Agencies pay high price for SEO ‘smoke and mirrors’

text 2Digital and direct marketing agencies are finding out to their cost that they can no longer kid clients that their SEO strategies are a “secret recipe”; if they are not open and transparent about their methods, they are out on the ear within months.
That is according to research by Artios, a London-based artificial intelligence search analytics agency, which crunched the numbers to determine the top reasons businesses part ways with agencies which offer SEO services. In the UK alone, the SEO market is worth over £4bn a year.
A study of more than 500 business from around the world, which have worked with an external SEO supplier in the past three years, found that a failure to hit long-term targets is the biggest cause of businesses dropping their agency, accounting for 29% of all terminations.
However, secrecy and lack of transparency are the second biggest cause of terminations, accounting for 25% of terminations and the leading cause of termination within the first six months.
Smaller businesses are even more likely to terminate a supplier due to secrecy and lack of transparency, athough if an agency has worked for the client for three years or more ‘friendly terminations’ are the most common parting of ways.
Traditional complaints such as unethical SEO techniques and a failure to meet targets still factor prominently among the top reasons for terminations, but agencies are getting dropped in increasing numbers – and sooner – due to supplier-side secrecy.
In fact, a lack of transparency account for more early (first six months) terminations than any other factor.
According to the study, the larger a client, the more likely they are to rely on longer term targets; they are also less likely to terminate a supplier earlier on in the contract for lack of transparency.
But any agency which is planning on employing unethical practices, will need to have another client liined up pretty quicky. This is most likely to get them dropped during the 7-12 month period, suggesting less scrupulous agencies are taking advantage of the ‘honeymoon period’ of their new contract to earn ‘quick wins’, the study claims.
It’s not all about bad-blood though. ‘Friendly terminations’ such as personnel changes on the client’s side, budget reallocation and agencies delivering on a specific brief account for 16% of all agency-client partings of ways, but are most common among companies with 100 or more employees.
Artios chief data scientist Andreas Voniatis, who conducted the study, believes Google’s recent algorithm updates have put marketing departments on edge.
“We’d always expect to see complaints like unethical link-building and unrecovered drops in ranking leading to terminations, but our research suggests that clients are now demanding transparency from their agencies from day one.
“Given the damage a badly executed SEO campaign can do to a business and the waste it can lead to, it’s understandable that businesses are now keen to understand how their agencies are working. Too many agencies treat their approach as a ‘secret recipe’ that must not be revealed. This just leads to a lack of trust.
“SEO operates in a very data rich environment. With the increasing availability of cloud computing and AI, there is no excuse for SEOs to engage in secrecy and instead they should embrace the opportunities of AI in communicating their knowledge to their clients. The SEO industry should be prepared to have their recommendations and practices open to transparency and justified by statistics, moving away from quick wins and tricks that merely give the impression of progress.”
A full copy of the research is available from the Artios website, here>

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