Nichola Stott on running, hiring and evaluating an SEO agency!

Joost de Valk

Joost de Valk

Nichola Stott

Nichola Stott

Founder and Managing Director of Erudite
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In this episode

Nichola Stott, owner of Erudite, shares practical tips on how and when to hire an SEO agency, how to evaluate them and how her agency always stays on top of the latest news. She explains what collaboration with clients means to her and how often agencies and clients communicate. Listen to this episode to take a deep dive in the world of SEO agencies! Enjoy listening!


Nichola and Joost will cover the following topics during this episode, with timestamps indicating when the topic comes up:

  • 1:47 – When should you hire an agency?
  • 7:52 – Should you keep doing parts of SEO yourself as a business owner?
  • 12:24 – What you should look for in and expect from an agency?
  • 15:12 – What a good client looks like for Erudite agency
  • 17:04 – Budgeting for your SEO and content strategy
  • 19:13 – What to expect when starting to work with an SEO agency?
  • 21:35 – At what point does a business not need an agency anymore?
  • 24:19 – How often do agencies and customers communicate?
  • 26:27 – How to keep your agency up to date on the latest news and research in SEO?
  • 34:02 – In what way do easy-to-use CMSs change agency work?
  • 40:44 – The most important KPIs for an agency to report on

Do you want to learn more about Nichola and her agency? Follow Nichola on Twitter or visit the Erudite website.


Joost de Valk: Hey everyone. And welcome to another episode of the Yoast SEO podcast. Today, we are joined by my good and dear friend, Nichola Stott from the other side of the channel. Which is pretty darn close if you think of it, but we haven’t seen each other in ages, unfortunately. So hi and welcome Nichola. Thanks for joining me. 

Nichola Stott: Thank you for having me. 

Joost de Valk: Let’s start with an introduction of who you are and what you do. Can you tell us? 

Nichola Stott: I’m the founder and managing director of Erudite. We are a technical marketing agency specializing, purely in organic marketing. So that is specifically SEO, CRO and web analytics.

Joost de Valk: Cool. I’ve never heard it put in a corner like that, but I like that distinction. SEO and CRO together always makes the most sense anyway. So yeah, organic marketing. I’m going to steal that from you. You’re relatively small, can I say that without insulting you, agency? 

Nichola Stott: Absolutely. Yeah. We like to refer to ourselves as small, but perfectly formed.

Joost de Valk: Yeah. I think that the marketing term for this is boutique.

Nichola Stott: Yeah absolutely!

Joost de Valk: It’s funny how these things work. One of the reasons I asked you on the show is because I wanted to talk about, where do agencies fit in? As a business owner, at what point do you start working with agencies? How does this work, et cetera. So we’re going to try and cover that in the next 40, 45 minutes.

When should you hire an agency?

Let’s start with that. When do I hire an agency? When should I call you and say Hey Nich I need help. 

Nichola Stott: To an extent, I think this applies to an awful lot of things. So if we mentioned that you’re speaking in the main, to start up businesses or businesses are on some sort of growth path, hiring an agency or hiring a person or another service provider is generally at a point where you do not want to, or suddenly not qualified to provide that level of intensity and frequency of whatever that service is. 

So it could be the same answer of when do I hire a full-time bookkeeper. Cause if you’re starting up, if you’re self funded, even if you’ve got some external funding, if you’re the business founder, you are probably still wearing an awful lot of hats. You are probably still paying your invoices. You’re probably still the one that’s hiring and firing and doing HR and all the rest of it. And you might still be doing all of your marketing, but it gets to that certain level of growth at which it doesn’t make business sense. And it doesn’t make personal sense for your own quality of life to still keep hold of all of these tasks. 

Now there’s no magic number as to where that is. It’s going to be relative to your business size, your business profitability and the resources that you need to run your business. So certain types of businesses, like an affiliate marketing business can be run really lightly, but a product marketing business particularly physical products may require a lot more staff and a lot more different teams.

