Freelancing 101: A Starter Guide to Acquiring, Managing, and Maintaining SEO Clients

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How to Acquire, Manage & Maintain SEO Clients

When I first got into SEO, I quickly realized I wanted to have my own consultancy gig. Due to the unique nature of SEO and inbound marketing, there was no clear-cut approach, information or template on starting your own inbound practice. If you talk to five internet marketing agencies, more than likely, you’ll get five different stories on how they began and started acquiring clients. Personally, I have worked with about a dozen agencies (medium-sized) and each one had a unique way of running operations, both internally and externally.

For those budding internet marketing entrepreneurs, I have developed a guide on how you can go about starting your own successful consulting gig right away. Before you consider starting your own business, make sure you have a sound understanding of internet marketing (this includes the trifecta, which is SEO, PPC, and Social Media). You should also be quite familiar with web technologies such as WordPress, Joomla, and other CMS systems. Depending on how quickly you grasp ideas, I think two years of internet marketing experience is sufficient to begin playing with the idea of starting your own gig. Experience is everything in this space. The more experience you have, the more you can demand in terms of fees.

Acquiring New Clients

How to Acquire, Manage & Maintain SEO Clients

This is by far the greatest challenge for any new business. How often you acquire new clients will make or break your agency or firm. Personal and industry referrals are probably the best, but those will dry out very quickly. What you need is a constant stream of new revenue (clients) each and every month. There are two main approaches to business development. The first is cold calling prospects directly. The second is e-mail marketing (believe it or not, e-mail marketing still has a very high ROI). Now that we have the approach, we need a list. How do you go about acquiring or building a prospect list? There are numerous companies that offer lists for sale, but these have been contacted hundreds of times already. The best approach is to build your very own list that no one has contacted yet. And the best way to doing this is using a Google search! Yes, you read that right. Type in the geo-graphic region and a keyword (like Dallas dentists) and take all the results from the second page all the way to the last page.

This step is best executed with a tool like Scrapebox using Advanced Google Operators. Here’s what you do:

  • Step 1: Get Scrapebox
  • Step 2: Use “allintitle:city+keyword” operator
  • Step 3: Scrape results using the above operator in Scrapebox via Google.

Now you have a list of websites that have a city and profession in the title tag. Let’s take dentists in Dallas as an example. With your compiled list, the next step is to get the contact information from all the websites via WHOIS. This website directory gives contact information (when available) of all domain owners. Not every website has this information visible, but quite few websites do. Next, extract all the domain contact information (hire a freelancer for this through ODesk if you have a very large list). Once complete, you now have a nice prospect list to go after with complete contact name, telephone number, and e-mail.

But even with a list, there is no guarantee that prospects won’t blow you off (no one likes telemarketers), so you have to create an incentive. You can do this by offering all prospects a free “SEO Audit” of their existing website. No matter how you reach out to them (via e-mail or phone), you have to offer them something for free for prospect clients to give you any of their valuable time. The free audit will be your bait. You will certainly have some appointments lined up using this method. Make sure to create a fancy report and present it to your prospects via a screen share (and walk them through each part of the report). There are some free screen shares like you can use. Remember, the more professional and knowledgeable you appear during your presentation, the better your chances of sealing a deal. This is your chance to shine. Provide past work where necessary.

Managing New Clients

How to Acquire, Manage & Maintain SEO Clients

Now that you have signed on new clients, managing your customers will be a great challenge. This is a huge problem I have seen with many agencies. Balance here is key. If you over communicate to customers, you risk clients getting used to speedy e-mail responses. Respond infrequently and you may risk losing them to another prying agency. The approach is to set up fixed points of contact each week with all of your contacts. Clients cannot see you in person, so its your responsibility to remind them why they pay you each and every month.

Also, setup a project management system that you can use to communicate with clients (this will keep all messages organized and in a single place). BaseCamp is a great alternative to regular e-mails and they offer a 60 day trial period. I have used this tool with great success.

Maintaining New Clients

How to Acquire, Manage & Maintain SEO Clients

This is another area where I see consultants and agencies fail. Make certain you are transparent and communicate all your work. Yes, this means providing detailed month end reports (not just keyword rankings). Again, clients cannot see you in person, so you have to make up for it with all the documents you can produce that showcase your work over the last 30 days. Typically, I use a month end report that outlines the following in detail:

  1. All work completed in the previous month (link building, content creation, citations, etc).
  2. A ranking report for their keywords.
  3. A backlink profile snapshot. You can use OSE, Majestic, or Ahrefs.
  4. Google Analytics traffic snapshot overview

Compile all this data in a nice snazzy report. Most clients don’t have the time to read the reports in detail, so you want to have a boilerplate summary e-mail sent out with the report. And remember, its important to walk through the very first month end report, so clients understand what all the different parts represent.

And there you have it. A step by step guide on how to acquire, manage, and maintain SEO clients. If you have any suggestions or advice on how you approached any of the above processes, please feel free to leave some comments below.

Good luck and may the SEO force be with you!


Image Credit

Featured Image: T. L. Furrer via Shutterstock
Image #1 : alexwhite via Shutterstock
Image #2: vichie81 via Shutterstock
Image #3: Dusit via Shutterstock

Zain Shah
Zain has been in the internet marketing space for several years helping small and mid-size businesses increase their online visibility. When he’s not analyzing traffic and conversions, Zain likes to travel the world and visit exotic new countries. Zain is also the head honcho of Search House Media, a results driven inbound marketing agency.
Zain Shah
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  • Edmund

    Hi Zain,

    Great tips on how to build a solid SEO client database. I believe going the extra mile in what we do is vitally important as well.


