Tag Archive | "Clients"

How to Talk to Your Clients in a Language They Understand

Posted by Lindsay_Halsey

A few years ago, while enjoying a day of skiing at Aspen Highlands with a group of girlfriends, a skier crashed into me from above, out of nowhere. He was a professional skier traveling at an exceptionally fast speed, and I felt lucky to get away with a mere leg injury. I couldn’t put weight on my leg, though, so I went to the local emergency room.

After a few hours of various doctors and nurses running scans to diagnose the issue, a new doctor whom I’d never met walked in the room. The first words out of his mouth were, “You have a radial tear in your medial meniscus”. I had no idea what he was talking about. He continued speaking in words better suited for a medical peer than a patient.

I wasn’t at all interested in medical-speak. I was a new mom, anxious to return to my family. I wanted to know for how long and to what extent this injury would impact us, and how active I could be at home while caring for our son.

I didn’t get the answers to any of those questions. Instead, my doctor left me feeling overwhelmed, lost, and frustrated.

Using industry jargon is easy to do

Whether you are a doctor, marketer, SEO, or another specialized professional, this experience made me realize that using industry jargon is easy to do. And I realized that I was susceptible myself — I speak to clients all the time with words that made them feel alienated and confused.

The words and phrases that mean a lot to us as SEO professionals mean little or nothing to our customers.

When we utilize these phrases in conversations and assume we’re communicating effectively, we may be leaving our prospects and clients feeling overwhelmed, lost, and frustrated.

Years ago, feeling that way motivated businesses to hire SEO consultants and agencies. Ample industry jargon was tossed about in the sales process, leaving a prospect set on hiring a professional since SEO was too hard to understand.

There was no way that prospect felt confident in taking a DIY approach to getting found by the search engines; there was no other option besides signing on the dotted line. With a signature in hand, an SEO consultant could begin working some behind-the-scenes magic and deliver impactful results.

Today — and over the last five years — this approach no longer works.

Collaboration is the foundation of SEO

Today, we drive results by building a business’s expertise, authority, and trust online. Sure, there are technical SEO tasks to accomplish (and we can’t forget about foundational action items like dialing in title tags and meta descriptions). But long term, significant growth comes from impacting a business’s E-A-T. And for that, collaboration is required.

As an SEO professional, I often think of myself as a rafting guide in the search engine waters. I’ve been down this river before and already know what to expect around the next bend. I’m responsible for leading a team; our collaborative success (or failure) ultimately depends on my timely, appropriate guidance.

Yet it’s not all about me. The team (or client) is just as invested in our success. We’re sharing the same raft, and we’ve chosen to navigate the same river. They have their paddles in the water and are actively engaged in our journey, eager to work together. Working together — collaboration — means success for us all.

Communication is key to collaboration

Effective communication is critical to a collaborative environment; communication relies on language. If a rafting guide says “port side paddle forward,” his team will likely look at him with confusion. If he says “left side paddle forward,” his team will understand his language and take the right action.

One way to improve communication with prospects and clients is to remove industry jargon from our vocabulary. Over the past few years, I’ve challenged myself to use more everyday words in client communication. As a result, we are closing more business and have more satisfied customers seeing better results. It’s a win, win, win.

Here are some practical examples for communicating (and therefore better collaborating) with SEO clients:

XML Sitemap // Your Website’s Resume 

Instead of telling a client that their website “lacks an XML sitemap,” I explain that this file is like a website’s resume. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview without a resume that lists out your assets in an easily digestible format. A resume quickly summarizes your “contents,” or the structure of your relevant roles and experience — just like a sitemap summarizes the contents and structure of a website.

Link Building // Relationships 

When a client hears you talk about link building, they instantly recall how they feel when they receive spammy emails requesting a favor in the form of a link exchange. They may worry that this tactic is too aggressive or short-sighted and in violation of Google’s terms of service. Consider describing “link building” as building a network of a business’s professional relationships that the search engines quickly and easily understand. Putting up signposts that search engines can read.

Featured Snippet // Above #1

Clients are often hyper-focused on their rankings. If you talk to them about “gaining a featured snippet result,” that language will leave them lost and therefore unengaged in the initiative. Instead, focus on what they want: to rank #1 for a keyword they’ve chosen. If you’re working with a client on a new piece of complete content (to help propel them to the top of the search results by sharing their expertise), you can get the client onboard by telling them the goal is to be “above #1.” 

SEO // Getting Found

Perhaps the most important term of all is “SEO.” We all assume our prospects and clients understand what SEO stands for and why it is important. But more often than not, the acronym alone can lead to confusion. Try substituting “getting found in Google” anytime you’re tempted to say “SEO,” and your client will be connected to the value instead of confounded by the vocabulary.

Removing industry jargon has been the most impactful of our changes to client communication. We also recommend (and practice) sending monthly reports, actively seeking feedback, and setting clear expectations. Read more client communication tips on the Moz blog and at Pathfinder SEO.

What expressions and words do you use in client communications?

Let’s create a shared, jargon-free vocabulary to improve how we talk to our clients. Let’s stop leaving our clients feeling overwhelmed, lost, or frustrated with SEO. After all, collaboration is the foundation of SEO. And to collaborate, we must create — and meet on — shared ground.

Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.

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What clients expect from their PPC agency

Keep clients happy with in-person meetings and short, frequent check-ins. It is as critical to a healthy relationship as delivering the numbers they want.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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SEO Is a Means to an End: How Do You Prove Your Value to Clients?

Posted by KameronJenkins

“Prove it” is pretty much the name of the game at this point.

As SEOs, we invest so much effort into finding opportunities for our clients, executing strategies, and on the best days, getting the results we set out to achieve.

That’s why it feels so deflating (not to mention mind-boggling) when, after all those increases in rankings, traffic, and conversions our work produced, our clients still aren’t satisfied.

Where’s the disconnect?

The value of SEO in today’s search landscape

You don’t have to convince SEOs that their work is valuable. We know full well how our work benefits our clients’ websites.

  1. Our attention on crawling and indexing ensures that search engine bots crawl all our clients’ important pages, that they’re not wasting time on any unimportant pages, and that only the important, valuable pages are in the index.
  2. Because we understand how Googlebot and other crawlers work, we’re cognizant of how to ensure that search engines understand our pages as they’re intended to be understood, as well as able to eliminate any barriers to that understanding (ex: adding appropriate structured data, diagnosing JavaScript issues, etc.)
  3. We spend our time improving speed, ensuring appropriate language targeting, looking into UX issues, ensuring accessibility, and more because we know the high price that Google places on the searcher experience.
  4. We research the words and phrases that our clients’ ideal customers use to search for solutions to their problems and help create content that satisfies those needs. In turn, Google rewards our clients with high rankings that capture clicks. Over time, this can lower our clients’ customer acquisition costs.
  5. Time spent on earning links for our clients earns them the authority needed to earn trust and perform well in search results.

There are so many other SEO activities that drive real, measurable impact for our clients, even in a search landscape that is more crowded and getting less clicks than ever before. Despite those results, we’ll still fall short if we fail to connect the dots for our clients.

Rankings, traffic, conversions… what’s missing?

What’s a keyword ranking worth without clicks?

What’s organic traffic worth without conversions?

What are conversions worth without booking/signing the lead?

Rankings, traffic, and conversions are all critical SEO metrics to track if you want to prove the success of your efforts, but they are all means to an end.

At the end of the day, what your client truly cares about is their return on investment (ROI). In other words, if they can’t mentally make the connection between your SEO results and their revenue, then the client might not keep you around for long.


