10 Growing Pains That Ambitious SEO Agencies Experience (With Solutions)

Do you have ambitions to grow a hugely profitable and successful SEO agency? These are the problems that you're likely to experience along the way - and how to manage them.

Last Updated: July 3, 2020 by Ruth Gray

The early days of starting an SEO agency are more often than not filled with optimism, excitement, and a feeling that you could take on the world.

You’ve got the knowledge, you’re confident that you can deliver the rankings that so many business owners desperately desire, and your venture seems like the perfect opportunity for achieving professional fulfilment and financial success.

The leads start coming in, you’re securing your first contracts, and you’re busy getting down in the trenches with delivering those first page rankings.

But inevitably, there are challenges ahead. There are bumps in the road, minor disappointments, and problems that will sometimes seem unsurmountable to contend with. Knowing what these are likely to be – and knowing how to deal with them – is key to coming out stronger on the other side.

With years of experience working closely with fast growing, gutsy, and determined SEO agencies, we know first hand what these growing pains often look like – and more importantly, we know the solutions.

Whether these are battles that you’re up against right now, or ones that you’re anticipating in the future, we’re going to share our actionable advice for pushing through and creating a more powerful, profitable, and efficient agency…

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1. Blogger outreach and link building becomes a massive time drain

It’s only when you’ve worked hands-on in blogger outreach and link building that you realise how time consuming and laborious it can really be.

From identifying suitable sites, to conducting email campaigns and negotiations, to creating the content, to handling all the admin and getting everyone paid on time, this essential part of SEO can quickly spiral into more than a full time job for even the most efficient of teams.

Doing all of this in-house presents a wide range of problems for growing agencies, from recruiting and upskilling the right talent, to consistently meeting your link building quotas with a small team.

The solution: Outsourcing these elements of your SEO practices will give you the flexibility you need to thrive, and ensure that your in-house team can work on high level strategy and remaining accountable to clients.

With this scalable approach, you won’t have to worry about additional recruitment or offering long term, permanent employee contracts when you’re not convinced that you’re ready.

Here are Get Blogged, we have no minimum order value for our link building services, and you’re never tied into a lengthy contract. You can order as much or as little as you need each month, making us the savvy choice for small agencies with big ambitions.

2. It’s tough to find experienced SEO talent in many localities

The history of SEO can be traced back to the mid-1990s, but it’s still a relatively new profession and a niche discipline.

Research by Interquest Group found that there are currently 6542 SEO professionals operating in the UK, and 30% of them have changed jobs within the past year.

A rather small talent pool and relatively low long-term job retention within the industry means that recruiting and retaining the right people, especially in smaller towns and cities, can be a real problem for SEO agencies.

The solution: If our time in lockdown has taught us anything about the world of work, it’s that more of us can effectively work from home, and there’s less and less need for daily face-to-face contact between teams.

Though you’d imagine that the digital marketing industry would be aware of this more than any, it’s evident that there’s still often a bums-on-seats mentality that convinces agency owners to believe they need flashy offices and inflexible 9-5 contracts.

From Zoom to Slack, there are plenty of solutions to manage workforces remotely. Leaning into this way of working is likely to save you a considerable chunk of cash, as well as allow your agency to tap into a worldwide talent pool.

3. Your clients expect the world and are disappointed when you can’t deliver

Anyone who’s worked in SEO for longer than five minutes knows that it’s never a quick fix. It’s a long term strategy that requires testing, tweaking, and most importantly, patience.

If you’re onboarding clients who are expecting millions of pounds in sales overnight, you’re setting yourself up for big problems.

The solution: It’s easy to blame clients for unrealistic expectations and a lack of understanding about how SEO really works, but it’s important to recognise that your communication from the offset will set the tone of the relationship, and it’s your job to manage their expectations.

If this is becoming a problem in your agency, take a step back and look at your lead generation and sales processes. Have you educated your clients on what they’re really buying, and what they can expect from you? Do they understand the agreed deliverables, and what they really mean? Does your sales team understand what they’re selling, and how it actually works?

Of course, you want your marketing to be compelling and showcase what you’re capable of, but there’s a careful balance that needs to be struck.

4. A Google update wipes out your clients’ rankings overnight

A Google update can strike fear into the hearts of even the most competent and experienced SEO professionals, and it’s inevitable that at some point in your career, an update will come along that appears to have a devastating impact for particular clients.

If not managed effectively, an incident like this could cause irreparable damage to the relationship you have with your client, and may spark the end of your time working together.

The solution: Communication is key here.

In cases when you know in advance that an update is coming, let your clients know what they should expect, and what your plans are to mitigate any problems.

In the case of unexpected updates, the same applies. Communicate what you know, and assure the client that you’re putting plans in place.

Google updates and their consequences will impact all SEO agencies, but when handled correctly, they don’t have to signal big issues with your client relationships.