    • Zain Shah

      Hey Edmund,

      Thanks! I agree, going the extra mile will separate you from the crowd….the SEO space is very competitive 🙂

  • Florian Ughetto

    Interesting ! I would also have added some points like “share relevant informaiton regularly” and give some free calls to get some news 🙂

    • Zain Shah

      Yup, that’s right. I like to inform clients on all the latest Google updates, so they know what to expect. This is especially true if its something major like Penguin or Hummingbird. This shows clients that you are up to date with all things search!

  • James Brockbank

    Great post! I think what must be remembered however is that in many instances an ‘SEO audit’ simply means a lousy sales proposal! Make sure yours isn’t just that and actually adds some value and justifies why a potential client should pay you money. As said here, it’s your opportunity to show your knowledge and expertise so don’t simply use it as a quick client win as it won’t work!

    • Zain Shah

      Thanks James. I couldn’t agree more. All SEO audits should be just that. A full SEO audit of a site. I dont even bring up money. At least for me, the proposal is probably the last piece of information I discuss with prospects. The first goal should be to actually help the client understand why their site requires SEO via the audit.

  • Sahil Parikh

    Good post and very helpful to digital agencies managing many clients. Our clients (mostly digital marketing agencies) use Brightpod for project planning and communication with their clients. Hope this helps. Cheers.

    • Zain Shah

      Thanks! I will definitely check out this tool

  • Sandip Mukherjee

    Hi Zain,

    Thank you for your valuable tips. We have tried this approach earlier and as well as sent free SEO audit report along with the email. But the rate of response is really frustrating. Any ideas to improve it or the report?


    • Zain Shah

      Hi Sandip,

      Unfortunately, the success rate is not going to be very high due to the nature of this type of prospecting. Maybe you should take it one step further and hire a local (to whichever country you’re prospecting in) to actually call some of the more promising prospects? E-mail outreach is effective, but also easy and overly used by many other companies, so sometimes you have to be a little more aggressive. Hope that helps in your efforts and good luck!

  • George Papatheodorou

    Hi Zain,

    I ‘m new in business and I am really on the verge of starting to build my client base. What I would like to ask is to what extent/depth an SEO audit is suggested to go in order to have a good chance of getting noticed by a prospective client? What are the best tools for that? Are you in favor of all-in-one solutions like MOZ, WEB CEO, SEO profiler etc or separate, smaller (any maybe free) tools combined together to create a bespoke audit reports?

    Thank you in advance,

    • Zain Shah

      Hi George,

      I typically use my own custom made reports. It looks like some thought went into the reports themselves. I found automated tools to be a little restrictive in the information you can display, which is why I created my own reports.

  • Umer

    nice work putting together all the essentials 🙂 this is what newbies need to learn

    • Zain Shah

      Thanks Umer!

  • Gay Aida Dumaguing

    I totally agree with the updates that clients gets. Most of the clients that I have do prefer end of the month update since they’re mostly busy but there are still clients who prefer daily reports and I don’t like daily reports since my tasks are usually redundant and it’s included on the end of the month report on what I did on that specific date. I think I’ll be able to deal with weekly updates but daily, it’s kind of too much for me. How do you handle situations like this Zian?

    • Zain Shah

      Hi Gay,

      Fortunately, I have not had clients request daily or even weekly reports. Depending on the level of work being done, I would explain to the client that providing daily updates is not very informative in the SEO space. Due to the nature of SEO, time is required to see results. On the other hand, if your client is asking for updates in terms of work completed, this would be a harder bullet to dodge. You could explain that its more efficient from a time management perspective to provide weekly reports as certain amount of hours are consumed for creating the reports and e-mailing them.

  • megha

    Hi Zain,

    Very well presented. I do suggest, one should also send details of the Leads generated via form submissions on website, blog, etc. Client should know the value of money spent.

    • Zain Shah

      Hi Megha,

      Absolutely. Depending on the client, presenting all goals completed via Google Analytics is always a good idea. This could be a contact us form completed and e-commerce data. Any and all goal completed data should be tracked and reported to the client at the end of the month. This will only justify the cost of SEO and your services.

  • ebizroi

    Hi Zain,

    Thanks for the useful prospecting and client retention tips for SEO freelancers.

    You are right that communication is always a balance. By the way, WebEx offers a free service supporting up to 3 users as another great for small demos and screen share. Maybe Google+ hangouts for tech savvy clients. I was glad that you called out email marketing as its ROI can be #1 of all digital channels if done well.

    Based on the social proof on this post, it’s safe to say that you hit this one out of the park! Congrats.


    • Zain Shah

      Hi Rick,

      Thanks for the WebEx note. I used to use them a few years back, but had no idea they had a free version 🙂 Cant do better than free! I dont know how you get your contracts signed, but there’s a service called hello sign that digitally signs contracts. Pretty neat tool and saves the environment.

  • Cesar

    Hi Zain. Excellent post, i only have one doubt, why is it important to doesn’t see our clients? I could think that’s an important way to build engagement.


    • Zain Shah

      Hi Cesar,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. What I meant to say was that most digital marketing agencies (at least in the US) rarely see clients as they could be located anywhere in the country. But if you had the opportunity to actually meet clients face to face, that would set you apart from the competition. Nothing beats old fashioned hand shake relationships 🙂