertise and strategies. When you consider the fact that a client will have often invested many thousands of pounds before they really start to see a great deal of movement, it’s no wonder that sometimes we need to put down tools and reassure them that we’re on target, the plan is going to plan and it will all work well, given patience and persistence.

This is something I have really tried to instil in the Evergreen team, and I’m proud to say that we do a pretty good job at being there for our clients, but it’s a good reminder for every business, freelancer, and agency alike, of the importance of being a human being for your client – not just a partner/supplier.

What’s the old saying: Client retention is 50% results, 50% the relationship/feeling the client has.

We’re there to care, support and encourage

Finally, I want to re-emphasise something I hold very dear to my heart in how we approach every client we work with at Evergreen and it’s something I don’t see nearly often enough.

Clients can sense a mile off if they are just a number on a spreadsheet. Despite every agency saying they care; the reality is that not all do and in 2022, I think we all need to look at how much we care about our clients. Are we investing in them as people? Are we getting to know them? Are we going above and beyond to give them little ‘wow’ moments?

The clients have an expectation that the work will get done, that is almost a given. Where we can really stand out in 2022 is by showing we genuinely care and are there to support them with their goals, vision and dreams.

The role of an SEO agency should be to encourage our clients to aspire to greater heights. The internet is an incredibly powerful tool at our disposal. As SEO agencies, we are perfectly placed to leverage this for the benefit of our clients and so we should be allowing them to dream about what might be and then equipping them with the expertise, insights and know-how to make that a reality.

So, there you have it, that is an overview of the role of the SEO agency in 2022, in my opinion. Do you agree? Disagree? Anything to add? I’d love to know, let me know in the comments.

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