To guess at how the Internet is going to look in 30 years is almost impossible. After all, 30 years ago, the World Wide Web basically didn’t exist*.
What we do know is that as long as there are search engines, there’s going to be SEO. Search engines probably aren’t going anywhere, either – I can’t think of a better way of sifting through billions of pages to find what you want.
Search engines are the lifeblood of digital commerce – the ROI of SEO can be incredible. There are estimates that some 33% of all revenue for online businesses comes from organic search results.
Given all of this, you might be thinking: “SEO sounds like a good thing to get into – I want to offer SEO services”. Even without knowing all of that, you were probably thinking of getting into SEO – you wouldn’t be reading this article otherwise.
We’re going to break down how you can start selling SEO services. We’ll start by taking a look at the two types of SEO you can sell – and we’re not talking local or ecommerce. Then, we’ll look at the kinds of clients you can acquire, how you can acquire them, and the best way to close the sale.
*Yes, Web nerds, I know that, technically, the first website was published in December 1990, which is a little over 30 years ago. Given that Tim is probably the only guy who had access to the site, though, I think you can give me a pass.
There’s a lot to cover, so without further ado…
The two types of SEO service you can sell
There’s an adage in the investment world that goes something like this: investing your own money is good, but investing other people’s money is even better.
In the SEO world, you can sell your own SEO services, or you can sell other people’s SEO services. Exactly which will be best for you, depends on the resources you have available, and your core competencies.
An important thing to keep in mind is that selling your own SEO will take a lot more time and effort than selling someone else’s SEO. You can basically sell other people’s SEO right away, especially if you have an existing network of clients. To sell your own SEO, you’ll need to be able showcase your abilities, which usually means getting your own sites to rank well.
Your own SEO
If you already know how to do SEO, you can skip the next part, which is a brief tutorial followed by a list of resources. For those of you who don’t know how to do SEO, welcome to a wild and wonderful world.
A brief SEO tutorial
I really hope you already know this: SEO stands for search engine optimization. That means everything we do, we do to one end: improving a website’s ranking in search engines.
There are basically four things you need to know how to do:
- Keyword research
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO
- Technical SEO
Basically, this means you need to know which keywords you want to target, how to create content that’s relevant to those keywords, how to get people to link to that content, and how to improve the back-end and navigation of a website for crawlers and users alike.
Now, I could write tens of thousands of words on any one of those topics, so there’s a lot to research before you get started. Check out our guide to local SEO for a great primer – it’s a good idea to start with local websites in your area, then branch out to bigger clients and the ecommerce world.
The best way to start SEO is to make your own sites and try to get them to rank for relevant keywords. That will give you data and evidence of success that you can showcase to prospective clients.
Karol K’s “Copycat method”
Karol K, writing for Ahrefs, created a method he calls the copycat method. It’s a great way you can throw yourself into the deep end of SEO really quickly – it focuses on acquiring clients with one technique, then learning other techniques on the fly.
Basically, you read an SEO tutorial, look for tweets linking to that tutorial, then canvas the businesses who tweeted about the tutorial, touting your own skills. From there, you get a contract and start plugging away.
This technique is a fun way to dive right in, but you better be a quick learner with a lot of time on their hands – SEO is fun, but it’s not fast or easy.
Someone else’s SEO
Selling someone else’s SEO services comes with a lot of advantages – there’s basically no startup cost, you don’t need to learn how to do SEO, and you can get started, more or less, right away. SEO reseller services can be a real boon.
The disadvantage, of course, is that you’ll make less money off of the SEO services you offer. For individuals who want to get into the industry, selling other people’s SEO isn’t very profitable.
For marketing agencies, on the other hand, acting as an SEO reseller is often the best idea – it allows you to focus on your competencies while expanding your reach.
White labelling is your friend
White labelling is the practice of getting a product or service from a third party, then reselling it after branding it with your logo. White label SEO is a great way for people in the marketing space to expand their reach by offering SEO without having to put in the time, effort, and resources that would be needed to offer SEO in-house.
Marketing clients are clamouring to get SEO. White labelling can help you retain existing clients and pitch a fuller suite of services to prospective clients.
Focus on your competency
For marketing agencies or individuals, reselling SEO allows you to focus on your existing competencies rather than putting in the effort required to develop new ones.
For most of the people reading this, selling services to businesses will be one of the things you’re best at – these skills will serve you well as a reseller. The rest of this piece is dedicated to helping you hone your SEO selling skills.
The three types of clients
Don’t worry – we’re not about to go into customer profiles, behavioural archetypes, or any pseudo-scientific, quasi-psychological, semi-spiritual business.
