What does it mean to be Agency of the Year?

In preparation for this year’s Search Engine Land Awards, we spent some time redesigning the Agency of the Year categories with the help of returning judges from our partner Clutch: Ilse Heine, a Business Analyst leading the SEO and SEM segments and Grayson Kemper, a Senior Content Developer, who leads SEO and SEM research and marketing.

As a result, in the 2018 Search Engine Land Awards program, the SEO Agency of the Year and SEM Agency of the Year awards categories  will further be divided into two sub-categories: Boutique and Large agency.

In addition, we further enhanced the entry criteria to include meaningful metrics around client retention, resource allocation, team development and innovation.

Heine and Kemper of Clutch spoke with the recipients of the 2017 SEO and SEM Agency of the Year awards –HigherVisibility (SEO) and WPromote (SEM)– on how they implement best practices, manage client relationships and employee resources to drive meaningful, award-winning results.

HigherVisibility: 2017 Agency of the Year – SEO

Founded in 2009, HigherVisibility now has 46 full-time ad 5 part-time employees and interns managing an average of 225 client projects (recurring and one-off consultations) annually.

Clutch: In your 2017 submission, you emphasized consistency and comprehensiveness as keys to success for an SEO campaign. How do you balance striving for innovation and ensuring that you deliver consistent results for your clients?

HigherVisibility: Google is constantly evolving. With that, our strategies and tactics must evolve as well. We are always exploring different tactics and methodologies to obtain maximum value for our clients. It’s an ongoing balance that we constantly strive for– experiment with different tactics and methodologies and hone in on the ones that drive the most value for our clients.

Clutch: SEO is highly technical, and clients often struggle to understand how an agency’s tactics translate to tangible results. How do you ensure your strategy is clear and transparent to the client?

HigherVisibility: That is the million-dollar question for agencies. One of the greatest difficulties faced by SEO agencies is explaining their value and properly setting the expectations of the results to the clients. We spend a great deal of time and resources on trying to get this right. We’ve found that the more you educate a client, walk them through the proposed strategies, and prove how your efforts have affected their bottom line, ultimately, the happier the client will be.

Clutch: You prioritize knowledge and continued education for your employees. What kind of ongoing education or training do you provide for employees?

HigherVisibility: We have invested a great deal of time and resources in building education into the foundation of our agency. Search engines are constantly changing and so are our client’s expectations. We believe that our commitment to education has brought tremendous returns for both campaign results and client satisfaction.

Conferences are one aspect of it. We have our own knowledge tests that we give all of our employees on a monthly basis, that are somewhat catered to their departments. We also have a general knowledge base that provides guidance for our employees if they get stumped or aren’t sure of a particular question. We also have ongoing training, and guest speakers come in with Learn at Lunches. Ultimately, the goal is to keep our employees engaged and stay at the forefront of the ever-changing industry.

Clutch: In a prior interview with a Clutch analyst, a client of yours commented, “SEO is an ever changing beast, but HigherVisibility has stayed on the forefront of those changes.” Can you elaborate on what key innovations your agency implements to both drive results and improve internal processes?

HigherVisibility: We are always testing tactics and strategies to identify those that consistently produce positive results, and try to incorporate them into our everyday processes. Some of these strategies are driven from internal research or based on a hypothesis; others are things we’ve learned in the SEO community at large.

Most of our innovation is focused around internal tools and data sets we’ve built. These allow us to do strategic analysis and understand how Google interprets particular websites or terms, and help give us a clearer picture of what needs to be done to help them achieve success.

Clutch: Many of the case studies you provided in your application mention that you structure campaigns according to your clients’ objectives. What sort of input do you typically have on what your clients’ overall objectives for SEO are?

HigherVisibility: Most of the clients that partner with us end up leaning on our input because they view us as experts. They put their trust in us to deliver their desired results. We try to meet their expectations, if they are reasonable, but we also try to educate them on why they may or may not be achievable. In general, we want to be upfront. We are not here to tell them anything is achievable. If we did, it would provide a bad agency/client experience, and that is the last thing we want.

Clutch: What did winning the Search Engine Land Agency of the Year Award mean to you / your business?

HigherVisibility: It’s a great honor to be named the SEO agency of the year since [the Landy Award] comes from leaders in our industry and those who understand the profession as we do. It has only been a couple of months, so only time will tell how much of an impact it will have. We’re excited about the opportunities this honor will bring.