From searcher to customer: I made this diagram for a past client to help demonstrate how they get revenue from SEO.

But how can you do that?

10 tips for attaching value to organic success

If you want to help your clients get a clearer picture of the real value of your efforts, try some of the following methods.

1. Know what constitutes a conversion

What’s the main action your client wants people to take on their website? This is usually something like a form fill, a phone call, or an on-site purchase (e-commerce). Knowing how your client uses their website to make money is key.

2. Ask your clients what their highest value jobs are

Know what types of jobs/purchases your client is prioritizing so you can prioritize them too. It’s common for clients to want to balance their “cash flow” jobs (usually lower value but higher volume) with their “big time” jobs (higher value but lower volume). You can pay special attention to performance and conversions on these pages.

3. Know your client’s close rate

How many of the leads your campaigns generate end up becoming customers? This will help you assign values to goals (tip #6).

4. Know your client’s average customer value

This can get tricky if your client offers different services that all have different values, but you can combine average customer value with close rate to come up with a monetary value to attach to goals (tip #6).

5. Set up goals in Google Analytics

Once you know what constitutes a conversion on your client’s website (tip #1), you can set up a goal in Google Analytics. If you’re not sure how to do this, read up on Google’s documentation.

6. Assign goal values

Knowing that the organic channel led to a conversion is great, but knowing the estimated value of that conversion is even better! For example, if you know that your client closes 10% of the leads that come through contact forms, and the average value of their customers is $ 500, you could assign a value of $ 50 per goal completion.

7. Consider having an Organic-only view in Google Analytics

For the purpose of clarity, it could be valuable to set up an additional Google Analytics view just for your client’s organic traffic. That way, when you’re looking at your goal report, you know you’re checking organic conversions and value only.

8. Calculate how much you would have had to pay for that traffic in Google Ads

I like to use the Keywords Everywhere plugin when viewing Google Search Console performance reports because it adds a cost per click (CPC) column next to your clicks column. This screenshot is from a personal blog website that I admittedly don’t do much with, hence the scant metrics, but you can see how easy this makes it to calculate how much you would have had to pay for the clicks you got your client for “free” (organically).

9. Use Multi-Channel Funnels

Organic has value beyond last-click! Even when it’s not the channel your client’s customer came through, organic may have assisted in that conversion. Go to Google Analytics > Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels.

10. Bring all your data together

How you communicate all this data is just as important as the data itself. Use smart visualizations and helpful explanations to drive home the impact your work had on your client’s bottom line.


As many possibilities as we have for proving our value, doing so can be difficult and time-consuming. Additional factors can even complicate this further, such as:

  • Client is using multiple methods for customer acquisition, each with its own platform, metrics, and reporting
  • Client has low SEO maturity
  • Client is somewhat disorganized and doesn’t have a good grasp of things like average customer value or close rate

The challenges can seem endless, but there are ways to make this easier. I’ll be co-hosting a webinar on March 28th that focuses on this very topic. If you’re looking for ways to not only add value as an SEO but also prove it, check it out:

Save my spot!

And let’s not forget, we’re in this together! If you have any tips for showing your value to your SEO clients, share them in the comments below.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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Affordable, Stat-Based Retail Strategy For Your Agency’s Clients

Posted by MiriamEllis

Retail clients are battling tough economics offline and tough competitors online. They need every bit of help your agency can give them. 

I was heartened when 75 percent of the 1,400+ respondents to the Moz State of Local SEO Industry Report 2019 shared that they contribute to offline strategy recommendations either frequently or at least some of the time. I can’t think of a market where good and relatively inexpensive experiments are more needed than in embattled retail. The ripple effect of a single new idea, offered up generously, can spread out to encompass new revenue streams for the client and new levels of retention for your agency.

And that’s why win-win seemed written all over three statistics from a 2018 Yes Marketing retail survey when I read it because they speak to motivating about one quarter to half of 1,000 polled customers without going to any extreme expense. Take a look:

I highly recommend downloading Yes Marketing’s complete survey which is chock-full of great data, but today, let’s look at just three valuable stats from it to come up with an actionable strategy you can gift your offline retail clients at your next meeting.

Getting it right: A little market near me

For the past 16 years, I’ve been observing the local business scene with a combination of professional scrutiny and personal regard. I’m inspired by businesses that open and thrive and am saddened by those that open and close.

Right now, I’m especially intrigued by a very small, independently-owned grocery store which set up shop last year in what I’ll lovingly describe as a rural, half-a-horse town not far from me. This locale has a single main street with less than 20 businesses on it, but I’m predicting the shop’s ultimate success based on several factors. A strong one is that the community is flanked by several much larger towns with lots of through traffic and the market is several miles from any competitor. But other factors which match point-for-point with the data in the Yes Marketing survey make me feel especially confident that this small business is going to “get it right”. 

Encourage your retail clients to explore the following tips.

1) The store is visually appealing

43–58 percent of Yes Marketing’s surveyed retail customers say they’d be motivated to shop with a retailer who has cool product displays, murals, etc. Retail shoppers of all ages are seeking appealing experiences.

At the market near me, there are many things going on in its favor. The building is historic on the outside and full of natural light on this inside, and the staff sets up creative displays, such as all of the ingredients you need to make a hearty winter soup gathered up on a vintage table. The Instagram crowd can have selfie fun here, and more mature customers will appreciate the aesthetic simplicity of this uncluttered, human-scale shopping experience.

For your retail clients, it won’t break the bank to become more visually appealing. Design cues are everywhere!

Share these suggestions with a worthy client:

Basic cleanliness is the starting point

This is an old survey, but I think we’re safe to say that at least 45 percent of retail customers are still put off by dirty premises — especially restrooms. Janitorial duties are already built into the budget of most businesses and only need to be accomplished properly. I continuously notice how many reviewers proclaim the word “clean” when a business deserves it.

Inspiration is affordable

Whatever employees are already being paid is the cost of engaging them to lend their creativity to creating merchandise displays that draw attention and/or solve problems. My hearty winter soup example is one idea (complete with boxed broth, pasta, veggies, bowls, and cookware). 

For your retail client? It might be everything a consumer needs to recover from a cold (medicine, citrus fruit, electric blanket, herbal tea, tissue, a paperback, a sympathetic stuffed animal, etc.). Or everything one needs to winterize a car, take a trip to a beach, build a beautiful window box, or pamper a pet. Retailers can inexpensively encourage the hidden artistic talents in staff.

Feeling stuck? The Internet is full of free retail display tips, design magazines cost a few bucks, and your clients’ cable bills already cover a subscription to channels like HGTV and the DIY network that trade on style. A client who knows that interior designers are all using grey-and-white palettes and that one TV ad after another features women wearing denim blue with aspen yellow right now is well on their way to catching customers’ eyes.

Aspiring artists live near your client and need work

The national average cost to have a large wall mural professionally painted is about $ 8,000, with much less expensive options available. Some retailers even hold contests surrounding logo design, and an artist near your client may work quite inexpensively if they are trying to build up their portfolio. I can’t predict how long the Instagram mural trend will last, but wall art has been a crowd-pleaser since Paleolithic times. Any shopper who stops to snap a photo of themselves has been brought in close proximity to your front door.

I pulled this word cloud out of the reviews of the little grocery store:

While your clients’ industries and aesthetics will vary, tell them they can aim for a similar, positive response from at least 49 percent of their customers with a little more care put into the shopping environment.

2) The store offers additional services beyond the sale of products

19–40 percent of survey respondents are influenced by value-adds. Doubtless, you’ve seen the TV commercials in which banks double as coffee houses to appeal to the young, and small hardware chains emphasize staff expertise over loneliness in a warehouse. That’s what this is all about, and it can be done at a smaller scale, without overly-strapping your retail clients.

