SEO and Why Your Agency Sucks at It

More often than not I’m talking to a prospective client or a colleague and they tell me that they’re working either with an agency or in-house on SEO. What comes next is something I really hate to hear, because it pretty much boils down to, “We have no idea how SEO actually works, but we want to seem like we’re doing it.”

The most typical type of services you’ll see advertised from “SEO Agencies” can be summed up as providing the following:

  • Ongoing technical analysis of your website to find SEO related issues that will require development resources to fix.
  • Content recommendations
  • Monthly reporting

Sometimes you’ll see actual content creation pitched as part of this, with the agency either “working with your internal content team” and/or “creating X pieces of content per month” on your behalf.

That is not how proper Search Engine Optimization works!

While the above items are items that you would expect to receive from a SEO agency, they are lacking one key thing: LINK OUTREACH AND CONTENT SYNDICATION!

Every year you can go to Moz or Majestic or AHREFS or any number of respected SEO companies/software providers and they’ll publish a “What to do in 20– for SEO” report. It will have dozens of “signals” that will give you a reading of how you should be working on increasing your rankings. While there are dozens of items like optimizing page load speed, using, or making your site accessible, there are really three basic things you need for good SEO:

  1. Strong Technical Structure: This means your site is accessible, mobile friendly/responsive, fast loading time, etc.
  2. Great Content: You don’t just write content, you write the most compelling, authoritative content there is!
  3. Links: This means both internal and external links, though the premium is on external links.

Link building is far and away the hardest thing to do in SEO and it is what separates charlatans from actual practitioners, regardless of whether you work at an agency or in-house.


Because about 99% of the content you read online is vanilla junk that belongs on Pinterest next to stupid memes that will be forgotten in a week. That’s mostly what “SEO agencies” these days peddle – bad content that they promise will rank you. The problem is you have thousands of other companies that are making the same lame content that no one wants to read, so how in the world would anyone want to link back to, “Three ways to beat the summer heat” posted online from a company that sales candles online?

The answer is no one wants to link to that. Never. Ever ever ever. Because it sucks.

If you do not have compelling content, I as a marketer cannot effectively provide link outreach/earning on your behalf, and it means you will never achieve the dream of having tens or hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors for “free”.

What is compelling content, then?

Great question, let’s look it up in the dictionary:

  1. evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.
  2. not able to be refuted; inspiring conviction.
  3. not able to be resisted; overwhelming

Please take a moment to look at your blog or the last article/post/whatever you posted on your site and ask yourself if any of it is evoking interest, not able to be refuted, or overwhelming?

Odds are it’s probably none of those things. It’s middle of the ground content where a writer was instructed to use X number of words and mention your desired keyword phrase Y% of the time.

And no one in the world will ever share it because it’s just not good.

The Three Things you Need for Compelling Content:

  • Position Yourself as a Leader. Most companies shy away from any type of controversy – you should embrace it. If you’re in real estate, talk about when you think the next housing crisis will be, if you’re in finance, talk about how piss poor people are at saving money and how it’s their own damn fault – basically take a stand and say something that may be unpopular, but stokes conversation.
  • Be the Actual Authority. One thing I always ask new clients is “Who do you think ranks for the keyword phrase, ‘World War 2’?” Most of them are able to answer correctly ( Wikipedia ranks for a vast array of non-commercial terms because it goes so incredibly deep on a subject. It doesn’t only have 1,000 words on World War 2, it has thousands of links discussing the history leading up to the war, the Allies and the Axis, every single player and their entire background, and so on. They are the authority. You need to do the same, knowing full well that you probably work in an industry that is so boring only ten people alive want to read your two thousand word write-up on ‘Canning Technology for Grocers‘.
  • Balance ‘Compelling’ Against ‘Evergreen’. As stated above, most industries are really boring. Healthcare is boring. Finance is boring. Automotive and education and real estate and SaaS are all terribly boring. That means you create evergreen content about “What is a Business Line of Credit (LOC) Loan?” for where you want people to land and compelling content like “The 2020 Recession Will Make you Lose Everything!” for your syndication and link outreach efforts.

Lest you think me to be full of it, I wanted to share the results of a client that Serious A has been working with since March 2018 that has followed our advice on all of the above. Below are two screenshots, one showing organic results for 2017, one for 2018, and one for 2019 Year to Date (YTD).

  • This client has a high period of activity in October and November each year, which will explain the spike and drop in 2017 traffic in November (also we think they had some technical issues)
  • Serious A engaged with this client in April 2018 and shifted direction beginning in May 2018.
  • 2017 to 2018 saw a year over year increase of 29,222 to 56,643 organic visits (nearly doubling activity).
  • 2019 – WOW! – Year to date we are just under 250,000 visits and anticipate breaking 300,000 by year end. That’s a 600$ lift over 2018 and nearly 1,000$!

2017 Results (crappy agency that didn’t do what I’ve outlined):


2018 and 2019 YTD Results (Serious A, the awesome agency for SEO):


To summarize, please remember that just because you have someone on your team or an agency that is “doing SEO” doesn’t mean you’ll see results. SEO is very hard to do properly and there are of course many other things to worry about than just the three points above. Just make sure you have someone up to bat that knows how to hit a homerun for you, not someone that will only ever strike out.