Wpromote: 2017 Agency of the Year – SEM

Founded in 2001, Wpromote is now an agency of considerable size, with 317 full-time and 7 part-time employees servicing around 290 enterprise clients and 360 SMB clients annually.

Clutch: Your 2017 award submission mentioned that collaboration is ingrained in Wpromote, and that you always have multiple sets of eyes on all of your accounts. Can you describe the steps you take to ensure your team is collaborative and nurtures healthy client relationships?

Wpromote: We really want to understand a lot. If you’re looking for a partner in the business that is going to align with the ultimate business objectives, then I think we’re uniquely a good fit. The questions that we ask are deeper and broader, that really touch outside of the channels.

We don’t just ask for the account logins and the cost-per-action (CPA) goals. We really push and prod to understand what the business is doing. It’s more work, and sometimes we have to really get them to open up in a way that they haven’t with previous vendors. We ask for more access and data; we thrive on that from a decision-making process.

Clutch: One of the aspects of your award-winning campaign from last year included building out over 1,000 Google My Business listings. When faced with a project of this size, how do you spread this amount of work across your talent resources?

Wpromote: At this point, we have a pretty large team: about 350 total in SEO and some in paid search. We don’t have unlimited bandwidth, but enough to scope a fairly large project like 1,000 Google My Business listings.

We take big projects, break them apart into small manageable chunks, and move them methodically through from start to finish. We’re pretty good at task and process management, but ultimately we benefit from being a fairly large size at this point.

If we were significantly smaller, it would be a struggle. It would either take longer or you’d have to somehow bring on temporary resources to move it through. That’s really challenging because the quality of work when you have temporary resources is not as consistent, and there are a lot of collateral challenges that come with that.

Clutch: How do you add value to clients’ in-house teams to create effective SEM campaigns, like those that helped you earn recognition from Search Engine Land?

Wpromote: A significant portion of our clients have something that looks like a bandwidth- constrained internal team. However, those people tend to know what they’re doing. We thrive when there’s a team that has knowledge of what SEO is and how it can be effective. We help with the heavy lifting and smaller chunks of strategy.

We work really well with small, smart in-house teams. In some scenarios, they have outsourced all of their marketing and we are the marketing team. That’s great, in that we’re super valuable, but it also means that there’s not an evangelist inside the company that’s like, “This is really important,” and that can lobby for budget or for IT resources.

[Our work] spans from working with large teams where we provide additional execution to the other end of the spectrum where we are the marketing team. It’s usually somewhere in the middle. They have a small team that we collaborate with and we do the heavy lifting.

Clutch: In your submission last year, you credited your success to “tighter structure and reorganized spend.” What’s the key to success for effective spend in SEM?

Wpromote: The key to effective spend is, first, understanding the value of your customer. Let’s say I am optimizing an ecommerce environment to the first sale. I spend a dollar, I drive one person [to convert], and they buy $10 of stuff. That’s better than nothing, but ultimately, I am going to under-invest if I only look at the revenue today from a new user.

What I really should be looking at is something much closer to lifetime value. It doesn’t have to be actually a lifetime, it could be 12 months or 24, or even six weeks– something that’s richer than the results today. Looking at it from that time frame allows you to budget better, because you are looking at the value of a customer over a longer period of time, which is really the way that businesses should be valuing a customer given that data.

The closer you are to looking at lifetime value and equity, the better you’re going to do budgeting and ultimately, the bigger you’re going to be able to grow because you’re able to identify larger value customers.

Clutch: What did winning the Search Engine Land Agency of the Year Award mean to your business?

Wpromote: Well, I’d say internally our teams are super pumped. It’s something that we have gotten around and kind of talked about in the year in review.

From a marketing and business development perspective, it’s definitely going to become a part of our own PR, marketing and branding. From that, we hope to see some real, tangible leads that come in, and also help us close business because it’s a source of credibility that we’re excited about.

Want to see your agency ranked among the best in the industry? Start working on your application for the 2018 Search Engine Land Awards now. SEO and SEM companies with fewer than 25 employees qualify for the Boutique Agency of the Year awards; those with 25 or more qualify for the Large Agency of the Year awards.

To submit an application for your company, create an account here. The final deadline for all applications is April 13.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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Search Engine Land is a daily publication and information site covering search engine industry news, plus SEO, PPC and search engine marketing tips, tactics and strategies. Special content features, site announcements, notices about our SMX events, and occasional sponsor messages are posted by Search Engine Land.

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