At the market near me, reviews like this are coming in:

The market has worked out a very economic arrangement with a massage therapist, who can build up their clientele out of the deal, so it’s a win for everybody.

For your retail clients, sharing these examples could inspire appealing added services:

The cost of these efforts is either the salary of an employee, nominal or free.

3) The store hosts local events

20–36 percent of customers feel the appeal of retailers becoming destinations for things to learn and do. Coincidentally, this corresponds with two of the tasks Google dubbed micro-moments a couple of years back, and while not everyone loves that terminology, we can at least agree that large numbers of people use the Internet to discover local resources.

At the market near me, they’re doing open-mic readings, and this is a trend in many cities to which Google Calendar attests:

For your clients, the last two words of that event description are key. When there’s a local wish to build community, retail businesses can lend the space and the stage. This can look like:

Again, costs here can be quite modest and you’ll be bringing the community together under the banner of your business.

Putting it in writing

The last item on the budget for any of these ventures is whatever it costs to publicize it. For sure, your client will want:

  • A homepage announcement and/or one or more blog posts
  • Google Posts, Q&A, photos and related features
  • Social mentions
  • If the concept is large enough (or the community is small) some outreach to local news in hopes of a write-up and inclusion of local/social calendars
  • Link building would be great if the client can afford a reasonable investment in your services, where necessary
  • And, of course, be sure your client’s local business listings are accurate so that newcomers aren’t getting lost on their way to finding the cool new offering

Getting the word out about events, features, and other desirable attributes don’t have to be exorbitant, but it will put the finishing touch on ensuring a community knows the business is ready to offer the desired experience.

Seeing opportunity

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a client meeting and things will be a bit flat. Maybe the client has been disengaged from your contract lately, or sales have been leveling out for lack of new ideas. That’s the perfect time to put something fresh on the table, demonstrating that you’re thinking about the client’s whole picture beyond CTR and citations.

One thing that I find to be an inspiring practice for agencies is to do an audit of competitors’ reviews looking for “holes” In many communities, shopping is really dull and reviews reflect that, with few shoppers feeling genuinely excited by a particular vertical’s local offerings. Your client could be the one to change that, with a little extra attention from you.

Every possibility won’t be the perfect match for every business, but if you can help the company see a new opportunity, the few minutes spent brainstorming could benefit you both.

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Ask MarketingSherpa: How do small businesses find clients?

When I get together with other contractors (web designers, marketers, branding specialists, etc.) the first question is generally ‘So, how do you find new clients?” The answer is generally ‘referral,’ but that only provides so much to the pipeline.
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Spectator to Partner: Turn Your Clients into SEO Allies – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by KameronJenkins

Are your clients your allies in SEO, or are they passive spectators? Could they even be inadvertently working against you? A better understanding of expectations, goals, and strategy by everyone involved can improve your client relations, provide extra clarity, and reduce the number of times you’re asked to “just SEO a site.” In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Kameron Jenkins outlines tactics you should know for getting clients and bosses excited about the SEO journey, as well as the risks involved in passivity.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hey, everyone, and welcome to this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday. I am Kameron Jenkins, and I’m the SEO Wordsmith here at Moz. Today I’m going to be talking with you about how to turn your clients from spectators, passive spectators to someone who is proactively interested and an ally in your SEO journey.

So if you’ve ever heard someone come to you, maybe it’s a client or maybe you’re in-house and this is your boss saying this, and they say, “Just SEO my site,” then this is definitely for you. A lot of times it can be really hard as an SEO to work on a site if you really aren’t familiar with the business, what that client is doing, what they’re all about, what their goals are. So I’m going to share with you some tactics for getting your clients and your boss excited about SEO and excited about the work that you’re doing and some risks that can happen when you don’t do that.

Tactics

So let’s dive right in. All right, first we’re going to talk about tactics.

1. Share news

The first tactic is to share news. In the SEO industry, things are changing all the time, so it’s actually a really great tactic to keep yourself informed, but also to share that news with the client. So here’s an example. Google My Business is now experimenting with a new video format for their post feature. So one thing that you can do is say, “Hey, client, I hear that Google is experimenting with this new format. They’re using videos now. Would you like to try it?”

So that’s really cool because it shows them that you’re on top of things. It shows them that you’re the expert and you’re keeping your finger on the pulse of the industry. It also tells them that they’re going to be a part of this new, cutting-edge technology, and that can get them really, really excited about the SEO work you’re doing. So make sure to share news. I think that can be really, really valuable.

2. Outline your work

The next tip is to outline your work. This one seems really simple, but there is so much to say for telling a client what you’re going to do, doing it, and then telling them that you did it. It’s amazing what can happen when you just communicate with a client more. There have been plenty of situations where maybe I did less tangible work for a client one week, but because I talk to them more, they were more inclined to be happy with me and excited about the work I was doing.

It’s also cool because when you tell a client ahead of time what you’re going to do, it gives them time to get excited about, “Ooh, I can’t wait to see what he or she is going to do next.” So that’s a really good tip for getting your clients excited about SEO.

3. Report results

Another thing is to report on your results. So, as SEOs, it can be really easy to say, hey, I added this page or I fixed these things or I updated this.

But if we detach it from the actual results, it doesn’t really matter how much a client likes you or how much your boss likes you, there’s always a risk that they could pull the plug on SEO because they just don’t see the value that’s coming from it. So that’s an unfortunate reality, but there are tons of ways that you can show the value of SEO. One example is, “Hey, client, remember that page that we identified that was ranking on page two. We improved it. We made all of those updates we talked about, and now it’s ranking on page one. So that’s really exciting. We’re seeing a lot of new traffic come from it.I’m wondering, are you seeing new calls, new leads, an uptick in any of those things as a result of that?”

So that’s really good because it shows them what you did, the results from that, and then it kind of connects it to, “Hey, are you seeing any revenue, are you seeing new clients, new customers,” things like that. So they’re more inclined to see that what you’re doing is making a real, tangible impact on actual revenue and their actual business goals.

4. Acknowledge and guide their ideas

This one is really, really important. It can be hard sometimes to marry best practices and customer service. So what I mean by that is there’s one end of the pendulum where you are really focused on best practices. This is right. This is wrong. I know my SEO stuff. So when a client comes to you and they say, “Hey, can we try this?” and you go, “No, that’s not best practices,”it can kind of shut them down. It doesn’t get them involved in the SEO process. In fact, it just kind of makes them recoil and maybe they don’t want to talk to you, and that’s the exact opposite of what we want here. On the other end of that spectrum though, you have clients who say, “Hey, I really want to try this.I saw this article. I’m interested in this thing. Can you do it for my website?”

Maybe it’s not the greatest idea SEO-wise. You’re the SEO expert, and you see that and you go, “Mm, that’s actually kind of scary. I don’t think I want to do that.” But because you’re so focused on pleasing your client, you maybe do it anyway. So that’s the opposite of what we want as well. We want to have a “no, but” mentality. So an example of that could be your client emails in and says, “Hey, I want to try this new thing.”

You go, “Hey, I really like where your head is at. I like that you’re thinking about things this way. I’m so glad you shared this with me. I tried this related thing before, and I think that would be actually a really good idea to employ on your website.” So kind of shifting the conversation, but still bringing them along with you for that journey and guiding them to the correct conclusions. So that’s another way to get them invested without shying them away from the SEO process.

Risks

So now that we’ve talked about those tactics, we’re going to move on to the risks. These are things that could happen if you don’t get your clients excited and invested in the SEO journey.

