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December 5, 2006

How to Make Friends and Influence Clients

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Let’s be honest now. We didn’t all graduate from the kindergarten How to Make Friends class Rebecca Kelley mentioned in the un-edited (borderline hilarious) version of SEOmoz’s notorious hiring article. And it’s for that reason that today’s Working with Clients panel piqued my anti-social interest. Isn’t it time we all learn to get along, work together and set realistic goals? Who wants a hug?

The last session of the day was moderated by Danny Sullivan with Ed Kim (Red Bricks Media), Scott Orth (Selytics) and Rob Murray (iProspect) speaking. It was also about 90 degrees in the conference room, but that’s neither here nor there.

In the old days of search engine marketing, all you had to do to make a client happy was to get them a top ten ranking, or at least get them ranking above their competitors. Then a shift started to occur. Clients wanted to know what exactly there were getting for their money? What was the search engine optimizer actually doing? What progress was being made?

In short, they wanted search engine marketers to be held accountable.

To maintain a positive working relationship between yourself and a client, it’s important to set business goals up front, before the contract is signed.

Determine the purpose of the client’s search marketing campaign. Is it a search engine optimization campaign designed to get them to rank higher? Or are they running a pay per click campaign to help increase brand awareness? Each will have different business objectives, so you’ll need to be able to differentiate between the two.

You should also set key performance indicators to help you define and measure the progress your client is making towards their goals. Create strategy documents or in-depth goal reports to let clients know what you’re doing for them and how you’re helping them meet their goals. Help them quantify their search marketing efforts by giving them measurable number. How much market share have they increased this month?

It’s relatively easy to determine if you’re working with a happy client or a sulking quietly, could-snap-at-any-moment client. If your client is happy, they should be able to positively answer the following questions:

  • Do I trust my Vendor: Does my vendor keep me in the loop? Does my vendor look out for my best interests?
  • Is my vendor hitting my numbers and goals: Have they defined success measures and achieved? Is my vendor driving performance for my company?
  • Is my client service team strategic: Does my vendor understand the nuances of our marketing strategy and help me define clear objectives for search?
  • Does my vendor keep me ahead with new ideas: Does my vendor keep me abreast of the latest trends and new opportunities?
  • Is my vendor equipped with the technology and tools: Does my vendor have the technology and tools to keep us ahead of the competition?

Remember that clients are coming to you looking for trust, performance, strategy, thoughtful leadership, and technology and tools. If any piece of this pyramid is missing, your client will be not feel comfortable working with you, and they may end their contract.

How do you help clients to trust you? You build a relationship of transparency. Give them weekly reports to let them know what you’re working on, how things are going and what could be tweaked to foster better results.

Once you set a foundation of trust, the most important thing to show your clients are results. Being able to benchmark client progress is very useful. You should be able to show your client where they started and where they are today.

As a search marketing professional you need to understand your clients objectives (force them to identify their objectives up front so you know how you will be measuring success). Have a game plan for how you’re going to run the search engine optimization campaign and keep your clients ahead of the game.

Treat your client’s money like it’s your own, because if you think about it, it sort of is.

Rob Murray outlined several Pitfalls to SEO Implementation:

Problem: Inability of clients to assess potential of SEO.
Solution: Forecasting to predict a low and a high for expected returns. Use relevant case studies to predict the future. DO NOT let the client see you dusting off your crystal ball.

Problem: Lack of solid expectation setting.
Solution: Educate clients on SEO. Provide timelines with specific milestones. Check in consistently and reset timelines. In most instances, clients understand that sometimes timelines need to be tweaked. Don’t be afraid to tell them that.

Problem: Lack of prioritized recommendations.
Solution: Rank items as low, med or high impact so clients know what to work on first; assess effort of implementation vs. return; show them what their competitors are doing to encourage them to act.

Problem: Your client wants to run before they can walk.
Solution: Make sure to cover the fundamentals first and understand their organization limits. Educate them on the search engine optimization process.

If you want to make your clients really happy, you have to win over the entire team. Rob offered four ways to help clients win company resources:

  • Recognize that SEO is not the same for every industry. Avoid using canned SEO solutions. Customize their plan for them. Don’t do anything just for search engine optimization purposes.
  • Don’t focus only on your clients weaknesses. No one likes to hear their baby is ugly (even if it totally is!). Compliment their strengths and spend your client’s time and resources efficiently.
  • Get senior management commitment to SEO. Find at least one senior management sponsor. Demonstrate quick wins. Have regular briefings to keep people updated and promote what’s going on.
  • Be your client’s advocate. Cater the program to clients goals and make them look like heroes.

There you go. Consider yourself graduated. Now go play nice with your clients. Otherwise it’s straight to the naughty step for you.

[Note from the editor: Due to a technical glitch, Monday’s session reports were delayed a day.]

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