There are literally three kinds of SEO clients. They:
- are building a new website that they want optimized
- already have a website they want optimized
- are redesigning a website that they want optimized
We’re going to look at all three types in detail, but no matter which of the three you get, you want them to end up as the second client. People will often start thinking about SEO when their website is undergoing some kind of change, but the truth is that SEO is an ongoing process – it works best over months, or even years. You need it as long as you want a site to rank well.
That’s great news for you, my SEO-selling friend – it means that you can get a steady stream of income as long as you can convert those “new/refurbished website” clients into believers.
Monitor whatever channels you can for businesses looking for websites – talk to your connections, use social media, whatever you’ve got. Heck, you can even approach web designers and offer to partner with them on new websites.
The biggest mistake the “new website” clients make is hiring SEO services late in the process. At that point, there can already be all kinds of structural and coding deficits you need to deal with. That all takes time – if you were hired at the onset, you could guide the entire process.
When someone is looking to design a new website, but they’re not sure if they should get SEO services right away, talk to them about this. Let them know that they want to start strong, and by getting an SEO expert on board from the get-go, they can ensure their site is optimized from the top down.
These are the bread-and-butter SEO clients – all websites become “existing websites” after a time, and their monthly payments are what is going to keep the lights on.
While existing websites are going to make up the bulk of your clientele, they’re also often the ones who are the trickiest to retain – the excitement of a new or redesigned website is gone, and the only thing left is the drudgework of SEO.
Remember, your clients don’t understand SEO. That means you need to be the expert at all times.
You’ll need to continually provide them with evidence that SEO is creating a positive ROI. This is a lot easier when you’re white labelling – the third party agency will provide you ample evidence to support the value of their work.
Those of you who are doing your own SEO will need to not only showcase what keywords you’re ranking for, but how those rankings motivate clicks, and how well those clicks convert. It never hurts to rank well for a couple of vanity keywords, either.
Websites undergoing a redesign
Some of the most appealing clients are businesses whose websites are getting redesigned. A redesign implies that they were already dissatisfied with the performance of their website in one way or another – it’s not unlikely that they weren’t ranking well, so they can be easy to pitch to.
They’ll also be more likely to appreciate the value of ongoing site maintenance – they may have already experienced the disastrous consequences of leaving their site unmodified. Unless you’re Space Jam, it’s just not going to work out well for you.
Now that we’ve covered the three types of clients, we can get into how you’ll actually land these clients. Let’s dive into it:
The prep work
You’ll need to have a few things in place before you start pitching to clients:
- A CRM (so you can track clients and prioritize the best leads)
- A website (preferably with an SEO audit tool so you can easily create personalized pitches)
- An email address attached to the website
The last two things should be obvious – if you’re selling SEO services and you don’t have a website, you’re going to look incredibly suspect.
This is the most common way of selling SEO services – you reach out to businesses without having connected with them prior. There are a ton of different ways of doing this – mass emails, DMs, phone calls, door knocking – whatever you’re best at.
There are, of course, advantages to each method. Cold emailing enables you to contact a lot of prospective clients at once – but those emails might end up unclicked, or worse yet, in the Junk/Spam folder. If you’re going this route, make sure you have an absolutely stellar pitch and a great CTA (optimally, to your free audit).
Cold calling and door knocking are more personalized, and if you can talk to someone who can make an executive decision about SEO, you’re likely to have a much higher success rate per client than cold emailing. These strategies take a lot more effort, however – you’ll only land clients if it’s clear from the get-go that you understand their business. We’re talking strengths, pain points, everything.
The best way to approach this method is to have a unique, easily actionable tactic tailored to the business as a selling point.
Many businesses will take both approaches – sales is a numbers game, after all. Your goal here isn’t to immediately sell SEO services (though if you can, good on you) – it’s to set up a meeting so you can give a more elaborate pitch.
Never over-promise in your cold contacting. Don’t guarantee a certain rank. Don’t tell them that you can quadruple their profits. You don’t know enough about their site yet, and Google warns businesses about SEOs making outlandish claims.
Excitement? Great. Urgency? Fantastic. Over exaggeration? A bad idea.
Upselling to existing clients
Up-selling SEO to your existing clients is a lot easier than cold calling. You know their pain points intimately, and you probably have a good idea how SEO can boost their profitability.
Go through your book of existing clients and call them about SEO, or bring it up with them in your next meeting – whatever you think will work best. For those of you who are trying their hand at SEO for the first time, consider offering your services at a discount so you can build up your reputation. Those of you who are white labelling might instead opt to talk about how you’ve partnered with an experienced SEO company.
Be the SEO you want to see in the world.
When your website is the first one to come up when people look for “SEO services” or “web marketing services” or some such things, it’s a great sign that you know what you’re doing.
Advertise that on your front page. Have a call-to-action encouraging people to sign up for your email list or get a free audit. Once you’ve collected this information, your “cold call” becomes a lot less cold – they’ll be expecting an email from you, and it almost certainly won’t end up in their junk mail. On-site CTAs are a great way to get your foot in the door.
