Project Management System for Agencies

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Ryan Stewart

I've built and sold dozens of online businesses including WEBRIS, a 7 figure SEO agency. This blog is a collection of my thoughts on scaling digital agencies.

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Project management is always overlooked by agencies because it just isn’t sexy.

It has nothing to do with the latest tactics, hacks or driving growth. Project management is simply about staying organized and accountable for what needs to get done.

With so many moving pieces that go into an advanced SEO campaign, you’ll fail without a system to manage everything.

In this post, I’m going to cover:

  • How to build proper processes to scale your agency’s production
  • How to quickly build and manage project plans
  • Using our SEO project plan templates

Let’s dive in.

It’s all about the process

Tools like Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Google Sheets (etc) are great, but they’re project management tools, not solutions.

To execute SEO campaigns at the highest level you need a process. Why?


SEO is overwhelming, there’s dozens of things that need to get done (yesterday). A process gives you the framework to get from point A to Z and allows you to easily manage it without pulling your hair out.

Most people think a process forces you to do things a certain way – it’s actually the opposite. No two SEO campaigns are the same, they vary depending on the site. It’s much easier to move tasks than build from scratch. Having a set process / framework gives you something to start with on day 1, saving you time and headaches.

With a process in place, you know that you need to do XYZ on a certain date. If you don’t know how to do it, you can clearly see the resource gap for you to hire someone. It’s easier to hire someone to JUST do keyword research or write content than to do “SEO”. It allows you to focus on things at the task level, not the aggregate.

A huge key to SEO is getting a team in place to execute all the moving pieces. Hiring a technical SEO expert is expensive – but if you have a technical audit process built out, you can hire someone with less experience and train them easily.

 

In case you haven’t noticed, The Blueprint is our process. I developed these “5 phases” over a long period of time. While you’re welcome to adopt them for your own practice, we need to talk about building a processes specifically for your agency.

Building your agency’s processes

Our “5 phases” started as list of items on a napkin. It grew into a framework that helped me sell my agency.

Blueprint __ Competitive Analysis

Grab something to write with and let’s talk about how to build processes for your agency.

You can start by asking yourself this question…

If you were to build the perfect SEO campaign, without limitations (i.e. budget, timing, resources), what would you do? 

At a very high level, it should be the chunks of work you need to execute a campaign.

high level seo process

 

However, this is not a process, it’s a framework. To build a process, we need to expand on each chunk.

Looking at the “technical corrections” block, an example process might be:

Technical corrections process

  1. Get access to client’s GSC, GA and GTM
  2. Crawl the website
  3. Review indexation status in Google Search Console
  4. Review use of XML sitemaps in Google Search Console
  5. Review directives in Robots.txt file
  6. Review use of canonical tags (need Screaming Frog crawl)
  7. Review use of Schema on key landing pages (Google’s tool)
  8. Review speed of key landing pages (Google’s tool)
  9. And so on…

A high level view of this process might look something like the image below.

technical audit process

But there’s still more work to do…we can go deeper.

For example, each of the items listed in the technical corrections process can be expanded into sub processes.

301 redirect review sub process

  1. Open website crawl in Excel
  2. Filter Column L (status codes) in spreadsheet
  3. Crosscheck 301 redirects to ensure they’re mapped to the right URL
  4. Check for redirect “hops” (aka when a URL is redirected more than once)
  5. Etc

A visualization of this sub process might look like the image below.

process for seo detailed

This is a tedious process, I know, but it needs to be done for every section of your framework.

To recap:

  1. Build a framework – the high level guide to executing a perfect SEO campaign.
  2. Map out processes – a checklist to execute each section of the framework.
  3. Create sub process documentation – detailed training documents detailing your processes.

At the very least, you should build a framework and document the processes of each section.

But I strongly suggest you take the time to develop the sub processes. These will serve as training that your staff can follow to execute the work.

When you have your service detailed to this level of granularity, profitability skyrockets.

  1. You’re able to spend less time worrying about service delivery and more time focused on getting SEO clients.
  2. You’re able to hire staff with less experience (aka lower cost) because all they have to do is follow process docs to do their job.

BUILDING PROCESSES SUCKS

So we did it for you…Check them out 👉

FIND OUT MORE

Building a project plan for an SEO campaign

We have a few templated project plan we use for various scopes of work and campaign types.

Below is a screenshot of what it looks like.

Screen Shot 2017 10 15 at 2.59.06 PM

You might think this is a mistake to use a template…it’s not.

Having a prebuilt plan allows us to quickly onboard new campaigns and customize on the fly.