So it’s that numbers game. It’s when working out Okay, do I want to work 18 hours a day? Where’s my quality of life? Is it now the point at which I can pay an agency two grand a month? And they will take that off me because my time is more valuable than that work. So it’s just working out when that pivot point is for you.

Joost de Valk: You mentioned an amount here, I’m assuming that’s rather random, but two grand a month is that a typical type of engagement for what you’re doing? Or is that more or less depending on.. of course it depends on the size of declined and the project, et cetera. So as usual, the answer is going to be: it depends. Which is, I think, the most typical SEO answer for everything or a typical consulting answer. But is two grand a month.. if you only have 300 bucks a month to spare you really shouldn’t be hiring an agency, should you?

Nichola Stott: No, absolutely not. Reason being, if you can find someone for 300 bucks a month, that’s probably more going to be a risk than a reward. 

If you think about it in terms of any professional services. If you’re hiring super cheap, how? Because how much time are they doing? What’s your hourly rate? If you think about how – not you personally Joost – but if you think about what’s my turnover, what might I consider the value of my work as managing director? If I’m on a salary or should be on a value salary equivalent of 70,000 pounds per year. What does that equate to my hourly rate? 

So if I’m paying an SEO agency or a freelancer 300 pounds or whatever bucks a month, and they’re doing five days work, what’s their hourly rate? Very little! So what value am I going to get from that?

So it’s very much that kind of the quality will come to the surface. For small businesses, our day rate, I’ll be super clear, 700 pounds a day. If you’ve got less than a million turnover. We have a different rate for million turnover plus businesses. We find that to be fair and good quality. It means we can do enough work in enough time to get people on that trajectory.

Our goal is to get people above that 1 million turnover, pretty sharpish. Like most of us.

Joost de Valk: Then after that, they have to pay you more, which works. I remember when I was still a consultant my day rates were higher, slightly. But it was just me. So that’s also a very different thing. In an agency you’ve always got a couple of different people looking at a project and you’re doing things together, which is one of the reasons why I think hiring an agency sometimes makes sense, because you get a couple of people looking at it and talking about it and bringing their experience, instead of just one person 

Nichola Stott: For sure, and to be honest, from my perspective, I am a pretty decent SEO, but I’m also smart enough to know that I am not the best person to do all of the work anymore.

Growing an agency organically, there comes a point where you have to start doing the work yourself because you can’t, it’s similar to that analogy of being the business owner and hiring people in to do your books, hiring people in to do your HR. It’s the same for me and building the business.

There was a point, four years ago, where I was spinning so many plates I had to stop and give up certain aspects and hire in a team that is super smart, much better than me, much more immersed. And at the coalface, I’m smart enough to be able to see who is smarter than me. That’s the trick really, isn’t it?

You bring these people on and they are your JavaScript specialist. They are your performance optimization specialist. They are doing that full time day in, day out. That means their skills are much fresher. They’re much more fully immersed in that. And you can be free to look after growing the business and trust these people to deliver on the best quality of service and the best recommendations and the best ROI.

Should you keep doing parts of SEO yourself as a business owner? 

Joost de Valk: Independent the way you are as a business. Is there stuff in SEO that you really should be doing yourself? Do you have an opinion on that? 

Nichola Stott: That’s a really interesting question, actually. 

Joost de Valk: One of the things I often say is that keyword research is something that you should at least engage yourself with. You can’t fully outsource that to an agency because they’ll come up with the wrong things, very often. 

Nichola Stott:  I think there is a lot of truth in that. What we tend to do and the way that we approach keyword research is we do that quite collaboratively. Some things are pretty easy. You’ve got a really simple product and you’ve got a really simple match.

We worked for a fluid dynamics company for six months, probably longer than that because pandemic time moves quicker, doesn’t it? But essentially these are products. These are the things that have technical numbers attached to them. That lacks meaning for us as an agency approaching that.

