Most business owners who hire an SEO firm have little or no idea what is involved in moving their website ranking to page one. It's not easy to explain the nuances of SEO to prospective clients, many of whom are skeptical of the World Wide Web and are still using the Yellow Pages to advertise. Typically, business owners looking to hire an SEO firm fall into two very broad categories:
Category 1: Knows nothing or next to nothing about SEO. Hires the firm that charges the lowest fee and promises (or even guarantees) page one rankings. That relationship can quickly fall apart when the rankings don't happen overnight and the client feels ripped off and disillusioned.
Category 2: Has some understanding or even a good understand of how SEO works and realizes how grueling and difficult the SEO process is. Does the research to hire an established, reputable SEO firm. Has realistic expectations and is willing to pay a higher fee.
Regardless which category your clients fall into, you want to do all you can to retain your existing clients. That requires you to take charge of and nurture your customer relationships, as well as reign in those customers who push the boundaries of your agreement. You have to do that, of course, while working your tail off to get the SEO results for which your clients hired you in the first place. Customer retention begins with establishing your process and the means to document and prove that you are doing the work and getting results.
Throwing together spreadsheet reports and randomly emailing them to your customers is not enough. Not even close. (An aside to spreadsheet junkies: most people are NOT fascinated by formulas and spreadsheets and have zero interest in looking at them. SEO spreadsheet reports are so 2008). Get yourself a dashboard where you clients can log in and see the task flow, data and results of their campaigns. Some white label SEO services offer a reporting dashboard that automates reports and alerts so you don't have to worry about missing report deadlines or scheduling your client review meetings. A good dashboard will also help you demo your services and the SEO process to your prospects. Look into it.
Many surveys and studies show that the number one reason customers leave is poor customer experience and the sense that you just don't care about them. These 8 guidelines will help you get off on the right foot with new clients, gain their trust and give you the best chance of holding onto them for the long haul.
- Set expectations: Do not promise what you can't deliver.
- Tell your customers: Things will go wrong. You are not Google and you do not control the Internet. Let your customers know what actions you will take when something does go wrong.
- Schedule a new client kick-off meeting: Once you've closed the sale, immediately schedule a meeting to review expectations and reiterate your process. Let your clients know how to contact you and how quickly they should expect you to respond to their calls and emails. This is also the time to inform your clients of their responsibilities. Clients need to manage their websites, work with you to set up analytics, learn how to use your dashboard (if you have one -- and again, you should have one) and call you when they have questions or concerns.
- Make sure the campaign is set up properly from day one: Do not fumble around and be caught having to tell your client, "We didn't have analytics set up properly...we forgot to ask you about conversion goals...we didn't set up phone call tracking the first day of the campaign..." Get it right the first time.
- Schedule a monthly account meeting: This is NOT optional. Clients need to be reminded that you're working hard for them. They need to see and understand the campaign results. Review all of the key metrics, including leads and sales. (You are tracking lead and sales data, right?) Most clients, especially for the first couple months of the campaign, will not grasp much of what you're doing and how your work is affecting their search rankings. Spell it out for them so they don't wonder why they're paying your bill every month.
- Identify and forecast problems: If rankings aren't coming along as you thought they would, talk to your client about what's happening. You have a good chance of saving an account if you're honest with your client and let your client know the steps you're taking to get things back on track. And by all means, do not be caught off guard! A client who has to tell you that his or her campaign is in trouble is already out the door.
- Communicate: Don't assume all is well when you don't hear from a client. The next call you're likely to get is "you're fired." Pick up the phone and call the client if something big happens (for example, if a Google algorithm change or update has a significant impact on a client's ranking). Otherwise, use an email marketing service to send automated newsletters and alerts to explain changes in search engine marketing (Google updates, new social media sites) and educate your clients since many of them do not understand how these things really affect them. When they read or hear about SEO or online marketing news elsewhere, they'll think, "Hey, my SEO team told me about that. They're on top of things."
- Build a friendly relationship with your client: When you learn a little about your client's family, hobbies and interests and bring them up during conversations (How was your vacation to Hawaii? How did your son's team do? – if you remember the son's name, even better!), your client has more of a personal connection to you and won't walk away so easily.
It is important to note that from time to time you may decide some clients are not worth retaining. Those extremely high maintenance, low paying, often unreasonable clients can be a true test of patience. But always be professional and respectful -- they may wise up and come back to you in the future. Always take the high road, so you know you have behaved professionally. This will help minimize negative reviews and emotional comments on social media and customer review sites. And when there are bad reviews and comments, take them head-on with the same professionalism and honesty that you took with those clients initially.
Adam Stetzer, Ph.D., is President and Co-Founder of HubShout, a US-based SEO reseller firm. Dr. Stetzer has been in the information technology field for over 15 years working with numerous Fortune 100 clients. HubShout's SEO reseller program offers a full range of online marketing services and emphasizes both accountability and transparency.