Selling SEO services can be tough. The more you know, the easier it can be to sell search engine optimization (SEO) audits and monthly retainer services to businesses.
While I really understand SEO and how to create websites and optimize content, I’ve never considered myself to be a salesperson.
Good SEO definitely sells itself, but many businesses, especially those with a limited marketing budget, need to be sold on the benefits of good old-fashioned SEO.
After all, SEO isn’t an item that can be bought on Amazon.
So, How Do You Sell SEO?
For the purpose of this article, SEO means only organic services, including local SEO. No paid tactics are involved – not Google AdWords, Facebook ads, or any other kind of pay-to-play PPC advertising.
So, how do you sell someone SEO services?
You educate the client.
The more you know about SEO – how it works and what is required by both the client and those providing the services – the better the overall customer relationship will be.
Clients, at a minimum, should have a basic understanding of how SEO works, and what the agency or consultant will be doing on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
I’ve seen clients want more work done and be happy to pay for more SEO when they understand what’s being done and how difficult SEO is to do it right and be successful.
Transparency is Key to a Good SEO-Client Relationship
I truly believe in honesty and transparency.
If a consultant or an agency performing SEO services can’t be completely transparent and honest with clients about what they’re doing to get better organic rankings and visibility, then there’s something wrong.
If I were hiring an SEO agency to work on my personal website or my business website, I’d want to know what they’re doing.
Granted, it’s perfectly fine if the client doesn’t want all of the technical details about what’s being done. I’ve run into clients who want all of the details of every single link built to their website and a list of changes that have been done on their site.
I’ve also seen clients who, when presented with details of work done, just scanned it or didn’t completely understand it all.
Regardless, SEO agencies or consultants should be prepared to be transparent and completely honest with clients if they ask for details.
What You Should Know: A List
If you’re going to sell SEO services, you need to know a lot of things.
In the list below, you’ll see a variety of concepts that are common knowledge among skilled SEOs.
Here’s everything that you should know if you’re going to sell SEO services, in no particular order of importance.
- A search engine’s goal is to provide the best results for a search query. Their job is to understand the searcher’s intent.
- Just because a website doesn’t show up for one particular search query or keyword doesn’t mean that an SEO hasn’t done their job. There are lots of reasons why a website won’t show up for a particular keyword. It could be anything from customization (the search engines customize the search results for each user) to the way the keyword phrase or search query is worded.
- An SEO’s primary job should be to get more relevant traffic via organic search to the website. Good SEOs get more traffic – great SEOs understand a client’s business and get more leads or sales for a business.
- You should understand how search engines work. Google has a great tutorial about how search works.
- Understand the typical search results page. A search engine’s results have several different types of results that make up a search engine results page (also referred to as SERP or SERPs or “the SERPS”).
- There’s a big difference between the paid search results (where you pay for positioning) and the organic (also known as “free” or “natural”) search results. For many search queries, Google will show local results, especially when the keyword includes a city name or a location’s name (such as “Colorado Springs hotels”). See the sample search for “Colorado Springs Hotels” below:As you can see, there are several different “sections” of the search results in Google. To appear in each of these sections, they all require a different marketing strategy.
- The paid search ads are, well, paid. Advertisers need a daily and/or monthly budget to pay for these listings (ads), which generally appear above and below the organic listings. It’s a pay-to-play marketing strategy. Several factors determine which ads are shown. Consider working or partnering with a consultant or agency that specializes in paid search to help manage your clients’ paid listings.
- The local maps listings are generally based on location (a view of the map won’t show a New York City hotel if you’re viewing a map of Colorado Springs, Colorado). In many cities, the local maps listings are competitive, and there are a lot of factors that come into play, such as reviews, the number of times the local business’ name, address, phone number (referred to NAP) appear on other websites (called citations).
- The organic results typically are shown below the paid ads and oftentimes below the local results or maps listings. That’s what SEOs specialize in.
- SEO typically is a lot of work. It isn’t something that is just done overnight (or even in a week or a few weeks). It’s an overall strategy that takes time. Because of this, the client should understand that some competitive niches (or topics/industries) could take years to get good organic visibility.
- It’s important to understand that SEO generally revolves around good, unique content that’s created and posted on a client’s website.
- Back in the 1990s and early 2000s (before Google came along), SEO was all about choosing a keyword list, putting those keywords on your website, and optimizing a web page for each keyword. It was all about on-page and on-site search engine ranking factors.
- When Google came along, their major innovation was to factor in how websites link to each other. They made it a popularity contest. The more links you had from other websites, the better you ranked in the search results. Google made links the currency of the web: so much so that SEOs manipulated links, bought and sold links, which still goes on today.
- In the past few years, link manipulation by SEOs has become a big problem for Google. Therefore, they started cracking down on buying and selling links, and anything that SEOs (and website owners) do to manipulate their search engine results. This meant that a lot of websites got penalized or saw their rankings and traffic to their websites via organic search drop virtually overnight due to algorithmic changes.
- Google has specific guidelines called the Google Webmaster Guidelines that all websites should follow.