5. You’re experiencing friction with your clients’ in-house marketing teams

When you’re working with a client that already employs marketing professionals, there’ll sometimes be some understandable wariness from the team.

They might be concerned that you’re going to add a whole load of extra work to their schedules, or they might be fearful that your role could impact their job security.

If left ignored, this kind of issue can make your job much harder than it needs to be, and it’s not conclusive to delivering great results.

The solution: This is another relationship that requires some careful management.

If you want to get the team on your side (which of course, you do), then consider how you can help these employees to look good in the eyes of their bosses. If possible, encourage them to take ownership of a project that has a direct business impact.

Again, communication is really key here. Keeping everyone in the loop and making it clear that you’re all working towards a common goal will go a long way towards assuaging their fears and doubts.

6. Your clients are leaving to go elsewhere

The reality here is that clients will sometimes leave. There’s not a single agency out there that will manage to retain every single client they ever have, regardless of the quality of their work.

It is important to recognise though that keeping a client is often much easier (and indeed much cheaper) than finding a new one, and if you don’t have a client retention strategy in place, it’s probably time to consider creating one.

The solution: When clients are heading off to pastures new more often than you’d like, you need to ask yourself some difficult questions. Here are a few that are worthy of your consideration:

  • Are you regularly welcoming feedback from your clients? And most importantly, or are you using it to make positive changes where possible, or are you treating it as more of a box ticking exercise?
  • Are you effectively managing your clients’ expectations?
  • Is your reporting process really giving clients what they want and need?
  • Are you quick to resolve issues when they arise?
  • When a client leaves, are you finding out the real reasons why? You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know why it exists
  • Are you showing your clients that they’re appreciated?
  • Are you regularly and genuinely seeking to improve the client experience, at every step of their journey?
  • Are you rewarding their loyalty? If not, how could you do this in the future?

The answers to these questions may create quite a lengthy to do list for your agency, though the work will often have an extremely positive return on investment when you get this right.

7. You don’t have the capacity to take on any more clients, but you’re still receiving leads and enquiries

This one may well be a good problem to have, but it can be hugely frustrating for agency owners when you’re receiving interest in your services that you just don’t have the capacity to fulfil.

The solution: Again here, outsourcing is your friend.

Having external providers take care of tasks such as content creation and link building will allow your core team to focus on strategy and managing client relationships.

8. Your clients don’t fully understand what you’ve delivered for them this month

Regular and meaningful reporting is essential for gaining and maintaining the trust of your clients.

Do remember though that their understanding of SEO and its terminology is different to yours. They’re outsourcing it for a reason, and it can be all too easy to cause unnecessary confusion by bombarding them with industry lingo and data that they don’t understand.

The solution: What your reporting process will look like will largely be linked to the other systems that you have in place in your SEO agency, but remember that your reports should be designed in a way that makes sense to your clients, that allows them to see progress against key agreed deliverables, and ensures that they’re informed and satisfied.

Strong reporting can play a big part in retaining your clients and keeping them happy, so it should never be a last minute thought at the end of the month. Ideally, there’ll be a team member with dedicated responsibility for managing and delivering the reports for particular clients.

9. Your expenses are spiralling out of control

Savvy SEO agency owners know that revenue and sales are only one part of the story. If your expenses are spiralling, it’ll be tough to remain profitable.

Of course, some expenses are essential. There’ll be software and tools that are necessary to carry out the job, you have to pay your talent, and oftentimes there are day to day running costs of office space.

The solution: For maximum profitability, it’s useful to take a step back and consider whether your ways of working could be optimised.

Do you really need an office that everyone physically attends five days a week, or could you better leverage online systems to allow your staff to work from anywhere in the world?

Would outsourcing provide you a better return on investment than growing your core team?

10. You’re repeatedly being asked to take care of additional projects, like social media management

When clients want to give you more money for taking on more tasks, it can be hard to turn that down.

You might be inclined to think that it’s a natural progression that will facilitate growth, or you might reason that you could always outsource it if you don’t have the knowledge or expertise in-house.

That is indeed the route that many agencies will take, and of course sometimes it’s a positive outcome.

But widening your scope isn’t always the road to sustainable growth, and there are associated problems that need to be considered. These can include overpromising and underdelivering, risking your reputation, and ultimately biting off more than you can chew.

The solution: Take the time to really consider where you see your agency going from a strategic point of view, and carefully assess whether your day to day decisions are aligned with that.

Do you see your agency growing into a full service digital marketing company? Or do you want to be known as a more niche, focused solution?

There aren’t right or wrong answers here, but these are considerations that you’ll have to make as you grow.

Growing pains are often unavoidable as you build your agency, but recognising the ones that you’re likely to experience, and having a plan in place to mitigate them, goes a long way towards ensuring they don’t scupper your growth.

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