Clients Aren’t Buying What SEO Agencies Are Selling

Blog Categories:  SEO  

Clutch is an online resource helping companies find reliable software and professional services firms. A key area of focus for Clutch: SEO agencies. A recent article on its website, How to Select an SEO Company, reveals tremendous disconnects between what factors clients consider important in hiring and SEO, and what factors SEO experts consider important. Here are the highlights:

  • The most important hiring factor for clients is personal relationships, either having a personal connection to the SEO or getting a referral from a friend or colleague. For the successful SEO professionals interviewed for the article, referrals were not even mentioned.

  • Only 11 percent of clients thought focus is a key hiring factor. Among the SEO professionals, focus is the most important factor.

  • Only 14 percent of clients thought past performance is a key hiring factor. Among SEO professionals, past performance is the second most important key factor.

  • Company attributes are in alignment: Both clients and SEO pros think factors such as transparency, customer service and reporting have high value.

These disconnects are probably far more pronounced for lead generation SEO clients than e-commerce clients. E-commerce companies live or die by organic search visibility, so they tend to “get” SEO or go out of business pretty quickly. Lead generation is another matter; for these companies, SEO can be perceived as a business necessity, a frill or anything in between. With this in mind, the remarks that follow are generally geared to lead generation SEO pitches.

Are SEO Pitches Outside the Strike Zone?

Right off the bat, we can see if SEOs are pitching focus and past performance when prospects are thinking referrals/relationships and company attributes, they aren’t selling what clients are buying.

This situation is quite frustrating for SEOs; we’ve experienced this on many occasions. We make a terrific presentation highlighting what we know is important — focus and past performance — only to receive yawns from the prospect. Our frustration only builds when the prospect selects another SEO with less-relevant focus and an inferior track record. Perhaps the prospect’s decision was based on a referral!

How Can We Make Our Pitches Hit Home?

Several thoughts come to mind about how reputable SEO agencies can make their pitches more effective:

  • Because personal relationships matter to clients, make your testimonials a lead item, rather than an afterthought tacked to the end of a proposal. What your best clients say about you may be a more effective way to demonstrate past performance than citing statistics, because testimonials personalize the point.

  • Further personalize your pitches by inviting prospects to your office and introduce them to the staff. Have your agency leadership get to know prospects outside the office as well, with lunches, dinners or a round of golf.

  • Make, or continue to make, company attributes a lead item in your pitch. Talk about your transparency, detailed reporting, high level of customer service, etc. These may not seem like the most important topics to you, but they matter to prospects more than you may think.

Any other ideas about how we can make SEO pitches more effective?

Why the Disconnects?

Clutch’s Amanda Soderlund believes client emphasis on referrals “could be a result of the lack of information available on how to choose an SEO provider that is right for a certain type of business. There are not a lot of quality, succinct resources for how a buyer should evaluate an SEO provider. So, buyers that have been duped previously or buyers that don’t know how to evaluate an SEO company correctly will more likely rely on a referral from someone they trust and has had a successful experience with an SEO firm.”

This issue of lack of information makes a lot of sense, and is the main reason behind Clutch’s SEO Company Evaluation Tool — (see this PDF to learn more about it). It is also why we are adding information on our website to give companies a more thorough understanding of SEO best practices and KPIs — see this page about SEO reporting as an example.

The point of these examples: it is more effective to educate prospects before the pitch than during it.

Prospects want to be smart. They want to be educated about SEO — if for no other reason than not to feel intimidated or inadequate during a pitch when the agency starts throwing around technical jargon. This is why we like to send educational material to prospects and give them free educational downloads on our website. In our experience, informed prospects make the best prospects — and informed clients make the best clients. As the writer responsible for writing a lot of this stuff, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that it requires a much different mindset to write about SEO for a client audience than a peer audience. Learn the difference, and you will do a better job of educating clients rather than adding to their confusion.

Oh Yeah, Price

One highly encouraging data point from the Clutch article is that only 12 percent of clients consider price as a deciding factor. This is great news for everyone, because as any good SEO knows, price and value are two very different things. The fact that clients know this makes the selling process a whole lot easier for reputable agencies.

I wonder if this data point indicates we’ve reached a tipping point with regard to those bad SEO practitioners that have been the bane of the industry since inception. Perhaps those bad SEOs pitching fantastic guarantees, overnight results, and canned, too-good-to-be-true pricing packages have finally duped one client too many.

Let’s hope this is the case, because SEO is too valuable a marketing technique to be undermined by scenarios like what Amanda Soderlund described above. The smarter we pitch, the faster we’ll reach that tipping point or better yet, see it in the rearview mirror.

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