When it comes to super technical things or B2B in particular, you do need to work collaboratively. Whilst we might have the tools and the expertise to be able to do crazy cool stuff with pivot tables and concatenating functions and that sort of things, to be able to pull loads and loads of data sources together.

What we don’t have is that immersion of working for 10 years in fluid dynamics, to be able to say what’s the difference between an L7431 and an L7469? That’s where you need to sit down with the client and really consult with them. 

So yes and no. I think the agency expertise can come in the number crunching, the ability to pull data together quickly. But the real business acumen, you can’t swap out the client’s own passion and knowledge for that. 

Joost de Valk: No, I can see that. Is there other stuff in an SEO project where you should stay involved yourself?

Nichola Stott: I think involved, absolutely. Particularly if you’re a smaller business like sub 1 million turnover. I think it’s a really good idea to have a stair, because this is fundamental to your growth. It’s possibly the best growth channel. Although you shouldn’t always put your eggs in one basket, it will facilitate more sustainable, reliable growth for your business possibly than any other channel at the moment. So it makes absolute sense to keep some control on that. To ask questions all the time, to push your agency, to challenge your agency so that you’re working more in partnership and more collaboratively in that phase of growth. 

Obviously over that sort of turnover, you’re devolving more responsibility, hiring marketing managers, e-commerce directors, CMOs, whoever that may be. So you will have to lessen the rains there. 

Joost de Valk: It’s one of the things I was tweeting about recently, it’s one of the things that drives me nuts to see as your company grows, how much copy you’re writing and how often you’re just thinking about all these different kinds of copy.

We’ve recently had this thing within Yoast where we were publishing job ads out there and we had to rewrite a few of them because they weren’t attracting the right people. Then we figured out as we rewrote them much better people applied. But then you go Oh shit, I need to put my best copywriters on my job adverts. Now I’m suddenly stuck with all these things that need writing. 

Nichola Stott: That never stops though, does it? That’s one thing that we will never do. We won’t accept guest posts of people saying I’m a great writer, can I write some content for you? It’s just not something we as a business would do because your content is your soul.

Our tone of voice, our company values, the way that we do things, you just can’t outsource that. You’re absolutely right. Even as you say, when it comes to job ads, even things on the periphery that you think other people should be able to manage. Maybe in certain early stages they can, but ultimately it has to be one analogous tone of voice and present that face forward.

What you should look for in and expect from an agency?

Joost de Valk: Okay. When I’m looking for an agency, what should I be looking for as a business owner? What should I expect? 

Nichola Stott: So there’s two parts to that. I’ll do the expectations secondly. In terms of what to look for, some things are quite easy to evaluate. So track record, for example. Ask for those case studies, more importantly, ask for phone numbers of the last two or three clients. One thing that we often do as well as giving phone numbers of clients who we’re currently working with, we’ll also give at least one, maybe two phone numbers of clients who stopped working with us. For whatever reason.

It might be because of the pandemic meant that their business priorities have changed. It might be in one case, an acquisition meant that the strategy for that particular business moved in-house. But we still give the number of the people that we worked with there because we think it’s good that it demonstrates track record. Not just for people who you still have a business relationship with, but you don’t have a business relationship with them anymore. So it comes speaks volumes. 

So track record number one. Number two knowledge. If you don’t feel qualified to evaluate the kind of knowledge and expertise yourself, you can maybe realize that to an extent on the industry. So just Google them. Google that key personnel. So not just their founder, who’s the head of SEO, who is their head of performance, who are their senior high profile people? Google them to see what they are writing about what industry conference are they speaking about, what R&D initiatives are they leading? 

And the third thing, and this is something that nobody else can quantify but you the buyer, is chemistry. And I think that is so important and so undervalued. There’s no replacement for that, there’s no substitute for that. It doesn’t matter about an agency’s track record and it doesn’t matter about how good they appear to be. If you don’t get along as humans, it just might not work. You need a good chemistry fit and you’ve got to evaluate that in your kind of pre-sales and your briefing stage and all of that. Are you going to get on as you work together? 