- Using SEO techniques that don’t comply with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines can result in a penalty, which is when Google takes manual action (or human intervention) on a website.
- There are generally two times you’ll see big changes in your organic search traffic. Either it’s algorithmic or a penalty (manual action).
- Google’s algorithms are designed to reward sites that follow the Webmaster Guidelines. Those that use SEO tactics that violate those guidelines (e.g., hiding text, having too much copied content from other websites or web pages, over optimizing web pages, or having too many “low quality” or unnatural inbound links) simply won’t rank as well. This is all determined by complex algorithms designed by Google’s top engineers. Once the issue is changed or fixed, it could be days, weeks, or months before the site “recovers.”
- Manual actions, for most experienced SEOs, can be easier to diagnose and fix. After a manual action, Google typically sends a message to the website owner telling them about the penalty. A manual action is usually severe – and must be fixed as soon as possible.
- Manual actions and a lot of other useful information for website owners appear in the Google Search Console. Website owners need to verify their website (prove they’re the site owner) in order to get access to the data about their website.
- SEOs will need access to the Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and access to the website if they’re going to be the ones making updates and optimizing the website. Access to the website’s log files are optional, but can be very helpful for SEOs.
- It’s useful for SEOs if clients tell them everything they know about their website, any SEO that’s been done in the past, and generally other information about their business, their potential customers, and other marketing activities.
- For local businesses, it’s important that they are consistent with their NAP data. Company name (how it’s spelled out), main phone number, and the address should be consistent throughout the web, wherever it’s mentioned.
- It’s difficult (sometimes nearly impossible) for a local business to show up in local listings if the business doesn’t have a presence in that city. Opening satellite offices can help, but the strategy can sometimes be considered sketchy.
- For local businesses, local listings such as joining the Better Business Bureau and the local Chamber of Commerce can help, especially if they’re involved in those organizations.
- Having an updated, mobile version or mobile-friendly version of your website is imperative to getting good search engine rankings.
- Having a fast-loading website is imperative to getting good search engine rankings.
- Invest in content. The search engines can’t understand your business and rank your web pages if you don’t have good content on your website. If you don’t have an employee to write the content and create it, then the client will need to hire someone to write that content and create it (and add it on the website).
- A good social media presence is imperative for good search engine rankings, especially because the client’s competitors are most likely taking advantage of social media.
- Adding and monitoring social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus are important. Those websites can drive traffic to the website, and the search engines know when visitors are going from social media websites to a company’s website. Search engine rankings will vary depending on social media traffic and visibility.
- A blog on your website isn’t imperative to getting good search engine rankings, but it can help. Adding relevant blog posts can be a good way to start conversations on social media websites. People share blog posts on social media, and it’s a good way to get your business noticed. Blog posts can quickly rank well in the search results, sometimes in minutes.
- SEO is an overall strategy, not a one-time “fix it” or “optimize it” and you’re done. It’s something that should be worked on every day, every week, every month (more often if you’re in a competitive market).
- Having a good link strategy to acquire more links to the website is imperative to good search engine rankings. Search engines use links to pass trust factors from website to website through links. The more trusted your website is in your industry the more often your website can show up in the search results – as long as you have the content to back up the search engine query.
That’s a list of issues that you need to know. These are all issues that come up when selling SEO services, and I’ve been in plenty of sales calls where those questions have come up.
How SEO Works
Now let’s review the entire SEO process, so you can get a good understanding of high-level SEO strategy.
Typically, I categorize SEO projects into three different categories:
- Brand new websites that haven’t launched yet.
- Existing websites.
- Existing websites going through a web redesign.
Existing websites that have already gone through a web redesign I’d typically put into the “existing websites” category since they’ve already launched the new redesign of their website. In that case, there’s not much an SEO can do but “stop the bleeding” after someone has redesigned a website and is losing traffic every day.
- Perform an SEO audit of the website.
- Make a list of actionable items to be fixed, updated, or changed on the website
- Review the website’s link profile. Audit the link profile.
- Review all of the links pointing to the website from other websites. Update, change, or remove bad links pointing to the website.
- Come up with a strategy for acquiring new links to the website.
- Come up with a strategy for creating new content on the website.
- Implement the results of the SEO audit as a part of the monthly ongoing retainer SEO services
In 99 percent of cases, the first thing that must be done is an SEO audit of the website. There are a lot of tasks involved in putting together an SEO audit, and audits can take anywhere from 3-5 hours to 60 days to complete, depending on the size of the website and what’s involved in auditing the websites.
Some large e-commerce websites can take less time to audit other than smaller websites, especially because a lot of e-commerce websites have site elements that are applied to a lot of pages all at once. For example, they typically rely on a template, and making changes to the template can have an effect on thousands of pages, all at once, potentially affecting some large site issues.
Once an SEO audit is completed, then the SEO has a good idea of the status of the website and what needs to be done, especially if the website has been launched already (it’s a live website).
When you sell SEO services, somehow an SEO audit of the website (if it’s an existing website or even if it’s a redesign) has to be worked into the price. Whether that’s done separately from monthly retainer fees doesn’t really matter – it just has to be done.
