After the SEO Audit: When SEO Gets Strangled


The SEO audit is a beautiful phase in any relationship. Someone has their hands all up in your site as they diagnose what issues exists, what’s lacking and then gets to work creating a plan for how you can build the most kickass site the Internet has ever seen. But then the audit phase ends and you need to do that work. Or, often more accurately, you need to hire the SEO company that provided the audit to do that work. And then things can get a little messy.

And by “messy”, I mean something gets strangled. Usually your SEO efforts.

Client and vendor often share blame when SEO simply doesn’t work. Below are four common reasons your SEO efforts may find themselves strangled and some advice on what you can do to turn it around.

SEO FAIL: Lack of clear goals/strategy

One of the most common reasons SEO projects fail is a result of miscommunication about goals and strategies between client and vendor. Either the vendor hasn’t done a very good job setting client expectations from the start or they did but then roles changed and now there’s confusion about what’s being done and who is responsible for what. Without a clear strategy worked out and iron-clad goals developed, it’s a breeding ground for resentment, power struggles, and poor results.  It’s like a marriage where one person didn’t get the “monogamy” memo.

How To Fix It: Vendors need to go above and beyond to make the contract language as clear as possible so the client knows what they are (and are not) getting for their investment. As a business owner, you need to make sure you understand everything that is listed in your contract, including what will be expected of YOU, not just what you can expect from the SEO. If things change after the contract is signed, update the document and, again, get everyone to sign off on it. It may seem more cumbersome, but you’ll be happy you have it should problems arise.

SEO Fail: Lack of Internal Awareness 

As kids we once used this to our advantage. We really needed $60 to buy a new baseball glove or to spruce up our wardrobe for ninth grade. So we asked dad, he gave us the money, and mom was none the wiser. It worked then. However, in business it can lead to disaster.  In the grown up world,  things don’t work unless everyone knows where money is being spent, its importance, and what their role is in making sure that investment takes off.

In simpler terms, unless your entire company is aware of your SEO efforts and what is being done to help reach achieve them, your campaign risks being a major flop. Everyone doesn’t need to be heavily involved, but they do need to at least be aware of it so that we’re all pulling on the same end of the rope. Or so that a rope even exists in the first place.

How To Fix It: Make someone on your team responsible for evangelizing SEO within your company. Even if you’ve hired an SEO company just so you wouldn’t have to think about doing the work yourself, people on your team still need to be aware of the work and why it matters. It’s going to be helpful to your content department to know how to structure keywords, to IT to know what the site needs to work properly, to marketing to help integrate online and offline goals, etc. The more aware of SEO everyone is, the better results you’re going to see.

SEO Fail: Lack of Ownership

For a project to be successful, success must point back to one person or small group. If you are unable to name who is responsible for SEO at your organization, then no one is. Lack of ownership can show its head in different ways:

  • Too many cooks in the kitchen: In this scenario, no one is responsible for SEO because everyone thinks they are responsible for SEO. With too many people leading the ship it means you may have different people agreeing to different objects, managers outsourcing the same work to difference agencies or resources being split to accomplish the same task.
  • The cook is MIA: In this scenario, no one is in the kitchen at all, either because they haven’t been told they’re in charge of because they’re trying to shirk responsibility. Here, the project mostly falls flat because the SEO company in charge isn’t given the resources they need to accomplish the task and no one on the client side really knows what’s going on.

How To Fix It: Give someone ownership of your SEO project. Anoint someone the “leader” and let them know that they’re responsible for the success of this project. Because that’s how we work best – when we have the intense desire to perform and save our own ass. When SEO is left with no one (or too many people) to oversee it, bad things happen. Or worse, absolutely nothing happens.

