So, you’d like to win some new clients?
Make sure you’re asking enough questions – and the right ones.
That might seem counterintuitive, but consider this:
There’s a good chance that business doesn’t understand the true power of SEO, or why it’s crucial to their overall business strategy.
Only 36% of small businesses (the most common type of business out there) had an SEO strategy in 2019, according to Clutch.
Yet at the same time, Forrester found that 71% of consumers were turning first to search engines when researching new products or services.
That means 64% of small businesses out there are failing to harness the single most powerful means to get their products and services in front of customers.
Explaining that value is your job – and your competitive advantage.
Here are 29 questions to ask potential clients to get their gears turning about how SEO can help their business (while proving you know exactly what you’re doing!).
Collecting the Information
There is a tendency to hold back from asking too many questions for fear of ticking the client off before you’ve even had a chance to get your hands dirty.
That’s a mistake.
More than ever, SEO has become aligned and intertwined with business strategy. (Content marketing, anyone?)
If a business isn’t aligning these, even their most sophisticated SEO tricks aren’t going to be effective.
If you aren’t asking enough questions at the beginning, you aren’t going to have a grasp on what a business needs to succeed in the SERPs.
So, ask now and avoid that uncomfortable discussion about your metrics in the future.
You can ask some of these things in a face to face meeting, over the phone, or via Skype or Zoom.
Other questions, such as requiring thought or length, are best sent to the client via email so they can offer feedback at their convenience.
There are many ways to gather this kind of info. You could try Typeform, Google Forms, or Survey Monkey.
To keep it quick and simple as possible for the client, I like to use Google Sheets.
- It’s easy to share via the link.
- You can link to it from other documents (like your proposal, for example).
- Updates are saved in real-time.
- Multiple people can edit at the same time with no conflict.
- No need to download, open, and save as you do with Excel.
Once you’ve prepped your information gathering vessel, you’re ready to set sail on a voyage of discovery.
The first round of questions is for potential clients. Lower down I’ve listed some more Qs to ask once the client has signed on the dotted line.
1. May I Have Access to the Following Items?
I always like to gain access to these tools as soon as possible.
- Website CMS
- Blog CMS
- Google Search Console
- Google Analytics
- Google Ads
“Google Ads”, I hear you say, “That’s got nothing to do with SEO?!”
Maybe not, but there’s a lot of useful data in there which could help you understand what kind of search queries perform best.
Using that information, you can better construct a strategy for the organic side of things.
You may also be able to see what they’ve already tried.
Potential clients might be reluctant to give you access to all of those accounts from the outset.
If they are, I try to explain why it’s important.
A few lines I like include:
- Putting an SEO strategy together without data is like playing pin the tail on the donkey.
- A holistic picture of the business from the ground level is the best way for me to figure out what’s going on with your ranks currently.
- It will help me gain insights into what we need to do to get you where you want to be.
You can also offer to sign an NDA for their peace of mind.
2. What Are Your Main Goals & KPIs?
You will likely have a good idea of what their goals and KPIs should be.
But direct answers to this question can prove enlightening.
This information will give you the talking points needed to help the client understand if their goals and KPIs are realistic and achievable.
3. What Is Your Current ROI & Goal ROI?
Some businesses won’t know how to answer this.
But if they do, it will give you a good understanding of how well they are doing with their current setup, and how much you could improve it.
Try to find out their average customer acquisition cost and, ideally, have it broken down by marketing channel.
This might uncover the need for a conversion tracking review and audit which you might want to build into your proposal.
Tip: As well as all the standard conversion tracking, make sure they are tracking phone calls, too.
4. Who Is Your Ideal Customer?
Get to know the key demographics and psychographics.
Once you get your hands dirty with your research, you may discover a whole new target customer in an untapped market.
Then they’ll welcome you into the team with open arms!
5. Which Countries are You Targeting?
If the potential client is planning on world domination, you’ll want to drill down on their priority geolocations.
This could open up talking points on your agency providing multilingual SEO (if that’s something you do).
Tip: If your client is targeting one particular country, like the United Kingdom, for example, make sure you suggest they reflect that in Google Search Console.
Go to: Search Traffic > International Targeting > Country > Target Users in United Kingdom.
Giving a little helping hand at this stage goes a long way to building trust and ensuring the client picks you over your competitors.
6. What Is Your Main USP? (Unique Selling Point)
This is something you can probably work out for yourself.
If it’s unclear, ask.
I like to find out what it is the client thinks makes them stand out from their competitors.
Often, this leads to useful insights about the industry in general, which can help you develop your strategy.
As part of your consultancy offering, you could talk about ways they can better leverage their USPs. Consider also asking:
- Are they using USPs in their metadata to win higher CTR from the SERPs?
- Does the content of their landing pages shout about their USPs?
- How can you help them leverage their unique features?
All good talking points.
7. Who Do You Consider to Be Your Main Competitors?
You’ll have done your amount of due diligence, but it’s always good to see who the client thinks their competitors are.
In some cases, these may be businesses that were not even on your radar as they weren’t very competitive in the SERPs.
