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SEO Agencies vs. Digital Marketing Agencies

It seems like from the very beginning, SEO has been at risk of being misunderstood — from black hat SEOs, to salesy one-man shows overcomplicating their explanation of the Google algorithm to try and make more money from marketers. But it’s not so complicated — it’s an enormous marketing channel that can be invested in like any other. Read on to learn more.

Oct 16, 2020

6 m read

What does it really mean when you see “SEO” in the dropdown menu of an agency’s services? What’s included in that umbrella term, and how can you assess before you commit, exactly what you’re going to get out of it?

When you’re looking for an SEO agency, learning about how to best outsource SEO, and trying to assess who to go with, you don’t always get a lot of clarity from the agencies in question about the differences in their services.

I actually (spoiler) selected Victorious to be my SEO agency in a previous role at a software company in LA. I was heading up the marketing department and I reached a point where we had maxed out our internal SEO resources and I knew that if we invested more in SEO, we could crush our lead gen goals.

So I knew it was time to select an SEO agency. But how to sort through the different options with confidence?

Choosing an SEO Agency

X Agency over here was bundling their services with PPC, and I thought, well, that’s pretty convenient, and Y Agency over here was also doing our web development so can’t-they-just-do-it-too…. There was a lot to sort through, and there are a lot of companies out there masquerading as “SEO” when their services are really just a small fraction of the SEO category.

But SEO isn’t just a minor tactic that you add on to web development, and it isn’t the kind of thing that should be paired with PPC in an overarching campaign – it’s an entire marketing channel in itself, supported by several different tactics – and all of those tactics require expertise and resources to do successfully.

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This is the information that would have been helpful to have when I was looking at selecting an agency back then. It’s the reason the local guy selling you SEO can’t do much more than the add-on “SEO” service that you’re being sold from your web development agency. Web agencies don’t perform SEO campaigns, they perform web development – they understand the basic tenets of on-page SEO, so they can make sure to build a site that doesn’t screw you over. And that’s great! But you can’t expect them to also deliver you fully-functioning SEO campaigns – it’s just not what they do.

Unfortunately, in an era where we have to compete, if one web development agency is boasting SEO services, then even if all they are doing is basic internal link analysis, the rest of the web developers in their space are going to follow suit. They add “SEO” to their site as a service, confusing the industry and pressuring other web agencies to do the same. The same happens with PPC-focused agencies, and other SEM or digital marketing agencies in the modern era as well.

Fully-Functioning SEO Campaigns

But SEO campaigns are much, much more than add-on services. SEO campaigns are methodical, multi-pronged marketing machines that tackle site optimizations, content development, and link building, in a carefully constructed way, specific to a unique business, to increase visibility and dominate that business’s segment of the search market.

Another way I like to look at this is in flipping the entire way we tend to view SEO. It’s not just a tactic to support your marketing channels, it’s an entire marketing channel itself. This goes against the way we see SEO delivered from search marketing agencies or all-in-one digital marketing agencies. When you hire one of those agencies to deliver you with a Marketing Campaign, they’re using SEO as a single tactic to support the campaign, not driving an entire campaign that’s driven by the potential of SEO.

So why is it so critical to focus on SEO as its own channel?

1. You don’t want to get stuck in a jack-of-all-trades, master of none situation.

We see this in the conversations we have with digital marketing agencies. You talk to them and they have 30 employees covering 20 marketing channels… PPC, email marketing, SEO, graphic design, web development, etc. So best case scenario, you have 1 or 2 SEO experts in there, and the more common scenario is they are all jacks-of-all-trades.

At Victorious, we have 30 people that are all focused on 1 channel. It’s an unprecedented collection of deep SEO expertise all in one place, and it enables us to focus on capturing otherwise untapped target audiences.

Not to get too salesy here on you, but there’s a reason our campaigns win SEO awards.

2. Do you really want the same person controlling your SEO and PPC budgets?

Organic search results and Google Ads essentially compete with each other on the front page of a search query. So what are you risking when you are using an all-in-one agency to manage both?

