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Why and How to Assess a Channel Partner’s SEO Strength

You want to find and recruit channel partners who will elevate your brand awareness and continually expand their customer bases in order to drive new opportunities your way. This can be achieved through several web traffic drivers and offline efforts, such as email marketing, speaking engagements, social engagement, cold-calling, and word-of-mouth. However, do not mistakenly consider Organic Search (SEO) to be just another traffic channel. 

The following guide will provide tips on weighing a site’s SEO strength when assessing a prospective partner. If you’re unsure of how to define SEO or what makes it different from channels like Paid Search, we suggest reading this article before proceeding. 

How Much of a Role Should SEO-Strength Play When Evaluating Partners?

Think of SEO strength as Google scoring the culmination of their combined digital efforts. The Google search algorithm accounts for technical factors like a page’s load time and mobile-friendliness, as well as content depth and perceived authority through offsite indicators like inbound links. If you’re looking for a way to rate the partner’s culminated digital efforts, their presence amongst search results would be it. 

SEO strength can give you a glimpse into their long-term marketing potential rather than a temporary snapshot. Paid advertising is great for swiftly building awareness and traffic but, if budgets roll back, so will the produced results. The PPC successes of last month have no impact on the next. 

This is not the case with SEO. A content marketing piece created three years ago can continue to hold the top Organic position amongst search results for years to come with minimal involvement or spending from the partner. In short, a robust SEO presence provides a rock-solid foundation that spending-dependent campaigns simply cannot match. 

A site with a strong SEO foundation can bring more eyes to your co-branded content and products. An essential component of any channel content strategy is tactics to draw eyes on your materials. A partner site that naturally ranks well for terms is better positioned to organically bring traffic and elevate your co-branded content’s reach. 

Utilize Third-Party SEO Tools to Estimate Rankings & Traffic 

Important caveat: SEO tools continually evolve and broaden their capabilities. Still, no current software can rival the crawling capabilities and nuances of Google. Therefore do not take the tool’s findings as gospel and immediately disqualify an otherwise promising prospect over a perceived red flag. Instead, let the SEO scoring be one of many factors you consider when weighing the potential value a partner could bring.

Prioritize keywords by the metrics that matter

POSSIBLE USING FREE TOOLS

  • Use Mozbar to estimate domain authority. This tool assigns the backlink profile of a website a score ranging from one to 100 based on the quantity and quality of the links that point to the domain. 

Simply put, a piece of content on a site with a domain authority of 60/100 is more likely to rank for related terms than that same piece of content on a site with a domain authority of 40/100. These scores indirectly correlate with brand awareness and perceived authority. 

However, don’t blindly follow these ratings without considering the following:

  • How new is the site? If a company is only two years old, it’s natural that its backlink profile wouldn’t rival that of a site that has existed since 2002. Perhaps it has yet to reach its full potential. However, if a prospective partner’s site trails competitors’ domain authority scores despite being active 10+ years, it’s doubtful that it will experience an SEO renaissance without significant efforts from its teams. 
  • How niche is the site compared to competitors? The broader the audience, the more opportunities a site has to earn backlinks. For example, a prospect that has a presence in multiple continents may naturally score higher than a comparative site concentrated in a single country. In such circumstances, do not immediately disqualify the latter prospect, especially if it’s well-established with an audience you specifically want to reach.
  • Where are the value-driving links coming from? Paid versions of many SEO tools will grant insights into who links to your potential partners. Check out a sampling of these linking domains keeping in mind authority and relevance. If the majority of links come from irrelevant or low-quality sites, the high score may be falsely inflated. 
  • What is the spam score, as rated by Mozbar? SEO strategies run the gamut from transparent and user-driven to downright spammy. Google assesses backlink profiles for telltale signs of “black hat” manipulation and punishes sites accordingly. Moz tries to mimic Google’s logic and assign a “spam score” to flag questionable sites; anything with a score higher than 10% should make you pause. 

POSSIBLE USING PAID (BUT AFFORDABLE) TOOLS

  • Estimate brand awareness using keyword tools like Google Adwords or SEMRush. There are dozens of tools out there that estimate monthly search volume. Use one of these to measure the number of monthly searches for the brand name. This can help you determine generated awareness and interest, particularly in comparison to similar companies. 
  • Use SEMRush or similar tools to view estimated ranking visibility. SEMRush grants insights into overall SEO visibility, as well as the specific terms and ranking position. Observe the relevancy/quality of the terms and overall trajectory. If you see any steep drop-offs in SEO rankings, this could be the telltale sign of past penalties or technical issues that have yet to be resolved. 

Be aware of your chosen tool’s limitations when viewing the data. For example, if you operate in a hyper-niche industry, the software’s database of keywords may not include terms you’d prioritize. 

Additionally, no tool has equally robust keyword databases for every country, despite what they may claim. Therefore, if you’re viewing a French company’s ranking presence in France search results using an American tool, expect to see their full successes underrepresented. 

If there are specific terms for which you want ranking visibility, create a project and prompt SEMRush or your chosen tool to crawl these terms, specifically. 

  • Assess their technical health using SEMRush, Screaming Frog, or Deep Crawl. For beginners, SEMRush can crawl a site and assign a score to summarize the technical health. Keep in mind, no score is perfect but, if you see a rating lower than 45%, the site may be neglected.

It’s important to include a caveat—these tools can seed unnecessary fear. Without prior SEO experience to accurately assign value to each of the warnings, it’s easy to overemphasize non-issues. Therefore, use the site health rating as one of many factors you consider.

SEO tools

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Further Information For Context

Communication between you and a prospective partner doesn’t need to end because you’re less than impressed by their SEO efforts. Instead, make it a part of the conversation. Questions you can ask include:

  • What efforts are underway to make your site more aligned with Google’s standards for site speed and mobile friendliness? 
  • Do you intend on engaging with an SEO specialist in the near future? 
  • I noticed that your site has some questionable backlinks that tools flagged as spam. Have there been backlink clean-up efforts of which my tools aren’t aware? Is this something you’d be open to?
  • Are there any upcoming content marketing or promotional strategies which you think could benefit SEO? 

Final Takeaways About Factoring SEO Into Partner Prospecting

Ultimately, you want channel partners who digitally represent themselves well so they can do the same for your brand. What’s more, you want to invest your time and resources in a company that strategically invests in itself by growing its Organic presence.