Simple – before offering SEO to others, make sure you have great SEO yourself! Show and tell.
There are business owners who get a bit shy about asking for referrals.
We’re not going to tell you not to be shy. You are who you are. We will, however, tell you to ask for referrals anyway.
When you’ve done great work for other businesses, they’ll want to tell their friends. Getting them to create video testimonials, write you up a review, or refer their friends to you is often as easy as asking them to. They’re a business owner, too – they understand the power of referrals.
Researching your clients
Once you have a list of prospective clients who you want to follow up with, do some research to figure out who you should prioritize!
Which sites can you move the needle on most easily? Who has expressed the most interest in your services? Are there any companies who you think are going to pay for a larger suite of services? Companies who you think are going to be in it for the long haul?
These factors can all influence who you should prioritize. You might not want to single in on the easiest client to acquire – instead, put your efforts toward the clients who are most likely to help you grow your business in a sustainable way.
All the research you put into figuring out which clients are the best fit will help you with the next step: the big meeting.
The big meeting
The “big meeting” might not literally be one meeting – sometimes it takes a couple of meetings before a client is sold.
Whether it’s one meeting or multiple meetings, the point is the same: this is your chance to land a new client. You’d better have all of your ducks in a row and be ready to impress. Let’s dive in:
Use the tailored approach
Every client is different, so your pitch had better look different for each client. Talk about the business. Talk about their competitors, and how well their competitors are ranking. Give them examples of how shifts on certain relevant keywords could increase their revenue, all while stonewalling their competitors.
Talk about the reviews (or lack thereof) your client has. Talk about comments you’ve seen. Order service from the business – compliment them on the good things, and tell them about how you can get rid of pain points.
Personalize it. Speak their lingo. Show them that you’ve taken the time and care to learn about them – that they’re not just another client.
Make them feel special – because they are special.
Local knowledge is key
Your initial foray into SEO is almost certainly going to focus on what we call “local SEO”. Unlike ecommerce, local SEO is focused on a particular (usually relatively small) area. There’s less competition for any given keywords, so it’s easier (and more important) to move the needle.
To sell local clients on SEO, you need to prove to them that you understand their local niche. You should, without a doubt, talk about their local competitors. You should also showcase your local knowledge – what you know about nearby intersections, restaurants near them, the demographics in the area, your favourite spot. Anything you can do to connect yourself to the place the business serves.
Don’t know anything about the place their business serves? That’s what Google is for ;).
Those of you with a lot of sales experience can skip this section – you know everything I’m going to cover here, and probably a whole lot more. I’m going to go over the most bread-and-butter sales techniques.
I will confess – I’m not a particularly pushy salesperson. My casual style and demeanor work very well for me – though I’ve met very effective salespeople in the more stereotypical “pushy sales” mould.
The first step is to identify what works best for you – if the techniques I lay out here aren’t the right fit, adjust accordingly! These are the bare basics, though, so they should work for just about anyone.
Be kind, be courteous, be positive
Basically, don’t be a jerk. That’s a fundamental in any relationship, not just a sales relationship.
This isn’t to say you should let yourself get pushed around – if someone changes a meeting date on you three times, you should probably bump them down in your priority list. That said, try to accommodate whenever it’s reasonable, and even sometimes if it seems a little unreasonable – give people the benefit of the doubt.
Always be the bearer of good news. Even when you’re touching on pain points, you shouldn’t be focusing on how tough they must be for your clients – instead, focus on how you can make them go away. Don’t focus on how low they are in the rankings – focus on how you can help them build their rankings up.
I’ve met salespeople who made me feel like I’d entered into the uncanny valley – their pitches were so clearly scripted that I felt uncomfortable.
I hate scripts – they can be useful for cold emails (because you’re sending them in bulk), but when it comes to person to person interaction, it makes the whole process feel far less genuine.
You’ve taken the time to meet with and research your client. Talk to them like you’re making a new friend! Ask them about their day, about their interests – bond with them. Being in business with people you like and trust is a lot more fun, anyway.
Businesses typically don’t understand SEO very well, and that means they’re going to have a lot of questions. The answer to some of those questions will be “I don’t know” – questions like “How long will it take me to rank well for this keyword” or “How high can you get me to rank”.
You’ll be able to give pseudo-answers to these questions by referencing data (we’ll take a closer look at that soon). But sometimes, the answer will just be “No” or “I don’t know”. Be upfront about this kind of thing – candor is key in business.
Be prepared for objections
You will get objections. The most common objections include:
- It costs too much
- I don’t think I need it
- It’s going to take too long
- I had bad experiences with another SEO company
In truth, all of these objections are really just a riff on “it costs too much” – I can, more or less, guarantee you that if you told clients you’d do their SEO for free, they’d take you up on it if your business has any semblance of legitimacy.
