How much time do you take to better understand your clients' businesses? Are you just a service provider or are you a true business partner?
That's what we're discussing today with a man whose previous professions include musician, smoothie maker, and an unwitting black hat SEO. He's been at Reprise Digital in London since 2017. Currently leading a team that runs a global SEO activity for household name brands. A warm welcome to the In Search SEO podcast, Jake Gauntley.
In this episode, Jake shares five ways to be better business partners for your SEO clients, including:
Is SEO the right choice for your business?
Make all digital media more efficient
Use SEO data to answer brand questions
Be honest when it's time to pivot strategy or resource
Explore internal processes and work to make them more efficient
Jake: Hello, thank you very much for having me today.
D: Thanks so much for joining us, Jake. Well, you can find Jake over at reprisedigital.co.uk. So Jake, how do you become an unwitting black hat SEO?
J: I responded to a job ad on, I think it was on Gumtree, while I was at university. And it was someone being very vague, saying that they needed help with their website. And I was doing a multimedia journalism degree so I thought that sounds easy enough. I didn't really know what SEO was too much back then. And they just got us handling a whole network of sites. It was article spinning and linking between the two to try and influence PageRank and stuff like that. I didn't really know what I was doing, to be honest. And then I got an internship at an SEO agency, and I was explaining it. And the head of SEO there said, "Don't tell anybody this, you're not supposed to be doing this. That's when I realized what I was doing.”
D: Articles spinning and things like that, back in the day I would maybe see that as gray. You weren't doing things like cloaking were you?
J: No, it wasn't that serious. Not too bad but not fully legit.
1. Is SEO the Right Choice for Your Business?
D: Well, today, you're sharing five ways to be better business partners for your SEO clients. Starting off with number one, is SEO definitely the right choice for them?
J: First and foremost, when you're responding to a client's brief or something like that, we shouldn't always try to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you're clear with the client upfront and on agreeing on an objective of what they want to achieve, that certainly helps. And if that objective is a much more short-term, bottom-of-the-funnel activity, for example, then you've got to be open and honest that maybe SEO alone isn't the right choice for them. It may make sense to invest more of that budget towards PPC, for example, and not to take money for SEO for the sake of it. If you know that SEO is more of a long-term game and they want short-term results, further down the line you're going to be having difficult questions with the client about why they aren't seeing the results that they expected.
D: I'm going to guess that's a slightly easier approach to take if you work in a large agency and you have other services that you can offer. If you've got paid search teams that work right beside you, perhaps you can pass clients to them. Is that a reasonable approach to take? But if you're an independent SEO consultant and SEO is all you do, do you try and find something that's relevant for a client? Or do you say upfront that actually, SEO is not right for you, at the moment, so go away and come back in a year?
J: I'm not saying abandon SEO completely. But if you are an independent freelancer or consultant or something like that, hopefully, you will have trusted people that you work with across paid search or other channels that you could perhaps recommend. And you could be saying that absolutely, we can go in, we can do this, this, and this for you. But if you want these quicker, short-term results, I know someone great who I could recommend. And if you've got that trusted network of people that you can recommend, it can also work the other way if you work with a PPC consultant. I am blessed to be able to work in an agency that does all of this so we're not necessarily taking that revenue out of the business but ultimately being honest with clients about that… Hopefully, if you give that client a recommendation that PPC is going to be more valuable at this time. If they go away, run PPC activity, and make a ton of money, it puts you as a trusted partner, because you have done what is right for the client, even if that means you're taking their money elsewhere. And hopefully, in the future, the client trusts you and can come back. And that could lead to more business for you because you've built up that trust, even if it is taking money elsewhere.
D: That's a great tip about partnering with other digital professionals to deliver services that you don't deliver yourself. Because if you partner with the top ones, the more important ones, paid search, perhaps social media advertising, conversion rate optimization, content, and you've got partnerships that can deliver those services, perhaps you can even arrange some kind of signing on fee or percentage of the services that they can provide. And then of course, if you trust them, if you've got a good relationship with that third-party provider, then they can perhaps refer the client back to you once they're ready for SEO.
J: Exactly. Ultimately, having that relationship means you've got your back in it. You're not just recommending anyone, only the best people that you want that client to work with. So as well as having the benefit of hopefully getting business back from them, it also means that hopefully, you're not recommending a client to someone who does a bad job.
2. Make All Digital Media More Efficient
D: And the number two way of being a better business partner for your SEO client is making all digital media more efficient.
J: Yes, and to be honest, as SEOs, we're probably doing a lot of this already. However, the tip here is to shout about it more. If you think of all the different types of audits that you might do across SEO, whether it's content, relevancy audits, things like technical SEO which leads to UX improvement or engagement improvement, PageSpeed, Core Web Vitals, and all that kind of stuff. Overall while that is beneficial for SEO, we are creating a better website experience. So if you know someone is driving traffic through paid media to that website, they are still going to see the benefits of an improved website experience which has been done with SEO in mind. But there is that knock-on effect.
For example, if you're doing PageSpeed improvements or Core Web Vitals improvements, and you can tie that to an improved conversion rate, increased time on site, and things like that, then the organic search isn't the only channel that's going to benefit from that. It's more like shouting about it and making the client aware that although this is going to benefit SEO, we're also going to see a knock-on impact across all channels. And if you are paying to send people to this website, and that traffic is more engaged, they've got a higher conversion rate, then the media spend that client is spending to get those people to the website is going to be spent more efficiently because they're going to get more out of that.
3. Use SEO Data to Answer Bigger Brand Questions
D: And number three, using SEO data to answer their bigger brand or industry questions.
