Want to know a secret about every growing digital marketing agency I’ve ever seen, including mine? Great ideas don't always scale to all clients.
We execute inconsistently.
Surprise! You hired individuals, humans actually, and they take days off, leave companies, and forget things - even with the best of intentions.
Those individuals are, hopefully, plugged into a way of thinking and a set of values at a company –called an agency. Ideally, their shared approach and values help you to win in your digital marketing efforts, but people come and go, remixing the team for good and bad.
But when 100+ people can at any time dropping an innovative idea in slack chats and loom videos, there's no good / easy / efficient way to make sure all clients get reviewed for the value of those ideas.
I decided I wasn't going to let that be me anymore.
A shared approach from a founder doesn't mean that everyone thinks & executes similarly. Common values and processes are just there as guiding principles -- not a rote process followed to-the-letter. That leaves no room for creativity or innovation. And what's the point of that?
Flexibility vs. Consistency
Great agencies have tension between being flexible and consistent / predictable:
You need people who listen to the client’s needs and pivot to meet the client where they are. These people think independently and sometimes break processes or invent a new way to win for a client. This is what you should want.
To succeed, you need teammates like this. You want teammates like this.
If you aren’t finding ways to do things differently than everyone else, then you don’t have a unique value proposition (UVP). If that’s the case, then your other option is to stand out from your competition on pricing – which is fine too, but it’s not the game I wanna play.
Teammates who wake up to follow your process 100% and don’t deviate from a standard template will feel rigid to clients who bring unique and fun challenges. As an agency, we want those interesting challenges, so we need people who are flexible and capable of tackling a challenge that may require something more creative than sticking to a neat little checklist.
However, when everything is flexible, you have no way to create a consistent experience for your clients. This can result in VERY inconsistent client service delivery, which is also more dependent on the individual than ever. If one person leaves, it can have a major (often negative) impact on an entire project because they were a bit too flexible. Too flexible leaves the new team potentially with solutions they can't maintain.
This is especially a problem if you are more of a referral shop where clients refer colleagues or if a point of contact for a client gets a new gig and taps your agency for business at their new company. They expect as similar an experience as they got last time, which is why they referred your agency in the first place. However, they rarely get the same team. This poses yet another problem.
The Agency I Am vs The Agency I Want To Be
I want to build an innovative agency. I'd rather be smaller, less profitable, or grow slower AND strive to innovate in our space. I don’t want to crank out cookie cutter services, sacrificing excellence for scale, size, and maxed out profits (not saying those things have to me mutually exclusive).
You know what has always broken my heart every year for the last 10 years?
Seeing an internal message with a DOPE idea that gets tried / seen by only some people and done for some clients.
Here is one example around updating title tags by seeing how many of a clients’ website pages have “2022” in the page title as we head into 2023.
I LOVE this idea. It’s simple, but if we can uncover it fast and execute faster, it can give our clients a little advantage and possibly increase CTRs while our competitors haven’t gotten around to updating their own content yet. Higher CTR's in a world where the ROI of SEO feels like it is constantly under attack is a good thing. It’s a proactive move, showing clients we’re looking under every rock to find a competitive advantage to help them win.
But sometimes, the juice might not be worth the squeeze!
But there is a big problem with the strategy above: it won’t create value for every client. Heck it won't create value for probably most of my clients. Is finding these competitors who aren’t updating content going to create value for every client? No way! I bet our findings might only impact a minority of them. It likely isn’t worth having all my team members do this for all our clients when it might only create value for 5% of our client pool. But it’s a totally different story if you’re one of those clients who are in that 5%.
We must find a solution:
Checking All Clients In an Efficient Way
If you are a Seer client and your consultants were out on leave or PTO that day, they may never see this message. In turn, you miss out on reaping the benefits of an impactful idea that could have given you a competitive edge by making simple tweaks to content you already have. Again this breaks my heart..