1. SEO becomes a checklist

When you don’t know your client well enough to know what they’re doing in the real world, what they’re all about, the risk becomes you have to kind of just do site health stuff, so fiddling with meta tags, maybe you’re changing some paragraphs around, maybe you’re changing H1s, fixing 404s, things like that, things that are just objectively, “I can make this change, and I know it’s good for site health.”

But it’s not proactive. It’s not actually doing any SEO strategies. It’s just cleanup work. If you just focus on cleanup work, that’s really not an SEO strategy. That’s just making sure your site isn’t broken. As we all know, you need so much more than that to make sure that your client’s site is ranking. So that’s a risk.

If you don’t know your clients, if they’re not talking to you, or they’re not excited about SEO, then really all you’re left to do is fiddle with kind of technical stuff. As good as that can be to do, our jobs are way more fun than that. So communicate with your clients. Get them on board so that you can do proactive stuff and not just fiddling with little stuff.

2. SEO conflicts with business goals

So another risk is that SEO can conflict with business goals.

So say that you’re an SEO. Your client is not talking to you. They’re not really excited about stuff that you’re doing. But you decide to move forward with proactive strategies anyway. So say I’m an SEO, and I identify this keyword. My client has this keyword. This is a related keyword. It can bring in a lot of good traffic. I’ve identified this good opportunity. All of the pages that are ranking on page one, they’re not even that good. I could totally do better. So I’m going to proactively go, I’m going to build this page of content and put it on my client’s site. Then what happens when they see that page of content and they go, “We don’t even do that. We don’t offer that product. We don’t offer that service.”

Oops. So that’s really bad. What can happen is that, yes, you’re being proactive, and that’s great. But if you don’t actually know what your client is doing, because they’re not communicating with you, they’re not really excited, you risk misaligning with their business goals and misrepresenting them. So that’s a definite risk.

3. You miss out on PR opportunities

Another thing, you miss out on PR opportunities. So again, if your client is not talking to you, they’re not excited enough to share what they’re doing in the real world with you, you miss out on news like, “Hey, we’re sponsoring this event,”or, “Hey, I was the featured expert on last night’s news.”

Those are all really, really good things that SEOs look for. We crave that information. We can totally use that to capitalize on it for SEO value. If we’re not getting that from our clients, then we miss out on all those really, really cool PR opportunities. So a definite risk. We want those PR opportunities. We want to be able to use them.

4. Client controls the conversation

Next up, client controls the conversation. That’s a definite risk that can happen. So if a client is not talking to you, a reason could be they don’t really trust you yet. When they don’t trust you, they tend to start to dictate. So maybe our client emails in.

A good example of this is, “Hey, add these 10 backlinks to my website.” Or, “Hey, I need these five pages, and I need them now.” Maybe they’re not even actually bad suggestions. It’s just the fact that the client is asking you to do that. So this is kind of tricky, because you want to communicate with your client. It’s good that they’re emailing in, but they’re the ones at that point that are dictating the strategy. Whereas they should be communicating their vision, so hey, as a business owner, as a website owner, “This is my vision. This is my goal, and this is what I want.”

As the SEO professional, you’re receiving that information and taking it and making it into an SEO strategy that can actually be really, really beneficial for the client. So there’s a huge difference between just being a task monkey and kind of transforming their vision into an SEO strategy that can really, really work for them. So that’s a definite risk that can happen.

Excitement + partnership = better SEO campaigns

There’s a lot of different things that can happen. These are just some examples of tactics that you can use and risks. If you have any examples of things that have worked for you in the past, I would love to hear about them. It’s really good to information share. Success stories where maybe you got your client or your boss really bought into SEO, more so than just, “Hey, I’m spending money on it.”

But, “Hey, I’m your partner in this. I’m your ally, and I’m going to give you all the information because I know that it’s going to be mutually beneficial for us.” So at the end here, excitement, partner, better SEO campaigns. This is going to be I believe a recipe for success to get your clients and your boss on board. Thanks again so much for watching this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and come back next week for another one.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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How can one fast-food restaurant charge three times more than another fast food restaurant? The answer is – Exclusivity. Read more …
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Are You a Writer Looking for Recognition and Clients? Copyblogger Certification Is Re-Opening Soon

First things first: We’re re-opening our Content Marketing Certification this month! It’s a four-week educational program on content strategy (taught…

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The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon: A Competitive Advantage for Clients

Posted by MiriamEllis

Photo credit: Michelle Shirley

What if a single conversation with one of your small local business clients could spark activity that would lead to an increase in their YOY sales of more than 7%, as opposed to only 4% if you don’t have the conversation? What if this chat could triple the amount of spending that stays in their town, reduce pollution in their community, improve their neighbors’ health, and strengthen democracy?

What if the brass ring of content dev, link opportunities, consumer sentiment and realtime local inventory is just waiting for you to grab it, on a ride we just haven’t taken yet, in a setting we’re just not talking about?

Let’s travel a different road today, one that parallels our industry’s typical conversation about citations, reviews, markup, and Google My Business. As a 15-year sailor on the Local SEO ship, I love all this stuff, but, like you, I’m experiencing a merging of online goals with offline realities, a heightened awareness of how in-store is where local business successes are born and bred, before they become mirrored on the web.

At Moz, our SaaS tools serve businesses of every kind: Digital, bricks-and-mortar, SABs, enterprises, mid-market agencies, big brands, and bootstrappers. But today, I’m going to go as small and as local as possible, speaking directly to independently-owned local businesses and their marketers about the buy local/shop local/go local movement and what I’ve learned about its potential to deliver meaningful and far-reaching successes. Frankly, I think you’ll be as amazed as I’ve been.

At the very least, I hope reading this article will inspire you to have a conversation with your local business clients about what this growing phenomenon could do for them and for their communities. Successful clients, after all, are the very best kind to have.

What is the Buy Local movement all about?

What’s the big idea?

You’re familiar with the concept of there being power in numbers. A single independent business lacks the resources and clout to determine the local decisions and policies that affect it. Should Walmart or Target be invited to set up shop in town? Should the crumbling building on Main St. be renovated or demolished? Which safety and cultural services should be supported with funding? The family running the small grocery store has little say, but if they join together with the folks running the bakery, the community credit union, the animal shelter, and the bookstore … then they begin to have a stronger voice.

Who does this?

Buy Local programs formalize the process of independently-owned businesses joining together to educate their communities about the considerable benefits to nearly everyone of living in a thriving local economy. These efforts can be initiated by merchants, Chambers of Commerce, grassroots citizen groups, or others. They can be assisted and supported by non-profit organizations like the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

What are the goals?

Through signage, educational events, media promotions, and other forms of marketing, most Buy Local campaigns share some or all of these goals:

  • Increase local wealth that recirculates within the community
  • Preserve local character
  • Build community
  • Create good jobs
  • Have a say in policy-making
  • Decrease environmental impacts
  • Support entrepreneurship
  • Improve diversity/variety
  • Compete with big businesses

Do Buy Local campaigns actually work?

Yes – research indicates that, if managed correctly, these programs yield a variety of benefits to both merchants and residents. Consider these findings:

1) Healthy YOY sales advantages

ILSR conducted a national survey of independent businesses to gauge YOY sales patterns. 2016 respondents reported a good increase in sales across the board, but with a significant difference which AMIBA sums up:

“Businesses in communities with a sustained grassroots “buy independent/buy local” campaign reported a strong 7.4% sales increase, nearly doubling the 4.2% gain for those in areas without such an alliance.”

