Why Digital Marketing Agencies Are Only As Good As Their Account Managers

Some Australian digital marketing agencies are great, some are average, and some are absolutely terrible. However, in most cases, your opinions are actually based on your experience with your account manager and the service they have delivered, which may be above or below the usual standard of the agency. This is why some agency reviews will show polar opposite impressions of and reactions to the same company. That, or they’ve been pumping out fake reviews to bury the negative ones…

Having participated in the SEO space for nearly 10 years, I’ve worked agency-side for most of my career, as well as 3 years client-side for Australia’s 3rd biggest property website. When I made the move to the in-house role, it was quite eye-opening. I was now managing various SEO agencies, PPC agencies, dynamic remarketing agencies and some vertical-specific advertisers, it gave me a much different outlook and expectation on what account managers and agencies should be like.

The first configuration had one agency for SEO, acting as an extension of myself to write lots and lots of content as well as acting as a sounding board for any of my ideas before I actioned anything. The first account manager here was great and really made me feel like our business was her top priority. Then we had a separate agency for Google Ads. They were alright but we had a new account manager every few months. Once my great account manager left at the SEO agency, they were replaced by two juniors who were utterly useless. This resulted in us leaving both companies to try and find an agency that was good at both.

The plan was to find a cheaper solution where both SEO and PPC can work together better. The agency that got selected turned out to be decent at PPC but absolutely hopeless at SEO. They hardly did anything at all and it was incredibly difficult to fire them. We then moved to a third agency that didn’t last very long either.

Questions to ask about your account manager

If I were to find myself working client-side, here are some questions I would ask anyone pitching to me about my future account manager.

  • Number of years experience
  • Any similar accounts
  • Time in the business
  • What happens if they leave
  • Will the individual actually be implementing the work themselves

If it is an SEO agency pitching, you should also ensure the agency is good at white hat link building. They should be able to demonstrate charts or tables of growth for organic traffic and link metrics such as Domain Authority, Trust Flow & Citation Flow and number of linking domains for clients over a period of time.

What does a good account manager do?

Quick Communication

One of the most important things a client can want is to feel understood and like they are your first and only priority. Most clients want to feel like they are your only client, regardless of how much they are paying you. Then, of course, there will be others who want as little communication as possible.

Trying to keep a minimum turnaround of 24-hours for communication is a good way to keep clients happy. When you take days to reply to simple questions, it can be quite disenfranchising for the client. If they have to follow up with you frequently, you’re going to struggle to retain them.

If a task is complicated or time-consuming, always add a few days to the estimated delivery date. This is an important skill to learn, as you never know what other fires might pop up in the meantime with your other clients. If you can deliver it early, the client will be impressed.

Follow up

It’s better to keep following up with clients for any outstanding tasks on their end rather than leaving it alone for months at a time. By continuing to remind the client that the ball in their court, it buys time if results aren’t so good.

Sometimes a phone call reminder or out of the blue email can be a good reminder that you are alive and thinking about their business. I have had clients say that they only receive calls from their past managers when their bills were overdue.

Proactive Insights

There is no greater shame than when I client flags an SEO issue with you that you didn’t know about already. Just because your client doesn’t know much about SEO doesn’t mean that other people won’t flag issues with them. This can include other people within their business such as their IT department or dev team, or other SEO agencies who are proactively trying to win their business.

Whilst many clients are simply paying your agency for blogger outreach, technical and on-page work on retainer each month, there is usually an expectation that you will look at their analytics periodically before the month is out to flag any major drops in traffic, conversion or broken tracking. It can be very awkward if something has bombed and the client has asked you why it took 3 weeks to notice.


Clients hate being passed around from account manager to account manager. In some cases, this can be a good reboot on their strategy and can result in a lot of new ideas and growth. However, if the client had a strong rapport with the previous account manager, this could bring forth a lot of uncertainty. If a client goes from a good account manager to a bad one, they are more likely to totally change agencies than request a different account manager. Then you’ve lost a good staff member and recurring monthly income.

One of the downsides of agency life is that many agencies do not appear to have strong growth plans for their staff. This results in both churning and burning staff and clients. The best staff will often have to bounce between companies or into in-house roles in order to get pay rises as incremental increases do not usually happen and yet the average pay difference for SEO staff with 3 years experience, then 5 or 8 years experience can vary greatly.

How do you hold onto good account managers?

Money is generally one of the top things that cause staff to leave. As time passes, life gets more expensive. Rent goes up or you buy a house, the cost of living goes up and so do your skills and experience. After a few years in the same job on the same pay, you start to find your money doesn’t go as far as it once did.

The other is the working conditions. If you jump on any employment/company review sites like Glassdoor or Seek, you will find all kinds of scathing reviews from account managers at some agencies. Often these can be high-stress environments where account managers are forced to juggle more clients than they can adequately service.

You can retain good staff by ensuring they are not overworked or underpaid. Treating all the less impressive staff well is also a good idea, as bad morale can be contagious.

This content is sponsored by Keith Nallawalla.

Photo: Shutterstock