But I digress.
Clients say it costs too much? Show them how much more it could cost them to not get SEO. They don’t think they need it? Well, they clearly understand it has some value, or they wouldn’t be meeting with you. Why don’t they think they need it? Show them otherwise.
It’s going to take too long? You wouldn’t stop exercising because “it’s going to take too long” – you do it to become more fit, and then to maintain your physique. It’s the same thing with SEO.
Bad experiences with another SEO? You get it. There are some shady black hats around. People get burned. This is a great time to pull out the testimonials and references you acquired earlier.
I’m not one of the always-be-closing types, and I have a special disdain for Alec Baldwin for playing his role in Glengarry Glen Ross so effectively. (Seriously though, what a great scene. Props to him).
You do need to close, though. Do it. Tell them you can get them started right away. Have a clearly laid out pricing plan before the meeting starts. Know where you can budge, and where you can’t.
We already touched on this point, but it’s so important I figured it would be a good idea to reiterate. Google explicitly warns businesses about SEOs who promise the world, so don’t be one. That means:
- Don’t promise a certain ranking, or that you’ll outrank their competitors
- Don’t promise you’ll boost their rankings quickly (SEO can take months or years, and it’s really an ongoing process)
- Don’t promise services you can’t deliver (this is especially important if you’re offering your own SEO services)
This ties in with the “be honest” segment of sales basics – dishonest SEOs give all of us a bad name, and they’ll hurt your sales and relationships down the line.
Data is your friend
Anyone who has sold intangibles before will tell you that the biggest challenge is helping your clients understand something they can’t interact with. In the case of SEO, data is your best tool to help clients visualize the abstract workings of search engines.
To showcase the value of SEO, both during the initial pitch and during meetings with ongoing clients, it’s essential that you have reporting tools. White labels will provide you with branded reporting tools – if you’re doing SEO on your own, you’ll have to build your own tool.
These tools should showcase targeted keywords, where clients were before their SEO services, the changes they underwent over periods of time (1 month, 3 months, 1 year – whatever works best). You should highlight rank improvements, page impression improvements, and conversion rates.
Provide statistics and quotes
The data is in, and it shows that SEO is incredibly worthwhile. Things like how SEO provides 1000+% more traffic than organic social media, or how 28% of searches for something nearby result in a purchase.
We got those stats from Ahrefs SEO Statistics for 2020, but there are a lot more stats and quotes you can get. Seriously, just Google SEO stats or SEO quotes, and you’ll find enough exciting material to make you fall in love with SEO all over again.
They’ll help your clients fall in love, too.
Provide testimonials and examples
This isn’t going to work for your first client – unless, of course, you’re white labelling.
You’ll want testimonials about your SEO expertise, and examples of positive ROI that you can showcase to prospective clients. You’ll have to develop a portfolio first (unless, again, you’re white labelling). Once you’ve got that, you’ll be able to choose examples that are relevant to your client – either because they’re in the same location, or a similar industry, or have similar ranking statistics.
Be the expert
In an article full of unsurprising things, this might be the least surprising – to sell SEO, you need to know SEO.
Seriously, if you don’t know what you’re doing, your clients are going to know. Why would they want an SEO agency who doesn’t understand what their purported area of expertise is?
You should know SEO like the back of your hand before you pitch to clients.
- Talk about SEO in detail on your website. Have an active blog.
- Prepare for some of the potential questions your client will ask. Have in-depth answers at the ready.
- Explain SEO in the simplest terms you can. Avoid technical jargon unless it’s clear that your prospective client can keep up (if they’re nerds, break it out – we love it when other people can speak our language).
We touched on this in the sales basics, but what better way to close this article than a few tidbits on closing the sale?
Have your proposal at the ready
You should know exactly what you’re willing to offer to the client at exactly what price long before they walk through the door. SEO services are generally scalable – the more content and links a client wants, the more expensive the service is going to be.
Know your negotiables
Negotiating on price? That might be an option – especially if you’re offering a bundle deal. Negotiating the number of links or the amount of content? That’s definitely an option – you really should be customizing your plans for each client, anyway.
Know what you can negotiate and in which ways those negotiables can be modified. You should also make sure the client is aware of the consequences of modifying your plan – getting fewer links, for example, can result in a slower process and less dramatic changes in ranking.
If you can’t seal the deal on the first meeting, arrange a follow-up. Even if the client gives an outright no, you can still ask to follow-up in two weeks so they have more time to think about it and you have time to see if you can negotiate a better deal.
They may say no, but a follow-up is a good way of turning an initial no into the possibility of a sale. Even with an outright no, ask them if you can keep in touch.
The actual close
And with that, you know how to sell SEO services! Of course, if you have any questions at all, read through our blog or get in touch with us – we’d love to help you start selling SEO.
Thanks for reading!