Selling SEO effectively

How to sell SEO - I closed my 11th SEO proposal. This may not sound very impressive (and it isn’t a high profile client either), but it does to me, not only because it adds a few more numbers for the account handlers, but because it means that my sales strategy works (11 out of 11 closed) and that the data I am showing and preparing is useful.

One of my followers on twitter asked me what my trick is, so I thought I’d write down what is helping me close a sale, in the hopes it might prove useful for some of you.

Researching your client

This is pretty much a given, once you know who you are going to approach it is worth spending some time familiarising yourself with their website, what they do, and who their competitors are. This may sound like a lot of work, but it isn’t really.

The most important points are:

  • Who is the client?
  • What do they offer?
  • Who are their competitors? If you enter their main products or services into Google, which results are coming back on the first 2 pages? Does the client even appear on the first / second page in Google / Yahoo / MSN?
  • Following on from that, what are their current rankings? (tools from my previous post might be able to help a lot, such as SEO for Firefox)
  • What do their current backlinks look like? (Yahoo’s site explorer might work well for that)
  • Are there any landing pages set up already from previous campaigns?
  • What other domains does the client own? Are .com / .net / domains 301 redirected to the main site? SEOlogs offers an online domain search (which is currently down and awaiting an update)

All this should probably give you a very good idea what you want to pitch for, usually keyword integration, backlinks and landing pages.


Research what you are selling

Okay this may sound like a silly step – why would I need to research what I am selling? More often than not I have seen sales guys going out and selling a service they do not know enough about and end up either “winging it” (meaning promising that the service does include something when it shouldn’t or making stuff up as they go along) or losing the business because the client has spent the time reading up on a service and is setting you straight. And unless the client really likes you you are not going to close the sale.

Newsreaders such as Feeddemon prove more and more popular when researching your services
Newsreaders such as Feeddemon prove more and more popular research tools

It is worth reading up on what you are doing, especially in a field such as SEO where changes and new findings are happening every day. How you research your field really depends on what you are used to, many are using feed readers (such as FeedDemon, pictured right), some receive feeds right into their inbox so that they can read up on these news at work. Others join online communities specialised in that field or have a list of bookmarks they follow up on.

Remember to brush up on your knowledge whenever you can, not only will you need it when a client asks a particular question, but also because you might find a piece of information that might make your own work easier – “Ah, I didn’t know I could do that with analytics as well, ah just saved me half an hour a day!”


As standard, you will need to be able to explain:

  • What is a search engine?How do they work, how do they get to these results and how does ranking work, why are they different?
  • What does link-building mean?How does it generate traffic from relevant sites, how do they help making your site seen as a valuable resource, how do they help with search engines and indexation?
  • What are keywords? – How do they work, what is keyword research?
  • Why is SEO an ongoing relationship between you and the client and why it cannot be done in a few days work instead?

These questions have pretty much popped up regularly over the last couple of meetings I had, not all at the same meeting, but it gives you a bit of insight what might be asked.


What does your client want?

Not everything is about the data you just collected, you also need to put yourself into the position of the client:

What do I, the client, want to get out of it? High rankings may be a great thing, but what do they mean to me and my company? Does SEO help me achieve more sales or enquiries? How much does it cost, over what period of time? Or am I better off spending my money elsewhere?

You need to prepare yourself for these questions, the ones about costs and benefit especially. It is worth preparing a case study of one of your other SEO clients, showing before and after stats of how SEO has helped generate enquiries.

I have one client (my first SEO client as a matter of fact) who had 1-2 enquiries a month on her website. After some title tag and desription changes and a landing page for a specific service resulted in about 5-10 enquiries a week, she and her team will be busy until the end of May already.

In these times of recession and lack of spending a case study such as this one will help you win a client over.


Defining manageable and unambiguous goals

Defining the scope early on will reduce misinterpretations or wrong expectations
Defining the scope early on will reduce misinterpretations or wrong expectations

So you know what you want to sell, you know roughly what the client wants. But how do you and the client agree on what is a measurable result? Is a high ranking in Google, Yahoo or MSN Live a result? Yes, it sounds great being on page 1 for a search phrase, but unless the client is getting something out of it he / she is unlikely to continue to pay you for your work.

What the client needs is a return on their spend, if they spend X amount of money with you then they are expecting X+Y in sales figures. An increase in traffic needs to translate into an increase in sales or enquiries, the client wants to be able to see “I am getting a lot more enquiries and sales through the site – this SEO work is really paying off!”


The key is to tell the client:

  • How does SEO fit into their business?
    This should be reasonably easy at this stage once you did your research, you will already be able to show them what is currently happening with their site, who their competitors are and what your services will mean in the long run for their business with regards to sales / enquiries.
  • What is the scope of the work you are proposing?
    It is very important to define the scope of your SEO services from the word “go”, after all you don’t want to cause any ambiguity, misinterpretations or wrong expectations!

