Setting expectations with your clients about SEO is integral for a successful collaboration. Both parties need to be crystal clear about the scope of work, deliverables, and timeline.
If you fail to set expectations from the get-go, you’re setting up your partnership for disaster.
Read on to learn more about how to educate your SEO clients and set expectations about deliverables.
Bleiweiss, an industry veteran, also talks about how he approaches SEO audit work and why link building is critical to SEO.
How do you define audits? When someone is approaching you for an SEO audit, how do you typically define that and what’s the expected deliverable?
Alan Bleiweiss: The word audit is interpreted many different ways by different people in our industry and by site owners or site managers or agencies that are responsible for supporting them…
For me, the kind of audits that I offer – and where business owners and managers seek me out specifically – is the much more complex challenge scenario where you’ve got 5,000 or 50,000 or 5 million or 50 million pages. You’re in an extremely competitive industry or everything that you’ve done with those automated tools only got you so far and you think you could potentially get more out of it, or it didn’t help. Or you were penalized or you lost master rankings. It’s the much more challenging scenarios where I come in with the kind of audit that I deliver.
Now that doesn’t mean I’m going to deliver a 5,000-page report. I need to be able to provide enough knowledge and point out enough important or very important issues where when the work is done… those clients are going to have the best opportunity for maximized results on a large scale over time and in a sustainable way.
I do run crawls using DeepCrawl, Screaming Frog, or recently I’ve been re-exploring SEMrush because they have a new audit system that I’m looking into now. I have 45, almost 50 tools now at this point… Those are critical to be able to gather data and to look for patterns.
However, without the human mind coming into it and understanding and interpreting the data, or understanding and interpreting signal relationships from two or three or five different individual data sets, there’s a really serious potential for missing major situations that need to be addressed if you really want to succeed on a large scale big time, and so I go that extra mile.
Then I also go into the site as if I’m a human being who’s going to want to buy their products or services or hire them or want to get educated if it’s an educational site, or if I’m trying to find more information and they’re a directory site. Whatever they are, whatever their model is, I need to act like the person who’s going to do a search in Google and come to their site to see if I can get that answer met for the question or questions that I have. That work then leads me to identify issues that no crawl is ever going to find. It’s a broader process.
That’s my take on what an audit is as I deliver them for the needs my clients have.
Loren Baker: At the end of the day that’s also a conversion audit, right? That’s a customer journey, conversion optimization standpoint and if anything, a lot of what I’ve heard and I think this is even coming from Google quite a bit, is that people really have to understand how to get from the point of entry to the point of intended action, so to speak, and how that works.
AB: Yeah, so that’s the full lifecycle buyer journey and SEO that’s truly aligned to each step in that buyer lifecycle journey – and I call it “buyer” because it’s a simple way to visualize it, but not everybody’s looking to buy something. If I want to become educated, I’m a student, so it’s the student lifecycle. The lifecycle of the student journey or the researcher journey. It’s that whole process, that whole experience from the human being perspective, and everybody that comes to your site is not at that same point in the journey.
The more you can align the user experience within the site to that timeline or that process, the better SEO is and the better your conversion potential is as well. Without a doubt.
You had also talked about the importance of education in your audits – in terms of educating the client or giving them the ammunition, so to speak, to be able to get stuff implemented. Could you go over that a little bit?
AB: I approach the concept of audit work as “how helpful can I truly be to this client?” They’re paying me good money – $5,000, $8,000, $15,000 per audit. And yes, it’s true that if they’re able to execute everything properly and if all of the circumstances align and the stars align, because sometimes it’s just the reality, they could potentially make millions of more dollars a year.
Is $5,000 really that much? Well no, however, maybe they’re a really small business.
Whoever it is, whatever their budget is, I believe that the money they’re paying me – that allows me to live the lifestyle living at the beach here – requires me to go the extra distance in helping them in different ways. A primary way for me is not to just say, “Here’s a problem on your site and here’s the work that you need to do to fix it. Now good luck, goodbye.” That’s important.
If I take the time in my audit write-up to convey why what I found is something that I consider important to SEO, why is this important to SEO compared to something else, what those relationships are about and why the relationships matter more than individual signals, and if I can help them to learn how to be able to see things at least somewhat in the way I see them when I’m looking at a site or I’m looking at data, that’s going to empower them to be able to not just avoid needing to hire somebody like me down the road, where they can do a better job in their own day-to-day work and responsibilities, or where they can collaborate more efficiently with others in their team, or when they task work out as a manager, they themselves can put their own eyes on it and see it differently to help make sure it’s better work right out of the gate.