2) Keeping spending local

The analysts at Civic Economics conducted surveys of 10 cities to gauge the local financial impacts of independents vs. chain retailers, yielding a series of graphics like this one:

While statistics vary from community to community, the overall pattern is one of significantly greater local recirculation of wealth in the independent vs. chain environment. These patterns can be put to good use by Buy Local campaigns with the goal of increasing community-sustaining wealth.

3) Keeping communities employed and safe

Few communities can safely afford the loss of jobs and tax revenue documented in a second Civic Economics study which details the impacts of Americans’ Amazon habit, state by state and across the nation:

While the recent supreme court ruling allowing states to tax e-commerce models could improve some of these dire numbers, towns and cities with Buy Local alliances can speak plainly: Lack of tax revenue that leads to lack of funding for emergency services like fire departments is simply unsafe and unsustainable. A study done a few years back found that ⅔ of volunteer firefighters in the US report that their departments are underfunded with 86% of these heroic workers having to dip into their own pockets to buy supplies to keep their stations going. As I jot these statistics down, there is a runaway 10,000 acre wildfire burning a couple of hours north of me…

Meanwhile, Inc.com is pointing out,

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since the end of the Great Recession, small businesses have created 62 percent of all net new private-sector jobs. Among those jobs, 66 percent were created by existing businesses, while 34 percent were generated through new establishments (adjusted for establishment closings and job losses)”.

When communities have Go Local-style business alliances, they are capitalizing on the ability to create jobs, increase sales, and build up tax revenue that could make a serious difference not just to local unemployment rates, but to local safety.

4) Shaping policy

In terms of empowering communities to shape policy, there are many anecdotes to choose from, but one of the most celebrated surrounds a landmark study conducted by the Austin Independent Business Alliance which documented community impacts of spending at the local book and music stores vs. a proposed Borders. Their findings were compelling enough to convince the city not to give a $ 2.1 million subsidy to the now-defunct corporation.

5) Improving the local environment

A single statistic here is incredibly eye opening. According to the US Department of Transportation, shopping-related driving per household more than tripled between 1969-2009.

All you have to do is picture to yourself the centralized location of mainstreet businesses vs. big boxes on the outskirts of town to imagine how city planning has contributed to this stunning rise in time spent on the road. When residents can walk or bike to make daily purchases, the positive environmental impacts are obvious.

6) Improving residents’ health and well-being

A recent Cigna survey of 20,000 Americans found that nearly half of them always or sometimes feel lonely, lacking in significant face-to-face interactions with others. Why does this matter? Because the American Psychological Association finds that you have a 50% less chance of dying prematurely if you have quality social interactions.

There’s a reason author Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series about life in a small town in North Carolina has been a string of NY Times Best Sellers; readers and reviewers continuously state that they yearn to live someplace like this fictitious community with the slogan “Mitford takes care of its own”. In the novels, the lives of residents, independent merchants, and “outsiders” interweave, in good times and bad, creating a support network many Americans envy.

This societal setup must be a winner, as well as a bestseller, because the Cambridge Journal of Regions published a paper in which they propose that the concentration of small businesses in a given community can be equated with levels of public health.

Beyond the theory that eating fresh and local is good for you, it turns out that knowing your farmer, your banker, your grocer could help you live longer.

7) Realizing big-picture goals

Speaking of memorable stories, this video from ILSR does a good job of detailing one view of the ultimate impacts independent business alliances can have on shaping community futures:

I interviewed author and AMIBA co-founder, Jeff Milchen, about the good things that can happen when independents join hands. He summed it up,

“The results really speak for themselves when you look at what the impact of public education for local alliances has been in terms of shifting culture. It’s a great investment for independent businesses to partner with other independents, to do things they can’t do individually. Forming these partnerships can help them compete with the online giants.”

Getting going with a Go Local campaign, the right way

If sharing some of the above with clients has made them receptive to further exploration of what involvement in an independent business alliance might do for them, here are the next steps to take:

  1. First, find out if a Go Local/Shop Local/Buy Local/Stay Local campaign already exists in the business’ community. If so, the client can join up.
  2. If not, contact AMIBA. The good folks there will know if other local business owners in the client’s community have already expressed interest in creating an alliance. They can help connect the interested parties up.
  3. I highly, highly recommend reading through Amiba’s nice, free primer covering just about everything you need to know about Go Local campaigns.
  4. Encourage the client to publicize their intent to create an alliance if none exists in their community. Do an op ed in the local print news, put it on social media sites, talk to neighbors. This can prompt outreach from potential allies in the effort.
  5. A given group can determine to go it alone, but it may be better to rely on the past experience of others who have already created successful campaigns. AMIBA offers a variety of paid community training modules, including expert speakers, workshops, and on-site consultations. Each community can write in to request a quote for a training plan that will work best for them. The organization also offers a wealth of free educational materials on their website.
  6. According to AMIBA’s Jeff Milchen, a typical Buy Local campaign takes about 3-4 months to get going.

It’s important to know that Go Local campaigns can fail, due to poor execution. Here is a roundup of practices all alliances should focus on to avoid the most common pitfalls:

  1. Codify the definition of a “local” business as being independently-owned-and-run, or else big chain inclusion will anger some members and cause them to leave.
  2. Emphasize all forms of local patronage; campaigns that stick too closely to words like “buy” or “shop” overlook the small banks, service area businesses, and other models that are an integral part of the independent local economy.
  3. Ensure diversity in leadership; an alliance that fails to reflect the resources of age, race, gender/identity, political views, economics and other factors may wind up perishing from narrow viewpoints. On a related note, AMIBA has been particularly active in advocating for business communities to rid themselves of bigotry. Strong communities welcome everyone.
  4. Do the math of what success looks like; education is a major contributing factor to forging a strong alliance, based on projected numbers of what campaigns can yield in concrete benefits for both merchants and residents.
  5. Differentiate inventory and offerings so that independently-owned businesses offer something of added value which patrons can’t easily replicate online; this could be specialty local products, face-to-face time with expert staff, or other benefits.
  6. Take the high road in inspiring the community to increase local spending; campaigns should not rely on vilifying big and online businesses or asking for patronage out of pity. In other words, guilt-tripping locals because they do some of their shopping at Walmart or Amazon isn’t a good strategy. Even a 10% shift towards local spending can have positive impacts for a community!
  7. Clearly assess community resources; not every town, city, or district hosts the necessary mix of independent businesses to create a strong campaign. For example, approximately 2.2% of the US population live in “food deserts”, many miles from a grocery store. These areas may lack other local businesses, as well, and their communities may need to create grassroots campaigns surrounding neighborhood gardens, mobile markets, private investors and other creative solutions.

In sum, success significantly depends on having clear definitions, clear goals, diverse participants and a proud identity as independents, devoid of shaming tactics.

Circling back to the Web — our native heath!

So, let’s say that your incoming client is now participating in a Buy Local program. Awesome! Now, where do we go from here?

In speaking with Jeff Milchen, I asked what he has seen in terms of digital marketing being used to promote the businesses involved in Buy Local campaigns. He said that, while some alliances have workshops, it’s a work in progress and something he hopes to see grow in the future.

As a Local SEO, that future is now for you and your fortunate clients. Here are some ways I see this working out beautifully:

Basic data distribution and consistency

Small local businesses can sometimes be unaware of inconsistent or absent local business listings, because the owners are just so busy. The quickest way I know to demo this scenario is to plug the company name and zip into the free Moz Check Listing tool to show them how they’re doing on the majors. Correct data errors and fill in the blanks, either manually, or, using affordable software like Moz Local. You’ll also want to be sure the client has a presence on any geo or industry-specific directories and platforms. It’s something your agency can really help with!