You need to be able to define your scope of work clearly, and how it is being measured. What I tend to do is write down bullet points of what we (the client and I) want to achieve, what we need to do and how we track it, which is usually an end-of-the-month report indicating the progress-to-date and proposed next steps. So, in a quick list:

  • Define the scope
  • Define the services (on-site SEO, link-building, content development, tracking)
  • Define / Discuss how the scope and services are helping the business to achieve its own goals (and why it justifies their monthly spend)
  • Define / Discuss the ability to work with the development team and marketing team on website-changes and content-changes
  • Define / Discuss how the services need to be integrated into future design / development work (i.e. redesigns, landing pages, micro-sites, website migration, additional website plugins or addons, etc)
  • Define the duration of your services – SEO is an on-going engagement by you and the client, and both parties need to understand it that way

About your end-of-the-month report, these should be pretty straightforward and quick to read (1-2 A4 pages are enough). It helps having a graph of spreadsheet attached to this document, highlighting ranking positions, traffic volume and number of enquiries / sales that went through the website’s contact form or ordering form. This is very tangible information for the client, adds a lot of value, and is a very good tool to engage your clients in discussions, proposed changes and keeping the SEO progress going for longer.


Consider – Is the client worth your time?

It can also give you an idea if it would be worth pursuing the client in the first place. It can just be that the client is interested in hearing what you may be offering, but may rather be inclined to take your suggestions on, but using his / her own developers to make the changes – and you will never see a penny.

You will need to be able to identify these types of clients quickly, ask questions about their development team, ask how much you can change the site, are they prepared to work with you over a period of time?

Make sure you don’t divulge specific information at this stage if you are unsure about their intentions, discuss pricing beforehand, ideally close to the end of the meeting.



This was just a short run-down on how to sell SEO services effectively based on my own experience over the last couple of months. If you sell SEO differently, why not let us know 🙂


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  • Phil

    January 21, 2009

    Nice article, very insightful! I am also frequently running into the “how to define scope” question, but I think what you wrote pretty much sums up everything you need to think about in case a client is expecting the world for his budget.

  • Alan Williams

    January 27, 2009

    The article was very informative and I hope that I will get such good article in future also. I often read your articles and will also read in future.It was a good way of selling SEO services definitely i will tell if i have a better way to sell SEO services.

  • sam

    March 4, 2009

    Great points – what was your opening pitch when you called your propsects what did you say in the first two minutes of the conversation?

  • Alexander Rehm

    March 6, 2009

    With regards to the opening pitch, that really is a tough one at times. For the clients I won I / the company I work for has done some work in the past and as such we have a lead and I can spin the conversation along the lines of us being a full-service agency and are expanding more and more into web. Once there I then start talking about whether or not they considered SEO and what we can offer.

    If it comes down to an opening pitch for a new client and you do not have a contact yet then the best thing is to research first: find out who worked on the website build (usually in the footer), find out who the people are that are constantly contributing to the site in form of news articles or blog entries, so that you get an idea who your first point of contact is.

    Once you have a name (which in 80% of the cases is someone in marketing, not the actual MD, but you are already in the right department) call up and ask for that person and if it would be a good time to talk about the website. Introduce yourself and be frank as to what it is you are selling.

    Cold calls usually end after a minute if you cannot bring your point across, so say who you are, that you looked at their website and are interested in what the site offers, as well as the style of writing that person uses. I found that pretty much all the time the person on the other end was a lot more interested in talking to you now.

    Once you “broke the ice” say what it is you are doing, tell them you are offering SEO services, and if it was possible to discuss the SEO of the site.

    At this point you can usually hear a pause on the other end (as you are either talking to the wrong person about this, or they are thinking about what they are doing with regards to SEO. Tell them how you worked on similar sites and how you think you can help the site to gain more traffic and thus more potential customers.

    Follow this statement up with a “would it be convenient to talk about this now, or shall I send you an email as to what we do?” – That immediately puts the pressure of the person you are talking to, and more often than not you get a response along the lines of “yes, could you please email …. about this?

    Then send them an email about what was just discussed on the phone, introduce yourself / your company and what your strengths are for SEO and that you would love to work on their site, and ask if it would be convenient for you to pop by and discuss the site in the next week or so. Follow this email up a day or two later (if you haven’t heard anything by then) and follow up.

  • James George

    April 4, 2010

    Great article. You could have made this into a series, your comment has enough information to be a blog post itself and linked to it in the comments lol. Do you have any other information on cold calling?

    Generally every quarter we look at our current case studies and see if we have any new results that will improve our image to our client.

    How do you guys handle pricing? Generally we charge an hourly fee consistent from client to client. Our only exception is we cut the hourly rate if 100 hours or more are purchased in bulk (useful for our agency clients who outsource to us). I feel like charging someone a monthly retainer (sometimes thousands of dollars) does not quantify how much time is being spent each month, and it is impossible to promise someone certain results.

    We have also used SEO to upsell other services we offer. After a successful SEO campaign I have found that we can show a case study that shows after adding 3 videos to a client’s site it increased their traffic 10%. I explain this is because search engines currently rank pages with video (and the transcribed copy of the video) higher than pages with non-video. This leads to discussions about how pages with video keep visitors on page 4+ minutes longer on average and how it can be used to connect with the audience. All the sudden an SEO campaign with a few hundred dollars profit a month has turned into a video production series that results in a few thousand. Great ROI for me and my clients.

    I will be subscribing to your blog. Look forwarding to reading from here in the USA.

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