Why SEOs/Inbound Marketers Should Work Onsite

Because the rules of SEO have changed in the past 6-18 months, especially with the release of algorithms such as Panda and Penguin, as digital marketers we now have to think broader about how our work affects the other parts of the marketing ecosystem. Like Hugo said in his recent post:

…[W]hat I didn’t realize at the time was how this relatively small sharing gesture would result in a significant surge in collaboration, implementation, and general advocacy on the part of this particular division. In fact, the amount of effort and emphasis that this group provided extended beyond SEO and into one of the other channels that I manage.

And the result has been obvious lift in ROI for both of these channels as well as a much stronger sense of rapport between my team and this parallel business group.

Being in New York City, I’ve had the fortune to be able to go work onsite with a few of my clients. This has afforded me to the opportunity to get to know all of the employees as friends (we’ve been working together for over 6 months now), which is a greatly underestimated competitive advantage when working with a consultant. Couple people who are motivated, talented, and smart with mentors who are experts in their fields, and all of a sudden you have a very formidable company pushing flywheels that are all pushing a larger company flywheel.

I’ve seen a lot of success with this one client in particular, increasing their organic traffic 3x in a few short months. But it’s not the numbers that I want to focus on, though they are relatively remarkable.

Through my times working onsite with them, I’ve been able to:

  • Work closely with executives, who give the final approval;
  • Directly influence content strategy;
  • Directly influence hiring;
  • Motivate the entire company to care about SEO through showing them the value of our work;
  • Influence social media and other PR for SEO benefit.

I want to focus on the benefits of working onsite. We’ve had a push to do this more at Distilled. Paddy and I even gave a talk on it at our Distilled-a-thon because of the success we’ve seen through it. Here are a few examples of what has happened since I’ve been working onsite and built a relationship to the point of complete trust.

The CEO does Outreach

You’re going to think I am kidding, and I recognize that this is extremely rare, but it is something we should all be shooting for. Through building my relationship with the CEO, I’ve gotten him doing outreach to business partners in order to get links (through a smart widget embed). I would not be able to build these relationships with the level of people that he is reaching, but because he is the CEO and knows other CEOs, he’s done a phenomenal job of getting links from strong sites.

How – The CEO was already building relationships with other potential business partners, so it only made sense for him to be the one doing outreach while on calls with other businesses. I simply asked.

Hired a Guest Blogger

When I first started working with this company, I quickly realized that they are creating a new niche. Quite simply, there were very few directories to submit to, and we also realized that this was not going to move the needle (especially in a post-Panda world, and especially now a post-Penguin world).

You all know that I am a fan of content marketing  and cultural thought leadership, so I decided that they should instead seek to lead the way with content and establish a niche that way.

I didn’t have the bandwidth to do this with the budget we had, so we looked for ways to scale up content creation. Lo and behold, I came in one week and they had hired a dedicated content person to write guest posts. WIN! This guy has a journalism background and connections in the blogging world, and so he has been rocking it out for the past few months.

PR Training

This client has an incredible PR person working with them on a freelance basis. He has gotten them press coverage that anyone would be amazed at. But he wasn’t getting them links. In fact, he told me straight up that he did not like asking for links.

So what did I do? When Distilled’s internal PR capability was in town, she came by and met with him. In two hours, they had taught each other a lot – she had trained him on approaching journalists for links (including being willing to leave out links if pushed to get unnatural anchor text), and he had given her some ideas for ways that they could work together to get multiple companies PR coverage.

Influence Content and Blog Strategy

Through working onsite, I’ve also gained their trust when it comes to content. Through making friends with their content creation team and taking the time to get to know them, we’ve been able to first establish a blog and content strategy, and then iterate upon this strategy as the data has led.

We’ve iterated upon their blog strategy  three or four times, and one of these iterations led to their main blogger being allowed to work on the blog full-time like he desired instead of having to do other work. His work spoke for itself and I’m happy to have played a small part.