Ultimately, I like to put it to clients like this:
“Look, you’re paying me $300 or $500 an hour, or whatever you’re paying me right now for this audit one time at a flat rate. I don’t want you to have to keep paying me $300 or $400 or $500 an hour every time something might come up that you think might be a problem or where you get caught short because of some new thing that was done. The more educated you can be, the less you need to hire somebody like me in the future as well.”
I’m not afraid of that because those clients become really happy clients and then they’re evangelists for my work as well. Everybody wins.
Do you have any tips on setting expectations with the client before signing so they’re not assuming that after everything’s done they can still call to ask questions?
AB: With expectation setting, this has evolved over the last several years because I found the hard way in running my own business that if I’m not crystal clear upfront on certain considerations or factors or things that people need to be aware of, they’re potentially going to have unrealistic expectations. Especially if they’ve come from a world where, “I’ve heard,” or “I’ve read,” that whole, “I read online that you don’t have to worry about this,” that kind of stuff.
Also in my own documentation, if I don’t specify certain things in my introductory email, even before I send them a proposal, I’m leaving the door open for unrealistic expectations.
So I have boilerplate text, even though I customize my first response email, to first communicate. “I took a quick look at your site and here are a few things I already found that I know are probably important, but I need to do more work to find out.”
After that customized, “Here’s what I found for your site…” I then go into boilerplate about what’s included in the audit, what’s not included in the audit, what’s the turnaround timeline, what can you expect in terms of results. I have boilerplate disclaimer content that’s several paragraphs long, even in that first email.
Now whether they read that email or not, I sent it to them and I have a copy. After that, in the proposal itself I have disclaimer paragraphs… Typically I only have one or two paragraphs, but it talks about the expectation of results and where I use words carefully.
When I talk about turnaround time from the date you pay me the deposit, I will deliver it in approximately five to six weeks from the date I’ve gotten the payment. I don’t even say, “Six weeks.” No, because that’s dangerous. You need to be approximate. Disclaimers are everything.
Even when I only have one paragraph of disclaimer in the proposal, the audit deliverable document itself absolutely is always now going to include two or three pages of general, broad, educational information that really serves as a disclaimer. It talks about how the fact that SEO is not a panacea. It’s not a fix-all. Don’t expect overnight results.
I talk about prioritization and understanding and how to get through that, so there’s a lot of education just in the need to set expectations with all of these different considerations.
SEO is a long-term strategy, but how long is long-term before one should expect positive results?
AB: The answer is like most things in SEO, it depends. People look for quick wins or low-hanging fruit. I’m all for helping you to get quick wins here and there or low-hanging fruit, however, if you’re coming to me, you’re signing on with me for a long-term strength and stability and growth.
If you do that properly, you will potentially see short-term, quick wins in some ways, but the reality is for me, because of the level of audit work I do, most clients are going to need six months to a year to roll out the tasking I’m recommending. If it’s going to take six months to do the work, how can you expect six months of work is going to get you quick wins tomorrow?
Is link building still that important? Some people say yes, other answers are completely different. Some say that content marketing is number one.
AB: For me, link building isn’t link building when it’s done properly, it’s part of a broader public relations initiative and overall marketing initiative that involves on-site work, outreach, community involvement, engagement, and off-site recognition. It’s a much different, deeper understanding of what we in our industry traditionally think of as link building.
The fact is this: Link building, in that perspective, the way I just described on-site, outreach, community participation, engagement and recognition from others, is critical to SEO because it’s the glue that search engines need to hold the signals together that they’ve already processed from your own core content where they already initially formulaically think your site deserves this visibility for this set of phrases, for these reasons.
You need to be able to reinforce that and supplement your core focus and messaging and do so in a way that’s going to get recognition off-site and participate out in the world like a true big brand does and has always done.
Long before the internet existed, big brands did community outreach. They worked on engagement opportunities with society. When they did good things for the right reasons, even though it was because “we’re a business and we need to make money,” they still did things for the right reasons anyway and they do to this day as participants in society. It’s those kinds of things that are going to lead to the recognition that causes natural links to be created without you asking specifically, as one part of the mix.
LB: You’re completely right. For me, link building, content marketing, and PR have always gone hand-in-hand. They’re all incredibly important and at the end of the day, if you can think of it as not a way to trick Google and trick people and everything else, and as a way to give people something to enjoy from a content perspective, it’s great.
- Related Reading: SEJ’s Illustrated Guide to Link Building
To listen to this Search Engine Nerds Podcast with Alan Bleiweiss:
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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] searchenginejournal.com. You can also email Brent Csutoras at brent [at] alphabrandmedia.com.
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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
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