SEO is a finicky thing. As the owner of a digital marketing agency, it’s a question I hear a lot. Here’s the problem: SEO made ranking high easy ten or even five years ago. Any client asking this question is stuck in this old and defunct frame of mind.
So how can you best explain to them why their ROI with SEO has taken months or even years?
How Long Will SEO Take?
“How long will SEO take?” is not a question you can hide from and is bound to come up in every digital marketer’s career. It’s crucial that you take the time to explain how SEO works in 2019.
Giving your clients the gist of it isn’t going to solve their qualms with SEO. You need to explain how SEO has evolved over the years, and where it stands today. Seriously, don’t risk pretending that their website is going to magically and organically appear at the end of a Google keyword rainbow overnight. Alternatively, get ready to feel the wrath of the client’s “buyer’s remorse.”
In a nutshell, the time it takes to see the fruits of your SEO labor varies drastically. SEO is a complicated thing, and some marketers can’t even begin to define it, let alone draft a solid action plan. You may run into clients who are too impatient to want to continue the service. In that case, this is why explaining the timeframe aspects to them early is important.
Let them know what to expect but don’t guarantee anything. If digital marketers could offer guaranteed ROI, we would be sitting on the beach right now! 🙂
Avoid being vague. Tell leads up front that SEO can easily take a year to pay off. It depends if they’ve done some SEO work already (and if that was quality work or black hat spammy tactics) and how long their website has been live.
For a brand new website, Google won’t even begin to crawl and log your content until well into a month of existence. But remember: organic traffic is not a fly-by-night type of campaign – it’s ongoing and takes time.
If a client is not ready for a long-term commitment, then your SEO services aren’t going to make them happy.
Earning Google’s Trust
As I mentioned above, if your client has done some SEO work on a site already, this can be a good or bad thing.
For example, if they went to some hack agency or bought the cheapest gig on a freelancer marketplace, chances are they got a lemon.
What I mean is that there are, unfortunately, people out there who will take a few bucks and destroy their client’s SEO with old black hat tactics.
Black hat SEO is aggressive SEO strategies that violate the search engine’s guidelines and best practices. Black hats used strategies like article spinning, content automation, and keyword stuffing to manipulate rankings and position low-quality content in the search results. But Google caught on published Google Penguin, which means that websites are now penalized by Google when using black hat tactics.
Check out this article that shows you How to Rank Using SEO Black Hat Tactics in a White Hat Way:
If a site has hundreds of terrible backlinks out there, you’ve got a lot of repair work ahead. You might even suggest starting with a fresh website build to recover more quickly. Again, this is due to SEO being a long-term game.
Google’s little spider bots are continually crawling the web, and the algorithms change so rapidly that marketers cannot play chess with them. Instead, we play a retroactive game of catch-up each time unannounced algorithm changes happen. This is why it’s critical to be involved with other digital marketers and the broad marketing community. We have to help each other out, and continually update our strategies.
Timelines to Live By
So you’ve educated your client on the nuances of SEO, and they are still talking to you. Give them a timeframe that won’t let them down.
The safest bet, across all agencies, reports, and statistics, is approximately 6-9 months to start seeing some SEO action. Not exactly front page of Google action, but action nonetheless.
You can get a website on the first page of the SERPs in a shorter time if it happens to have the right recipe: a combination of a great website, clean UX, fast load times, and a solid SEO history in a ripe niche. We often see this type of quality client rise in ranks within approximately 3 months.
Another honest safety net for agencies explaining SEO is to make it clear that the longer you put effort into SEO, the better off they’ll be over time. Why would anyone want to do this? Without organic SEO methods, your clients will spend a fortune in paid ads continuously trying to stay at the top of SERPs.
However, as tempting as it may be to take the quick win with paid ads only, websites will lose in the long-distance race and risk becoming irrelevant down the road.
Another essential aspect to educate your clients on is that SEO takes constant upkeep. You can’t set it and forget it. This is due to the continually changing nature of SERPs algorithms.
Charge Premium for SEO Services
It requires a true professional to take the time to tackle SEO and to do it well. Depending on which side of the table you are on, this can be a really good thing. SEO is a service where you get what you pay for.
Unfortunately, many clients will come to you after having learned this the hard way. Which means that you’ve got extra work to do, and it’s going to take a lot longer to prove ROI.
The easily accessible and popular freelance marketplace websites are like the shady back alleys of SEO. All too often, people buy a cheap SEO gig only to feel ripped off and taken advantage of later on.
Do every digital marketer a favor and charge the appropriate amount for SEO services. If you’re taking on cheap clients, you’re bound to find out that it’s not worth it. They often become needy and complain a lot about their paid service, and you’ll do twice the labor trying to make them happy.
