I’ll never forget the moment when I had that classic ‘epiphany’ moment… I had a meeting with a client: a freelancer working in the TV industry who had launched his own ecommerce side-project selling musical instruments as he drew nearer to retirement. In addition to having a general catch-up, I had compiled a list of link building tactics for him – some pretty general, but many that were bespoke to him and his business – and we were running through it. It was a time when guest blogging was still a big deal (remember those days?) and I was trying to get him on-board and excited about the prospect of writing blog posts about his industry. “Steve, I’m not very keen on writing…” he said. My heart sank a little. We’ve heard it a million times from clients who poo-poo our ideas and expect digital marketing to be some magical wand-waving exercise. But he wasn’t finished. “…but I can make videos really cheaply and easily. Does that help?” Unbelieveably I hadn’t connected the dots. His main job was working in TV. I hadn’t even included anything major about video production in my link building tactic list – just a small note that said something like “you can add a link to your YouTube videos’ descriptions.” I started telling him about the benefits of video SEO, discussing the possibility of creating tutorial videos, animations, product showcases, product reviews… the list went on and on. There’s also the benefits of transcribing those videos (something that I’ve blogged about in the past). Suddenly, so many tactics opened up – and he was really excited about them. Since then I have shifted my way of thinking when it comes to strategising SEO and digital marketing with my clients. It isn’t always about getting the high Page/Domain Authority inbound links – it’s about getting them doing what they love. That may not necessarily involve high priority tactics that tick the SEO box, but they have more chance of getting done (and getting done well), rather than pushing them down a route that they may not want to go down anyway. In this post I’ll run through a few other examples and case studies that I’ve come across first-hand, and also recommend a few tips to try and get clients thinking about how they can get more involved and on-board, strengthening your relationship with them in the long term.
The challenge (especially for small businesses)
When I went self-employed just over two years ago, giving SEO consultancy services to businesses both big and small, I thought that I knew my craft (and I do know my craft – at least I like to think so!) but I was very naïve when it came one thing: understanding that my clients – sometimes sole traders or Managing Directors of small businesses – are very, very, very busy people. I soon realised first-hand when I became one myself. In an ideal world, when you make suggestions to a client, they will follow-through with it – and granted, some clients will be more interested and involved than others and will ‘get’ it a lot easier. But while we like to think of ourselves as the Don Drapers of digital, a lot of what we do is… well… boring to clients, and they have enough on their plates without having to worry about the likes of rel="canonical", hreflang and .htaccess files. But what if we were to ignite their passions and get them feeling proud and excited about the digital marketing tactics that they’re involved with?
Recommending tactics based on available resources
When I work with clients, I tell them that my approach in particular is more of a collaborative approach. For example, I’m not a copywriter, so I won’t be writing content for them, and while they could use external copywriters, it’s best if they produce the content themselves in order to exert their authority in the industry – and besides, they know their industry better than anyone. With this in mind, it’s important to ask: what resources do they have internally that they can utilise on the SEO/digital marketing front? One of my newest clients offers cloud-based accounting software for sole traders and freelancers. The owner of the business had hired a Ruby on Rails developer to help create the software, and a bit of keyword research suggested that a lot of people search for free tools – e.g. calculators – which could be a good lead-in for the main suite of tools. Oftentimes clients will cringe at the thought of creating tools/widgets (mostly because of the cost of creating such things) but he could see the value in it and also thought “well, I’m paying this guy already…” So for him in particular, it was something that he really wanted to push – more-so than blogging or video production, for example.
Recommending tactics based on passion
You can even take the above one step further… An old client of mine was a web & graphic design agency. Well, I say “agency”… it was just two of them: a web designer (who was also the business owner) and a graphic designer (his sole employee). The web designer would regularly be working at full capacity, but the graphic designer often had a lot of free time left to twiddle his thumbs, so I suggested putting those thumbs to good use: why not utilise his graphic design skills and focus on link building tactics of a visual nature, such as infographics or creating WordPress themes? On the infographic front, I found out that the graphic designer was really passionate about two things in life (aside from graphic design): music and fitness. So I said: “hey, why doesn’t he design a few music infographics and a few fitness infographics?” It might not be 100% relevant to the business, but it’s likely that he would’ve put his heart and soul into producing and promoting them, and that that would’ve helped to promote the business. Rather than letting that time go to waste, he could keep creating these types of resources – which equally show off his design skills – until his capacity has filled up with client work. And I’m sure that he’d be one very happy employee – that much is for sure.
Not all tactics are created equal…
For SEOs in particular, it can sometimes be too easy to make across-the-board statements, e.g. external links on forums always carry the rel="nofollow" attribute, so don’t bother trying to build links from forums, as it won’t really help your SEO. But sometimes this isn’t necessarily the case. I had a client who sold musical instruments – a father-and-son business (different to the one that I mentioned earlier). The son was the instrumentalist out of the two, who absolutely loved spending time giving out free advice on music forums. When I first heard this, I nearly lectured him on the usual “links from forums are always nofollow…” routine, but I decided to take a look at some of the forums where he’d contributed as well as other popular forums related to his particular niche. To my surprise, the majority of them didn’t implement nofollow – so in addition to the usual benefits of contributing to forums (networking, showing off your expertise, getting your name out there, etc.), they were also getting a boost on the SEO front, especially the more that he contributed (and on a variety of forums, which he was doing already). So in each and every case, for every client, it’s worth putting the time and effort in to research tactics on a case-by-case basis, as one thing that usually doesn’t work well could actually work really well in a particular industry. Leaving you (and them) pleasantly surprised.
Coaxing out your clients’ loves
When it comes to all of this, there’s a bit of a caveat to bear in mind… If your clients really want to do something – and it’s only one tactic – then that’s fine, but it’s worth making them aware that promoting themselves from various websites using a mix of tactics is not only good SEO, it’s good marketing. After all, going back to my nofollow/forum example above, all those forums may suddenly implement nofollow tomorrow, killing the tactic immediately (from an SEO point of view at least). It’s always great if they can do something that they love, but it needs to be backed up by a wider campaign, safeguarding their digital marketing efforts as a whole. When it comes to discussing and coming up with tactics and ideas based on their passions, consider the following:
- What resources are available to them internally? Do they have writers, designers or developers who can work on things that can support the digital marketing efforts, or – if you’re dealing with a sole trader – do they have a passion for writing, design or development? Would they rather do one thing over another, even if it’s not as powerful or valuable as an SEO tactic, and would it be easy and/or cheap for them to do?
- What are their interests? I guess that you could go full-out detective/stalking (!) mode for this one: follow them on Twitter, check out their LinkedIn profile, maybe even see what you can dig out of their Facebook profile (or even befriend them if you’re chummy enough with them), Google their name (e.g. to see where else they contribute online) or just ask them what else they’re up to or interested in in their lives – both inside and outside of work – when you next have a meeting. Can you integrate their interests into the work somehow?
- What have they done in the past? What are they doing at present as standard? By which I mean: what were they doing even before you came along to offer SEO/digital marketing advice? Can it be leveraged and improved on the SEO front?
Whatever the case, if you’re able to get them on-board with this way of thinking, they will not only love what they do – but they will also love you.