Retaining clients in SEO is crucial because campaigns are long-term, and results don’t just happen over night. But the problem is, many of your clients are not necessarily going to understand this right off the bat.
So what is the solution to long term client retention, and for keeping your clients happy and on board?
Ten years of SEO consultation and practice have given me the chance to get a lot of feedback from clients coming to me from other firms, and occasionally walking out the door. I ask all of them one simple question, “What went wrong?”
This simple and effective approach has yielded a wealth of helpful feedback and most of the answers involve what amounts to the following: Pushy, Over-Hyped, Confusing, and/or Dishonest…
That’s okay though. Rip of the band-aid and let the wound breathe.
Luckily there is an easy approach to make sure this does not happen to you:
The number one thing that damages an SEO/Client relationship is that the client has no understanding of SEO (or really anything outside of the basics in online marketing). When a client comes to me from another firm I ask a few simple questions to gauge their knowledge and over 90% of the time I find that their previous firm did not bother explaining anything at all.
When this is the case, you may be doing virtually everything right, but all of that laborious proper link building, great content, and everything else you’ve done was a waste of time… because they don’t get it. They don’t know how long SEO takes, they don’t understand what good those links are doing, and they don’t get the value of targeted content. It’s all meaningless to them.
At the very beginning of your relationship, give your client a basic understanding of SEO. This foundation will allow them to understand the research you have put into their niche, how you are helping them get a jump on competition, how the process works so they do not become impatient, and in the end, it will give them a better understanding of your Technique, Pricing, and Approach.
The second thing that I hear from clients walking in my door is “They said they can do XYZ in X amount of time and they didn’t come close.”
Whether it was a misunderstanding or an out-and-out misrepresentation is inconsequential at this point, it’s all about how they perceive the situation. Let’s talk about Technique, Approach, and Pricing.
Technique: It is important that your client understand your strategies and why you are doing what you are doing. Be specific. “Changing tags and building links” is not a real strategy, and if that is all they know it is not surprising the client doesn’t get it.
A little explanation into the proper and even the wrong way of doing things can go a long way. Help them understand concepts like White, Black, and Grey Hat SEO, real content vs. spun content, etc. Not only will this help you explain later why you are doing what you are doing, it will also help them appreciate your service and how you do business.
Worst case scenario, if you do lose a client you won’t be helping a bad SEO firm pick them up after you. That’s just good karma.
Approach: Explain your approach and your plan. Fill them in on the research aspect, set goals and give them a timeline and tell them why the timeline is what it is (it takes X time to get this content posted on X blogs, we estimate it will take Google X time to pick up on these changes to your sight, etc).
Having goals set at each point helps them understand the work that you are doing for them, and if you have not overestimated the impact of your campaign, it can make you come out smelling like roses when you start meeting these goals ahead of time.
Pricing: this is arguably the most problematic area. This is especially true of established businesses that have been around a decade or two, “Let me get this straight, you want me to pay you X to do something I’ve never heard of and that I’ve never had to use in the past?”
Once again, education is key to get this client on board with you. It can also be helpful to describe your service as part of their marketing and advertising budget. Chances are a billboard that maybe 5,000 random people see a month is a whole heck of a lot more expensive than a really good blog post on a really good site that 20,000 of their potential customers see a month.
Also instill a sense of quality. Trust me, there are plenty of SEO companies that will take your clients money, do some Black Hat SEO, and disappear in the wind once the check clears, so this part is not hype. Make clear what your expenses are, how much time this takes, and the level of expertise you are providing.
Nearly as important as making sure they understand the reason for your pricing structure, is not under-pricing your services. You too need a clear understanding of your costs and how much your service is worth. Low-balling may sound good in the pitch, but a couple weeks later you may have to start cutting corners to turn a profit yourself, and that doesn’t help anyone.
Let me give an example of how this straightforward approach has worked for me. I’ve personally lost a dozen clients after this meeting because my prices were too high. I broke down my pricing, justified every expense, explained the process, but these twelve potential clients decided they could get it cheaper elsewhere.
Of those, six returned some months later after throwing money down the well with poor SEO service. They came to understand why my prices are what they are the hard way. You are better off with six clients that understand (eventually) your service and are paying the amount it takes to do the job right, than cutting deals for 12 clients which will lead to cut corners, lost revenue for you, and a damaged reputation.
“You’ll be ranked number one on Google in 3 months!” Well, maybe locally if there is next to 0 competition and you are going by keywords that no one really cares about. To get your client where they need to be though, you know that it is a long term process. They need to know this too. So…
Tell them it’s impossible to deliver the world overnight. In fact, SEO is a forever-process. My agency does not lock clients into long term contracts, they pay month to month, and we keep them. That’s because they understand the service. This goes back to education in part, but it is also because we set realistic expectations.
Our rule of thumb, depending on the niche and the competition, is to let them know up front that getting to where they want to be is going to take either 9,12, or 18 months. We let them know that their competition is doing the same thing they are doing. SEO requires vigilance and after they meet the goals we have set forth, it is just a matter of time before they start dropping in their position again if SEO is ignored.
Simple enough. Don’t be pushy. You know what that means. Maybe they’re just not into you. Hey, let a bird fly and it will lay eggs… or hold onto sand too tight and it will fall through your fingers… something like that.
More than a dozen times we have been able to close the deal just by being patient and answering questions. Education is a huge part of getting a good client, and sometimes a good client needs to be molded. A hard sell might get them to agree, but it will leave a bad taste in their mouth and make everything else you do suspect to them. You want to hold onto them for the long term and first impressions last.
Not being pushy also applies during your campaign. SEO is always changing so your clients should be getting constant updates not only about their site’s progress, but updates about the world of SEO.
1. Re-educate clients periodically about changes to SEO. Not only will this let them know that SEO is an evolving fluid process, it will also re-instill the sense that this is a long term process.
2. Keep clients involved in what you are doing. They want to be involved in what you are doing with their website, trust me. It can be as simple as inviting them to a brainstorming session. Don’t forget to ask for their expertise in their niche as well, you’ve done the research sure, but just like you know more than they do about SEO, chances are they know a whole heck of a lot more about their business.
3. Show them what you are doing throughout the process. Show them the links you’ve created, direct them to the blog posts, let them see the content you have created, etc. All of this builds trust and makes them feel that they are a real part of the process… which they should be.
4. Support your clients every way you can. When they have questions get back to them quickly with a researched answer, reach out to them periodically even when not scheduled for the purpose of brainstorming, educating them, asking questions yourself, whatever it may be.
5. Make your reports simple, to the point, and as painless as possible. Full details with graphs and charts are important but you need to summarize as well.
6. Whenever you are updating a client with a report, make sure you give them a phone call with that in order to answer any questions they have.
7. Finally, ask them how you can serve them better. They may have some ideas of their own.
Following just a few of these tips will drastically increase your retention rate as well as the number of new clients you can sign up. Not only that, the clients you have will be a whole lot happier.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about anything mentioned here, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.