10 Ways to Keep Your SEO Clients Forever
It was said by Don Draper that “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.” The fictitious adman may have been a figment of the imagination, but his words couldn’t ring truer. The moment that you’re lucky enough to sign a client for your services is the same day that you have to start working to keep their business. If he were real, Don Draper probably wouldn’t have lived to see the world wide web or fathom the idea of having a telephone that fits in your pocket that also connects to this thing called the internet. What Don may have lacked with imagination he made up for with charisma, charm, and wit.
When Don was taking the advertising business by storm, it was mostly through print, and from the title of my article, you can tell I’m not going to dive into that medium, but it’s still advertising. People need to be shown a product and sold on it, but you also have to keep them returning for more. Nothing has changed, it’s a revolving cast, but it’s the same old game.
SEO services are no different, agencies pitch clients, sign clients, and attempt to retain clients. Some agencies are more successful than others, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With the help of Mr. Draper, I’m going to show you the blueprint for keeping your clients forever. You might think that sounds crazy, “Why is he going to give us his secret sauce?” The answer is simple. I work for the client, not my company. Our client’s success is our success, and every client, whether they’re with my company or not, deserves the best!
Put Together an A-Team
The first step an agency has to take in retaining clients is putting together a team of the best people. Sure it sounds easy, but there’s a lot more to it than just putting titles on an org chart. If you’re just starting, you can keep the team lean and mean, but as you grow and your client base does, you’re going to have to fill new positions. I’m going to focus on the former to keep things simple, but the first thing you want to look for are people who genuinely love the industry and have a passion for staying up to date with an ever-changing landscape. Failing to put together a great team will lead to a sarcastic Draper quote, where he said, “I’m glad this is an environment where you feel free to fail.”
- Team Leader: This person can hold many titles depending on your agency’s size, but they need to be the glue that holds everything together. This person is going to have leadership qualities that the agency can count on at all times. This person doesn’t have to be the best SEO that you have, but what they need to be is the person you know is going to get the job done. This hire is arguably the most crucial position in the company (sales aside), and they have to command the respect of the staff. That respect shouldn’t come from ruling with an iron fist, but instead because the team knows that this person is ready to walk through hell with them wearing a gasoline suit if that’s what it takes to get the job done. This position will be responsible for daily operations, hiring, and the organization’s vision.
- Head of SEO: Again, this person may have different titles regarding the organization’s size, but this is your SEO guru. The Head of SEO will be responsible for being the chief strategist for the agency and developing, training, and mentoring the junior SEOs. This person is going to have to be learning and sharing their knowledge every day. Your agency is only as reliable as the weakest link, and the Head of SEO is going to need to make sure the team is up to par.
- SEO Specialist: This person is going to be responsible for the technical SEO components on your team. This person will be responsible for writing meta information, making the page more crawlable, and error-free. This person is like a guard in the NFL. It’s a thankless job, but so critical to the team. If they didn’t get a holding penalty (404 error), they had a great day.
- Link Builder: This person is responsible for trying to promote content that is created. Not every agency has an in-house link building team, but it’s my recommendation that you do, or you’re going to end up paying to have another agency white-label your outreach and content promotion.
- Content Writer: We’ve all heard that content is king, and there is a reason that they say it. Google is just a place where people go to ask questions and get answers. The content your team creates will be one of the pivotal factors determining where your content ranks in the SERPS.
Have Great Products to Offer
During an episode of Mad Men, Don Draper said, “Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash.” Every day there seems to be a new and improved way to do something in the SEO world, right? No! I’m not going to say that things don’t change, but the general idea of great content and quality backlinks has been around this long.
Depending on your agency’s size, you may offer a whole suite of products, but my advice is don’t do something if you’re not going to be great at it. We’ve all heard that less is more, and that couldn’t be more true when you’re offering products to clients.
If you’re going only to provide link building, then be the best link building agency that you can. If you’re going to offer multiple products, don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Having new flashy products that don’t work is a recipe for attrition to be the most significant number on the balance sheet. Some products that can be found at a lot of SEO agencies are:
- Website Development
- Website Speed Enhancement
- SEO Audits
- Technical SEO
- Local SEO
- Content Marketing
- Link Building
- Paid Search
Vet Clients and Only Work With Great Ones
The goal of every agency is to grow and continue to work with more prominent clients. Bigger clients typically pay more, have a longer runway, and know what they want. Still, you’re probably not going to open a digital marketing agency and start having Fortune 500 companies soliciting you for business right off the bat. Instead, you have to grow your client base and make sure that you’re only signing great clients.
