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John Doherty on Qualifying SEO Leads & Setting Expectations [PODCAST]

John Doherty talks about how to qualify potential SEO leads and how to set expectations with these leads in this Search Engine Nerds episode.

Lead generation is essential for SEOs and marketers, especially when establishing a consulting business or deciding to take on more work. You’ll want to get as many clients as possible. But sometimes the workload can be too much to handle, or worse, you’ve taken on tasks that don’t fall into the agreed upon scope.

How do you tackle these issues and avoid them from happening with future clients? We’ve got answers for you in this Search Engine Nerds episode.

Credo Founder John Doherty joins SEJ Founder Loren Baker to discuss the importance of qualifying SEO leads and how to set expectations when it comes to clients. Doherty also shares resources for SEO beginners as well as those wanting to jump to the next level in their SEO careers.

Horseshoe magnet attracting metal balls in the center of a grey target. Image concept of inbound marketing or advertising.

Can you give an introduction about Credo and what you’re working on?

John Doherty: Yeah, happy to. So Credo is my company that I started near the end of 2015. I started this company to connect businesses that were looking to hire a consultant or digital marketing agency with those agencies and consultants.

I was tired of all the noise in the industry so I set out to build a highly vetted network of agencies and consultants who I can say, “Yes, they do fantastic work. I’ve seen their work.” So everyone on the platform is vetted by me. We have a phone conversation. I see a couple of their clients. I check out the statistics within some of the different digital marketing tools that we use. Once I’m comfortable with them being on the platform, sending work to them as well as the work they do, they’re live on the platform. Then businesses come and create a project on the platform and are contacted by agencies and consultants that do that kind of work.

It’s really fun to be able to do something for the industry and provide a really good service to the industry, something that’s really needed. I’m able to help businesses hire the right person. I’m also able to help people I know that run agencies make a lot more money and get a lot more clients.

It’s personally gratifying, it’s good for the industry, and I’m really hoping to clean up the industry a bit through what I’m doing. People are also more successful in trying to build agencies and consultancies.

I’m purposely building it differently. People don’t need another lead gen site. I don’t even talk about it as lead generation. I talk about it as building a platform, and right now, I’m helping agencies and consultants get more clients. I’m sure that will always be a component of it, but who knows where it will be in the future.

We’re building a base and there are other things that agencies and consultants are going to need, and also businesses looking to hire people are going to need. My goal is to move with the industry and where people need stuff and can get the most value.

You’ve been doing a lot of advising and coaching online. Did you see yourself doing that? How does it feel to be helping and coaching these people up?

JD: Yeah, it’s really cool. When I first started working on it full-time, I didn’t realize that was really a need, and also, I haven’t built an agency myself before. I’ve worked in a couple of agencies so I’m always worried about people teaching others how to do things they haven’t done themselves. So for a long time, I was like, “I’m just going to concentrate on sending clients to people and making the right matches.”

But over the last 18 months, I’ve probably seen 150, 200, or even more agencies and consultants trying to sell work just from projects I’ve sent to them. I’ve seen a lot around what sort of proposals close, how you deal with people on the initial intake, all of that. So I’m able to identify the things that work and the things that don’t.

I never really saw myself doing this, but I think it’s a necessary part of the kind of platform I’m building. It needs to be more high-touch because getting more leads isn’t what builds agencies and consultancies, right?

It’s getting the right leads and then closing them into business. So further qualifying people out there that are coming to you, and then also keeping them around. That’s how you build an agency right there.

Loren Baker: Setting up those expectations, right?

JD: Yeah.

LB: Because what happens to so many people, especially if you’re getting started on your own at first or whatever it may be: You sign your client, you’re super happy, you’re getting paid. You’re like, “Hey, I can make a living doing this!”

Then you get that call after three months saying, “How come we’re not ranking yet? How come this isn’t happening yet? Oh, we need you to log in and fix this on the blog side. Our dev is out. It’s only going to take a couple of hours.” And then people are very apt to say yes to fulfill that, and sometimes, they haven’t set up the expectation that that’s not part of the contract. The client doesn’t realize, either. So you get into this loop where the client is asking their SEO to do things that are not part of the contract. That wasn’t necessarily explained to them ahead of time.

So they’re afraid that if they say no, the client may move on. What I found over the years is a lot of that can really be defined during the onboarding process, before signing and everything else through an exploratory phase. Be very upfront and clear, and have an itemized list of everything you’re going to do as part of this purchase order or SOW.

Have everything defined in your master services agreement. And also, take the time to have a master services agreement that’s sent over by the client reviewed by an attorney, someone that knows legalese, or someone that’s been through this before. A lot of times, those are templates, and they send it to you with the expectation that you may do an edit, send it back to their attorney, and their attorney approves it.

JD: From what I’ve seen, it all starts right there in the sales process, and you can only really sell the right work when you’re super clear on what you’re actually offering.

LB: I always use the “Mad Men” analogy. When it’s time to shoot a video in “Mad Men”, you don’t just see them automatically shooting the video. They had to do casting, they had to hire a director, they had to do everything else. That’s just how agencies work and have always worked. It’s really setting up that expectation at the end of the day with the client.

You recently launched a site called How To Hire An SEO. Can you tell us about that? We’ve been talking about how to manage expectations from the consultant side or the agency side, but not how to hire and look from the in-house side.