Moz polled over 600 SEO companies and found that these are the average prices that a legitimate SEO agency charges:
It’s a better relationship when you’re charging at least average rates. You’ll feel better about doing the work, and be willing to go above and beyond. Which means your client will also feel good about the output and results.
A Successful Long-Term SEO Plan Looks Like:
Month 1: Research
The first month is all about research. You should set enough time aside to spend a solid month of labor on website auditing (for existing sites) and content planning. This is also where keyword strategy is formulated.
Here, your job will be to audit the existing backlinks and format them to do follow or no follow protocols. Check existing SEO description, content, keyword usage and previous tactics used. Assess them, and format a plan on how to fix these issues within your offered service to them.
Google won’t even begin crawling through your site or paying any attention to you until well into month one or two.
Month 2: Nitty-Gritty Work
The nitty-gritty SEO work begins on the website. The second month is where you start making the edits and changes you identified during month one’s audit. You may want to completely rebuild the site, which is going to push everything back a few months.
Start implementing your on-page optimization strategies. Consider link building, and pay attention to the sitemap.
Remember, keywords are no longer as relevant as thoughtful content. Use your words carefully, be thorough with information, and avoid anything vague or confusing.
Months 3 and 4: Content Creation
Content creation begins. Usually, by the third month, you can reasonably expect to start writing articles, FAQs, and creating other content you’ve planned.
In my opinion, this is the most enjoyable part. You can get creative with whitepapers and company background information. Even more exciting, you might start to see some results by now!
Months 5 and 6: Full Toolkit
This is where the rest of the marketer’s toolkit is utilized. Think social media management strategies, paid ads, lead generation, and more. Continue to create regular quality content and promote it, building a healthy link profile along the way.
Then repeat. Continue to optimize monthly, audit, and create killer content. The SEO magic is happening in the background of all of this work.
Quality Content Over Keyword Usage
The concept of quality over quantity in SEO can be traced back to Google’s Panda algorithm update in 2011. Since then, Google and other SERPs’ concern is content that serves a purpose. This effort is steering the Internet clear of salesy, repetitive garbage content. It coincides with the evolution of users’ search habits.
The Internet has become saturated. People are using longer tail keywords to find answers to specific questions. And the advent of voice search is changing the SEO game all over again. All you need to do is provide higher quality content.
Focus on serving a need and offering value and solutions. Forget about solely pitching a product or gaming the algorithms with the newest hacks and trendy practices. Google is exceptionally transparent regarding this aspect of their algorithms. According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, you should steer clear of any tricks whatsoever.
Build your website and write content for it with only the end-user in mind. You’d be best served to hyper-focus on building quality content.
Forget About SEO
Don’t ignore SEO basics such as meta tags and descriptions, but beyond that, forget about search engines and just build your brand. Make your website a cool place for your target market.
Ask yourself: would I visit my website? More importantly, would I like it and come back for more? If the answer is no, you’ve got some work to do. Imagine if popular brands such as Netflix or Nike spent all their energy and money on advertising and sales. They would not be where they are today, that’s for sure.
Treat your website just like any other business, and take a break from the sales game, or rather SEO game. Instead, focus on building a quality brand. Get inside your customer’s minds and deliver what they truly want.
Become an Expert
The best thing you can do for your agency and your client’s sake is to keep learning. It’s a huge challenge to stay up to date on the algorithm changes and SEO strategies that work, so you will need patience and diligence.
Just like starting a new business can take up to five years before seeing a profit, a website should be treated with similar respect. It’s going to take time. However, don’t slack off on the hard stuff: write better articles, take your time with copy, and think your tags through.
Re-evaluate your SEO on all your websites again and again. The moment you get comfortable is when your competition takes the lead; there is always someone out there working just as hard or harder than you.
If your clients have done any research on their own, they will expect you to tell them that it’s going to take a long time. However, they will hopefully also know that it’s worth it. Many clients may misunderstand keywords and search rankings altogether. It’s your job to explain clearly to them that they need organic search optimization.
Pitch SEO Like a Boss
Learn how to pitch SEO well. Don’t let your client believe for a moment that SEO is something they did when they built their website: “We paid the web design company to do that when we launched, so we’re good.” This mindset is detrimental to any client’s success.
To reach the top of SERPs, it’s going to take ongoing SEO, both on- and off-page. As digital marketers, we should study SEO strategy every day because getting results on the Internet – the largest marketplace and fastest changing climate for business ever known – is difficult.
You need to study SEO like a lawyer, and not just for the bar exam. The best lawyers go beyond fundamentals and keep up on major cases for legal precedence. Don’t expect success if you can’t keep up with algorithm changes like an SEO “lawyer”.
As the world continues to go digital, the website is the new storefront, replacing brick-and-mortars value every day. Most business owners are aware of this economic shift and are ready to put the bulk of their budget towards their website and, if you’ve explained it to them correctly, their SEO efforts.