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May 1, 2009

Why Most SEO Projects Fail and How To Fix Them

I started in SEO working for an agency that required an annual contract. Clients who wanted to hire them had to be prepared to pay in full upfront for 12 months of service.

That’s a heck of a commitment, isn’t it?

The worst part is that most of the time what the client was “buying” wasn’t clear.

Many of proposals read something like this:

“Acme SEO Consulting will optimize Client’s website for search engines using best practices and proprietary tools and techniques. Work may include the following:

  • Title tag optimization
  • Headline optimization
  • ALT text optimization
  • Keyword research
  • Keyword density improvements
  • Canonicalization corrections
  • Crawl testing
  • Robots.txt setup / maintenance
  • Broken link scans
  • Link building
  • Competitor research
  • Internal link optimization
  • PageRank sculpting
  • 301 redirects”

Whew, sounds pretty advanced, doesn’t it? For someone new to the world of SEO most of these deliverables may as well read, “Flux capacitor installation, GKC valve distribution correction, Removal of vermicious knids.”

The question most people are asking when they read a proposal like this: how do these things all add up to me getting a positive return on my investment?  How do they translate into more sales/leads/etc?

As an SEO I know that several of the bullet points above are often crucial optimization points. It’s my job to know which and when/where they’re required – and what the priority is to implement each one when it’s on the table.

There’s also a lot of muddy language in the example above that leaves the actual deliverables impossible to pin down. “Best practices,” “proprietary tools and techniques,” “work may include” – these are all nice ways of saying, “we’re not telling you exactly what we’re going to do.”

From an agency standpoint the argument is often, “well, if we give clients the detailed plan upfront won’t they just take the proposal straight to a low-cost competitor and get the same work for less?”

This is not a great attitude to take in approaching business relationships, is it?  “Well, these people could be trying to screw us so let’s tell them nothing.”

It also misses an important point: Internet Marketing needs are different for every website.

Projects Must Be Tailored for Unique Needs

Believe me, it would be great if every client that picked up the phone and called us or contacted us through our website fit into a cookie-cutter mold for SEO and other Internet Marketing services. Everyone would get the same work at the same cost and, most importantly, they’d all see the same positive results.

Happy, prosperous clients = happy, prosperous agency

Unfortunately that’s just not how it works.

The truth is that your website and needs are unique.

  • You’re in a unique market with unique competitors
  • You’ve been in business for a unique amount of time
  • You’re offering is one-of-a-kind (hopefully)
  • Maybe you’ve got an in-house email list, maybe you don’t
  • Maybe you’ve got an extensive profile of inbound links, maybe not
  • Your website might need a design/usability overhaul, or it may be beautiful, usable and brand spanking new
  • You could be running pay-per-click campaigns
  • You might have a blog or articles on your website
  • You may have web analytics installed or not – and for how long?
  • Perhaps you have staff in-house who can handle website updates and creating new content – on the other hand, you might need to outsource these

Sure, many of the principles of SEO and Internet Marketing apply across all, or most, websites and markets. But with so many variables and unique characteristics the work (and budget) required to reach your goals are always particular.
It makes sense, then, that any Internet Marketing company, whether they’re proposing SEO, pay-per-click, email marketing, web design or all of the above, should customize their offering to the client’s needs, doesn’t it?

How to Know What You’re Getting Into

You can probably tell where this is going. Any project, whether it be SEO or another form of Internet Marketing, should have specific strategies, tactics and timelines geared for your particular situation.

If you’re looking to hire an agency, a project proposal should be a plan and not a reiteration of the agency’s selling points. The litmus test here: does the proposal focus on you and your needs, or does it reiterate why you’d want to hire the agency, some of their general methodology, their experience, etc. Sure, that stuff is important too, but a project proposal isn’t about the agency – it’s about the game plan and how it’s going to help you achieve your goals.

Some of the questions that should be on your mind when reviewing a project plan:

  • What are the goals of this project?
    • More search engine traffic / exposure?
    • More leads?
    • More sales?
    • Do these goals make sense for your business model?
  • How will the goals be achieved?
    • What strategy the agency is proposing?
    • What are the specific deliverables?
    • What is the timeline for those deliverables?
  • Why will this strategy work?
    • What is the logic behind the strategy?
    • Has this strategy worked before?

Without the answers to these questions, isn’t it tough to know 1) what you’re aiming for and 2) how you’ll get there?

Imagine evaluating a year-long SEO project six months in. How are you going to evaluate the work that’s been done so far? How are you going to tell whether things are going well or not? If the plan or proposal was vague and listed lots of “possible” tactics/deliverables and no real timeline or goals it’s going to be pretty tough, right?

The basic reason most SEO projects fail

The essential reason most SEO projects fail isn’t because the work being done is shoddy (or the agency is just not worth their salt). That might be the case, but more often the cause of failure is the lack of a specific goals, strategy and detailed tactics/deliverables.

You can’t call something a “success” until you define that term. Take pains to understand upfront what your goals are for a project – and when an agency provides a quote make sure they’re addressing your goals, detailing the specific methods of reaching them and explaining logically why it’s all going to work.

About the Author Mike Tekula is the Director of Marketing at Unstuck Digital – a results-driven Internet Marketing agency that provides SEO Consulting, SEO Training and other Internet Marketing services.