For example:

  • If the campaign is for a small WordPress website there’s a good chance there’s no technical SEO issues. You may want to push the technical audit back 6 months and move up items like content creation.
  • If you find your website has significantly less authority than your competitors, then link acquisition should be a top priority. You may want to begin prospecting for link opportunities on day 1 as opposed to day 90.

The point is it’s 10 times easier to edit than build from the ground up. Once it’s built, it continues to evolve with the campaign. Our project managers change plans daily for some of our larger clients.

 

Tasks, Deliverables and Action Items

Project plans flow through the task + deliverable + action method. This is a system we developed to make sure that the work we were doing wasn’t falling between the cracks.

Tasks.

The exact items that need to get done in order to complete a deliverable. Since there are often multiple parts to a deliverable, they need to be accounted for. We track the “status” of tasks as they map into completion of the larger deliverable.

Deliverables.

These are the items that “move the needle” on the campaign. For us, these are also the items that get sent to the client. These are always tangible items that can be sent and discussed.For example, keyword research is a document the client can look at and understand how it will help them grow their traffic. Adding keywords to rank tracking software is NOT a deliverable, that would be a task that maps to monthly reporting.

Actions.

After a deliverable is completed, there are often “actions” that need to be taken to implement. For example, if you complete an “on page” assessment for your website, you will probably need to change page titles, internal linking, etc. If you don’t properly manage these action items things will fall through the cracks and your campaign will fail.

Screen Shot 2017 12 21 at 3.21.30 PM

Example:

  • Deliverable = Keyword research
  • Tasks =
    • Find primary and secondary keywords for impact pages
    • Assigned “journey” (aka intent) to each keyword
    • Analyze top 3 results for each keyword (links, DA, etc)
    • Build KW research deck + create analysis for client
  • Actions =
    • Approve list of keywords
    • Prioritize the list of keywords
    • Add keywords to rank tracker

 

Layering on a project management tool

The Tasks > Deliverables > Action Items system was integral to our agency’s operations. We couldn’t find a project management tool that would support it…so we built our own.

The tool runs in the Google Suite and is built specifically for managing SEO campaigns.

Check out our tool

It’s built for SEO agencies.

FIND OUT MORE

This is what our project management file looks like. It looks complicated, but I promise it’s a simple solution. We track all of our clients / projects in a single file, this allows me to take a peek when I need to and understand where a client is in their campaign.

Screen Shot 2017 12 21 at 3.35.40 PM

You can watch this quick video to get an overview of how it all functions:

Let me run you through the main functionality of it as well.

Tasks tab

This is where we house the day to day tasks that need completion – aka our project plan. it includes:

  • Task start date. The date the task needs to be begin.
  • Task completion date. The deadline for that task to be completed.
  • Owner. The person who is assigned to complete the task.
  • Project. For us, this means the client that task is for. If you’re an in house marketer, you could use different marketing tactics (i.e. design, social, paid search, etc)
  • Deliverable. The deliverable that the task maps to (i.e. keyword research).
  • Task. Specific item needed to complete the deliverable.
  • Status. Where that task is on the road to completion (i.e. scheduled, working, delated, late, completed, etc).
  • Template. In this column we drop a link to the template for that deliverable. All of our deliverables use the same template that is modified for the client. For example, a technical audit follows the same template. This keeps us organized, streamlined and makes new hire onboarding much easier.
  • Presentation. If there is a presentation deck attached to the deliverable, the link goes here. For example, we don’t like to just send a client a list of 1,000 keywords. We have a template Google Slides deck we use to layer on analysis and explanation of the deliverable.
  • Training. Everything we do has a training attached to it. This is a large part of building a functional process that scales. We don’t just ask someone to do keyword research, we have a step by step process + video training series for them to learn our way to do (aka, the right way). This is why we’re able to use so much offshore labor and still deliver better quality work than any agency in the world (yeah, I went there).
  • Notes. Any internal communication that takes place between team members.

 

Deliverables tab

After a Task is marked as “completed”, the Google Sheets file automatically moves it to the Deliverables tab for review (before sending to client):

Screen Shot 2017 12 21 at 3.36.09 PM

Actions tab

Anything that requires further action gets added to the next tab, Actions:

Screen Shot 2017 12 21 at 3.36.29 PM

This has a nice built in flow from Task -> Deliverable -> Action Item. It ensures nothing falls through the cracks.

GRAB OUR ENTIRE SET OF AGENCY PROCESSES

Hands on private training.

  • 18+ modules with 300+ training videos
  • SEO templates, tools and SOPs
  • Private Slack community
  • Exclusive webinars and ongoing updates

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