Editor's Note: This post was originally published in April 2017 and has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Previously, we wrote a post about how an agency’s website can either help generate new business or sabotage it. It addressed factors such as agency positioning, basic website performance, navigation, clarity, and general user-friendliness. But what about getting people to your website in the first place?
When is the last time you did a Google search for agencies in your metro area? Does your agency come up on the first page of search results? What about searches for your type of agency? Voice searches on mobile devices? If your agency is positioned as “the best digital marketing agency in San Antonio,” are you coming up in the first few results for local searches on “digital marketing agency,” “best digital marketing agency,” and, “digital marketing agency in San Antonio”? Keep in mind that Google customizes your search results based on your history, so it's important to try this search without personalized results (see how here).
Is Your Agency Failing at SEO?
First things first. If your agency’s website is not ranking on the terms by which you are trying to differentiate your agency — and the terms by which your potential clients would most likely be trying to find you — then you need to go back and address some basic SEO on your website. Look at your site’s meta data and structure. Perhaps add some fresh content via blog posts. In markets or niches with significant competition, consider taking out some PPC ads to get on the first page of search results.
When is the last time you really looked at the other agencies listed in the search results when you type in your target category keywords? Odds are, the agencies listed there are not the ones you think of first as your competitors. They may not be competitors in terms of size, service breadth, or quality. But when it comes to Google search results, when your potential clients are looking for agencies, every agency they see before yours or near yours in the search results are your competitors. How are these other agencies describing themselves? Does every agency’s description look basically the same except for one? If that one standout is not yours, perhaps you should re-evaluate.
What Type of Agency Are You?
How often do you search to see where your agency falls in the search results? I did some searches (below) to see which terms are most searched on (across the U.S., by average monthly search volume based on data from the past 12 months). “Advertising agency” has the greatest search volume, followed by “marketing agency,” “digital agency,” and “creative agency.”
When it comes to positioning your agency for search, there may be compelling reasons why you’ve chosen “creative agency” over “advertising agency,” leaving you little wiggle room. But if not, and if you have a better chance of reaching more people as an “advertising agency,” then perhaps that is what your agency should be. Of course, it’s not practical to think your agency can be all things to all people; attempting to do so creates its own set of problems. What your agency is, what it excels at and sets it apart should come from within, but it also makes sense to give consideration to your target’s needs, what they are looking for, and how those elements intersect. After all, we aren’t passive agents in our agencies’ directions, we can and should fine-tune their course.
Before you take this information and run with it, keep in mind that in your specific metro area, it may be different. “Marketing agency” may top “advertising agency” for search volume in some areas. Your opportunity to rank on one of those terms in your metro area may also be different. If everyone in Phoenix is trying to be the “best advertising agency,” and you can’t get on the first page of the search engine results page (SERPs), you may be better off trying to rank as “best digital advertising agency,” or even "best marketing agency." The screenshot below shows an example of the variance in search volume for different markets. (This example search was done nationally, so changing the target to NYC or San Francisco would alter the results).
Google Search Results for “Advertising Agency”
Which agencies are ranking on “advertising agency,” and what can we learn from them?
I did a search on “advertising agency” in Google AdWords’ Ad Preview and Diagnosis Tool, which allowed me to focus my search on the New York, NY area on desktops. Here's what I got in February 2018:
So we have Mangos, an agency which offers a compelling ad. Then we have Agency Direct, which is not an agency but rather an agency matching service. Then we have mapped results and a module that defines what an advertising agency is and related terms, along with featured images. Following that (not pictured) are three more organic search results (for The Creative Ham, AKA NYC, and Miller Advertising Agency). Then a module for “Top Stories,” featuring three boxes with recent articles, accompanied by images. Then six more organic results and three more ads.
When I did this search a year or so ago, these graphic modules were not present. Instead of two ads front and center, there were three listings (not ads). But two of the three were not agencies. One was for The Creative Ham, which is not an agency. They curate a list of what they call “the most creative agencies across the country.” They also curate job listings, news, videos, articles, and blogs, so all the new content may have helped them outrank actual agencies. Redbooks.com, the second listing last time around, is also not an agency. The third listing, The Halo Group, is an agency, but it’s interesting that they outranked other advertising agencies while positioning themselves as a “marketing communications and branding agency” and both a “New York Marketing Agency” and an “NYC Advertising Agency.”
Here's the screenshot from April 2017, for comparison:
Does this mean that most advertising agencies in New York aren’t doing a good enough job of clearly positioning themselves as such through their website copy and meta data (since they rank behind non-agencies)? Are they not producing enough new content on their sites to be prioritized in the search results? Or is Google serving up results based on prior user preferences? These could all be factors. What’s clear is that search is constantly evolving. It’s never “one and done.” And, in 2018, agencies need to plan to compete for space within the diversified module format in which Google now delivers its search results.
How Search Results Are Being Served Up By Google
Have you noticed that your Google search results are changing? When I Googled “advertising agency new york” on my desktop browser, I got these results:
- Four ads (for BARKER Advertising NYC, Mediassociates, scgadv.com, and Koeppel Direct DRTV).
