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How to Start Your Relationship with a New SEO Client

Want to develop long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with a new SEO client? Then onboarding is important. Learn how to do it right.

How to Start Your Relationship with a New SEO Client

Editor’s note: “Ask an SEO” is a weekly column by technical SEO experts Shelly Fagin, Ryan Jones, Adam Riemer, and Tony Wright. Come up with your hardest SEO question and fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!


This week for Ask An SEO, we have a question from Ismail in Istanbul. He asks:

“Where do you begin when you have a new client?”

Onboarding a new client is one of the most important items any consultant or agency can do to engender long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

Onboarding is also one of the most overlooked aspects of SEO consulting.

Most SEO professionals want to dive right in and start working.

Our instincts and intentions are noble.

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SEO professionals, by nature, are problem solvers.

We see an issue, and we want to fix it.

But before we jump into fixing code, content, and link profile issues, it’s important to set ground rules, expectations, and communication protocol with every new client – or, if you are working in-house, with the rest of your team.

Setting the SEO Stage

In our process, the first step is an internal hand-off from sales to production.

For some of you, this step isn’t necessary if the person who sold the deal is also the person who will be in charge of the project.

But having internal communication of everything that was talked about in the sales process is important for creating a first impression and getting started on the right foot.

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Whether or not you have a long-term relationship with an SEO client is highly dependent upon the communication in the first 2-3 months of the contract.

And communication during this period can be a problem.

In most cases, the work being done – learning about the client and fixing technical SEO items – doesn’t lend itself to an interesting report for the client.

Setting the foundation for both the SEO program and client communication expectations is paramount to success.

Typically, we open up our project management tool to the client, complete with every task that is assigned and the progress toward completion.

We work to schedule frequent calls during the first two months to check in and talk about what is going on.

We do find that some clients are not interested in the day-to-day details of the program, and that’s OK.

But even with those clients, over-communication is better than the silent treatment.

If a client doesn’t know what you are doing, they will assume you are doing nothing – even if that isn’t truly the case.

Setting regular communication expectations out of the gate is a big factor in whether a client sticks around or leaves.

If a client gets a bad first impression it may be impossible to turn their perception around, no matter where the results end up.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

It’s important to set goals with clients.

These goals should be S.M.A.R.T.

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S.M.A.R.T goals are:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

By setting goals, you are anchoring the goalposts of the relationship.

If the client agrees on what success will look like, they can’t claim that the project failed if the goals are met.

Frequently, it isn’t possible to set overall goals at the beginning of a project.

You can’t set realistic goals if you don’t know what is realistic – and in the beginning, you don’t know what you don’t know.

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But creating short-term goals initially can save you a bunch of headaches when it comes time to justify your worth.

PRO-TIP: Never agree to a goal that you don’t feel you can achieve.

It’s important to push back on goals that aren’t S.M.A.R.T.

If you agree to a goal you can’t achieve, you only damage the relationship, and you will get fired.

Getting the Work Started

Once you’ve done the handoff and set the expectations, it’s time to get started.

Typically, we start every project with an overall audit of the current SEO presence.

This is an all-inclusive audit of both on and off-page issues.

From this audit, we create a long-term plan for improving the SEO of the site.

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The long-term plan doesn’t necessarily include specific deliverables, just the direction and types of tactics that will be used to achieve short and long-term goals.

We are a bit different in that we set the actual deliverables each month.

That way, we can pivot as we see how our changes are affecting the overall results.

When you set the deliverables too far in advance, you can get stuck doing something that doesn’t make sense in light of what has happened in the past.

SEO is definitely an ongoing process.

I’ve never understood those that provide one-off SEO programs and expect the client to see anything beyond moderate short-term success.

There is always something to do.

By running items as campaigns and continually updating the deliverables (we do it monthly), you can maintain momentum and show progress both short-term and over time.

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So, start with an audit and set the deliverables from there.

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Tony Wright

CEO at WrightIMC

I am a 19-year veteran of the digital marketing world with previous experience in journalism, public relations and advertising. I've ... [Read full bio]

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