Instead of thinking about how you can pad the company’s bottom line think about how you can add value to your prospect and if it’s going to be a good match. It’s not that hard to do, heck, you were able to figure out RankBrain, just talk to them.
As Don Draper said, “When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere. Just ask him.” People love to talk about themselves and their business, so just sit back, take notes, and ask questions.
The client is going to tell you everything you want to know about them (P.S. This is excellent dating advice too, and it’s also free!) and the products or services they offer. It’s important to remember that there are many really bad ideas out there, and no amount of marketing is going to help a bad product. If your prospect has a lousy product, it’s not a good match. I’m not writing a guide on keeping a client for six months, I said forever!
Strategize Around the Client’s Business Goals
SEO has no shortage of key performance indicators, or KPIs. You can track things such as organic sessions, keywords moved, bounce rate, leads, etc., but if you tell a client that when making your pitch, did you even listen to them?
Most clients don’t care about the KPIs that matter to you, but instead, they care about the KPIs that matter to them, so you’d better make sure they’re aligned. A client doesn’t care about how much traffic you can get to their website if it’s non-qualified. It may sound like I’ve said this before, but ask the prospect about their business goals before becoming clients so that you’re setting your campaign up for success.
When ordering a cocktail from his assistant, Draper famously told her, “Make it simple but significant.” Any well-stocked bar has the ingredients to make a really over the top drink, but at the same time, there is something about the simplicity of getting precisely what you want without all of the minutiae that goes along with it. So whether you’re mixing up a Manhattan or trying to set up your client’s account strategically, remember what the end game is, something that performs, and focus on the results that are going to make the recipient satisfied.
Underpromise and Overdeliver
Any smart buyer is probably shopping around and comparing different agencies to find the one they believe will fit all of their needs. The ranking factors determine who the best SEO agency is going to be different for every buyer, but it’s often going to come down to value. I’m not going to get cute here, some people are strictly price shoppers, and that’s fine, but if you’re a premium agency, you might not be able to compete for their business, and that’s fine.
One mistake often made by a lousy salesperson is overpromising what is included within their campaign. The approach that should be taken instead is to underpromise and overdeliver, and it sounds easy to say, but that’s before you have the pressures of growing the client base, building the team, or adding to your commission check. If your salespeople are overpromising, they’re going to cause the agency to reap what they sow. Clients aren’t going to be happy, and they are going to feel like you took advantage of them and violated their trust. If this happens, you’re going to need your agency’s leader to step in and make sure that sales are aligned with the company vision and customer culture you’re trying to create.
Don Draper once fired his assistant, and she was curious as to why because she always covers for him. Don was a managing partner at one of the most prestigious ad agencies in Manhattan who had quite the persona about him. He responded to her by saying, “You don’t cover for me; You manage people’s expectations.” It goes to show that managing client expectations is much more efficient than trying to cover for mistakes later.
Use Great Tools
Okay, so you’ve checked every box so far, right? You’ve got a world-class team, and you’re working with the best clients, offering products that you’re an industry leader for, and setting up the campaign based on the client’s goals. Great! Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get started. The next thing that your agency is going to need for success is access to the top SEO tools.
If you’re just starting, tools can become expensive, so it’s essential to know exactly what you need to get the job done. Madison Avenue admen didn’t have the luxury of data mining the way that we do now or the convenience of pulling years of data within seconds, but they paid people to help them.
In one exchange Draper had with Peggy, who fed him ideas, he started by saying, “I give you money, you give me ideas.” Peggy quickly retorted, “And you never say thank you.” Don shouted back, “That’s what the money is for!” Peggy was a great account executive for Don and was quickly moving up the corporate ladder, but Don used her as a tool. You shouldn’t talk to a person in that manner, it’s degrading, but today we have subscriptions to bots, you pay for them, and they produce results, so research what the best tools are and get them for your team.
Create Powerful Reports
During the first season of the show, Draper can be heard saying “I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.” The universe of SEO is indifferent as well. It’s results-driven. I already discussed making sure that you attack the proper KPIs that the client is going to care about, but how are they going to know how you’re performing?
