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by Andy Killworth on 14th August 2012
What does it take to be a great SEO? In these days where we’re told ‘SEO is dead’ and in difficult times where various nasty zoo animals from Google seem out to ruin our clients’ search rankings and traffic, what do we need to get ahead?
Well certainly there’s a whole range of knowledge and skills we need in order to get results – on-page, off-page, technical, the list goes on.
Often overlooked though are the ‘soft’ skills that we need to get things happening and to manage our clients and keep them happy punters. These can sometimes be easy to forget as we’re busy, heads-down, deep into some hardcore analytics, or link-building like an absolute boss. Much of what we do is about numbers and statistics – rankings, search volumes, PPC costs, metrics, time management…you get the idea.
At the other end of that report that’s sent or the successes/failures that we achieve though, is a client and a business. Here at Koozai we handle a huge range of clients, from family-run operations through to large corporations.
A couple of the clients I’ve been dealing with recently are very small businesses and are completely reliant on income generated online. If they’re not performing in the search engines, they take a huge hit – which is why they turn to us to deliver for them.
Client relationship managing is important whatever scale company you’re dealing with; I do feel however that it’s particularly important when dealing with very small businesses. In the case of one client of mine, it’s a husband and wife team and I’m especially concsious of how my actions as an SEO will impact them on a personal level; if I don’t deliver it’s their personal income and livelihood at stake and I take the responsibility they’ve given us very seriously.
In the case of larger companies and corporations, you’re not just handling the relationship between you and your contact there, you’re also working to ensure that your contact really buys into the service you’re giving them. They may not be the decision maker when it comes to that company’s marketing spend so it’s important to keep them engaged, happy and generally ‘on board’ with your service.
Shiny Happy People
So what makes a happy client? Well the obvious answer for an SEO would be ‘good rankings’ or ‘increased traffic’ or some other metric. And whilst either of those may well be valid, I don’t believe it’s all about stats or measurable successes. Sure, we’re paid to do those things, but every client also wants to feel listened to, respected and in control of the campaign. They need to be assured then reassured that they’re in capable hands, that they can pass control over to us and know that we have their best interests at heart.
At the heart of what we do as SEOs are two things – delivering the very best results we can for our clients; and secondly, building and developing relationships with them. It’s imperative we avoid just churning out reports and becoming merely a background element of the client’s overall marketing plan.
There are a couple of reasons for this; firstly it’s part of providing great customer service – we want to ensure our client’s feel valued and important to us, whether they’re spending hundreds or thousands each month. Secondly, it aids client retention levels – the customer that feels special and engaged with is more likely to stick with you, to ask questions, to use other services and to work with you to achieve the common goals.
A client can still be happy even during periods when their rankings have taken a pounding – as long as they know that you’re responding to things and are doing whatever you can to improve the situation.
So let’s look at the six key areas of successful client management:
Regular communication is vital if you’re going to have a great working relationship with your client. This means being proactive about things – don’t wait for them to come your way with a concern – pre-empt them. When it’s time for their monthly retainer, give them a call, find out what they want you to concentrate on this month and what their concerns and priorities are.
Once that report is sent, make sure you follow it up with another phone call – it’s vital to ensure the client understands both the content of it and any actions for them or their Web Developer.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming they have the same technical knowledge as you. Yes, some will know what a ’404′ is but many will have minimal knowledge outside of knowing that they want increased rankings. Discussing this with the client gives them a chance to ask questions that they might not have felt comfortable asking unprompted.
As the saying goes – “never assume – it makes an ass out of u and me”. We work in SEO, dealing with stats, analytics, keywords, rankings, 310s and 404s all day – our clients don’t. Our job isn’t merely to churn out reports full of technical speak and jargon – it’s to take action and recommend action that will increase the chances of our clients getting results.
I deal with a wide variety of clients (this makes the job more fun!), some have a great knowledge of web marketing and how SEO works; some nothing at all. In either scenario we need to ensure the client understands fully what we’re talking about. If they don’t then two things can happen – firstly they become less engaged (and therefore start to de-value our service), and secondly they’re less likely to actually action our recommendations (or not pass these on to their Web Developer).
Ultimately the client needs to feel confident that they know what we’re suggesting and what it means for them, otherwise it’s just easier for them to leave it – which then leads to us as SEOs carrying over the same recommendations every month and getting nowhere.
Getting to know your client is a learning experience; in order to learn, you need to get curious. A big part of the initial SEO should be about speaking to your client and asking plenty of questions.
These should include things like:
You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions of your client and likewise they should feel comfortable asking you things – it’s a two-way street. Without asking questions you’re working from a position of ignorance and assumption which is setting you both up for failure.
By asking questions you’re demonstrating to the client that you’re interested, engaged with them and their needs and that you want to get to know their company inside out.
Learn Their Business
One of the things I love about working in this industry is the sheer variety of products and services that our clients offer. This means that although we have procedures and common approaches to our work, no two days are the same due to the vastly different companies we work with.
Our clients know their industry inside out; they know who their competitors are, they know their products, what sells, what doesn’t. Unless you have dealt with a client in that niche before, you won’t. So it really pays to get to know their industry – I’m not just talking keyword research, but who are their competitors? Why are they not performing as well as them? What is the seasonality of the industry? What can you as an ‘outsider’ learn about it that your client may not realise?
Whether the client is a one-man band or a huge corporation, by enlisting your services they are placing trust in your agency and you as an individual. It’s vital then for us as SEOs to remember that our clients successes and failures equate to more than just stats in Google Analytics or rankings reports – they are very real losses and gains that in the case of many small businesses can make the difference between continuing to trade and going under.
Which isn’t to say we need to take on the weight of the world; there’s always going to be factors outside our control (thanks Penguin!) which determine the success of the campaign. Ultimately though as SEOs we need to remember that we’re being entrusted by a client to put the maximum effort in with them no matter how small or large the business they’re giving us. Any client will expect ‘good’ service; what we should all strive for (both as general good practice and to maintain the reputation of the industry) is to provide ‘excellent’ service – that is to deliver more than what the client expects. This doesn’t mean ‘scope creep’ and spending more time than what they’re paying us for – it does mean going outside of the routine and easy; it means taking the time to know the client and their industry; and it means caring about the results you achieve – not just to inflate your ego but because you should care about that client’s business.
I’ll confess, this is an area I struggle with. ‘Going the extra mile’ and giving your client a truly excellent service is admirable and something we should always strive towards. However, there comes a time where you have to draw a line – either because you’ve used up the time the client is paying you for each month (and thus you’re risking leeching into the time of another client), or because you’re blurring the lines of what you’re being paid for.
If you continually do this, you risk the client assuming that this is the norm (and thus feeling let down when you don’t do it in future). There’s also the risk that you become SEO, web developer, designer and general all-round marketer all in one. Whilst there’s an element of all of these things in what we do, we can’t dilute the key part of what we’re being paid for. The client came to us originally for SEO-related goals – be that better rankings, better traffic, or whatever; we need to keep that in sight at all times whilst also maintaining a degree of flexibility.
OK so in summary, what we all want is for our clients to be happy and of course for the SEO campaign to succeed. How do we
Over to you then – what are your secrets for making your clients happy? What stories of success or failure do you have?