Should I Fire My Digital Marketing Agency?

I talk with many different businesses that are considering Vertical Measures as their digital marketing agency. Many of these businesses come to us because they’ve seen our ½ day content marketing workshops and breakout sessions at conferences all around the world. Others come to us because they’re frustrated with their current agency. This story is about a business that was losing website traffic and not very happy with their agency.

An Artist Gets the Horns from his Marketing Agency

I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see a photo of an elk in a digital marketing blog post. It’s featured below because of a recent experience I had while visiting Montana. It revolves around some friends of mine and their experience with an agency that was helping them with their website.

Being a digital marketer is sometimes like being an auto-mechanic. When your friends find out what industry you’re in, they immediately ask you to look under the hood.

One of the coolest things about being in this industry is the opportunity to work with so many types of businesses. From Fortune 100 corporations to mom and pop small businesses, we’ve helped them all. So, when I was visiting my good friend Katie Ward in Montana, I wasn’t stumped when she told me about her husband’s online business.

He has a very interesting background from being a Marine, to making a living on a fishing boat, to creating the most beautiful antler chandeliers. He grew his business from going door to door in Colorado. He’d take a trailer full of chandeliers he made and then find really cool houses, knock on their doors and sell them off his trailer.

Jim Swanson of Antler Chandeliers

Fast forward to the late 90’s and Jim had his first website built – it’s been up and running since then. Some of his experience with digital marketing companies have been good, and others, not so good.

What Happened to Antler Chandeliers’ Website?

As a client, never…I repeat… never accept that you can’t get weekly or monthly reports that assemble and analyze what’s happening to your traffic, leads and conversions. Jim was not getting reports from his agency, and he knew something was wrong because his phone stopped ringing and his orders slowed to a stop.

He recently had his site rebuilt to ‘freshen it up’ and make it responsive for phones and tablet devices. The agency did a good job on the redesign but failed in some important areas.

What their agency failed to do:

  • Add Google Analytics code to the site for continued tracking and measurement, causing a gap in their data.
  • Set up redirects for the new pages from the migration of the old site to the new site. This caused his rankings to significantly drop.
  • Set the site up with a secured certificate (SSL).
  • Ensure all the pages on the website were using SEO best practices.

During the website redesign, the agency that created the new site did not set up redirects for the new pages. The new site had a new URL structure which made all the old links dead pages. Once I started looking at the data, we found that 8 of the top 10 most trafficked pages were 404’s.  In other words, most of their traffic was hitting ‘not found’ pages.

This was also the case with their paid ads. All the traffic was being directed to dead pages. This had a two-fold impact:

  1. Their rankings dropped in Google because of the bounce rate and dead pages.
  2. All the money they spent on advertising was not converting because the traffic was going to the wrong pages.

This all could have been avoided. 

Yes, the agency should have done the re-directs but the client should have checked the basic information.  As a client, check every page on your site. I can’t tell you how many sites I’ve analyzed and discovered 404 pages, broken links and incomplete information; even on sites that have entire teams dedicated to the website. This can all be avoided with some due diligence.

I get it. Small business owners are very busy. They’re wearing multiple hats and focused on making their businesses run. But they must treat their website like a business asset and take the time to learn basic website fundamentals to know what their agency is providing.

How We Helped Antler Chandeliers Recover

In working with Jim and Katie, we completed the following to improve their traffic and rankings:

Added relevant content for their audience

We spent time adding content that their potential customers were actually searching for using Vertical Measures’ content ideation process.

For example, there’s a misconception that the antlers in the antler chandeliers come from animals that have been hunted and killed for their racks (The ‘shed’ story). This is not true, as the antlers are shed each year and collected. Using the ideation process we came up with other titles like:

  • How Are Antler Chandeliers Made?
  • What is the Difference Between Elk and Deer Antlers?
  • How Are Antler Chandeliers Installed?

Adding these new pages allowed them to get found for more keyword phrases and also gives them the ability to link to product landing pages from this new content.

Edited and improved meta descriptions

Previously, their meta descriptions were missing and/or not focused on click-through rate (CTR). Meta descriptions are no longer a ranking factor but when well-written can influence the searcher to click on the listing as opposed to other listings on the search engine results page.

Now that Google has expanded the character limit to 300 it’s much easier to write a compelling description with priority keywords and associated semantic terms.  Google has also been bolding not just the searched keywords but also the related terms as they display the meta descriptions in the SERPs.

Added calls-to-action to product pages

They did not have any calls-to-action on their product pages. Their site is not set up for online purchases (yet) and although they have great product photos, they did not tell the user what to do next when they landed on the product pages.  We added a toll-free number and email address for users to move to the next step of the customer journey.

Many websites miss this important element.  Look at the pages on your site and ask yourself, what do you want the user to do next?  If it’s not perfectly clear, edit the page so it is.  You don’t want a potential customer to bounce from the site because the next step is unclear.

Added H-Tags to all content pages

H-tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are SEO standards for best practice.  They let the search engines know what the content following is all about.  You should have only one H1 tag per page and it should include your focus or priority keyword.  We rewrote these to reflect the page topic and made sure there was only one per page.

Optimized image names and compressed for small file size

Although the product images are well done, they were named with the camera default file names. So, images for antler chandeliers were named DSN0023.jpg. Many potential buyers want to see images prior to purchase and by naming the images with appropriate keywords and including alt tags, they have a much better chance of getting found in image searches.