A hyperlocalized content powerhouse

Build proud content around the company’s involvement in the Buy Local program.

  • Write about all of the economic, environmental, and societal benefits residents can support by patronizing the business.
  • Motivated independents take time to know their customers. There are stories in this. Write about the customers and their needs. I’ve even seen independent restaurants naming menu items after beloved patrons. Get personal. Build community.
  • Don’t forget that even small towns can be powerful points of interest for tourists. Create a warm welcome for travelers, and for new neighbors, too!

Link building opportunities of a lifetime

Local business alliances form strong B2B bonds.

  • Find relationships with related businesses that can sprout links. For example, the caterer knows the wedding cake baker, who knows the professional seamstress, who knows the minister, who knows the DJ, who knows the florist.
  • Dive deep into opportunities for sponsoring local organizations, teams and events, hosting and participating in workshops and conferences, offering scholarships and special deals.
  • Make fast friends with local media. Be newsworthy.

A wellspring of sentiment

Independents form strong business-to-community bonds.

  • When a business really knows its customers, asking for online reviews is so much easier. In some communities, it may be necessary to teach customers how to leave reviews, but once you get a strategy going for this, the rest is gravy.
  • It’s also a natural fit for asking for written and video testimonials to be published on the company website.
  • Don’t forget the power of Word of Mouth Marketing, while you’re at it. Loyal patrons are an incredible asset.
  • The one drawback could be if your business model is one of a sensitive nature. Tight-knit communities can be ones in which residents may be more desirous of protecting their privacy.

Digitize inventory easily

30% of consumers say they’d buy from a local store instead of online if they knew the store was nearby (Google). Over half of consumers prefer to shop in-store to interact with products (Local Search Association). Over 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition (Bright Local).

It all adds up to the need for highly-authentic independently-owned businesses to have an online presence that signals to Internet users that they stock desired products. For many small, local brands, going full e-commerce on their website is simply too big of an implementation and management task. It’s a problem that’s dogged this particular business sector for years. And it’s why I got excited when the folks at AMIBA told me to check out Pointy.

Pointy offers a physical device that small business owners can attach to their barcode scanner to have their products ported to a Pointy-controlled webpage. But, that’s not all. Pointy integrates with the “See What’s In Store” inventory function of Google My Business Knowledge Panels. Check out Talbot’s Toyland in San Mateo, CA for a live example.

Pointy is a startup, but one that is exciting enough to have received angel investing from the founder of WordPress and the co-founder of Google Maps. Looks like a real winner to me, and it could provide a genuine answer for brick-and-mortar independents who have found their sales staggering in the wake of Amazon and other big digital brands.

Local SEOs have an important part to play

Satisfaction in work is a thing to be cherished. If the independent business movement speaks to you, bringing your local search marketing skills to these alliances and small brands could make more of your work days really good days.

The scenario could be an especially good fit for agencies that have specialized in city or state marketing. For example, one of our Moz Community members confines his projects to South Carolina. Imagine him taking it on the road a bit, hosting and attending workshops for towns across the state that are ready to revitalize main street. An energetic client roster could certainly result if someone like him could show local banks, grocery stores, retail shops and restaurants how to use the power of the local web!

Reading America

Our industry is living and working in complex times.

The bad news is, a current Bush-Biden poll finds that 8/10 US residents are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about the state of democracy in our nation.

The not-so-bad news is that citizen ingenuity for discovering solutions and opportunities is still going strong. We need only look as far as the runaway success of the TV show “Fixer Upper”, which drew 5.21 million viewers in its fourth season as the second-largest telecast of Q2 of that year. The show surrounded the revitalization of dilapidated homes and businesses in and around Waco, Texas, and has turned the entire town into a major tourist destination, pulling in millions of annual visitors and landing book deals, a magazine, and the Magnolia Home furnishing line for its entrepreneurial hosts.

While not every town can (or would want to) experience what is being called the “Magnolia effect”, channels like HGTV and the DIY network are heavily capitalizing on the rebirth of American communities, and private citizens are taking matters into their own hands.

There’s the family who moved from Washington D.C. to Water Valley, Mississippi, bought part of the decaying main street and began to refurbish it. I found the video story of this completely riveting, and look at the Yelp reviews of the amazing grocery store and lunch counter these folks are operating now. The market carries local products, including hoop cheese and milk from the first dairy anyone had opened in 50 years in the state.

There are the half-dozen millennials who are helping turn New Providence, Iowa into a place young families can live and work again. There’s Corning, NY, Greensburg, KS, Colorado Springs, CO, and so many more places where people are eagerly looking to strengthen community sufficiency and sustainability.

Some marketing firms are visionary forerunners in this phenomenon, like Deluxe, which has sponsored the Small Business Revolution show, doing mainstreet makeovers that are bringing towns back to life. There could be a place out there somewhere on the map of the country, just waiting for your agency to fill it.

The best news is that change is possible. A recent study in Science magazine states that the tipping point for a minority group to change a majority viewpoint is 25% of the population. This is welcome news at a time when 80% of citizens are feeling doubtful about the state of our democracy. There are 28 million small businesses in the United States – an astonishing potential educational force – if communities can be taught what a vote with their dollar can do in terms of giving them a voice. As Jeff Milchen told me:

One of the most inspiring things is when we see local organizations helping residents to be more engaged in the future of their community. Most communities feel somewhat powerless. When you see towns realize they have the ability to shift public policy to support their own community, that’s empowering.”

Sometimes, the extremes of our industry can make our society and our democracy hard to read. On the one hand, the largest brands developing AI, checkout-less shopping, driverless cars, same-day delivery via robotics, and the gig economy win applause at conferences.

On the other hand, the public is increasingly hearing the stories of employees at these same companies who are protesting Microsoft developing face recognition for ICE, Google’s development of AI drone footage analysis for the Pentagon, working conditions at Amazon warehouses that allegedly preclude bathroom breaks and have put people in the hospital, and the various outcomes of the “Walmart Effect”.

The Buy Local movement is poised in time at this interesting moment, in which our democracy gets to choose. Gigs or unions? Know your robot or know your farmer? Convenience or compassion? Is it either/or? Can it be both?

Both big and small brands have a major role to play in answering these timely questions and shaping the ethics of our economy. Big brands, after all, have tremendous resources for raising the bar for ethical business practices. Your agency likely wants to serve both types of clients, but it’s all to the good if all business sectors remember that the real choosers are the “consumers”, the everyday folks voting with their dollars.

I know that it can be hard to find good news sometimes. But I’m hoping what you’ve read today gifts you with a feeling of optimism that you can take to the office, take to your independently-owned local business clients, and maybe even help take to their communities. Spark a conversation today and you may stumble upon a meaningful competitive advantage for your agency and its most local customers.

Every year, local SEOs are delving deeper and deeper into the offline realities of the brands they serve, large and small. We’re learning so much, together. It’s sometimes a heartbreaker, but always an honor, being part of this local journey.

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How to Diagnose Your SEO Client’s Search Maturity

Posted by HeatherPhysioc

One of the biggest mistakes I see (and am guilty of making) is assuming a client is knowledgeable, bought-in, and motivated to execute search work simply because they agreed to pay us to do it. We start trucking full-speed ahead, dumping recommendations in their laps, and are surprised when the work doesn’t get implemented.

We put the cart before the horse. It’s easy to forget that clients start at different points of maturity and knowledge levels about search, and even clients with advanced knowledge may have organizational challenges that create barriers to implementing the work. Identifying where your client falls on a maturity curve can help you better tailor communication and recommendations to meet them where they are, and increase the likelihood that your work will be implemented.

