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One of the trends highlighted in the recently updated SEO Agencies Buyer’s Guide is that client demands are pushing innovation and the development of proprietary technology – both in-house, and at agencies.

These changes are also impacting on the client/agency relationship.

To explore this theme further, I spoke to independent digital consultant Andy Betts, one of the contributors to the guide.

What is changing in the SEO industry in terms of the technology used?

Agencies have traditionally used different SEO tools for different tasks, such as keyword research and assessing rankings. The agencies have used these tools separately to mark out the SEO strategy. Recently, business have had their eyes opened to SEO and the impact it can have. The money to be made is driving SEO as a business need.

The demand for a return on investment is pushing for the development of technical solutions to maximise return. One tool doesn’t always fit, and clients and agencies are adapting these tools to business need.

Data is being refined and integrated across different digital channels, and companies are looking how best to put a value on SEO data and combine this with other channels.

SEO started out siloed, now it runs throughout the business. The technology being developed is reflecting this trend, and helps clients and agencies collaborate more closely to identify new ways to monetise the opportunities present within SEO.

How are proprietary tools assisting in measuring the value of SEO efforts?

Dashboards and the reporting of business metrics are important concept in SEO. Different metrics apply to different areas of business. There has been a sizeable shift in reporting beyond rankings. 

The opportunity present is to develop dashboards and widgets that are personalised and customised to the individual. The CEO and CFO will have their data presented to them differently in a way that is relevant for them, and demonstrate the value to different business units. There is a shift and focus to presenting information that is valuable and relevant to the client at various stages of the purchase and influence cycle.

Dashboards make that value accessible and transparent. If you can get the CEO to see the value of SEO and social media, and they see it as a boardroom agenda, you will rapidly see an increase in investment. 

There is a missed opportunity in not acting with SEO, and in order to act, decision makers need to see the value. When data from different sources is brought together, refined, and the opportunity cost to not acting is shown, then companies realise they have to act. In this way, technical collaboration brings value to the data. 

The rise of enterprise SEO platforms and advanced search and social media measurement tools help both clients and agencies share knowledge, investment, and resource to maximise efficiency and productivity. The solutions being developed use data sources such as Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO to refine data relative to business outcomes. 

Tools range from keyword research, crawling, backlink analysis, reporting, productivity, customer relationship management, and social media elements. 

Are there any risks in developing proprietary technology?

One of the biggest risks is securing initial and continued investment to keep pace with the changing situation in search. The investment needs to be there to allow for a continual tech release cycle that can keep up with the changes in the market.

Furthermore, changes such as Google’s Panda update require new techniques and approaches with regards to quality content, whilst Search plus Your World encourages collaboration between SEO and social media. 

However, it is an adapt or die situation. If Google makes changes, agencies and businesses have to adapt and move on. It may restrict them, but the positives in investing in this technology outweigh the negatives.

How is the development of technology changing the client/agency relationship?

Agencies are collaborating much more closely with clients, particularly in the enterprise space. Clients in turn have become much more savvy, and they want to work closely with their agencies and gain insight into technology, tools and methods.

In addition, this is changing pricing models in how agencies charge for SEO, moving towards charges on scalable revenue. Joint investment, and ways of working with technology means that the results are being shared between clients and agencies.

What will happen to agencies that do not change?

Agencies that continue to deal just with SEO in a technical, siloed manner may well struggle. They should be looking to integrate SEO with content marketing, social media, and other disciplines to offer value to clients. However, technically minded SEOs seem reluctant to do this. 

Andrew Warren-Payne

Published 13 April, 2012 by Andrew Warren-Payne

Andrew Warren-Payne is a Senior Research Analyst at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or Google+

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