While selling SEO on a monthly retainer basis is typical, the first month or two will have to be made up of auditing the website and then implementing those changes and fixes. There’s no way around that – except for the fact that implementing what’s found in the SEO audit could take months to implement.
Brand New Websites
For brand new websites that are being launched, having an SEO involved from the beginning of the process is essential.
For example, as the website’s wire frames and overall structure of the website is developed, an experienced SEO should be involved.
Too often SEOs are brought in right before a website is launched. The SEO will quickly discover that there are major structural website issues that need to be fixed or that the website won’t provide a way to add more content on a regular basis.
I’ve seen it all.
The takeaway: get an SEO involved as early on during the process, long before a website is built.
Cheap SEO Services
A lot of companies and individuals offer cheap SEO services.
People who buy into “cheap SEO” will get exactly what they pay for. Cheap (low-quality) work.
Typically, you’ll see SEO services being offered for $199, $300, or even $500 a month.
To do SEO properly and successfully, a lot of customization is involved. There really is no one-size-fits-all type of SEO that can be done that will benefit a business.
From what I’ve seen, these cheap SEO services aren’t actually search engine optimization. I’ve seen citation building, local listings being built, and random off-topic, low-quality links provided for businesses that pay a low monthly fee for what’s called “SEO”.
Ultimately, other than providing some local listings and citations for a business, the cheap SEO services end up costing a business money in the long run.
Here are some things to know about cheap SEO services. Hopefully you aren’t selling cheap SEO services. If you are, then you’re really hurting businesses and not helping them.
- A low-budget, cheap, SEO service might “optimize” the website, typically over-optimizing a website that can get the website a search engine penalty, or even banned in the search engines.
- Targeting certain keywords by creating “keyword focused” pages is an old tactic – so I wouldn’t add those doorway type pages on websites.
- There are a lot of “old-style” SEO tactics that are still being performed on websites that do more harm than good. Most of the SEO tactics that were being done five years ago or longer are no longer considered to be “best practices”. If you’re selling SEO services, it’s important that you understand the SEO’s process and what they specifically do daily, weekly, and monthly.
- Understand how the SEO working on the client’s accounts stays up to date with the latest SEO techniques. There are ways to do this, such as reading articles online, participating in webmaster and SEO-related message boards, and attending search conferences.
- Cheap SEO services typically will package other services, such as getting social media links, local listings, or even adding auto-generated web pages to client websites and call those services SEO. They’re not truly SEO services.
- Verify that the cheap SEO services being provided to the client do not violate any of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
What Clients Need to Hear (or Should Never Hear)
Here’s what you should and shouldn’t tell clients when selling SEO.
What You Should Tell Clients
- You can’t perform SEO magic on a website to make it rank well.
- There are, however, SEO best practices, and sometimes web designers build websites in ways that don’t comply with SEO best practices. It’s an SEO’s job to know those best practices and make sure that issues, if present, are resolved. It’s those issues that can typically cause a website not to rank where they should in the search results.
- SEO takes time. While changes can be made to websites that make it more search engine friendly, SEO is something that takes months or even years to see its full potential.
- If the client doesn’t want to make a commitment to an ongoing relationship, then an SEO audit should be brought up. Once they see the value of SEO, they’ll typically want to fix issues that come up during the audit. That can take months to fix and implement proper SEO strategies.
- Tell clients that you (or your agency) will be honest with them, keep them informed of what you’re doing on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and that you’re there to answer any questions they have.
- Ask them to be transparent with you, as well. If they make changes to their website or do anything that might affect the site’s SEO, they should tell you (or the agency).
4 Things You Should Never Tell Clients
- Don’t tell clients that SEO is a one-time task.
- Don’t give clients a free SEO audit of their website. We all know that it’s not an SEO audit, it’s a quick review of their website to point out a few issues that you find. Proper SEO audits take hours, if not days, to complete. I don’t work for free, and I wouldn’t expect any SEO or SEO salesperson to work for free, as well. Call it what it is: an SEO review, not an SEO audit.
- Don’t promise better rankings for certain keywords. Generally there shouldn’t be specific promises. If you’re selling a promise that they’ll rank for certain keywords, then don’t bother selling SEO services. You’re not doing the business any favors. No one can promise rankings for certain keywords, as they have no control over the search engine results. That’s what PPC is for.
- Don’t make up answers to tough SEO questions. Too many times I’ve heard SEO salespeople provide an answer to a technical SEO question, and it’s not correct. SEO is tough, and is confusing at times. It’s always better to tell the client that you’ll get the answer for them. Then go get the right answer for them.
These 72 things you should know before selling SEO services is just a start. There are all sorts of selling techniques, and I won’t go into how to actually sell SEO services to companies or local businesses. However, I believe that the more someone knows about SEO the better off they are – and the easier it is to sell.
Selling SEO services is tough because the rules are always changing. And it can be confusing at times. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver stellar ROI for customers.
Screenshot made by author.