J: This is one that I love doing with clients. I'm a massive advocate for the power of search data and using it as a barometer for market trends, brand insights, and things like that. It can help to explain changes in consumer behavior, as well as brand interest or competitor interest. I don't think search data alone can answer that but using search volumes as a kind of barometer into what people are searching and ultimately what people are thinking because we're at that point now in the world where search engine use is so ingrained in everyone's life that as soon as someone thinks of something, they're probably going to search for it at some point pretty soon.
We can use search volume data, trends analysis, and things like that, to get insights into how our audiences are thinking. It might be looking at product category search volumes and identifying if there are any trends or particular products that are more popular this year than last year. And then using analytics data to say that we are seeing performance increases in this area, and we know that more people are searching for this. Or vice versa, if a particular product category is down quite significantly year on year, we can then tie it to that there is a change in the market where people are searching for this product less.
So it helps to back up performance-related things that you're seeing within analytics, but then you can also try and tie it into the real world as well. Physical stores, for example. Let’s say you've got a client who has physical locations across the UK and a particular store is not making as much money as it was last year. Then you can use search volume data and tie that to specific locations around the UK. You can help by saying that interest in our brand or our product in this area is lower than it was last year. Again, I'm not saying this is going to give you a definitive answer for everything that you need to know. But when you use search data in this way, alongside other data sources, consumer insights, and things like that, it can be a really powerful tool for businesses, especially for people who don't always interact with the SEO team.
You can give these insights to your client contact, they can take it away, and share it internally. And through that our search trends reports have made their way up to global CEOs because we've been identifying changes in the marketplace. And it's been really valuable for clients to have that.
4. Be Honest When It's Time to Pivot Strategy or Resource
D: And number four is being honest when it's time to pivot strategy or resource.
J: Yeah, clients are paying good money for an SEO’s time and we absolutely owe it to them to use it wisely. So it's our responsibility to be honest with them if we think there is a better use of SEO time or resources. This could be changing a strategy that maybe isn't getting the results that you wanted. Or it could be scrapping a plan and using that resource for something different because of a change of objective or a change of plans.
For example, on the strategy side, if you're testing some specific changes to a landing page template, or optimizations, you do a test batch, and it's not really seeing the results that you'd expected. Being open and honest, say that maybe we should try x, something different. Obviously, having the data to back up the KPIs you're tracking helps. You can take this to the client and say that this isn't having the impact that we expected.
As SEOs, we don't know exactly what is going to work every time. If we knew Google's algorithm exactly, we would just click with our fingers, do that, and see the results. A lot of it is testing and learning. But I think if something that you're testing isn't going right you've got to have the honesty to put your hands up and say what else can we try?
Then I suppose the other side of that is using your time and resource on something different. An example of this would be, we recently had a client who came to us and said that we've had this new brand tone of voice guideline come through, and we've got to rewrite all of the content on our website by this date next year. Obviously, we're winding down in terms of what we had planned for the rest of the year. But we essentially had to put our foot on the brakes for SEO because rewriting the whole content of a website has a lot of potential impacts on SEO. So we stopped what we had planned for the rest of the year, and reassessed how we could use that resource to help the content creation team to make sure it's a success for SEO. We're not just going to stick to the plan that we had if there's a better use of our time, which is hopefully going to make sure that this is a success.
5. Explore internal Processes and Work to Make Them More Efficient
D: And that brings us to number five, exploring internal processes and working to make them more efficient.
J: This last one can maybe be a little bit more difficult. Obviously, you don't want to step on any toes in a client's business. Sometimes the truth can hurt if things aren't working well. You don't know the reasons why processes aren't working well, or why they're not running smoothly at a company. So you do have to approach this one carefully. But the crux of it is you should want to make your client contact’s life easier. And you also want to make things more efficient and run smoothly so we can see results quicker. Things like the internal sign-off processes, processes for getting feedback on recommendations, or lines of communication with people like a PR team or a development team.
If you feel like it isn't running as smoothly or as efficiently as it can, be upfront with the clients. Ask, "Is there any way that we can make this simpler for you?” Phrase it as we want to help you, and then find a way that you could offer to have direct lines of communication with specific people while looping the client in so they're not in the middle person anymore, but they're still involved in the conversations. It could be establishing document templates for specific deliverables so that it gives the development team or the website managers exactly what they need without having to sift through SEO documents. And ultimately just trying to find a way that we can make our recommendations or documents get to the person we need them to and land quicker. It can be a little bit of a difficult one to initiate. And you might not always be able to do it. But I think, at least offering to try and make things more efficient and make people's lives easier is a good thing.
Pareto Pickle - Defining a Clear Objective Upfront
D: Let's finish off with the Pareto Pickle. Pareto says that you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What’s one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for moderate levels of effort?
J: I've tried to tie this one into the general theme of my talk today. I'm going with defining a clear objective with your client upfront to be able to focus your energy on it. It doesn't have to be a huge project upfront, it can just be an hour to sit down with the client and really hone in on what they want to achieve with SEO activity. And with that, if any ad hoc requests come up as part of the SEO project, you can speak with the client and ask if this actually helps us get to where we want to be. Therefore, you're saving effort on the things that aren't going to get you the results that you want, it saves you the effort on unnecessary tasks, and it focuses the time that you do have on achieving that bigger objective.
D: I've been your host, David Bain. You can find Jake Gauntley over at reprisedigital.co.uk. Jake, thanks so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.
J: Thanks, David.
D: And thank you for listening. Check out all the previous episodes and sign up for a free trial of the Rank Ranger platform over at rankranger.com.