How mature is your client?

No, not emotional maturity. Search practice maturity. This article will present a search maturity model, and provide guidance on how to diagnose where your client falls on that maturity spectrum.

This is where maturity models can help. Originally developed for the Department of Defense, and later popularized by Six Sigma methodologies, maturity models are designed to measure the ability of an organization to continuously improve in a practice. They help you diagnose the current maturity of the business in a certain area, and help identify where to focus efforts to evolve to the next stage on the maturity curve. It’s a powerful tool for meeting the client where they are, and understanding how to move forward together with them.

There are a number of different maturity models you can research online that use different language, but most maturity models follow a pattern something like this:

  • Stage 1 – Ad Hoc & Developing
  • Stage 2 – Reactive & Repeatable
  • Stage 3 – Strategic & Defined
  • Stage 4 – Managed & Measured
  • Stage 5 – Efficient & Optimizing

For search, we can think about a maturity model two ways.

One is the actual technical implementation of search best practices — is the client implementing exceptional, advanced SEO, just the basics, nothing at all, or even operating counterproductively? This can help you figure out what kinds of projects make the most sense to activate.

The second way is the organizational maturity around search engine optimization as a marketing program. Is the client aligned to the importance of organic search, allocating budget and personnel appropriately, and systematically integrating search into marketing efforts? This can help you identify the most important institutional challenges to solve for that can otherwise block the implementation of your work.

Technical SEO capabilities maturity

First, let’s dive into a maturity model for search knowledge and capabilities.

SEO capabilities criteria

We measure an organization on several important criteria that contribute to the success of SEO:

  • Collaboration – how well relevant stakeholders integrate and collaborate to do the best work possible, including inside the organization, and between the organization and the service providers.
  • Mobility – how mobile-friendly and optimized the brand is.
  • Technical – how consistently foundational technical best practices are implemented and maintained.
  • Content – how integrated organic search is into the digital content marketing practice and process.
  • On-page – how limited or extensive on-page optimization is for the brand’s content.
  • Off-page – the breadth and depth of the brand’s off-site optimization, including link-building, local listings, social profiles and other non-site assets.
  • New technology -the appetite for and adoption of new technology that impacts search, such as voice search, AMP, even structured data.
  • Analytics – how data-centric the organization is, ranging from not managed and measured at all, to rearview mirror performance reporting, to entirely data-driven in search decision-making.

Search Capabilities Score Card

Click the image to see the full-size version.

SEO capabilities maturity stages

We assign each of the aforementioned criteria to one of these stages:

  • Stage 0 (Counterproductive) – The client is engaging in harmful or damaging SEO practices.
  • Stage 1 (Nonexistent) – There is no discernible SEO strategy or tactical implementation, and search is an all-new program for the client.
  • Stage 2 (Tactical) – The client may be doing some basic SEO best practices, but it tends to be ad hoc inclusion with little structure or pre-planning. The skills and the work meet minimum industry standards, but work is fairly basic and perhaps not cohesive.
  • Stage 3 (Strategic) – The client is aligned to the value of SEO, and makes an effort to dedicate resources to implementing best practices and staying current, as well as bake it into key initiatives. Search implementation is more cohesive and strategic.
  • Stage 4 (Practice) – Inclusion of SEO is an expectation for most of the client’s marketing initiatives, if not mandatory. They are not only implementing basic best practices but actively testing and iterating new techniques to improve their search presence. They use performance of past initiatives to drive next steps.
  • Stage 5 (Culture) – At this stage, clients are operating as if SEO is part of their marketing DNA. They have resources and processes in place, and they are knowledgeable and committed to learning more, their processes are continually reviewed and optimized, and their SEO program is evolving as the industry evolves. They are seeking cutting-edge new SEO opportunities to test.

Search Capabilities Maturity Model

Click the image to see the full-size version.

While this maturity model has been peer reviewed by a number of respected SEO peers in the industry (special thanks to Kim Jones at Seer Interactive, Stephanie Briggs at Briggsby, John Doherty at Credo, Dan Shure at Evolving SEO, and Blake Denman at Rickety Roo for your time and expertise), it is a fluid, living document designed to evolve as our industry does. If necessary, evolve this to your own reality as well.

You can download a Google Sheets copy of this maturity model here to begin using it with your client.

Download the maturity model

Why Stage 0?

In this search capabilities maturity model, I added an unconventional “Stage 0 – Counterproductive,” because organic search is unique in that they could do real damage and be at a deficit, not just at a baseline of zero.

In a scenario like this, the client has no collaboration inside the company or with the partner agency to do smart search work. Content may be thin, weak, duplicative, spun, or over-optimized. Perhaps their mobile experience is nonexistent or very poor. Maybe they’re even engaging in black hat SEO practices, and they have link-related or other penalties.

Choosing projects based on a client’s capabilities maturity

For a client that is starting on the lower end of the maturity scale, you may not recommend starting with advanced work like AMP and visual search technology, or even detailed Schema markup or extensive targeted link-building campaigns. You may have to start with the basics like securing the site, cleaning up information architecture, and fixing title tags and meta descriptions.

For a client that is starting on the higher end of the maturity scale, you wouldn’t want to waste their time recommending the basics — they’ve probably already done them. You’re better off finding new and innovative opportunities to do great search work they haven’t already mastered.

But we’re just getting started…

But technical capabilities and knowledge are only beginning to scratch the surface with clients. This starts to solve for what you should implement, but doesn’t touch why it’s so hard to get your work implemented. The real problems tend to be a lot squishier, and aren’t so simple as checking some SEO best practices boxes.

How mature is your client’s search practice?

The real challenges to implementation tend to be organizational, people, integration, and process problems. Conducting a search maturity assessment with your client can be eye-opening as to what needs to be solved internally before great search work can be implemented and start reaping the rewards. Pair this with the technical capabilities maturity model above, and you have a powerhouse of knowledge and tools to help your client.

Before we dig in, I want to note one important caveat: While this maturity model focuses heavily on organizational adoption and process, I don’t want to suggest that process and procedure are substitutes for using your actual brain. You still have to think critically and make hard choices when you execute a best-in-class search program, and often that requires solving all-new problems that didn’t exist before and therefore don’t have a formal process.

Search practice maturity criteria

We measure an organization on several important criteria that contribute to the success of SEO:

  • Process, policy, or procedure – Do documented, repeatable processes for inclusion of organic search exist, and are they continually improving? Is it an organizational policy to include organic search in marketing efforts? This can mean that the process of including organic search in marketing initiatives is defined as a clear series of actions or steps taken, including both developing organic search strategy and implementing SEO tactics.
  • Personnel resources & integration – Does the necessary talent exist at the organization or within the service provider’s scope? Personnel resources may include SEO professionals, as well as support staff such as developers, data analysts, and copywriters necessary to implement organic search successfully. Active resources may work independently in a disjointed manner or collaboratively in an integrated manner.
  • Knowledge & learning – Because search is a constantly evolving field, is the organization knowledgeable about search and committed to continuously learning? Information can include existing knowledge, past experience, or training in organic search strategy and tactics. It can also include a commitment to learning more, possibly through willingness to undertake trainings, attendance of conferences, regular consumption of learning materials, or staying current in industry news and trends.
  • Means, capacity, & capabilities – Does the organization budget appropriately for and prioritize the organic search program? Means, capacity and capabilities can include being scoped into a client contract, adequate budget being allocated to the work, adequate human resources being allocated to the work, the capacity to complete the work when measured against competing demands, and the prioritization of search work alongside competing demands.
  • Planning & preparation – Is organic search aligned to business goals, brand goals, and/or campaign goals? Is organic search proactively planned, reactive, or not included at all? This measure evaluates how frequently organic search efforts are included in marketing efforts for a brand. It also measures how frequently the work is included proactively and pre-planned, as opposed to reactively as an afterthought. Work may be aligned to or disconnected from the “big picture.”

