If you’ve read any of my past articles here, you know that I typically try to share tips to help marketers be more successful with their clients. Instead of sharing a specific optimization tip or some fleeting shiny object, I try to stick more to the business or relationship side of things.
This time, I’m sharing the most important tip I can share: the key to success in local SEO.
For long-term success with local SEO — to really make sure your clients or your boss are happy in the long term — there is a single important key. It’s not something cliche like “hard work” or “just do it.”And it’s not some inside tip on some specific signal to optimize.
The key to local SEO success is client education.
We all do SEO every day, all day long. There are tons of different opinions on exactly how to optimize a website. We all know the concepts and the lingo. We all understand the technical details, the work that’s involved, the outcome of that work and the timeline for potential results.
The problem is, most of the general public doesn’t know squat about SEO. Very few even know what the acronym stands for. We’re so deep into the SEO life that we forget that the average person has no idea what we’re talking about.
Think about the best client you ever worked with, or the best boss you ever had. Chances are, they had a really solid understanding of SEO. You were able to spend your time digging in, doing work and getting results. There was no fight on budget or results or timeline, right?
At a high level, business owners know they need to show up high in Google to succeed. They’ll hire you because you tell them you can get them there, but they usually have very little understanding about the process. That lack of understanding leads to most of the problems we have with unhappy customers.
Instead of taking on clients who don’t have a clue what we do or how it works, spend some time educating them about your process. I’m not talking about a sales pitch — I’m talking about a thorough explanation of how SEO works and the possible outcomes of your work. You don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty of exact signals to optimize, but you need to hit the high spots of how SEO actually works to influence a site’s visibility in searches.
If it scares them away, then you can be 100 percent sure that they would have been an unhappy client. In our experience, though, clients aren’t generally scared away by our educational practices. They appreciate the additional time and effort, and in many cases, the unbilled time you took to explain SEO will help you close the deal.
We recently turned down working with a dealer who’s opening a new dealership in the Miami metro area. Just last week, he let us know he was opening his new dealership on October first — so it’s a brand-new business and website that have never existed before. He was looking for an agency who could “get him to the top of search results” by October 1 — but exactly on October 1, and not before then.
When we told him that was impossible, we also explained how Google search worked, and how a brand new site takes months to show up well. We explained that there were a ton of competitors in town who were also doing SEO. He told us he didn’t care, because if he was paying someone for SEO, they should be able to do what he asked.
We told him we didn’t think we were the right fit for him, but then we spent an extra 20 to 30 minutes explaining how local results are calculated, and how optimization doesn’t work in a vacuum, and how organic results are different from paid ads.
We did the same thing for a dealer who was an hour and a half outside of the Chicago metro area who insisted that good SEO could get him to rank #1 in the entire Chicago area for any automotive-related terms.
Again, we spent extra time explaining how local results are calculated, and we used a few easy-to-understand examples (like the Local SEO pizza trick) so he understood why that was an impossible feat.
We didn’t get the first guy, but the second guy is now a client. We had a few more conversations after the first, and he’s realigned his expectations and goals. Instead of simply onboarding a client with out-of-whack expectations, we took the time to really explain things… and now we’ve got a happy client who’ll stay happy, because he really understands how things work and the potential outcome of hiring us to handle his local SEO.
Next time you’re pitching a potential client (or your boss, if you’re in-house somewhere), invest the extra time to educate them about the inner workings and potential outcomes of SEO. When you work with clients who have realistic expectations, your job is easier, and you’ll get to spend more time actually doing work and much less time defending why you’re doing it.