Joost de Valk: Yeah, if you’d don’t like that person on the other end of the table, it’s going to be a long and hard project.

Nichola Stott: Just working styles sometimes even. It might not be a personal like or dislike. It might be just a, You know what you’re great, but our working styles are completely odd. Let’s not make things unpleasant six months down the line because we just clash in terms of style. That can happen!

What a good client looks like for Erudite agency

Joost de Valk: And if I turn it around, for you, what does a good client look like?

Nichola Stott: For us there’s a couple of things. So again, good chemistry fit. Two is trust. It can be really difficult to get on with the work if we’re constantly being asked to account for what we’re doing. We need to see this, we need to see that, rather than just being able to be trusted, to get on with the work and deliver the results.

Now don’t mistake that for a lack of contact or a lack of feedback. You know yourself sometimes with SEO, a lot of the work is research and auditing. You can’t create a strategy until you have all of the variables at your fingertips. So you can’t just pull out a magic recommendation because that might change a week later because you haven’t done your link audit part or you haven’t done your offsite citations and reviews audit part.

So it’s until you stitch together all of these key aspects of what determines your perception of how well a business is performing that you can really start to deliver the magic. So trust, I think is really important, two, from a client relationship, and three collaboration. 

It’s also understanding that we’re a good quality, high level consulting agency. We don’t tend to write copy for our clients. We want to work in collaboration because just as we were both saying that tone of voice that needs to come from your soul. So we’re not going to be doing  this sort of work. We’re too expensive to pay for us to do that. This is work that needs to come internally. It’s just getting that balance of understanding what is best and provides the best ROI for us to do and work that is best for you to do. 

Budgeting for your SEO and content strategy

Joost de Valk: And in terms of budgeting for stuff like this. Say that I’m paying you two grand a month to do stuff. I probably should also budget in development time and copywriting time, right? Because that’s going to come up on top of that. 

Nichola Stott: Exactly right. WordPress is great, massive fans of WordPress. You can do so much without a developer, but also WordPress developing isn’t quite as much of a concern as say, if you’ve got a Magento or a Kentico, which can then require a lot of additional budgeting on top of that, 

Joost de Valk: It becomes very costly very quickly. 

Nichola Stott: Yes. I was being very tactful. But you’re absolutely right.

Joost de Valk: Yeah, but it does mean that when you’re budgeting for this stuff, you need to think about, Hey, the two grand a month is only probably realistically maybe going to be half or even less of what I’m going to spend in total. 

Nichola Stott: With solutions like WordPress and Shopify, which has also come along so far in the past couple of years. With solutions like that you might need to tack on another third contingency. So maybe three grand a month total. If you can’t do your development in-house, you don’t have that resource, or you should really be doing your copywriting in-house as well. But just thinking about it in terms of time allocation. As a budgeting sort of exercise. So yeah, just to be on the safe side. 

Sometimes it’s a lot less because both CMS’s are fab and we can do things cost efficiently. We are quite a technical agency. So whilst we don’t do development work, we don’t touch the database, we don’t touch the back ends. But we will absolutely provide really technical solutions.

So in as far as possible, our goal is to keep total costs down, but you’re absolutely right. Eyes open. There may be additional development costs, particularly if performance is an issue. 

What to expect when starting to work with an SEO agency?

Joost de Valk: So say I engage with an agency. What should I expect at that point? What does that look like?

Nichola Stott: Normally we would try to front load a lot of the research work in the first month. So we’re aiming to be able to start a growth strategy from month two. So month one is diagnostics, it’s auditing, it’s almost always cleaning up or implementing a proper analytics strategy. Whether it’s Google analytics or another solution with GA, we’re always using Google tag manager as well.

So it’s getting that set up and getting it as clean as possible. Getting parity with your own e-commerce systems. So if you’re using WooCommerce, have we got complete data parity or have you got a 10% or more discrepancy between what your e-commerce transactions are in GA and your e-commerce actual real transactions are and WooCommerce? So all of those sorts of activities are month one. So data is as perfect as possible, so that we’re working with the most optimal kind of set of data as possible. Audit, diagnostics. 

All of that information comes in and then we put a strategy for growth together. Then we’re implementing it from month two onwards so that we’re seeing results by the end of the month two onwards. I think it’s really important to demonstrate, if not ROI immediately within the first three months, someone should be able to see the ROI potential by the end of month three. I’m not into this, I know a lot of SEO agencies will say, Oh, it takes six months to get traction and you’ve got.. No, do not believe in that. We move hard and fast. A lot of technical changes that we’re making will drive overnight improvements from the point of implementation. 

So it’s not the days that it used to be when you know, five years ago, Oh, it takes ages to get traction. It really doesn’t. Some things might, like your content strategy aspects. We’ll take a few months to start to accrue. But technical changes, performance improvements, getting your IA correct, all of that stuff will be hard and fast gains. So our goal is to get our clients to see that ROI, if not fully realized in three months and certainly they can see the graph going towards it.

At what point does a business not need an agency anymore?

Joost de Valk: Cool and at what point does that stop? Does someone ever not need an agency anymore? 

Nichola Stott: I’m trying to think of a scenario and I can’t because of growth. It’s always growth. They might need a different agency. So there might be a point, and I have seen this in auditing competitors to particular new business that we’ve just brought on board in the last three month. We wanted a couple of their competitors and seeing that they’ve maxed out their capabilities in terms of SEO.

So at that point, if that was my client, I would be saying to them, do you know what. Let’s pause. We need to pause because we’re starting to degrade on our efficacy because your site needs an overhaul. We’ve maxed out on the value potential you can get from SEO because your site is too slow here and your site is not as mobile friendly as possible here.

So we need to rebuild. You need a different agency to look at this part. So that’s the only scenario I can think of. Generally, you’ve got a growth trajectory. That means that everything is moving together really nicely. So you’re reinvesting at the same time. But there might be some occasion if the budget is a little bit limited or they need to stop the data fed in.

Look at a different project. Look at a rebuild project. You still gonna need to bring the SEO agency to do the tech specking and all the redirect mapping and the IA for the new site and all the rest of it. It’s just the nature of that relationship will change to more of a project as opposed to a retainer business.

Joost de Valk: Yeah. Are you aimed at mostly doing retainer business or are you doing both? 

Nichola Stott: We do both. And to be honest, I’d say we’re 60/40 at the moment in favor of retainers. The rest, obviously being that, the nature of that sort of project work. It’s interesting to say, what’s most fun, because they’re both really enjoyable for different reasons.

With a project like that, it’s a chance to really blow the socks off. Cause you can really, make it your own and you’re not inheriting something. You can really put a stamp on it and you can really drive a nice step change. Improving retainer business is great because you’ve got that.

Sustained relationship that you’re learning together and you growing that traffic together, and that’s really rewarding to see that journey. So different reasons that both are really exciting. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah. Oh, and it’s also, I think it’s that your mix is a pretty good one because it means that your 60% pays for all your people, I’m guessing. 

How often is there communication between the agency and the customer? 

Okay. You go in, you have this project the first month, you’re off into the woods, and you’re doing all your research and then you come back and then you start working on things. At what point do you talk to each other? There’s that weekly? Monthly? How often do you talk to your clients?

Nichola Stott:  Generally in month one, we would be talking weekly because we’re still requiring some feedback as well. There’ll be certain things that we might need to track. Certain things we’d want to recommend that we need the client to green light. So it might be that we’re setting up GTM and the client is selling product.