When a digital marketing agency treats SEO as a tactic to support a “search marketing campaign” that uses both SEO and PPC, they have a fallback if one doesn’t perform as well as the other. And typically, PPC is going to be the avenue that they fall back to because, from a cost perspective, it’s also going to make them more money.

An SEO-only agency, on the other hand, has to make their SEO succeed, because there is no fallback option.

When I joined the team here, I asked our sales director Pete why this matters so much, and he told me the tale of a Marketing VP he had recently sold a deal to, who had received proposals from several top agencies for his business. Pete asked the guy why he was going with Victorious, and he said, “Of course it’s important that you’re SEO-only. I would never go with the same agency for PPC and SEO — I want a little tension there. I want them to compete for my dollar and do well in each of their respective spaces. Not fall back on whatever is most profitable for them if they fail in one of the channels.”

3. Supporting the SEO channel requires multiple areas of expertise.

I’m not trying to evoke debate, but I think it’s pretty clear that SEO is more complex than PPC. If you know how to set up and optimize a PPC campaign, I’m not trying to minimize that — you are an expert, then, in PPC. But there are so many different types of SEO.

The algorithm evolves, Google’s semantic understanding of your search terms evolve, and there are multiple branches of knowledge and tactics that all feed into the umbrella category of “SEO” — link building is a monster in itself — you need a full team dedicated just to that. It requires a full team of experts to handle correctly, not an all-in-one marketing specialist trying to do a little of everything.

Objectively, you can’t do industry-leading SEO and all of these other marketing channels, because it’s simply impossible to have the manpower to do it all at a high level.

When you start an SEO campaign with Victorious, you have an entire company that has not only been trained in a rigorous SEO bootcamp, but you have that whole company supporting your fully-functioning SEO campaign that’s designed to your business goals. From your first strategy session to your monthly reporting calls, you will be focused on the tactics of SEO that deliver results that are aligned with your marketing needs.

4. SEO can reach people that “regular” digital marketing campaigns cannot.

What’s the first step of any good marketing campaign?

I’d have to imagine that most marketers will agree that 99% of the time, the first step of a marketing campaign is identifying the target audience.

And yes, of course, the target audience is relevant to many business goals that SEO can address. But one of the most unique elements of SEO is its ability to capture organic searchers of any kind, who may not otherwise know about you or your services.

SEO starts by looking at what people are searching for, and then uses marketing to create pages of content that best address those searches. So if we are always bundling SEO into overarching marketing campaigns, we are missing an entire market of searchers, who might be able to land, consume, and become aware of your brand. Unlike PPC and many other marketing channels, SEO is a long-term play that has continuously-building ROI over time.

5. Digital marketing campaigns start and end, and SEO does not.

Let’s dig in more to the prior point.

Sure, you can “do SEO” for a short period of time — you can optimize a single page, perform a technical audit, or support your site through a redesign — you just won’t be maximizing its value, or growing ROI over time.

Victorious works in year-long partnerships, so when you sign on to your first year, your customer success manager will immediately start working towards your long-term goals, creating a sustainable cadence of deliverables, looking with a seasoned eye at a tactical SEO menu, and strategizing with the SEO team to bring you the deliverables you need to succeed.

From there, your success continues to compound, and you can focus on “add-on” shorter term SEO projects. Once your general brand awareness is maximized, and you are visible in search queries that are driving a high volume of traffic to your site, you can do a lot more with SEO. We can help you rank well for new product launches, align your keyword targets with market pivots, and grow your online presence as industry thought leaders.

While SEO is more sustainable than PPC, it still needs to be managed and strategic to change as your business evolves. This is where you benefit from outsourcing SEO long-term, instead of simply investing in a short term campaign.

So let’s get going!

It seems like from the very beginning, SEO has been at risk of being misunderstood — from black hat SEOs, to salesy one-man shows overcomplicating their explanation of the Google algorithm to try and make more money from marketers. But it’s not so complicated — it’s simply an enormous marketing channel that can be invested in like any other. So get a free strategy session to find out how you can benefit from process-driven, fully functioning SEO campaigns.

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