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Whether for the first time or the tenth, reducing the ramp up period when onboarding a new SEO agency is going to save you time and money. Plus, an effective onboard process lays the path to a productive partnership.

There are two parts to effectively onboarding a selected new agency:

1. Educating your agency about your business, and
2. Understanding their process, workflow and digital strategy for your business.

Here you’ll find a checklist and expanded description of the checklist items for both steps.

Search Agency Onboarding Checklist

1. Educating Your New Agency

At my agency, we use a new-client questionnaire to build a brand brief for each of our clients. Whether you or your agency compiles the brief, the end product should provide clear answers on your audience, marketplace, competitors, marketing strategy and history, unique differentiators, and success metrics.

To work well together, you and the agency need to get to know one another. You’ll want to share how you work and learn everything you can about your new agency’s processes. Even before your first meeting, put together a brand brief about your business to give to your agency.

Here’s your checklist for educating your new agency about your business:

✓ Company overview
✓ Value proposition
✓ Competition and positioning
✓ Goals and KPIs for digital marketing
✓ Analytics setup and KPI tracking
✓ Website hosting and CMS
✓ History of marketing campaign service providers
✓ Audience
✓ Brand voice and messaging
✓ Writing style and tone
✓ Types of content
✓ Any other context

Company overview: Along the way from interviewing the prospective agency to inking the deal, you’ve given the 30-second elevator pitch of your business to people at your new agency, for example, their sales team. This brief introduction is a great way to assure communication of your company’s background to your new agency’s operations team.

Value proposition: What sets you apart from anyone else in your industry selling a similar product or service? What values do your customers hold when they align themselves with your business?

Competition and positioning: Who are your main competitors that court the same audience as you do? How do you position yourself as distinct within your industry?

Goals and KPIs for your digital marketing: What concrete and defined goals would you like accomplished through your SEO and digital marketing activities? What will you use to measure project success?

Analytics setup and KPI tracking: What analytics software is in place to track the accomplishment of your goals and KPIs? What formal conversions and microconversions are being tracked in your analytics setup?

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Website hosting and CMS: How and where are your website hosted and content managed? Will your SEO agency have access to the system?

History of marketing campaign service providers: Who have you worked with before — agencies and vendors — for content, SEO, SEM, web development, design and other digital marketing work? Can you summarize the projects and what worked and didn’t work about them? Be sure to explain if you’ve ever suffered a traffic loss.

Audience: Describe everything you know about your customers — demographics, what they value, what they need and want. Of course there could be a few different types of customers to talk about.

Brand and messaging: What exercises have you performed to clearly state what your brand stands for, and what voice and messaging do you use to convey it in graphics and text?

Writing style and tone: Speak to humor, authority, stories, complexity of language — what guidelines can you convey to your SEO agency that communicate the tone of the brand? Inform them of any words that are taboo.

Types of content: What do you want your agency to know about the content you’ve created in the past? What do you want them to understand about competitors’ content you’d like to either emulate or avoid?

Any other context: If there’s anything else of note to convey to your agency, this is the place to include it.

2. Understanding Process, Workflow and Strategy

Step 2 of onboarding a new agency is finding out their process and workflow in order to create an expectation for receiving deliverables and responses for requests. You’ll need to get a concrete outline of the search strategy they will be using for your site.

Soon after selection of your agency, you want to become familiar with the inner workings and processes of the analysts and others assigned to your production team. Expand your knowledge of the selected agency beyond the salespeople you’ve been speaking to up till now.

Here’s your checklist for understanding the agency’s process, workflow and strategy that will be driving your search campaigns.

✓ What is the timeline of deliverables?
✓ How often is the project plan updated?
✓ How often will they be in communication?
✓ What processes do they have for editing your website?
✓ What schedules and forms do they have for reviewing new content and design changes?
✓ How do their capabilities for implementing recommendations align with your needs?
✓ What commitment to service do they make?
✓ Is your SEO a senior or a junior analyst?

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What is the timeline of deliverables? When can you expect to see the project plan, have scheduled calls, and receive audits and reports? Do they run in sprints? You want to understand their tactical scheduling.

How often is the project plan updated? As a living and evolving document, at what interval will the project plan be updated? This is strategic in nature and will be key to accomplishing your project goals and KPIs.

How often will they be in communication? What is the communication cadence of your agency team members? How often can you expect to hear from them? How quickly can you expect to get responses from them when needed? Is there a dedicated point of contact for your project?

What processes do they have for editing your website? Do they work through your staff to avoid errors? By a similar turn, what do their processes look like for evaluating links, server performance and other SEO levers?

What schedules and forms do they have for reviewing new content and design changes? In what format can you expect to receive new content or site edits? How are recommended changes tracked as the document passes hands?

How do their capabilities for implementing recommendations align with your needs? Who and what is available to provide labor and resources regarding education, mentoring, development, content and so on?

What commitment to service do they make? What assurances do they give about your dedicated staff and about meeting your KPIs?

Is your SEO a senior or a junior analyst? How many years of experience do members of your team have? As a point of context, Malcolm Gladwell famously said it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become an expert.

Keys to a Good Partnership

It’s been said before, but the key to a lasting relationship is communication. Ensure you’re communicating with your partner and they with you, and come prepared to do the work to see the gains you want.

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We can help your team as an invested partner in your SEO success. Our services are tailor-made to match your goals and audience. For results-driven digital marketing, let’s talk.

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