SEO Fail: A Dab of SEO Resentment

Like in any profession, SEO has its bad apples. There are those that simply don’t have the experience they pretend to and those who like to run risky campaigns without notifying the client they are doing so. If you’re a business who has ever signed a contract with one of these SEOs, you probably have a bad taste in your mouth. And I don’t blame you. It’s the same reason we all hate lawyers, even if we’ve never hired a lawyer before. We just know that we hate them. But you can’t hate your SEO and work with them at the same time. If you hired an SEO team because you were told that you had to but you’re secretly waiting for them to fail so you can tell your boss YOU WERE SO RIGHT…please don’t.

How To Fix It: Get to know your SEO provider. Like, really get to know them. If you’re going to hire a vendor, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make them tell you what they plan to do and what effect that is going to have on your site. And if it doesn’t sound right (maybe ask around) or if something smells fishy, don’t hire them. But if it does make sense and you do decide to give them a shot and trust their knowledge, then you have to not only let them do their work, but give them everything they need to get it done.

As we start off 2012, I know many businesses are reopening the audit phase of their SEO work.  And that’s awesome. Hopefully the tips above can help lead to a great relationship throughout the year and even beyond.

What are some of the issues/concerns that you feel strangle the SEO process? What ones belong on my list?

Your Comments

  • Jill Whalen

    All of the above is why I only do the SEO audits and then have the companies themselves implement the recommendations. It’s nearly impossible for an SEO company do implement recommendations for any company that has more than just a handful of employees.

    And really, it should be the company’s responsibility to do the SEO–perhaps with some outside guidance. They are the ones who understand exactly what it is that their company does, and they have the internal resources to make the necessary changes to the website.

    • Lisa Barone

      I don’t disagree. In an ideal situation the business should be doing the SEO themselves, both because implementation is far easier and so they have a sense of what’s being done on their Web site. Even if they ARE the ones doing the implentation it’s still scary how quickly things can sometimes go from “productive audit” to “dead on arrival SEO”


      • Jill Whalen

        Yep. It’s the rare company that implements most of the recommendations–correctly! In fact, I am ecstatic when a company I’ve audited implements any recos at all.

        But I typically only sign on for the audit part, so I try not to care what happens after that.

        • Lisa Barone

          You may “try” not to care, but you know you do. Not that we ever check up on past clients to see how they’re doing or if they’ve implemented what they promised us they’d implement…


  • Matt

    Excellent post Lisa. The vendor client dance is often complicated and riddled with many potential points of failure.

    I know many folks out there that only provide the audit and leave it to the client to implement recommendations as Jill does.

    For those that do work this way I am wondering what level of detail is included in the audit. Is detailed keyword research provided? Are page titles and meta descriptions included?

  • Mike Feiman

    “Make them tell you what they plan to do and what effect that is going to have on your site.” Excellent advice, but easier said than done. Based on my experience, I’d say that about 1% of people/companies that claim SEO as a profession will actually give you a straight answer to this question.

  • Ron Wesson

    Another good one, Lisa. I love the “how to fix” section. Your articles are often very practical and present solutions and fixes to the issues presented, which is great. Plus, you get 10 extra points for using “strangled” in a post title. :)

  • Nick Stamoulis

    What it really comes down to is that everyone needs to be on the same page from the start. I’ve experience the “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario and it prolongs the process to the point where things can’t get completed. There needs to be one liaison between client and agency to avoid confusion.

  • Ryan

    I always hate it when clients want you to rank for a specific page and keywords then once you start ranking they want the same exact page to rank for completely different keywords. Rule 1 Fail.

  • Bryan

    This statement right here: “There are those that simply don’t have the experience they pretend to and those who like to run risky campaigns without notifying the client they are doing so” is why I have issues trusting others to help with SEO-based things. Many people use blackhat techniques either because they want to get quick results (and get paid) or just flat out don’t know what they’re doing, and take hints and tips from others who don’t either.

    You go on to ask the potential SEO’er (is that a word?) to explain what their methods are and the outcome should be, but even then, I think if a company is hiring someone to do their SEO for them, their knowledge as a whole is still lacking. They won’t (granted, this is a sweeping generalization) know whether they are being fed truth or lies, only that the person does respond to them. You even bring in the assimilation to lawyers, which I think is right on target.