We do a lot of Ecommerce, which is why I keep talking about it. So obviously we might be making sure that e-commerce tracking is all set up perfectly, but we’re probably looking at their analytics and saying, I think you could also do with tracking these other stages of the journey. So we’re coming back with things that require input and feedback quite frequently in that first month.

So I’d say weekly in the first month for defs, maybe fortnightly in the second month and then ongoing.  Sometimes it gets to a point where it might be monthly calls or monthly deeper meetings. And we’re just using project management software, like base camp, to keep in the loop and we’re sending maybe a weekly kind of: “this is what we did this week”.

Or if this is what we did this fortnight: “here’s your report. Here’s the key achievements.”, that sort of thing. So once we’re really cooking with gas six months in, it depends on personalities. Some clients might be just smashing it, get on with it, send me a report at the end of the month and do a monthly call. Some might just need a bit more hand holding. It’s personality driven. 

Joost de Valk:  Okay. Yeah. And that’s probably also one of the things you should be asking for when you’re getting an agency, like what do you want, what do you expect for yourself? And then is that, is the agency going to fit with that?

How to keep your agency up to date on the latest news and research in SEO?

So in your team you’ve got a 10 person or so team. How do you make sure that everyone in your team actually stays on top of what they need to know in terms of knowledge about the fields that they do. So how do they stay on top with SEO CRO online marketing in general? Is that something that you as a business owner work on a lot? To make sure that they get there and to keep their knowledge up to date?

Nichola Stott: One of our core values is research and development and self as part of that self guided learning. So whilst there’s obviously an aspect of keeping on top of what’s going on Twitter, what’s the latest news and that sort of thing.

We really put it at the forefront and put it into everyone’s minds that we don’t just recycle other people’s research as the neck, we don’t read and recycle. We obviously take it on board, but we test from first principles. And I don’t know whether it’s just getting the hiring strategy. But I’ve got some really great, really entrepreneurially thinking SEO’s on my team right now.  And they come to me, and they say: “I’m really seeing some data that suggests that signal ‘X’ might be getting stronger in terms of algorithmic contribution. Can we put some time and budget to R&D on that?” And I’ll say, okay, show me the data. Yeah. We should take half a day a month get that dev involved. Do it. 

So absolutely that’s how we do it at Erudite. It’s a combination of following the right people and I can see that they’re doing that. We’re all on Twitter doing that. But it’s also an internal challenge and self guided learning through test and R&D principles. 

Joost de Valk: I love how you explained that because honestly, if they are just on Twitter. Twitter, especially the SEO, can be a bit of an echo chamber. An echo chamber with a three-year reverb. For years, everything comes back and every three year everything comes back. And we’ve both been in this industry for long enough to, we’ve seen most of it a couple of times now.

Nichola Stott: I am frequently reminded of that. And I think: “ So this is why we can’t have nice things”.

Joost de Valk: Yeah. So doing your own research is important, but it’s also scary, isn’t it? Because doing research on SEO is incredibly hard to do well. 

Nichola Stott: I guess it is. And do you know what else is quite difficult or interesting as well? Sometimes it doesn’t go your way. And sometimes your hypothesis is not correct.

And what do you do with that? Do you know what I mean? I think that’s a really interesting challenge from the scientific research principle is we’ve followed a hypothesis. We’ve invested one out of five working days a week for this person to follow this. And they’ve done that test.

They’ve seen that actually there’s no correlation between point ‘A’ and improving results or whatever it might be. Is that wasted work? It’s really interesting, because not every test works out as expected. 

We do actually. And in fact, Miracle. I think you’ve met Miracle. I think you were both on something maybe recently, or maybe it wasn’t so recent. But she’s got an upcoming talk about something that we tried to do with IBM Watson that didn’t work the way we wanted to. But she’s actually going to go through. She said, she’s going to put it all out there and say: “this didn’t work how we wanted it, so here’s what we did. Here’s the work. This was fun. Onto the next one. Because I think that’s more fun”. It’s interesting sometimes, 

Joost de Valk: Yeah. I think it’s great. So often I’m tempted to show UX answers we threw away and why we threw them away. I think it would be great if people showed their failures a bit more because it’s part of any research project. My wife would absolutely kill me if we didn’t do it. But it is a lot simpler to only publish your positive research, where it has a positive outcome.

