Forrester, a global research and advisory firm, has released two of its three new reports on search marketing. The first evaluates the top SEO agencies, and the second evaluates SEO software. While the companies profiled in the first analysis will undoubtedly want to see how Forrester views them, the greater importance for marketers in general is to use the findings to see what SEOs, marketers, and agencies need — and will need — to do to be effective in an ever-changing online landscape.
Search-Marketing Agencies Report
- The Forrester Wave™: Search Marketing Agencies, Q4 2012 ($2,495)
- 360i, the agency selected by Forrester as the top performer, has a free copy of the report
According to this excerpt in Forrester’s report, the top agencies recognize two fundamental realities today:
- Search marketing is becoming discovery enablement — The nature of search marketing is fundamentally changing — from trying to capture customers using a single discovery channel (traditional search engines) to collecting users engaged in all forms of digital discovery.
- Leader agencies support search marketing fundamentals and multiplatform discovery — Leading search agencies have strong tools and processes for managing paid and organic search, but they also help their clients position prominently in multiplatform environments.
The takeaway is that the best SEO agencies recognize that inbound marketing is now much, much more than just getting good rankings in Google and must incorporate “all forms of digital discovery” on a “multiplatform” basis. As I wrote in a blog post for my company, companies will increasingly not get found in Google from SEO alone — you also need great website content, social-media signals, links from authoritative websites, and public relations in addition to keyword optimization. Social media and SEO affect each other because a “like” is a bona-fide, human endorsement of your site. A website with great content will not gain good links without PR and blogger outreach on social media and elsewhere to build relationships and answer the question, “WHY should I link to you?” And if a company is not creating good content at all, then it is already far behind. A business needs to be “found” in as many places as possible.
As such, every good agency needs to have the ability to create and execute an inbound-marketing mix that encompasses all of these factors (see a great Hubspot infographic posted by Pamela Vaughan on the 101 of inbound marketing). As Chris Sherman notes at Search Engine Land as well:
Search marketers have faced major challenges this year, including problems advertisers are facing with paid search inflation the difficulty of finding qualified search marketers, keeping up with algorithm or other changes, dealing with new search interfaces (voice, touch, etc) and a number of others. This has led many organizations, even those with an in-house team, to seek outside assistance…
Forrester also found that marketers are starting to apply more of what they’re calling “discovery tactics” – multi-channel touchpoints to reach customers.
As we can see, a good SEO agency will need the ability to do all of the following:
- Technical SEO analysis and optimization
- Inbound marketing and website-analytics knowledge
- Conversion optimization
- Content creation of all types
- Social-media activity in line with a client’s specific business goals and marketing strategies
- PR and outreach to spread content, build a brand, and gain quality links
Any firm that does not (or cannot) do these best practices will never have a chance to compete against the major firms like 360i (the best one, according to Forrester). Here is Forrester’s ranking:
- 360i “receives top scores in both the current offering and strategy sections of our review, due to its strong paid search and social media capabilities and for its unwavering strategic focus on employee and client education”
- iCrossing “demonstrates broad expertise in biddable media and content creation, enabled by a proprietary real-time content lab”
- Performics “[has] international scale, support for mobile and social programs, and loyal customers and employees”
- Covario “has improved its media, collaboration, and copywriting capabilities — adding to its traditionally strong SEO”
- Impaqt “is well loved by its client references, it still drops out of the Leaders this year; its SEO and paid search offerings haven’t kept pace with those of competitors”
- iProspect “provides leader-level international and social media support, but its processes and tools for search program management fall flat”
- Acronym “was bested by veteran participants. Its account management and report flexibility tie for top-of-study. But that isn’t enough to compensate for its lack of social media resources, its basic approach to mobile marketing, or its muddled strategic vision”
SEO Software Report
- The Forrester Wave™: SEO Platforms, Q4 2012 ($2,495)
- Rio SEO, whose software was selected as the best, has a free copy of the complete report that you can access after giving supplying some contact information (and that is an example of great inbound marketing: they captured my e-mail address for future use, and I saved $2,500)
As Forrester notes in its report, a lot of SEO software is limited because a machine itself can only measure machine-like elements: technical errors on a website, current search-engine rankings, and so on. But as I noted in a prior post, “Google is a Machine That Wants to be Human,” a lot of search marketing now relies on non-quantifiable elements including page design, user friendliness, the quality of a photo or other schema mark-ups in SERP pages, and whether a conversion funnel seems secure enough to process credit cards securely. A machine cannot tell you, for example, whether a page has too many advertisements “above the fold” — you need human eyeballs to measure that element. When I do an SEO audit for the clients of my company, I use software along with a lengthy checklist that I go through personally.
As Sherman also notes:
Organic search, by contrast, is more difficult, due to inherent differences in how search engines look at each type of marketing. Rather than the essentially “paying for position” option that’s available to paid search advertisers (it’s more complicated than that, but let’s take this as the basic assumption), organic SEOs must have a deep understanding of how results are determined, and to complicate things, must also understand factors that affect rankings such as personalization, authorship, structured markup and more.
Inbound marketing now involves so many factors — quality content, the optimal placement of social sharing buttons, communicated value propositions, calls to action, and the testing of landing pages, among others — that reports generated by software should not be the end-all, be-all of SEO analysis. As Google evaluates websites more and more from a human standpoint, a human is necessary for optimization and marketing. Software is merely a (necessary) accessory to automate measurement, rankings, and related tasks — especially for large, enterprise websites.
And in that context, here (in a nutshell) is what Forrester said of the four SEO-software platforms that the company measured:
- Rio SEO — “Rio SEO leads because it actually creates optimized content and web pages instead of just providing optimization recommendations.”
- BrightEdge — “BrightEdge takes a solo Strong Performer position for its content auditing, forecasting, and security capabilities and because it is the only vendor with a proprietary international office.”
- SEOmoz — “SEOmoz lacks some of the functionality of other vendors we evaluated, but its easy-to-use audit tools are the most pervasive in the market.”
- Conductor — “Conductor’s earnest management team and customer-centric culture aren’t enough to overcome its shortcomings around content auditing, optimization, and implementation, as well as a lack of support for mobile and local SEO.”
Forrester states that the company will eventually review lesser-known SEO software and analytics tools, and I would personally be curious to see examinations of SEO Powersuite, Internet Business Promoter, SEO Book, Raven Tools, SEMRush, SEO Suite, Web CEO, DIY SEO, Deep Log Analyzer, Nihuo Web-Log Analyzer, Web-Stat, Authority Labs, Sheer SEO, Trellian SEO Toolkit, and SEO Studio since I have looked at them elsewhere on my site here.
However, I think these reviews will be less likely to come — at least anytime quickly. Forrester caters to large, enterprise companies with extensive budgets that can afford the highest-quality software and research (hence the heavy prices that Forrester charges for its reports). However, most online marketers, just going by the obvious numbers, work as consultants or at smaller firms and start-ups. So, they would also benefit from a good analysis of less-expensive alternatives (and Forrester might gain revenue from another customer base as a result).
Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.