Matchmaking Advice for Local SEOs and Business Owners

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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!


  1. Haha! Love number 7 for business owners. Worthy plug.

    Having a poster child client has always been super helpful for me. I have a couple who are always very happy to take calls, and every time I send a prospective client their way, they come back so stoked to get started. Business owners LOVE talking about their business! I know I do : )

    Black box is right. Though it MIGHT send some running for the hills, the brutal truth is the way to go. I think prospective clients appreciate the honesty – even if they don’t like what they are hearing. In the event things go south, it doesn’t come as a shock, and you’ve prepared a back up plan together.

    Great stuff Phil!


    • Hey Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Yeah, having at least a couple of “cheerleader” clients is great. Of course, if the “matchmaking” was done properly, you’ll probably have a lot them 🙂

      Great point about the “black box.” For me, it’s either bring it up early or have to explain later. A pretty simple choice, IMHO. As you say, people appreciate the honesty.

  2. Awesome, Awesome post again Phil.

    Off to add this at the Local Search Forum. And soon I’m launching a new forum for the business side of local search: Pricing, packaging, prospecting and managing your business. YOUR POST is going to be one of the stickies right on top!

    • Thanks, Linda – as always! I appreciate the great feedback and your post on THE forum.

      That business-side forum sounds great. There’s some good info floating around out there, but not much under any one roof. If//when you build it, I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

    • I know a guy who might be interested in this: I’ll be sure to let him know… 🙂

  3. Great post, Phil and the questionnaire is key, you are so right. We send a similar version to the client as soon as we take them on. We ask for a few other things as well. Google logins, pics, links to vids, cms/ftp logins, any promos or offers, etc. We try to get all so we can use it for local seo and local ppc.

    • Hey Mark,

      Thanks for the insights. I actually have a second part to that questionnaire, which I send a client once we’ve moved forward. It asks for some of the stuff you mentioned (logins, etc.). I’m sure the idea behind yours is similar to the idea behind: namely, make the first questionnaire really un-daunting and easy to fill out – i.e. only the essentials and info you need to give it a green light or red light – and only ask for the stuff you need for implementation (logins, FTP creds, etc.) once you actually need it.

  4. Phil:

    I just want to add that a divorce is o.k. if you find yourself in a “relationship” that goes bad. I have only had to “divorce” myself from a client once. We got along great and there were no issues except one thing – the client was slow to respond to my emails and wanted to micromanage every step I took in the process. We were spinning our wheels working together. I finally talked to him and just told him things weren’t working and that I would of course refund his money and would help him find someone else to work with (which is what I did). We parted on great terms and to this day we still communicate. The point is, sometimes a good match goes bad and when it does, it’s best to part ways than try to fight through it.

    Travis Van Slooten

  5. Such an excellent job,. . i am glad to read this through @Nyagoslav tweets . .!

  6. Awesome write-up Phil! I think these points are valid not just for local SEO (as you mentioned), not even just for SEO in general, but for any kind of Internet marketing services.

    Thanks a ton for mentioning my guide, too!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Nyagoslav!

      No problem on mentioning the guide; again, it’s great, and I know that sort of thing helps both parties get a little better-acquainted.

  7. I believe that any relationship whether its professional (or) personal fails only for the sole reason that need matching does not happen in the best possible way. In any relationship there are minimum two entities involved. The longevity of any relationship is a function of how broad (or) narrow is this gap on need matching.


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