- A map with a list of matching businesses by geographic proximity and customer ratings. Displayed were Miller Advertising, Mekanism Advertising Agency, and McCann New York.
- Ten organic results, six of which are not agencies but rather “best of” agency lists and agency search organizations.
- Three more ads for three agencies (Magnani, Drex Agency, and LDWW Group).
When I did this same search last year, one of the first results served was recent tweets. That’s now gone. There was also a news module which is now missing. However, these features may still show up in other searches.
What’s New In Search for 2018?
A lot has changed for SEO since we originally published this post in spring of 2017. Those changes include:
- Planning for search on mobile devices since mobile-first indexing is expected to overtake desktop-first indexing by the middle of this year. So if you have a mobile site, now is the time to re-evaluate it and consider a single responsive site that is both desktop and mobile friendly (which is Google’s recommendation). Page responsiveness, page speed, and content readability are critical (Forbes). Content that is not mobile-friendly will not rank as well. You can test your site’s mobile friendliness here.
- What about voice search on mobile devices? Voice search is growing in popularity, and it’s changing the way that content is found, requiring a different optimization strategy. Backlinko tells you everything you need to know about it here, including how to get your content in a Featured Snippet, and using a question and answer format.
- RankBrain is now one of the top three Google ranking factors (the others are content and links). RankBrain boils down to two main factors: 1) Dwell Time (how long someone stays on your page); and 2) Click Through Rate (the percentage of people that click your result in the search engine results page).
- For content, what you want to focus on to rank in 2018 is amazing content and links, embeddable images, unique data, and video (which, according to Cisco, will make up 80% of all online traffic by 2021). Learn more about content and video from Backlinko here.
- In terms of content and site structuring for SEO, there has also been a shift from what worked in the past, which was targeting a unique short or long-tail keyword term on each page. For many sites, this resulted in topically-similar pages sort of cannibalizing each other’s ranking. Here are some ways SEO experts suggest you address that in 2018:
- Another structural SEO strategy is to make your content more friendly for a variety of features in Google’s search engine results page. Some of those include recent related results from Twitter, top stories, knowledge graphs, local packs, featured snippets, etc. Learn more about tracking these features and using structured data to your advantage from Search Engine Land.
How Can You Help Your Agency “Get Found”?
- Decide how you are going to position your agency. Depending on the competition in your local market, you may be more likely to rank on “Marketing Agency” or “Creative Agency” instead of “Advertising Agency.” If either label could be appropriate, consider which will perform the best for you. If three of your closest competitors are presenting themselves as “award-winning” agencies, perhaps there is another way for you to differentiate your agency in your meta description. Don’t make your description identical to others in your space. Keep in mind that SEO shouldn’t be your #1 factor in positioning your agency, but it is smart to make it a consideration.
- Be sure that your agency is listed on Google My Business, so it shows up on the map listing for people searching in your area.
- Encourage your happy clients to leave Google reviews for you (but do not bribe/reward, as you could be penalized). If there are three agencies, one with six five-star reviews, one with two three-star reviews, and one with no stars, which one do you think will jump out first to prospective clients?
- Use Twitter and LinkedIn. The activity on your social profiles and the traffic that gets directed to your site via social can elevate your search ranking. And, as we’ve seen, relevant tweets may appear first in Google search results.
- Get your agency listed in curated lists and directories. A few years ago, we would have said do this for the backlinks, but now it's more than that, as some of these lists are ranking ahead of individual agency websites. Assume potential clients are likely to land on a list before your site. Make it easier for people to find you.
- Scrutinize your urls, page names, meta descriptions, and other on-page elements that could factor into your search ranking.
- Re-evaluate your content and SEO strategy. How often are you putting out new content—new blogs, press releases, or video, to keep your site fresh and help elevate it in the search rankings? Are you creating that new content with topics, titles, and other SEO factors in mind so that you are getting adequate ROI out of your time and effort?
- I have to mention page load time. As creatives, agencies often use videos and high-res images to show their work on their site. While beautiful, these files are disastrous for site performance, slowing it down. When your site is slow, it raises your “bounce rate” as people leave your site, and it hurts your SEO. Be sure to consider performance and user-friendliness as well as aesthetic when it comes to your website.
These examples were strictly looking at Google, which remains the dominant search engine. However, businesses also get a lot of traffic from Bing and other sources, so don't forget about them. Additionally, you might try Googling your agency’s name to see if other agencies come up (via organic SERP results, or, more likely, paid ads). If you use Adwords, you can use the Google Adwords Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool to search for your agency in other metro areas and see if competitors are targeting your agency’s name for paid campaigns outside of your home turf.
Keep in mind that no matter where or how you meet a potential lead, they will end up on your website to check you out. They may not get there directly via your URL; often, they will do a Google search to find you. It’s a good idea to monitor what they may see on the path to your site and how your agency looks in the context of search results. Your real first impression may be before they ever make it to your home page. Don't forget: the fight for agency new business starts at search.
See how your agency looks to prospects across channels:
Read more about getting found: