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SEO 22 min read

SEO agencies survey: how the way we measure success damages the results we deliver?


Taras Prystatsky
Blog Editor at Serpstat
According to our global survey featuring 40 SEO agencies, professionals are more likely to spend time on improving the success metrics they can display in client reports, rather than investing in activities they know will improve website rankings.

Intro

Reading most of the State of SEO reports, one might notice that over ⅔ of data accounts for all sorts of SEO specialists, with only ⅓ representing SEO agencies. Here at Serpstat, we believe that agencies’ expertise is especially valuable as these professionals provide services to clients across various industries, meaning they have a broader viewpoint, compared to an average, even senior, in-house professional.

That is why Serpstat has conducted a survey among 40 SEO agencies from 16 countries, that operate within more than 15 industries. The survey collected data from December 17, 2021 to January 12, 2022.

The majority of the survey participants represent SEO agencies, holding managerial positions. Representatives of full-scope digital marketing agencies are people, responsible for the SEO branch.

The main topics covered in the survey:

the challenges of 2021;
best-performing business development strategies for SEO agency;
performance and budgeting dynamics at the end of 2021;
most likely challenges in 2022.

Will be particularly useful for:

SEO agency owners, interested in comparing themselves to the competition;
Companies that outsource their SEO processes, eager to understand work processes agencies have;
SEO agency representatives, willing to learn about the core challenges in their niche;
Digital marketing agencies, willing to outline the core performance threats for their SEO campaigns.

Core findings:

While the performance of SEO agencies have grown drastically, less than half of agencies have reported a budget increase;
There is a direct correlation between the time agencies spend on SEO activities and how they measure the effectiveness of their campaigns;
Almost 60% of agencies believe that the latest Google Page Experience update is going to change current competition in the SEO services market.

Participants’ info

This section is dedicated to determining agencies’ headcount and core services, as well as their clients’ geography. Having this data gives us more context, enabling better assumptions regarding the markets and niches agencies operate within.

Featuring


40 Agencies
operating in15 countries
within over 15 industries

Company headcount

Among 40 agencies that participated in this survey, the majority (70%) are small enterprises, with an employee headcount ranging from 5 to 10 employees. The rest 30 percent is gradually distributed among larger companies:

  • agencies with 10-25 employees (15%);
  • agencies with 26-50 employees (10%):
  • agencies with over 50 employees (5%).

Core services

When it comes to the set of services provided by our respondents’ agencies, the Top-3 positions are On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO and Technical SEO with 27%, 26%, 23% respectively. Rather novel services like Voice Search SEO, as well as non-directly SEO-related services like Content and PPC are equally represented at an approximate rate of 8%.

Geo

The top-3 positions are presented by agencies from the US (37.5%), Germany (12.5%) and the UK (10%). The rest of the results are distributed across Europe (20%), North America (10%), Asia (7.5%), and Oceania (2.5%).
We can summarize this section by generally stating that our survey mostly represents small agencies, providing a fair mix of On-page, Off-page, and Technical SEO throughout North America and European regions.
List of participants

Business development

This section provides deeper insights on the client companies’ headcount, the industries they operate within, as well as the approach agencies use to generate leads and sales.

Clients company size

Top-3 positions in clients’ company size are Small (10-49 employees), Medium (50-249) and Large (250+) enterprises with 32.5%, 30% and 22.5% respectively.

Agencies that provide services to the microenterprise segment (1-9 employees) and individuals are presented by 10% and 5% respectively.

Clients industries

Top-3 positions in clients’ industry are IT, Ecommerce, and B2B , represented by 20.6%, 11.8% and 10.8% respectively. The next two positions are shared between Tech and Healthcare (7.8% each), followed by Fashion and SaaS (5.9%).

Retail, Education, Marketing and Food&Bev clients together account for another 29.4% of agencies’ clients.

Do agencies have a Sales Department?

Half of the respondents have mentioned they do not have a fully functioning sales department. Among the other half, 19 agencies have mentioned they have their sales needs met by an in-house team and only a single agency representative told they outsource their sales processes.

Where do agencies generate most clients from?

More than half (60%) of respondents told that Inbound channels have performed better than Outbound in 2021. 27.5% have evaluated both channels’ performance equally, while only 12.5% have marked Outbound as the best performing channel.
Despite our respondents have quite a wide range of industries in their track record, clients from IT, E-commerce and B2B seem to be prevalent, with only 15% of clients being microenterprises or individuals.

Compared to the company size of each agency, we can assume that having an extensive team is not a necessary factor for an agency to deliver services to bigger companies.
When it comes to lead generation, we can see that SEO agencies tend to use Inbound channels, with only a half of agencies having an in-house sales department.

With that being said, we can assume it is not necessary for SEO agency to allocate a lot of resources to generate and convert sales. Having a proper Inbound resource seems to be enough for 50% of respondents.

Work process

This section is a deeper dive into the work aspects that stand behind the SEO campaigns, provided by respondents’ agencies. Do they prioritize Global SEO over Local? How does their performance match the budgets? What ranking factors are worth the attention most?

Global SEO VS Local SEO

When asked about how agencies allocate their resources when delivering their campaigns, we have seen close to equal distribution with:

  • 37.5% of agencies focusing on Global SEO
  • 32.5% focusing on Local SEO
  • 30% mentioning they allocate resources to both of these vectors equally

Performance & budgets

During our survey, we have noticed a slight inequality between the results delivered to clients during SEO campaigns and the budgets, spent on SEO:

Core ranking factors and resource allocation

When it comes to the resource allocation during an SEO campaign, we have noticed a stronger correlation between the time spent and the metrics agencies use to measure success, than there is between resource spending and ranking factors.

Basically, agencies spend more time improving the measurement metrics they present to their client, than metrics they believe influence most on website ranking.

A lot of ground has already been covered by (tech) SEOs and no-code initiatives. Since "more influential", is talking about factors relative to each other, we likely won't see large gains in our "impact graph". Because if every site does it, they're "flattening the curve".
Freshness and social they are about MORE than what we're seeing right now. They're about dynamic, real-time, and cross-device, multi-channel communication environments. And it's interesting to see what'll happen after the crisis, how it'll impact Google, and how new tech is going to change the way we work (and how governments will respond to it).
Remco Tensen
Digital Marketing Consultant
at Remco Tensen Consulting
For instance, ¼ of respondents have marked Content freshness as the most influential ranking factor, while only 6,8% of respondents admitted to spending most of their time on On-page SEO endeavors.

While 19,4% stated Domain age and authority are major ranking factors, only 7,6% spend most of their resources on Technical SEO improvements.
Domain authority, that is link authority, is going to become more important because it's the one huge SEO factor that is hardest to the game and that 99% of bloggers don't know how to game.
Next year AI writing tools will become even better and every blogger using those tools will be able to produce a lot of content quickly.
So, if everyone can compete on content equally, that means no one has the edge, and then the edge, and key factor for Google to determine who'll rank become links and domain authority and page authority.
Nikola Roza
Affiliate Marketing and SEO Consultant
at Nikolaroza
Moreover, 18,5% of agencies believe that Mobile-friendliness is a crucial ranking factor, only 6,8% combined spend big or moderate amounts of time on Mobile SEO (2% spending most of their time, 4,8% spend moderate amounts).
Google always focuses on user experience; therefore site speed, mobile-friendliness, and a clear structure go hand-in-hand with UX. While content freshness isn’t a factor for some industries, it can’t be ruled out entirely. Some information is, by necessity, more recent than others and, as such, would need to be fresh to be accurate.
Gabriella S.
Managing Partner at Level 343
As mentioned above, we have seen much clearer correlation between time spending and the core success metrics agencies use.
With over 43% using keyword rankings as a measure for campaign success, 14,8% of respondents combined spend most or moderate amounts of time on Keyword research.
With over 27% marking Conversion and goal events, only slightly above 9% spend their time on Audience research and almost 7% on Local SEO.

Wrapping this section up, we can see a tendency to spend more resources on improving the metrics agencies can use as a success measure in their reports, rather than investing in activities that professionals believe will influence the website ranking.

What tool does an SEO agency need?

Using the right toolset is one of the ultimate features of a highly-skilled SEO professional. It’s all about what kind of the data one gets and how they can use it to improve performance. In this section, we are trying to determine an ideal SEO tool for agencies.

A staggering majority of 80% of agencies have admitted they are using more than 3 SEO tools to meet their goals.

Among the core criteria when choosing a suitable SEO tool, agencies have marked Data Accuracy and Feature Variety to be the most important (26,8% and 21,5% respectively).

Accuracy; does it do one thing really well or several things meh?
Gabriella S.
Managing Partner at Level 343
Among others, we can see that Versatility and Data Volume are sharing 3rd position with 12,5% percent of respondents.

The most inclusive tools for a full SEO outlook
Jane Phelps
CEO at Know Agenc
UX, Teamwork availability and Price are placed in the last 3 positions, with 10,7%, 8,9%, 7,1% respectively.

One of the main criteria for me is that it can be used by the people who'll have to work with it for different clients throughout the year. That has to do with cost management, and that includes training and labor.
Remco Tensen
Digital Marketing Consultant
at Remco Tensen Consulting
According to this section’s results, we can tell that SEO agencies are looking for a tool that would be able to provide accurate insights, with a wide range of analytics features and high-scale versatility. Owning a big database and enabling teamwork would also be a preferential feature.
Here at Serpstat, starting from the Standard plan, an agency can have multiple users accessing data, generating branded reports, triggering special crawling sessions if needed. A special feature we offer is the ability to access data using API, in case agencies would need to display the dynamics without using our interface.
Want to know if Serpstat is a good fit for your needs? Fill the form below and we’ll reach out to you, offering a free personal demo, trial period or a bunch of successful use cases!

Preparing for the future

What was the most challenging in 2021? Will the most recent major updates influence the competition in the SEO niche? To what extent are agencies ready for innovation?

What challenges agencies have been facing in 2021?

Among the major challenges in 2021, agencies have outlined 4 major ones:

  • Scaling processes (19,4%);
  • Lack of resources (19,4%);
  • Budget cuts (19,4%);
  • Pandemic-related issues (17,7%).


What are the most likely performance threats in 2022?

When it comes to the changes that agencies perceive to be potentially harmful to their performance, Google Page Experience update was chosen by 37.5% of respondents.


When we're talking about "page experience", we shouldn't just be talking about shifting layouts and load times. No matter how fast, feature optimized, organized, and factual your site is: if copy lacks personality, you may be losing out on a large percentage of your audience right there already. So research how your audience likes to talk about the subject, speak their language, take weeks if you have to, and go from there.
Remco Tensen
Digital Marketing Consultant
at Remco Tensen Consulting

Is Google Page Experience going to change current competition in the SEO services market?

Almost 60% of respondents are sure that Google Page Experience update is going to have a significant impact on the SEO services market, while 35% believe that the changes are going to be drastic.


I have seen recent studies (from SEO Rockstar's event in Las Vegas, Nov. 2021) that it didn't matter much to rank by improving Core Vitals alone. However, in my testing, I have found that Core Vitals in addition to other factors has a "harmonic" effect and can make a difference when combing it with other signals. So I would say: “Yes, if combined with other factors.
Joseph Kahn
President at Hum JAM agency

Have agencies considered including Zero-click SERPs in their current strategy?

While 25% of respondents believe Zero-click SERPs are going to be a major performance threat in the future, only 27.5% are implementing some strategies to adapt to this change. Another 22.5% are developing a Zero-click SERP strategy soon, but don’t have any yet.

40% of respondents have admitted they haven’t started working on it, yet they are planning to do it soon.



Before developing a comprehensive strategy to tackle the zero-click problem, and before investing seriously in it, make sure you make a clear distinction between keywords that produce zero-click SERPs and those that don't.
From the second bucket find all keywords that are valuable to your business, and then target them aggressively.
After you've exhausted your pool there, then you can worry about zero-click SERPs and how to position yourself there.
Prioritization is key and SERPS that produce clicks are obviously more important than those that don't.
Nikola Roza
Affiliate Marketing and SEO Consultant
at Nikolaroza

Do agencies have a strategy for increasing intent satisfaction in their campaigns?

While intent satisfaction was not mentioned neither in last-year’s challenges, nor in potential productivity threats, almost half of respondents have mentioned they have developed an intent satisfaction improvement strategy and are currently implementing it.



Leverage your local GMB; Focus on precise quality intros that are written for the user, not search engines; keep your meta information short enough that the entire snippet shows; Create content that matches each form of search: Transactional, Informational, Navigational
Gabriella S.
Managing Partner at Level 343

Are E-A-T content principles going to be more influential in 2022?

85% of respondents believe that E-A-T content principles are going to become even more influential in 2022, with 32.5% believing the changes are going to be drastic.



Niches that are in the Y.M.Y.L (Your Money, Your Life) categories need these elements to be stronger for ranking to occur. We believe Google needs to see those author boxes proving the degrees and certifications in order to give ranking juice.
Joseph Kahn
President at Hum JAM agency
However, according to our experts, this update is not equally important for every niche. Some content categories are going to be affected more than others, while Google is taking action to verify content creators’ trustworthiness.

You must become familiar with the Google Quality Raters Guidelines and follow those principals exactly. The website needs to be clear who owns it, who writes the content, how products or services are delivered (and returned), and are there good reviews.
Jane Phelps
CEO at Know Agenc

About Serpstat

Serpstat is a go-to SEO platform, trusted by 400,000 users worldwide, from freelance SEO consultants to corporate SEO teams, including Uber, Shopify, Lenovo, Rakuten Viber, Philips, ESET, and Samsung.

We take pride of how versatile and multi-faceted our platform is. It fullfills SEO specialists’ needs including competitors analysis, keyword research for both organic and paid traffic, tracking rank positions and backlinks of any website, anytime.

In addition, Serpstat provides a set of more than 30 tools for link building, text analytics, clustering, website error detection and fixes, boosted by our recommendations section.

We pay special attention to agencies among our clients, providing better solutions for:
  • lead generation and campaign pitching,
  • projects maintenance and reporting,
  • workload management and teamwork.

Summary

Despite SEO mechanics undergoing major changes and potentially threatening agencies’ performance, SEO specialists have a tight grip on what’s going on and are proactively searching for potential solutions.

However, both in the work process and adaptation to the future, there is a clear inconsistency. Agencies tend to focus on improving the metrics they can showcase to the clients while ignoring the activities that will actually improve website rankings. At the same time, while seeing clear threats in Google Page Experience update, agencies seem to allocate more resources adapting to Zero-click SERPs and intent satisfaction.

We are not stating these decisions are wrong, however. There is no one-fits-all solution and according to our experts, all of those changes “will be a factor until all sites adopt it, and then it'll just be an even playfield for everyone. The same thing happened with HTTPS as a ranking factor”.

With a mixture of the right tools and a client-oriented approach — agencies will be able to adapt to all the changes and thrive on “an even playfield for everyone”.
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The opinion of the guest post authors may not coincide with the opinion of the Serpstat editorial staff and specialists.

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