And let’s be honest SEO people, based on your clients, the 30 to 60 minutes you might put in could result in nothing valuable for your client – and throw you off of the strategy you were working on.
The problem is, the next day, someone else might have another great idea for their four to five clients, but then the rest of my clients don’t get that idea. This happens weekly at Seer: a great idea, scaled to a subset of clients when it could be rolled out to all clients, if applicable. Meaning we miss more opportunities to create value.
Hope isn’t a strategy:
I hope everyone sees the post above from Dana.
I hope everyone takes a look for their clients.
I hope it creates enough value.
But just “hoping” isn’t taking action.
I can ping, and ping, and ping.
I can stop everything and look at our process and train people.
I can re-set expectations on when this new thing needs to be done.
But that’s still not enough. We need to scale this problem the same way we scale looking at data.
I want to fix this issue because I care deeply about trying to be as successful for all clients as possible. I want as many clients to get the good ideas from the entire Seer team as possible.
Scaling Great Ideas From Innovative Team Members!
For the last few years I’ve been working with a product team to build out Supernova, our internal data product that helps us use PPC data and SEO data side by side (you know like how your customers see PPC & SEO results) to determine the financial impact for clients and create priorities backed by revenue potential.
The goal of Supernova is to scale this process without making every team member have to do the legwork manually.
Goal: Can I build a prototype to tell me the value for all clients in under 24 hours, yup.
By Jan 3rd, 2023 at 12PM - I was able to build a prototype and could check all clients in minutes, across tens of thousands of pages:
That’s how fast we can scale certain ideas from our team across all clients. I’m the CEO so I have a lot of other things to do. In total, I spent maybe 90 minutes on the build, the team validated that there was some value they could gain from it. Then I had to slot it in our queue to deploy.
The best practice destroyer
We can also use that same solution to let people search any title tag for any information. Imagine next time someone says "you have to use the keyword in the title, it's best practice" we can literally validate what % of your top 10 do/don't. Across MILLIONS of keywords.
When you warehouse your data and do the hard work to normalize that data, making that data fast for retrieval,it lets an analyst like me take every team's ideas, validate the value, and, if there’s some value, get the idea out to the whole team and every client just in a few hours.
That means that many of the best ideas that revolve around combined PPC and SEO strategy will get sent from someone’s brain to all clients in breakneck speed.
It also lets me look across all clients at once
Maybe I see something someone else might not see, but I can see it so fast that now me, plus one other person can watch trends unfolding across all clients and help team members take advantage. As a result, a team of two can watch 100 clients’ backs with just a few daily / monthly alerts.
We can make this idea better in a few minutes.
Since we had collected all the top 100 search terms for every client, run every month at our fingertips, we said, “why not build it in a way that also lets us see how quickly competitors are shifting things, too?”, So, we took Dana’s idea and, with three extra minutes of work, also scanned the top 20 terms for competitors, who are using 2022 in titles.
From Hope to Scalable Action
I wanted to check off all of those opportunities for all our clients without each team member having to spend 15 to 60 minutes for each client to do the search, get the data, clean the data, and all the other steps involved.
Here are three opportunities that sparked from Dana’s idea around scanning for “2022” in the page titles in 2023:
1. Extract more value from existing rankings
If your account team sees this as an opportunity before others, it's an opportunity to move faster than the competition and update your client’s content.
Hypothesis: I believe that finding and updating our posts to be more relevant and labeling it with “2023” will increase CTRs.
2. Defend the value you have
When we have a top 10 ranking and several others might be updating title tags to indicate their content is more relevant in the new year, we might not get the same throughput / CTR.
Hypothesis: I believe that if our posts are the last to be updated, customers might be less likely to click.
3. Grow trafficConsolidating links to the new post if you have old 2022 or 2021 posts.
My heart will go on...at scale
It breaks my heart anytime I see a killer idea in a slack chat only get implemented by a fraction of the team – and Supernova is how we stop breaking my heart 🙂
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