Most business owners and the local SEOs they hire get along pretty well, in my experience.
But when it doesn’t “work out,” usually the cause was avoidable. Not that one person is unethical. Not that one person is an Aries and the other is a Virgo.
Smooth local-SEO campaigns depend 95% on one thing: thorough communication up-front – before anyone has invested significant time or money.
I won’t bore you with the typical, trite, obvious advice, like “be communicative” or “be open and transparent.” That’s all true, but it’s not news to you. It’s also not helpful – way too vague.
What is good communication, in this context?
If you’re the local SEO, is it enough to answer questions you’re asked in emails, or to be available for a quick phone call? Do you need to be more proactive? If so, how?
If you’re the business owner, do you always defer judgment (“You’re the expert”), or do you ask some tough questions? If it’s the latter, what are the questions you should ask – and what kinds of answers should you expect or demand?
I’m glad you asked, gentle reader, because I have a few suggestions.
I’m not really talking about how two parties should “get along” on an ongoing basis. Rather, I’m talking about how you – whether you’re the local SEO-er or the business owner – can help ensure you’re a good fit before you begin working together.
Advice for Local SEOs:
1. Have a questionnaire. Ask potential clients to fill it out either before any money changes hands, or at the very least before you do any work. To me, this is the most important item of all. It’s what allows you to know what your client’s goals are and the extent to which you think you can help – if at all. It’s better to find that out sooner rather than later. You can take a look at my questionnaire.
2. Have testimonials from or case-studies on some of your clients. Preferably you’d have these on your site. But if not, you definitely want them on-hand in some form – and you’ll want to let anyone know who’s thinking of working with you that you have some “references.” Just give people some sense of what you’ve been able to do and what you’re capable of doing. (If you’re just starting out and don’t have any testimonials or case-studies to highlight, just leave a comment on this post or email me and I’ll pitch in some ideas/alternatives.)
3. Have a “poster-child” client (or a few of them). Someone who doesn’t mind if you tell potential clients “OK, here’s an example of how I helped this one business…” Mike Blumenthal does this. On and off my site I often refer to one of my long-time clients, Palumbo Landscaping.
4. Sell a mini-product or how-to guide on your site. Something relevant to local SEO. Something that shows people what it’s like to pay you – even a tiny amount – and get good stuff in return. This gives people who may become clients an idea of what you might be like to work with on a larger scale. It’s a win-win. Some great examples are Matt McGee’s do-it-yourself SEO guide and Nyagoslav Zhekov’s guide to citation-building. Heck, many people who ordered my humble one-page review handouts have become clients of mine, simply because they had a good experience with me and my offerings on a smaller scale.
5. Keep a list of “good guys” to refer potential clients to for services you may not offer. If there’s a service that someone needs but that you don’t offer, it’s better to recommend one or two good providers than to tell that person “Umm, we don’t do that” and leave him/her frustrated.
6. Make sure any people referred to you by word-of-mouth take a few minutes to learn about your services. Even someone who came to you “pre-sold” based on a friend’s recommendation should know as much about your services and policies as would someone who stumbles across your site, doesn’t know you from Adam, and needs to read all about your services even to consider working with you. If someone calls or emails me and says “Hey, my friend recommended me to you – where do I send the check?” I’ll usually ask that person to read over the pages on my site where I describe my services, or I’ll spend a few minutes describing each one.
7. Track rankings. Don’t go crazy with it; weekly (even monthly) rankings reports usually aren’t necessary, in my experience. Just provide some record of your client’s rankings before you start work, and another one after a few months have gone by and you’ve done most or all of the necessary work and have given Google enough time to “digest” the changes you’ve made. I usually fill out a good-old-fashioned spreadsheet (like this one). It’s simple, easy for your client to make sense of, easy for you to make, and makes for a nice before-and-after picture. It’s also another way to stand behind your work, and clients appreciate that.
Advice for business owners:
1. Question your local SEO-er. Doesn’t need to turn into the next Inquisition, but asking some “hows” and “whys” is always wise. Make your local SEO explain things at least a little bit – especially if something he/she says doesn’t quite square with your experience or expectations.
2. Expect questions. Nay, hope for them: If your local SEO-er never asks questions about your situation, he/she may not understand your situation well enough to help you. I suggest erring on the side of volunteering as much detail as possible about your business and local-SEO efforts (your goals, what you’ve tried, etc.) and even grilling your SEO person a little – especially if you haven’t been asked many questions.
3. Ask which service your local SEO-er thinks is the best fit, and why. Most of them offer more than one “level” or package. It’s easier on everyone if you’re not paying for work you don’t need. This question can also be a nice little test of character: Obviously, you don’t want to work with someone whose impulse is to try to sell you on the super-duper deluxe service when the “Basic” might be all you need.
4. Ask whether your potential local SEO has worked with clients in your industry or in one like it. A “No” answer isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that a “Yes” answer means your local SEO probably is a little more likely to know the ins and outs of getting a business like yours visible in local search. In cases where I’m working with someone in an industry I’ve never dealt with before, I usually say “I haven’t worked with someone in your line of work, but I have worked with people in the such-and-such industry, which I think is pretty similar as far as local search is concerned.”
5. Understand that Google is a “black box” in many ways. Any local SEO who claims to have it “figured out” is a liar. Much of what we know is a result of trial and error. As is the case in most areas of business and life, in the SEO world there’s not “scientific” evidence for much – not that that would necessarily help you for long, if at all. Sometimes the reasons behind our suggestions are obvious or become obvious pretty quickly – like how if you don’t follow Google’s quality guidelines, you’ll likely end up shooting yourself in the foot. Don’t hesitate to ask the questions, but be prepared for many different species of answers.
6. Consider buying the mini-product or guide that your local-search buff offers (like what I mentioned earlier). Again, it’s a good way to see what it’s like to deal with that person and see how much he/she can help you on a micro scale. If it looks like junk, well, that may also tell you a thing or two.
7. Read this excellent post by Miriam Ellis: The Zen of Local SEO.
By the way, this stuff applies to any type of SEO/SEM work. But I think good communication is particularly crucial to local SEO, simply because so many aspects of it are counterintuitive, and because some steps (especially optimizing one’s website and asking for customer reviews) take a little bit of coordination or teamwork.
Got any advice for local SEOs or business owners (or both)? Leave a comment!