Inside The Mind Of An SEO Client (or, How To Successfully Strike An SEO Contract)

LeadJoint successfully launched to a select few customers last week. If you are not a customer, here is a brief about how LeadJoint works. We are an online service that crawls the traffic movements of the world’s top 1 million websites. This way, we identify websites that have recently seen significant drop in traffic. Such websites are hot candidates for SEO/PPC consulting and are hence ideal leads to go after. We offer a minimum of 200 leads every month to our customers.

With so many leads every month, it might seem like you only need to bulk-email all these prospects once and you could end up converting at least one of them by the end of it. But it’s not this easy.

Before launching LeadJoint, I used a more rudimentary version of the same software to find new clients. Approaching the prospects that I identified this way, I realized that most prospects do not want to spend money on SEO until it is too late. When you think about it, it’s natural – you don’t hit the panic button until there is actual reason for panic. As a business, it is natural to go up and down – if you have to panick for one bad week, then business is probably not for you.

So how does it work? This is how the mind of an SEO client works:

Phase 1 : This is the normal phase. Your business is seeing steady income. You may not be growing, but you are not falling either; and that’s okay. This is the phase most regular small businesses are. Pitching your SEO service at this stage might elicit interest if the client has never heard of it. Otherwise, people are normally not interested in spending money on some promise.

Phase 2 : This is the phase when the client’s website starts to see some drop in traffic. If the client’s main business is offline (or if they have good visibility from Yelp, YellowPages, etc. to make up for the drop in website traffic), they might not even notice the traffic drop. Now while this is true for small businesses, for others that are either based online or have a significant chunk of revenues coming from online channels – the drop in traffic is readily apparent. But they don’t hit the panic button yet. Businesses see income drops every now and then – so it is nothing to worry about. A few savvy clients might actually realize that the drop in online business is because they are not ranking on Google search any more. In such cases, they try to implement SEO themselves. In my experience, quite a few business owners try to learn and do their own SEO. This is a period they wait-and-watch to see if the changes they made have actually helped or not.

Phase 3 : There is substantial drop and its impact on business revenue starts becoming apparent. This is either because your account books finally show that there is a drop in income, or because the drop in website traffic coincides with a low offline business. In case of the savvy business owners, they finally realize that the SEO they did themselves has not helped. The owner finally starts getting anxious and starts to look out for help. They either ask around their network for references, or look up on Google themselves for people who can help them out here.

SEO Consultants who receive referrals or inbound calls for quotes get it from primarily two kinds of business owners. The first is the kind who aim for the stars from day 1 and want help from consultants to get their website to the top of Google. But a significant chunk of inbound calls are from people who are in the Phase 3 described above. Being anxious business owners, they request quotes from as many SEO services as they can find on Google (unless it is a referral, of course).

What does this mean for an SEO Consultant? Basically, you are not the only person that this client has sought. There are at least half a dozen other consultants who operate in the same geography or vertical as you do, and they have all been approached by the same prospect. As a result, it is not sufficient if you just get back to them with a list of services that you will do for them. Instead, clients expect you to give them a guarantee on how long it will take for your SEO to show result.

You cannot fault the customer for having such ‘silly’ expectations. There are probably very few other services in the world where you expect the client to pay you month and month and can still afford to tell them that what they expect of you is not guaranteed. Exploration of life on Mars is perhaps another thing that comes to mind.

What I have come to realize is that winning an SEO contract from a client who is in Phase 3 is hard; unless they are a referral from your previous clients. Unless the client is savvy enough, they most probably would end up picking an SEO consultant who charge less and promise the top rank on Google SERPs.

What has worked better for me is to identify clients who are in Phase 2 and become their go-to person for any internet related questions. This is how I did it:

Step 1 : Identify websites that have had a regular stream of traffic and have recently started falling in traffic. These are exactly the kind of leads I send to customers on LeadJoint.

Step 2 : Once I identify websites I want to work with, I cold-call them. After various trials and errors, this is the script I have realized worked the best for me:

Hey, is that Rob from New York Realtors?

<yes>

Rob, I am Anand from LeadJoint, a company that works with small businesses in New York city in the area of lead generation. Could I ask you a couple of questions to see if there is a chance we could help your business as well?

<yes, but quickly please>

1. What percent of your customers come from online sources like your website, Yellowpages, etc.?

2. Do you work with lead generation companies to bring new clients?

Rob, what I noticed through our software system was that your website appears to have lost nearly 35% of traffic over the past couple of weeks alone. This coincides with a recent change in the way Google.com ranks websites on its search results. I was curious to know if this traffic drop is because you have lost your search rankings on Google.com. Do you want me to provide a free audit of your site?’

Most owners are oblivious to their search metrics or can immediately confirm the drop. But since I am offering a free audit, they mostly agree to this.

I have achieved two things here – One, I have sensitized the business owner to start checking their website traffic more regularly, and two, I have given myself the license to contact them as many more times as I want. There have been times when the owner told me that they had no idea how to measure traffic and I helped them pro-bono with setting up Analytic. Other times, I would keep a track of their traffic movements and would call back now and then to alert them of a further fall. More importantly, I was slowly making myself the go-to person for anything website related.

This way, when the client finally moved to Phase 3, they would give me a call and offer to pay me to help them with their SEO. On an average, this cycle extended anywhere between 3-5 months – but the conversions were way higher than it would be through a regular inbound/outbound marketing effort.

From my experience, I have noticed that the most satisfied customers come from referrals. This is because these clients are already warmed up to the concept of search optimization and have a person they can talk to about the way we work, our credibility, etc. But referrals are often few and far between. In such cases, discover potential SEO leads ahead of others and getting in touch with them has been the most successful strategy. The client gets the time to warm up to your ideas, and you, as a consultant, get the time to establish credibility. Consequently, when the project eventually happens, there is trust and satisfaction that accompanies your work. As any SEO consultant would say, these are factors that are most essential to any partnership.