Don’t discount the value of image searches. Jumpshot and Moz did a recent survey where they looked at the most popular search properties. As no surprise, came up as the most trafficked search site at 53% of the traffic and Google Images came up as number 2 with 26.79% of the traffic.

Make sure you are optimizing your images to get in on this enormous search activity.

Utilized internal linking throughout website

We created internal links supporting main landing pages to increase authority of the website.

They were not utilizing internal linking. Creating links in content pages that point to your most important landing pages can increase their page authority and help them rank for specific keyword phrases. We helped them strategically place links on blog and core pages pointing to their ‘money’ pages.

What has been the result of these fixes?

Well, the phone is ringing again, orders are coming in and both Katie and Jim know a lot more about what to inspect and expect from their agency.

Some results from the small improvements we made during my trip:

  • March 20, 2018 – 198 keywords in the Google top 100, with 25 first page results
    • Today 311 keywords in the Google top 100, with 42 first page results
  • Keywords in the Google top 100 up 57%
  • Keywords on the first page of results up 68%

Keywords they are ranking for are directly related to their priority products. The trend is very positive and should show further increases.

  • Green = Great – keyword has either maintained it’s position or moved up in search results.
  • Blue = Good – keyword is ‘new’ in the Google 100 (first 10 pages of search results).
  • Red = Bad – keyword has lost ranking and moved down in search results.

Traffic has finally improved since their drop. They are now averaging over 2,000 visits/month.

Organic Traffic performance from Sep’16 – May’18

Whether you’re an enterprise level company or a small to medium size business, focusing on your digital marketing is one of the most important things you can do.  Following best practices and taking on some of the responsibility for your partnership with your agency can pay off with big dividends.

What’s Next for Antler Chandeliers?

Set the website up on a secured certificate

Google is going to start including a warning (in July of 2018) on sites that are not locked down starting in July on their Chrome browser. This is a must for all websites especially if the site is collecting personal information or selling products online.

Add content around what users are actively searching for in Google

This content will include a .pdf catalog of products or other complex pieces of content that can be placed behind a lead capture form. By doing this, they will start the lead nurture process and build their database of ‘owned’ audience.

This owned audience can be nurtured over time with fresh content, special deals and other information via emails.  The potential customer’s email address is actually a business asset as they can communicate directly through email.

Develop links from high-authority websites

Links will help to further develop their domain authority, drive traffic and improve keyword rankings.  The key is to have really great content that other websites want to link to. Websites with thin content will not attract great links.

As they add more great content, links will grow organically and through effective link building outreach accelerate that process.

Should Antler Chandeliers Fire their Digital Marketing Agency?

Now that you have some background on what I was able to do for Jim and Kelly’s business, and where their agency had fallen short of expectations, the question is: should they fire the agency?

I’ve seen some common mistakes that have caused once successful websites to falter and their traffic drop dramatically. It’s because the agency made mistakes and/or didn’t follow through.

I’ve asked prospective clients what their agency is currently doing for them and I often get blank stares or quick generic statements like:

  • “They’re doing our SEO.”
  • “They’re building links.”
  • And my favorite, “I’m not sure.”

When I dig in and start to ask specific questions about exactly what the agency is doing for them, they can’t tell me. They never received a detailed scope of work pointing out what steps and deliverables are part of ‘doing our SEO’ or ‘building links’.

Sometimes the client isn’t sophisticated or informed enough on digital marketing and doesn’t know what to inspect or even the right questions to ask. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.

And, while I can’t answer this question for Antler Chandeliers or for your situation – I can point out some basic warning signs and things to watch out for when you engage with an agency. I can also point out some items that should be the agency’s responsibility and things that are the client’s. Your agency should be your ‘partner’, which means sharing responsibilities – and it’s critical toward building a good agency/client relationship.

Agency responsibilities

  • Create a detailed scope of work that allows the client to fully understand the work you’ll be doing for them and by when.
  • Help the client understand the ‘why’ behind your activities.
  • Engage with the client and ‘teach’ them along the way. Show them what you’re doing and why it’s important.
  • Communicate on a regular and frequent basis
  • Do the right thing

Client responsibilities

  • Inspect what you expect
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand
  • Hold the agency accountable for the work they’ve contracted to do
  • Communicate on a regular and frequent basis

Warning signs

These should be warning signs if your agency is telling you the following:

  • “We can get you immediate ‘organic’ traffic.”
  • “We have link packages.”
  • “We can migrate your site with no problem overnight.”
  • “We don’t do reporting.”
  • “You don’t have complete access to your admin log in and analytics.”
  • “You don’t have credentials for your hosting and URL registration.”

What should be happening?

It’s your agency’s job to use their expertise and skill to advance your brand, boost your traffic and takes steps for you to ‘own’ your audience. They’ll need to collect data, analyze that data and report back to you on what the data means and what their next steps will be.

  • You should set up weekly calls to go over the data with specific action steps. These calls can spread to monthly once you get started and have momentum.
  • You should have access to all the credentials for your site, hosting, admin and analytics
  • You should have a plan in place with what the agency is doing on a month to month basis

When it all comes together, and you have that great relationship, here’s what happens:

Testimonial from Jim Swanson of Antler Chandeliers:

Well, the phone is ringing, and customers are finding me.

This is the most telephone and internet activity I’ve seen in nearly a year.

We have a ways to go yet, but I can clearly see a positive change.

I want to thank you for all you’ve done Mike, and I’m thoroughly impressed with your knowledge of SEO, and also your extensive knowledge in sales.

Things are good around here today, hope you’re doing well.

Looking forward to going fishing with you some more too.

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