Nichola Stott: Here’s the thing. I also think it’s our responsibility in a way to show the working out if you know what I mean. So for example, we’ve done a lot of work on accessibility in the past year and we would love, morally and ethically, if there was a strong correlation between sites that are highly accessible and have good UX criteria, and improving ranking.

Wouldn’t that be great? It wouldn’t be a bad place. But as far as we can ascertain, there isn’t. But perhaps by showing the workings, and this is something we’re working on at the moment, looking at correlation studies between some key accessibility criteria and ranking position. It’s really difficult to extract the causal aspect.

You know what it’s like? Is it correlation? Is it that they’re just doing other stuff that’s really good as well? Is it that highly accessible sites invest a lot in SEO, because they’re just more web literate? So it’s difficult. But even if we can’t prove anything, I think it’s a responsibility to say: “there is no proof here that there’s a correspondence, but shouldn’t we be doing this anyway?”.

Isn’t this all part of good on page, full stop, not just on page SEO. Because it shouldn’t all be about providing an experience or providing a service that makes your site rank better. 

Joost de Valk: I fully agree. So we have a couple of people focusing internally on accessibility and on accessibility of WordPress core as well.

And one of the things is that we should just bake SEO and accessibility into these things so that it automatically goes correctly. It’s so hard to have to do this after the fact. 

Nichola Stott:  Oh, absolutely. And you just end up with this culture of algo chasing, which has always been the problem with some aspects of the industry.

Twitter as the echo chamber that you mentioned, it’s this approach of chasing the algorithm, trying to determine and deconstruct aspects of the algorithm instead of working out what’s the best page experience for everybody. Everybody that might encounter that page and optimize for that and let the search engines catch up with you, rather than the other way around.

In what way do easy-to-use CMSs change agency work?

Joost de Valk: Cool. In the SEO landscape we’ve had some changes in the last few years. Although a lot of the technical aspects, maybe didn’t even change all that much over over, over time. It seems like the ecosystem is changing a bit. And some of what we used to do as SEO’s is becoming a bit more commodity and basically just works out of the box, especially with WordPress and Shopify, et cetera.

Has that changed how you do work as an agency? 

Nichola Stott: Not us. We’ve always been quite focused on the UX aspects of providing a good SEO service and the more technical aspects. And as you say, a lot of these things are taken care of out of the box, particularly with WordPress and Shopify. But to an extent there’s always room for improvement.

No matter how good the two CMSs may be, you know as well as I do: images. It’s not sexy. It’s not the super technical stuff. But that’s always the first place you’re going to look to optimize the user experience and optimize those. If you’re looking at the scoring, you can look at your FCPs (first contentful paint) or whatever it might be that you’re using as your metric to determine how good, how fast this page has been delivered.

It’s always going to be image work and that’s on you to work on that. Yeah. Obviously the CMS, and there’s an element of how, which image is selected and delivered and using a variable source set and all the rest of it, the core image itself and getting that aspect, there’s still always work to be done somewhere.

Joost de Valk: Yeah, it was funny. I was just looking with my colleague Jono this morning at a couple of blog posts on Yoast dot com where some of our colleagues copy paste that content from Google docs into post and it turns out they copy pasted the image along. Didn’t really think about it themselves as well.

And the image is still hosted on Google docs and nothing ever tells you that it’s still hosted in Google docs because it works and it loads for everybody, et cetera. But it’s slow as shit. So a lot of these things where I think that is partly the problem with the CMS because you’re copy pasting in something from Google docs.