Organizational search maturity

Click the image to see the full-size version.

Search practice stages of maturity

Stage 1 – Initial & ad hoc

At this stage, the organizations’ search application may be nonexistent, unstable, or uncontrolled. There may be rare and small SEO efforts, but they are entirely ad hoc and inconsistent, and retrofitted to the work after the fact, at best. They tend to lack any discernible goal orientation. If SEO exists, it is disconnected from larger goals, and not integrated with any other practices across the organization. They may be just beginning their search practice for the first time.

Stage 2 – Repeatable but reactive

These organizations are at least doing some search basics, though there is no rigorous use or enforcement of it. It is very reactive and in-the-moment while projects are being implemented; it is rarely pre-planned and often SEO is applied as an afterthought. They are executing only in the present or when it’s too late to do the highest caliber search work, but they are making an effort. SEO efforts may occasionally be going after goals, but it is unlikely to be tied to larger business goals. (Most of my client relationships have started here.)

Stage 3 – Defined & understood

These organizations have started to document their processes and are satisfactorily knowledgeable and competent in search. They have minimum standards for search best practices and process is emerging. Many people inside and outside the organization understand that search is important and are taking steps to integrate. There is a clear search strategy that aligns to organizational goals and processes. Proactive search preparation and planning happens prior to activating projects.

Stage 4 – Managed & capable

These organizations have proactive, predictable implementation of search work. They have quality-focused rules for products and processes, and can quickly detect and correct missteps. They have clearly defined processes for integration, implementation and oversight, but are flexible enough to adapt to a range of conditions without sacrificing quality. These organizations consider search part of their “way of life.”

Stage 5 – Efficient & optimizing

Organizations at this stage have a strong mastery of search and efficiently implementing as a matter of policy. They have cross-organizational integration and proactively work to strengthen their search performance. They are always improving the process through incremental or innovative change. They review and analyze their process and implementation to keep optimizing. These organizations could potentially be considered market-leading or innovative.

Scorecard exercise

Click the image to see the full-size version.

You are here

Before you can know how to get where you want to go, you need to know where you are. It’s important to understand where the organization stands, and then where they need to be in the future. Going through the quantitative exercise of diagnosing their maturity can help everyone align to where to start.

You can use these scorecards to assess factors like leadership alignment to the value of search, employee availability and involvement, knowledge and training, process and standardization, their culture (or lack thereof) of data-driven problem-solving and continuous improvement, and even budget.

A collaborative exercise

This should be a deeper exercise than just punching numbers into a spreadsheet, and it certainly shouldn’t be a one-sided assessment from you as an outsider. It is much more valuable to ask several relevant people at multiple levels across the client organization to participate in this exercise, and can become much richer if you take the time to talk to people at various points in the process.

How to use the scorecard & diagnose maturity

Once you download the scorecards, follow these steps to begin the maturity assessment process.

  1. Client-side distribution – Distribute surveys to relevant stakeholders on the client’s internal team. Ideally, these individuals serve at a variety of levels at the company and occupy a mix of roles relevant to the organic search practice. These could include CEO, CMO, Marketing VPs and directors, digital marketing coordinators, and in-house SEOs.
  2. Agency-side distribution – Distribute surveys to relevant stakeholders on the agency team. Ideally, these individuals serve at a variety of levels at the agency and occupy a mix of roles relevant to the organic search practice. These could include digital marketing coordinators, client engagement specialists, analysts, digital copywriters, or SEO practitioners.
  3. Assign a level of maturity to each criteria – Each survey participant can simply mark one “X” per category row in the column that most accurately reflects perception of the brand organization as it pertains to organic search. (For example, if the survey respondent feels that SEO process and procedure are non-existent based on the description, they can mark an “X” in the “Initial/Ad Hoc” column. Alternatively, if they feel they are extraordinarily advanced and efficient in their processes, they may mark the “X” in the “Efficient & Optimizing” column.)
  4. Collect the surveys – Assign a point value of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 to the responses from left to right in the scorecard. Average the points to get a final score for each. (For example, if five client stakeholders score their SEO process and procedure as 3, 4, 2, 3, 3 respectively, the average score is 3 for that criteria.)
  5. Comparing client to agency perception – You may also choose to ask survey respondents to denote whether they are client-side or agency-side so you can look at the data both in aggregate, and by client and agency separately, to determine if there is alignment or disagreement on where the brand falls on the maturity curve. This can be great material for discussion with the client that can open up conversations about why those differences in perception exist.

Screenshot of scorecard

To get your own scorecard, click the image and make a copy of the Google Sheet.

Choosing where to start

The goal is to identify together where to start working. This means finding the strengths to capitalize upon, areas of acceptability that can be nudged to a strength with a little work, weaknesses to improve upon, agreeing on areas to focus, and finally, how to get started tackling the first change together.

For a client that is starting on the low end of the maturity scale, it is unrealistic to expect that they have connected all the dots between important stakeholders, that they have a clearly defined and repeatable process, and that their search program is a well-oiled machine. If you don’t work together to solve the underlying problems like knowledge or adequate personnel resources first, you will struggle to get buy-in for the work or the resources to get it done, so it doesn’t matter what projects you recommend.

For a client that is advanced in a few areas, say process, planning, and capacity, but weaker in others like knowledge and capacity, that might suggest that you need to focus efforts on an education campaign to help the client prioritize the work and fit it into a busy queue.

For a client that is already advanced across the board, your role instead may be to keep the machine running while also helping them spot minor areas of improvement so they can keep iterating and perfecting the process. This client might also be ready for more advanced search strategies and tactical recommendations, or perhaps more robust integrations across additional disciplines.

One foot in front of the other

It’s rare that we live in a world of radical change where we overhaul everything en masse and see epic change overnight. We tweak, test, learn, and iterate. A maturity model is a continuum, and brands must evolve from one step to the next. Skipping levels is not an option. Some may also call this a “crawl, walk, run” approach.

Your goal as their trusted search advisor is not to help them leap from Stage 2 to Stage 5. Accomplishing that trajectory and speed of growth is exceedingly difficult and rare. Instead, focus your efforts on how the client can get to the next stage over the next 12 months. As they progress up the maturity model, the length of time it takes to unlock the next level may grow longer and longer.

Organizational Search Maturity

Click the image to see the full-size version.

Even when an organization reaches Stage 5, your/their work is not done. Master-level organizations continue to refine and optimize their processes and capabilities.

There is no finish line to search maturity

There is a French culinary phrase, “mise en place,” that refers to having everything — ingredients, tools, recipe — in its place to begin cooking most successfully. There are several key ingredients to any successful project implementation: buy-in, process, knowledge and skills, capacity, planning, and more.

As your client evolves up the maturity curve, you will see and feel a transition from thinking about aspects only once a project is sliding off the rails, to including these things real-time and reactively, to anticipating these before every project and doing your due diligence to come prepared. Essentially, the client can move from not being able to spell “SEO” to making SEO a part of their DNA by moving up these maturity curves.

It is important to revisit the maturity model discussion periodically — I recommend doing so at least annually — to level-set and realign with the client. Conducting this exercise again can remind us to pause and reflect on all we have accomplished since the first scoring. It can also re-energize stakeholders to make even more progress in the upcoming year.

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