My days as a freewheeling, unrestrained, happy-go-lucky, gung-ho city cowboy are over. As of 31 August 2013, I’m a married man, and for the rest of my life, I will dedicate myself to optimizing my relationship to my beautiful wife. The old ball-and-chain. But before I bury myself in the bosom of our bless├Ęd alliance, I’ll continue to blog about the dark and murky undergrowth of digital marketing that SEO is. Specifically, this post will be all about SEO for sales: how to prepare yourself for the questions your prospective client should/will be asking.

First, a lesson:

Don’t sell SEO

That’s right! You can quote me on that. If you’re focusing on solely on SEO for sales, your chance of making the sale will diminish. Or even if you make the sale, you’re red-lighting a huge sales potential.

Your client is not really interested in SEO, even if they seem to explicitly communicate so to you. Your client is interested in results, which might include more conversions, more brand awareness, more social media exposure, better content, a well-sculpted marketing strategy, more revenue, etc. Their goal is not to increase their visibility in organic search engine rankings, which is, as you might know, what SEO has traditionally aimed at. SEO should never be the goal of the sale (or the project), it should be one of the steps you take in helping the client understand and, eventually, reach their business goals.

Having said that, there are a number of questions the client should ask if you are far enough in the sales process to actually introduce the methodologies you have hand-picked in making the client’s dreams come true. I’ve listed a number of these questions here. Most are based on experience, some on common sense, and some on the faint hope that someday, someone will ask them from me in a sales meeting.

What is it you actually do?

Wow, straight to the point, huh? Well, when this question is asked, I like to draw the “marketing general” card. I do a lot of things in SEO, but my first and foremost task is to increase or improve the online presence of my client. This might include a whole slew of traditional SEO “tactics”, as sometimes the whole online presence of a client revolves around a website built on some nasty ass templates. Sometimes the client seems to have everything under control, with a strong website driving lots of quality traffic, a powerful social media presence, and a high-tuned understanding of digital marketing. In cases like this I sell maintenance work: “Let me take some of that burden away from you, so that you can focus on developing your business”. There’s nothing I enjoy more than taking control of a well-oiled machine, bringing my own expertise to the mix, and making sure that the wheels keep turning.

Can you make me number one on the search engine results page with keyword X?

No, I can’t! And no, it’s not because I’m bad at my job, it’s because the search engine results page (SERP) as it used to be is no more. Searches are personalized, localized, embellished, enriched, and made as flexible as possible without hurting the relevance of the results. This is a great thing for the business owners, as they have a chance of reaching an even wider audience. This is a terrible thing for SEO micro-managers, since keyword rankings mean next to nothing these days. Actually, it’s actually a good thing, since keyword rankings were a horrible KPI to begin with. Seriously, who cares about rankings when you can actually look at the traffic the keywords are driving to your site?

How can you do keyword research when you’re not an expert in our business?

I might not be an expert in your business, but I want to be. And I have you to help me. Seriously, with your business knowledge and my ultimate SEO skills, together we’re the dynamic duo of the digital world. Let’s rock, baby! Seriously, keyword research is all about search intent, relevance, search volume, data analysis, search trends, blah blah blah. My job is to get to know your business, so that I can use that knowledge in the keyword research to find the right keyword, which drives the right visitor to the right landing page on your site.

How will I benefit from our partnership?

Excellent question! This ties me back to the first rule (you still remember it, right?). If you don’t know them by now, this is where you dig out the goals your client has in mind. If these goals are too superficial, make them work a little to really find out why they need your help. It’s never about traffic, it’s never about organic search results, it’s never about brand awareness. There’s always a process involved, and the client is implicitly asking you to be part of it. Make sure this process is articulated, after which it is much easier to explain why you suggest SEO for this particular phase. Remember, don’t just talk about SEO. Tie your project in with an entire online marketing ecosystem, opening the door for all your other products, projects, and processes, which might complement your SEO work.

Give this question a lot of thought, and plan ahead. If they don’t flat out ask this question, they will be thinking about it. So make sure to drive the point through. The main benefit your client will receive is your knowledge and your skills. You are there to drive business, to create or improve a marketing plan, to strategize, to increase revenue or brand awareness, etc. You’re not just looking for keywords and optimizing templates. Remember that, young padawan.

What’s wrong with our current SEO?

Ouch. Tread lightly, my friend. Be diplomatic and constructive. When pointing out flaws, don’t be superficial (“you’re missing a title here and a header there”), but make the client understand how they’re actually missing out on revenue because of the combined mass of mistakes weighing their website down. This is what the client wants to hear. Or well, they don’t want to hear it, but they have to hear it. As a SEO, your goal is to build the client’s business. If their current SEO work has been done shoddily, it’s your job as a consultant to rectify the situation.

What’s the ROI of hiring you?

Again, tread lightly. You know how much you cost, you have the means to estimate the increase in traffic, conversions, revenue, etc. But remember the elusive goal I was talking about? Sometimes return of investment is incredibly difficult to calculate. For example, if you do social media work to a client in an obscure business area with no previous exposure in social media, you’ll have a hard time estimating the worth of a single new fan, let alone a hundred. In these cases, you must help the client arrive at the right figures. Give them your numbers, how much do you cost as a consultant? How much does the client have to employ other stakeholders? After this, start looking at the obvious benefits: more traffic is more potential. Increase potential with targeted social media advertising, conversion optimization, viral content, etc. Make it clear that positive ROI is a given, since with SEO it most often is. Let the client evaluate the worth of a single, committed fan belonging to the target audience. Then multiply that by the number of new relationships you know you can deliver with your SEO magic, and you have all you need to estimate the ROI.

Thank you?

No, thank YOU! When thinking about SEO for sales, it’s important to remember the golden rule: it’s not about marketing. It’s not about concepts, it’s not about products, it’s not about SEO. It’s about delivering the goods, understanding the client, and building the client’s business.