JD: So Maile Ohye, formerly of Google, put out a video about how to hire an SEO, and everyone in the industry loved it. People sent it around to their clients. I was like, “Huh, there is really a need here.” And I saw Joe Youngblood’s tweet. He was like, “How has nobody bought yet?” So he bought it, and he actually gave me the domain name, so thanks, Joe.

I sat on it for a bit, and then one weekend, literally over the course of about 48 to 72 hours, I built it. Over that weekend, I did some research and built this tool. You can go to it and say this is how much traffic I get, this is how much revenue I do, this is how much I want to grow, this is the type of business that I’m in, and it will give you a ballpark number of how much an SEO audit for your business will cost, plus or minus 20 percent.

I got the idea from a site called They help you put together a design and development team to build you a site or an app or something like that.

It definitely is another wider part of the funnel, but it is very much meant to be a resource for people looking to hire someone, looking to get some more information about it.

A few months ago, talking about some of the content marketing I’ve been doing, I did a survey about pricing in the digital marketing industry, and what I found was that people actually charge pretty little. I decided to put together something that would basically make the industry level up, charge more, and charge what’s valuable to the client. So if you’re going to drive them millions of dollars of revenue, you shouldn’t do that for $2,000. They need to pay for the value they’re being offered. They need to compensate you for your time and for the value you’re offering them. That’s basically my approach to pricing.

Is there anything you would recommend in terms of how to make that jump to the next level or how to train yourself from being a novice to the intermediate/advanced level?

JD: Obviously, if you’re in SEO, you have to read and digest the Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO. That’s just bare level. Even if it’s just businesses wanting to learn a little bit about SEO, you have to read this.

If you have a bit of money to spend, or you’re an agency training new people, Distilled still has their DistilledU training platform, which has great, awesome content and even interactive modules for adjusting robots.txt and more. Those are really good.

There’s so much content out there, so what I always tell people is definitely read as much as you can. Read everything that comes out and get exposed to all the things going on.

Then honestly, the best way to become better at SEO is to go build your own sites. Not necessarily just working on client sites, which can teach you a lot, especially if you have a good mentor, but building your own websites and also teaching other people what you’re learning.

I learned an unbelievable amount being in-house. Before that, working at an agency, but also just launching my own blog, and then launching other websites that aren’t even online anymore. But launching them, building an audience, getting them ranking, all of that is really the best way to learn SEO and learn what actually works and what doesn’t.

LB: The other thing, too, is just learning smart content marketing, right? And I think it’s just really a question of being passionate about what you do. Being able to write or create content or create media on a daily basis. Bringing on the right people to help you, and not being shy about asking for help and about doing marketing.

JD: Totally. And it comes down to being committed to it. Well, first of all, is there a need for that content, for the stuff you’re putting out? Are you committed to it, and will you stay committed to it and be consistent in it, and be consistent in promotion?

What other techniques or tactics would you recommend for someone to be able to get those leads coming in?

JD: I’m going to harp on one of the words in that question for a second, the word tactics, simply because tactics are nothing without strategy. There are definitely tactics out there that work really, really well. But at the end of the day, it’s your long-term strategy that’s going to win.

So whether it’s blogging, committing to content, committing to doing Facebook Live videos weekly, whatever it is, you need to decide on these things that you’re going to commit to. Pick a couple of specific strategies you’re going to do, then you can learn the tactics within each of those for building an audience.

I’ve talked to a lot of consultants over the last couple of years that are just starting out on their own and they’re trying to figure out how to pick up clients. What I always tell them is, first of all, who’s in your network? Who do you know? That is already getting leads, already getting potential projects coming to them. So who do you know that you can reach out to and partner with? Let them know that you’re taking on clients. It’s a lot easier once you’ve built a base of an audience as well, and a base of a network within the industry.

Just tell people on Facebook, your friends, “Hey, looking to pick up a couple clients.” On LinkedIn, “Looking to pick up a couple clients. This is the kind of work I do. Here’s my email, reach out to me if you need some help.” That right there will often get people one or two clients. So that’s definitely the first place to start.

You can try to generate clients through paid search or Facebook ads or something like that. But honestly, that money is probably going to be wasted and the people you get coming to you that way are going to be tire kickers. I don’t see a lot of great clients coming through those channels.

The only paid advertising I do on Credo is retargeting. When someone comes to the site and visits certain pages, I know they’re interested. Then I retarget them on Facebook. No top of the funnel acquisition because quite simply, it generates low-quality leads.

One thing I’ve seen work really well is specifically targeting clients you want to get. Go and reverse engineer their strategy, and say this is what I would do differently. I bet you they’ll come reaching out to you.

To listen to this Search Engine Nerds Podcast with John Doherty:

Think you have what it takes to be a Search Engine Nerd? If so, message Loren Baker on Twitter, or email him at loren [at] You can also email Brent Csutoras at brent [at]

Visit our Search Engine Nerds archive to listen to other Search Engine Nerds podcasts!

Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
In-post Image: DepositPhotos

Category SEJ Show SEO
SEJ STAFF Loren Baker Founder at Foundation Digital

Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing ...

John Doherty on Qualifying SEO Leads & Setting Expectations [PODCAST]

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