Gathering this information means you can add more benchmarks and also educate the client on who their real SEO competitors are based on the data you have compiled.
8. What Other Marketing Verticals Are You Investing In?
Find out what kind of marketing mix they have in place.
Ideally, you’ll want to know how much they are spending on each vertical.
Getting that kind of information before your collaboration begins is a bit like pulling teeth.
There’s also a chance they might not know.
I like to ask how much they are dedicating to traditional marketing such as newspaper/magazine advertising.
It’s always interesting to see how many businesses are still committing to (almost) unmeasurable verticals!
9. Who Was Your Previous or Current SEO Agency?
Knowing who was running the SEO show in the past could give you some insights into what has been going on, and the standards at which they were delivered.
It’s also good to know if you’re their first foray into the realm of SEO.
Heck, you might recognize a name or two one day down the road.
In that case, you might consider reaching out to the old agency/freelancer and ask them a few questions about what working with the company is like.
(Make sure there aren’t any hard feelings though, first.)
10. Are There Any SEO-Related Documents We Can See?
This question might raise some eyebrows.
But if you won’t ask, you won’t get.
Ask if the company can send you any old documents that either they or someone else has been working on with regards to SEO. That might include:
- Keyword research.
- Performance reports and metrics.
- Strategy briefs.
- Old editorial calendars.
11. Have You Ever Had a Google Penalty?
If you get access to their Google Search Console, you’ll soon find out.
Still, ask if they’ve ever had a manual penalty applied to them.
Most of the time, they’ll know if they have but pay close attention if you discover one that they don’t know about.
A Google penalty isn’t the same as a getting hit by an algorithm update, but it can definitely feel like it.
Pay attention if they mention anything like an “algorithm penalty.”
Those aren’t a thing, but if they’ve triggered an algorithm with their website then you’ll need to address that in your strategy.
12. What Is Your Level of Understanding When it Comes to SEO?
It’s not an easy question for people to answer, but I like to try to gauge potential clients’ level of understanding in the world of SEO.
Knowing how much they know will allow you to communicate with them effectively.
Not every business owner or marketing director knows their robots.txt file from their canonicals, for example.
The world of SEO doesn’t need to be scary to those who don’t know much about it.
Do all you can to communicate the complexities in simple terms and you’ll have a client for life.
13. Do You Own Any Other Domains or Subdomains?
It is always good to know what other web assets a client has, and if they want you to work on those sites as well.
I’ve personally signed a few clients under the premise that I was going to be working on one domain.
Three months later, two more domains popped up that I didn’t know about.
The client wanted me to work on the additional domains as part of the original retainer.
If you know what’s out there from the start, there shouldn’t be any awkward conversations down the line when the client says “Hey, I’ve got this other website. Can you do the same thing on that site under the same retainer?”
14. Do You Have an In-House Developer?
This one depends on if you intend to implement all technical changes yourself.
If that’s the case, and you plan to build the cost for it into the contract, then no problem!
However, if you are offering consultancy and passing the work on for the client to implement, you’ll want to make sure they have capable hands in-house.
Be transparent from the outset and talk about how technical changes will be handled.
15. What Level of Support Will We Have From the In-House Team?
Besides the developer, you’ll want to know who you’ll be collaborating with and if they can commit enough time to make the partnership work.
Take this opportunity to find out if they have in-house writers, designers, or even digital marketers who will be part of the collaboration.
This information also helps you determine how much to charge regarding copywriting,= and creating design assets for the content marketing part of your SEO contract.
16. Are You Working With a PR Agency?
If so, great. That’s going to help you get some high-quality links.
Where possible, I like to work closely with the PR agency and help guide them in providing their service with SEO in mind.
It’s a fine line as many PR firms are now trying to do SEO and vice versa.
But I don’t see why we can’t all play nicely together and get better results for everyone.
17. How Many Times Has the URL Structure Changed?
This one might seem a little nitty-gritty, but URL structures play a huge role in SEO.
The client may have updated link structure for their blog or redesigned the hierarchy when they redesigned the site. In that case, some follow up questions to ask include:
- Do you have a tracking document of those changes and the 301 redirects?
- Has the site been audited for broken links?
- What is the logic behind the current URL structure?
18. On Which CMS was the Website Built?
WordPress powers 37.8% of all websites.
Still, don’t assume that this is what your client is using.
It’s good to know beforehand how SEO friendly the back end is going to be.
If it’s a custom build, you’ll want to make sure that it has all the right functionality for the on-page optimization you’ll be doing.
If it’s a complete mess, now’s the time to talk about an upgrade.
There’s nothing worse than starting an SEO contract only to find you’re working with the world’s worst CMS … or worse, in HTML files!
19. How Many Times Has the Site’s CMS Changed?
Perhaps they started out with a CSS site, then jumped into Wix, then went to Drupal … before jumping to LightCMS right before it shut down and they were forced to adopt WordPress at last.
That’s the digital equivalent of putting something through a wringer.