None of this would have been possible had I not gotten out of my comfortable office chair and gone to work onsite. Honestly, this project was starting to fall apart because I was not onsite working with them. Some clients need a bit more of a personal touch. I’d say the results here have been worth it:

If you’re a consultant, offer to meet them for lunch. Have a beer with them after work (a coworker and I did this with a large fashion brand, and getting buy-in since has been remarkably easier). Go work from their office once or twice a month (or every week if you have the budget). I promise you’ll see success, because you may get to:

* Work closely with executives, who give the final approval;
* Directly influence content strategy;
* Directly influence hiring;
* Motivate the entire company to care about SEO through showing them the value of your work;

Oh, and I know that the vast majority of you won’t actually do it. So if you do, you’ve got an advantage.

The choice is yours.

14 thoughts on “Why SEOs/Inbound Marketers Should Work Onsite

  1. John man… TIMELY and significant post. I saw Tom mention this in his recent post about productivity, and it’s made me rethink my whole approach to communication, and even choosing a good percentage of clients who I can realistically meet in person. I’m even thinking of a 1-2 day trip to places where I can meet a handle of clients (I have a few in Philly now, thanks to Wil Reynolds) … and not only would it be so productive, but FUN! Little road trip, you know? And the ROI of getting to know some clients better I see can be enormous. Thanks for the more detailed share.


  2. Great post man. At it’s core I believe marketing is about trust and relationships, so the key point you make about going onsite and building relationships in order to save the project is huge.

    And even if the client is covering the travel expenses, an agency-side marketer who’s willing to go onsite is a huge value-add and differentiator. I hope your advice is taken.

  3. Fantastic post! As an in-houser I couldn’t agree with you more. The agencies who allow staff to take the time to get to know our team and company are the ones who are always top of our mind for new projects. It helps senior management better understand what we need to be doing more of and means we’re usually quicker to respond to requests/get things signed off! An extra benefit is it really upskills our own staff and inspires them to develop new and original ideas too.

  4. Awesome stuff. I agree that there are a lot of benefits but I think there are significant efficiency costs. I used to drive about 45 minutes each way to a client’s office every Friday. I got to know the team and discuss ideas but after a few months I felt like the benefits diminished significantly. (PS just submitted this to Inbound.org)!

    1. Efficiency costs in what way? I actually disagree, because I think “efficiency” can be measured in different ways. Sometimes we need to build trust (which isn’t doing SEO) in order to get done what we need to get done. It’s about affecting change, not just doing the documents/work.

  5. John,

    Working onsite with clients is one of the quickest ways to get integrated into your client’s marketing department and process.

    We have found this makes us a true extension of their team, they trust us more, and they are more willing to let us run strategy from month to month without much oversight on their part.

    We try to do this every 6-8 weeks with local clients and with clients out of state, if they spend enough, we will fly out and meet/work with them once or twice a year.

  6. Thanks for the mention, John, and you make a great case for working onsite.

    While I’m a huge advocate of telecommuting and remote working, you’re right that there’s a certain amount of footwork that must be done via face-to-face interaction.

    Nicely done!

  7. Fantastic post, and I entirely agree. Our society is increasingly encouraging of isolated work and specialism, but, when we rediscover collaboration, human warmth, and the personal touch, it’s like a big bad light bulb turned on.

    You’re right that it’s not always necessary, but I have found it to almost always build trust, fun, and results–even in my short time as a contractor.

  8. great post as ever. The key thing for me is Agencies on the whole want to spend time on site and develop deeper more engaging relationship.

    With big brands this is not easy or simple to do. They can sometimes have a complex structures that involves various stakeholders to operate and thus engage with. This can be hugely time consuming and a challenge for onboarding with a new agencies.

    Brands who work with agencies think more about how that can work with their agencies in a collaborative way and treat them as a true execution of their marketing team. This should not be an after thought but as part of any on boarding with a new agency. A two way feedback process on ways of working is a must.

    1. Cheers Mark, really appreciate the comment and the insights! I agree that big corporations are not nearly as agile as startups, but I think this is a great way to break down barriers and build trust. Often, SEO isn’t a matter of optimizing the process – it’s a matter of prioritization by people. Relationships get things done.

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