How to sell SEO services to local businesses

SEO makes no difference to anyone unless it has showed results. For uneducated or inexperienced buyers of SEO services, the market is a minefield. The truth is that selling SEO services is hard especially when pitching to new clients that may not understand neither the confusing language nor the value behind an organic search strategy.

Selling SEO Services

The article refers only to the preparation phase of selling SEO services to new clients and excludes the implications that may arise from communication issues with clients that can slow down or even hinder the implementation of SEO processes. Apart from preparing to be interviewed by the client according to this google guide, there are several steps to keep in mind before pitching to a new account. A shortlist of these techniques is the following:  
  1. Review the website and perform a quick audit. Look for common mistakes such as robots.txt preventions, on-page optimization factors, use of not crawlable technologies, non static URLs, sitemap issues, link profile analysis etc. There are many tools both free and paid to help you perform a quick audit. I personally use a combination of screaming frog, SenSeo plugin for firefox, Moz toolbar and Open Site Explorer. Of course, having access to first party data such as the client's webmaster tools and google analytics can give a more detailed picture of the website status.
  2. Analyze Competition. First of all find which keywords they are targeting, if any. Then, see who ranks at the top positions for the head keywords and examine their SEO sophistication level by checking the factors mentioned in step 1. A key factor to understand the level of competition is to perform a comparative link analysis of your selected competitor sites in one of the link analysis tools. For quick audits, I use the "compare sites" option of open site explorer. If you discover that your client's website is far behind competition, then you first need to focus on developing content using low competition/ highly specific keywords as decribed in the keyword research and analysis tutorial
  3. Negotiate the budget and set up goals for the campaign. First of all, communicate the SEO process steps (keyword research, onsite optimization, link building, SEO reporting & insights, content development planning etc.) by clearly stating why each step is important and how many man hours are required. Is it a website with less than 100 pages or with a few thousands? Having explained the process steps, you are ready to tell your pricing. Don't be afraid to ask for the required budget to get things done as scheduled! Remember that you can always come down in price later, but in any case don't ask for less! In some cases, if you are really busy on other projects, you can raise your rates and stay awake working...
  4. Examine the ROI for both sides. Communicate what services you will provide for the budget and what will be the length of the agreement. Will they be fixed price services such as keyword research, SEO Audit, Onsite optimization drafts or they will be more complex (link building, ongoing optimization, content development, reporting etc.) and will they require a project based approach? In this case, usually 1 year with option to renew is the preferable length for an SEO project, given that most SEO campaigns take at least 6 months to start yielding their effectiveness.
  5. Manage the expectations and debunk mythsAfter completing your initial website audit, ask yourself if you can provide value for the client. If you are certain that you can provide value, quantify your objectives. Objectives can include carefully selected metrics that tie back to the business goals such as Brand Awareness through metrics such as organic search visits, impressions in search results, traffic from branded or non branded search queries and Performance goals through increased conversions, customer retention etc. Regarding the client's side, examine if the client can afford to pay your rates on time without getting you into troubles, which admittedly can sometimes be unpredictable.
  6. Sign the Contract. Sign the contract and set up a project management plan with all time frames and deadlines for the deliverables that will clarify how you will proceed after the contract.  
  7. Follow up with reporting and account management. Monthly reporting that showcases the performance of the campaign is an effective way to keep track of the project, give valuable insights and educate your client on the issues and challenges the project might face. When reporting, try to deliver your best possible piece of work in the best possible format, always aiming to improve the communication with the client. Many projects fail because of bad communication with the client, therefore effective communication needs to be top priority. Most of the times, presenting an annual campaign overview at the end of your contract period and combining it with a workshop to educate your client and communicate next steps can lead to contract renewal, an outcome of mutual trust developed between you and your client throughout the project.
How to sell SEO services to local businesses
Source: Buzz Powered Studios

The conclusion is that the account management part of an SEO campaign is equally vital to the research and performance part. Pitching to new clients and making them understand why they need to integrate organic search in their overall marketing strategy can be as hard as maintaining existing accounts. The knowledge about SEO and the receptiveness of each client are key factors to the success of an SEO project. 

Although the above headlines can help you succeed in signing a new contract, maintaining clients heavily depends on other factors related to client service. Below are some interesting slides that can help you convince your client to engage with an organic search acquisition strategy.  

June 14, by Vangelis Kovaios

Suggested Reading:

Organic Search Acquisition [Infographic]

SEO Ecosystem in 2013 [Infographic]

The responsibilities of SEO have been updated 

Social Media Community and Relationship Management