One of the best ways to allow your client to understand how you’re doing is by showing them a custom report. Most clients know how to log in to Google Analytics and Google Search Console, but they don’t know what they’re looking for a lot of the time.
Building a personalized, custom report is a great way to show clients their performance, but more importantly, it allows you to highlight the KPIs they care to follow. LSEO is a big supporter of Google Data Studio when it comes to creating and sharing client reporting. Data Studio allows you to pull data from a plethora of tools at once, which is a time saver for both your team and the client.
Stand by Your Numbers, Don’t Manipulate Them
I’ve discussed the importance of creating powerful reports, but what’s even more important are the numbers you’re reporting. I’m not talking about if the numbers are good or bad. What I’m talking about is reporting on the KPIs that matter the most to your client.
If the client has specific goals, then that is what you should be reporting on, not just the numbers that show your efforts in a positive light. Your client’s website could have been spammed, and if you’re just reporting all traffic to them, sure you probably saw some gains, but what did you do to get them? More importantly, if their goal is to boost the average time on the page, you sent them a fluffed up number that they’re not going to notice.
Standing by your numbers, even when they stink, gives you credibility with the client, and if they’re bad, it’s that credibility that is going to afford you their trust to fix them.
Remember that Don Draper said, “Change is neither good nor bad. It simply is.” This line proves that like life, SEO is going to have a constant change, and standing fast by your numbers, rather than manipulating them, is going to allow you to keep your eyes on your goals.
Client communication is one of the most critical parts of an SEO engagement, but it doesn’t matter if your team is crushing metrics or not if you’re not in communication with the client. Communication with each client is going to be different in terms of methods, cadence, and tech talk. Some clients are going to want bi-weekly phone calls, where others an email is going to do.
Certain clients are going to want to dive deep into the analytics of the website, and others think of SEO as some witch doctor type stuff that they don’t understand. When thinking about clients, I can’t help but think of a time that Don Draper said, “Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary.”
If your team is doing great and you’re hitting proverbial home runs on an account, it’s not going to matter if you’re not able to convey that to the client. You should be telling them what’s working, what you’re going to be doing next, and make them a part of the decision making on the campaign. It’s crucial that when communicating with the client, you speak at their level. You would never want to speak up or down to a client in terms of technical knowledge, so get to know them, build a relationship, and excellent rapport. As your agency grows, having a person or a team of people whose sole purpose is to communicate with clients isn’t bad. That’s how you create raving fans and brand loyalty.
Stay Ahead of Changes
If you work in digital marketing, you already know that it’s something you have to be continuously learning. If you’re not always sharpening your skills, you’re going to be losing clients to agencies with people who are.
Your client may or may not know what BERT means, but you’d better, and you should know how it impacts your clients. Draper once said, “You’re Good. Get Better. Stop Asking For Things.” I feel this quote pairs particularly well with digital marketing because nobody will give you anything, you’re going to need and want to get better on your own.
Evaluating new trends and testing what will move the needle for your campaigns is going to be an ongoing challenge that you’ve got to be willing to accept to succeed.
Love What You Do
While we can dispute the origin of the quote, we can’t argue that doing something you’re passionate about is going to make you happier and better at the task. I’m not overseeing a business’s operations because I applied for a job and got lucky that there was an opening for it. Instead, I knew I wanted to work in digital marketing, and I busted my tail for years and took the long way of getting where I am.
I learned how domain names and hosting worked long before backlinks. After learning how the internet works, I got all the knowledge I could about how websites work, leading to how they get found on Google. I started in digital marketing, working with local citations, and graduated into content marketing. After content marketing, I learned how paid search and social media marketing worked. After I learned that you could pay for traffic, I wanted to learn how to get more traffic without paying for it, so I dove headfirst into link building and technical SEO.
I was grinding the whole way, and now I run operations for an award-winning SEO agency. I heard Don Draper say, “I Don’t Believe in Fate. You Make Your Own Opportunities.”
I thought about this quote all the time while working my way through the different facets of my career, and making your own opportunities is a lot easier when you’re doing something that you love. I was only successful because I loved doing every step along the way. Sure, I took the long way to get to where I wanted to go, but I really enjoyed the ride.