It’s saving the tax locally, but it’s not saving the image locally. Why is it not saving the image locally? That’s weird, but it is things like that, that you just keep on going back to. It’s weird. Isn’t it? We were still fixing the same things that we were fixing 10 years ago.

Nichola Stott: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And that’s why I think work like that is probably a really good case for having an agency when you are a business of a certain size, because that’s not the best use of your time going back every three months and just doing a reorder with the best of intentions.

Even if your site is like a thousand pages or a really small website, you will end up with an orphaned URL. You will end up with images all over the place and all sorts of different sizes because different people start to work on it. And it’s the exercise of standard dilution and that sort of thing. It’s a hard job for you to stay on top of all of that as a business owner, outsource it, take it off your plate

Joost de Valk:  It’s funny as we talk about it, is that SEO though, or is that website maintenance in a way. 

Nichola Stott: Do you know, I guess the output is probably maintenance. Absolutely. But the beneficial marketing channel would be organic search. So I guess you could pull that budget from wherever you find it must be. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah, absolutely true. I’m thinking hard. So you go through this process. The thing is I’ve started out my career in agency land, as we’ve known each other for far too long. And I’m just thinking I used to just write tons and tons of reports. And is that still what the majority of what you do? A lot of report writing and then telling the client what to fix or is it more fixing it now too?

Nichola Stott:  More fixing. Definitely more fixing. It’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard because there are internal pressures in organizations, particularly in certain sizes of organizations.

And I know because, this is your podcast and WordPress is your buying, so we’re talking more about the smaller business and the startup sector. But most of our clients are quite large, we’re talking at least 10 million plus. 

Joost de Valk: Honestly, I was at careers at, which runs WordPress and Yoast SEO. I mean there’s loads of these large businesses that run WordPress on a lot of their sites too. 

Nichola Stott: Very true. I’d say sometimes the larger the business, there is more internal pressure from the people that were working opposite. So they are pressured internally from those above them to send reports and that it’s difficult for us to help them.

Because, we’re being paid to do reports, which is fine. That’s, that’s fine. But we try to give them as much ammunition as possible to try to educate upwards and say the more reporting that we’re doing, the less action is happening. And that’s just a bit of a subtle shift, but that’s larger, more traditional organizations that are really matrix reporting systems and that kind of structure.

It can be hard, but we want to give our clients the ammunition to help them explain further up the channel that it’s better  if we utilize systems like data studio and, teaching people how to use that and how to change the data that they’re looking at, understanding that it updates.

We don’t need to commission a report. We just look at the report URL and that data is updated and the power is now ours. So that’s what we’d just try and get that balance a bit. So we’re more doing rather than reflecting. 

The most important KPIs for an agency to report on

Joost de Valk: And in terms of what would be your preferred KPI to report on to a client? What is the number that people should be looking at, such as revenue 

Nicola Stott: Revenue.

Joost de Valk: and search traffic maybe, or just revenue?

Nicola Stott: Search traffic, yes. Providing that you’ve got your keyword strategy. And your strategy is one of content diversification. So there are still occasions where we might land a new project and we might say: “Wow, this is amazing. You’ve got X million visits from organic search a month” and we dig into it and we realize that 50% of that is horse.

It’s not relevant. It’s not working for them. That’s why revenue or your conversion goal. So it might be a subscription or it doesn’t matter. That point, that commercial point for us has to be your North star. Because sometimes, if an SEO agency goes, your traffic is this and your traffic is that it doesn’t matter if your sales are like down there. It has to support that commercial goal.

Joost de Valk: I fully agree with you. On that note, I’m actually going to say that is a great end to a good show. Thank you, Nichola. This has been very enlightening. I think it is a very good show for everyone who wants to listen and figure out how to hire an SEO agency. And if they do well, Erudite definitely comes highly recommended by us.

There you go. And thank you for your time and everyone listening. Thanks for listening. If you’re not subscribed, make sure you do subscribe and see you in another two weeks for the next SEO podcast. Bye-bye.

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