It can wreak havoc on URL structure, file architecture, and more.
But, the older the site, the more likely it’s gone through a few transformations.
Knowing its history might be helpful to know when you’re trying to puzzle out why the content is arranged the way it is.
(Pro secret: Jump into the Wayback Machine and take a look at earlier iterations of the site if you’re noticing missing elements or weirdly broken URL structures to get the piece you need.)
20. Are There Any Plans for a Website Redesign?
Before working with a new client, I like to assess whether their current website is conversion worthy.
If it’s more dated than a Nintendo GameCube, chances are it won’t convert.
In that case, no amount of SEO is going to skyrocket their performance.
If the design is questionable, ask if there are any plans for an update.
Better still, if you offer design too, make that part of your pitch.
Tip: If the site isn’t mobile responsive, you know the priority!
21. Do You Have Any Other Offices Around the World?
Knowing this will give you an idea if there is any need for local SEO.
While you’re at it, do a little digging to see if they have Google My Business set up.
Think about what kind of optimization you can suggest there.
22. Do Changes Need to be Approved By Legal Before They Go Live?
That’s the feeling I have when creative ideas fall by the wayside due to legal teams holding things up.
There’s nothing worse than missing the boat on something because of bureaucracy and red tape.
Find out what their internal process is.
Where possible, I always make suggestions that encourage as much autonomy as possible for the SEO team.
The more freedom you can get, the quicker things get done, and the faster the results come in.
23. Have You Experienced Any Abnormal Gains & Losses Over the Past 3 Years?
This might seem like a strange question to ask, but it can yield a ton of insight into the health of the business overall.
Responses have run the gamut over the years, which makes this a good miscellaneous question to slip in when the moment is right.
Some answers I’ve gotten included:
- Web traffic suddenly boomed or went bust – indicating either something really worked out, or something broke.
- Landing a major client – I’ll want to research that and see what SEO I can leverage around it.
- Benefiting from legal action taken against competitors.
24. How Seasonal Is the Business?
Did you know that retail businesses generate at least 16.7% of their annual revenue in November and December? For jewelry businesses, that number can be as much as 26.7%.
Other industries have other “seasons.”
For example, B2B Marketing found that the most conversions for B2B businesses occur between January through May, with a heavy concentration in February.
Knowing whether the company depends on any seasonal or holiday-oriented trends will impact your SEO strategy.
25. How Involved Would You Like to Be?
This is something you should hint at in the proposal phase.
The client needs to know that they need to put some time in for the collaboration to work well.
Get a feel for how autonomous you can be with your work.
No doubt you’ll want to show them all the great things you’re doing, but if you can set the tone early on regarding how much freedom you have to get sh*t done, that’ll make your life easier in the long run.
26. Do You Have Any Brand Guidelines?
If they have some, get them.
Brief the team and make sure everyone involved knows about the quirks of the company.
Then you can sleep at night knowing no one’s going to say or do the wrong thing when representing the brand.
27. Do You Have a Specific Writing Style You’d Like?
This goes hand in hand with the brand guidelines.
I like to have a meeting with any in-house copywriters and pick their brains on the brand tone.
Make sure you have a great team of writers who know the industry of your new-found client and give them a concise brief.
As SEO merges with digital PR further and further, it’s never been so important to have an artillery of creative writers at hand.
28. Do You Have Any Design Assets We Can Have Access To?
Get access to everything.
Images, logos, fonts, brand colors, etc.
Most companies will have a “brand book.”
Save all of these assets in a centralized location that any member of your team can access via one URL.
29. Do You Have Any Partners Who Would Be Willing to Link to Your Website?
Who knows, you might have some incredible link building opportunities right under your nose.
Most companies have built relationships with other businesses and entities over the years.
See if you can tap into their network and get some instant links back to the client’s domain.
Wouldn’t that be a great start?
Essential Actions for Ultimate Client Discovery
As part of the client discovery process, below are 10 actions you can take to make sure your research is as in-depth as possible.
- Conduct a technical SEO audit.
- Read pages from their website/blog.
- Test their sales funnel.
- Subscribe to their newsletter.
- Research competitors.
- Investigate their employees on LinkedIn.
- Talk to several members of their team.
- Check out their social media presence.
- Read reviews and speak with their customers.
- Setup mention tracking and see what people are saying about them.
Takeaway: Knowledge Is Power, So Do Your Homework
Ask all of those questions and you should have a good sense of the business, how it’s operating, and what its SEO needs to accomplish to get it where you (and your potential client) wants.
There’s a tendency to avoid giving potential clients more work.
You don’t want to annoy them, but it’s equally unwise to try to work out a strategy while operating in the dark.
That’s why you need a slick system for gathering information.
Research what you can, ask what you can’t.
Impress your future client with your thoughtfulness and observation skills, and they’ll remember you when they’re ready to spring for SEO services.
- How to Start Your Relationship with a New SEO Client
- 10 Questions to Ask When Onboarding a New SEO Content Client
- 8 Ways to Become a Great SEO Consultant
In-Post Images: Unsplash