26 Tips for Successful SEO Consulting
I’ve been now doing SEO for 10 years (since 2007), starting from the agency side, switching after a few years to become an in-house SEO specialist, eventually founding my own SEO consultancy, Orainti.
During these 10 years I’ve worked in SEO processes of all types: for small businesses at a massive scale, as well as big brands at a very personalized and highly targeted way; managed and coordinated projects across European, American and Latin-American teams as well as in distributed and remote environments; which has allowed me to see SEO processes succeed and sadly also fail in many different scenarios and by diverse causes.
However, instead of speaking and blogging about “SEO Consulting” in general, I usually speak and blog about very specific SEO topics I work on: International, Mobile, technical or strategical SEO (with a few exceptions, like in 2012 when I spoke about SEO Project management at Mozcon); so when a couple of months ago I was invited by Hubspot to do a Webinar of their “Agency Expert Webinars series” I became instantly excited about having the chance of sharing a few “high level” learnings to other specialists from the agency side, with a Webinar called: “Successful SEO Consulting”.
When I was preparing the content and slides, I realized that many of the areas I was addressing were often fundamental and could make or break an SEO process, but that these were topics that were also sometimes overlooked and not so well covered despite that there’s so much content around SEO.
So I decided to repurpose my Webinar content -is crazy that despite speaking very often and putting so much effort in my slides I hardly never do it due to time constraints- and write this blog post to give a bit more visibility to these tips that I hope you find as useful as I have to achieve a successful SEO consulting.
Without further delay, here are 26 tips for successful SEO consulting:
1. Start by establish your USP in SEO: Why they should hire you specifically and not another agency or consultant?
Identify and highlight what differentiates you as an SEO consultant from others, for example:
- Trust: You keep high ethical principles as a consultant who will not put in risk clients businesses and will keep complete transparency in the implemented actions.
- Convenience: Offering all digital marketing or SEO capabilities? This might work better if you’re a multidisciplinary team.
- Specialization: Offering specific SEO services and in-depth knowledge and experience? This will work the best if you want to target bigger clients.
2. Verify that there’s a fit with the type of client and project before pitching, accepting or signing a new deal
Can you reasonable provide the best SEO consulting taking into consideration the client and project characteristics? It’s useful to understand which are the best type of businesses, industries and projects for you to give the best results:
- Size of business: Do you target a high volume of small clients or low volume of big clients?
- Type of business: Do you target B2B or B2C clients?
- Type of industry: Do you specialise on businesses of certain industries where you already have in-depth experience?
- Type of projects: Do you specialise on projects that cover certain SEO activities (technical SEO, link building, etc.) or specific markets (Europe, the US, LatAm,etc.)?
3. Set the right expectations to the client early on about the SEO process times, resources and flexibility required to make things happen
- Access to internal data in order to have the required information for analysis and follow-up.
- Minimum expected time to see improvements *after* the SEO recommendations are executed.
- Flexibility & resources required by the client to implement recommendations.
- Involvement from the client teams to execute and align efforts.
4. Have someone from the client side to be the internal “SEO champion/owner” who should be your main contact point and will help to coordinate and get things done
- An internal SEO project manager who should have necessary capacity “approve” actions and goals.
- Someone who can internally communicate and coordinate the team involved, to make things happen across different areas.
5. Ask (and validate) about any previous SEO activities or changes that could influence the current site rankings and can also serve as an input for the SEO process
- Check what worked well and what didn’t in the past.
- Verify if the site has suffered from any penalisations in the past.
- Obtain information about former structural Web changes as migrations or redesigns.
- See if the business has other Web properties in production or for test purposes that could represent an issue or that could be leveraged in the process.
6. Start with a complete audit & research to understand the business and site status as well as the context in the industry, situation and USP vs competitors
- A technical, content, link popularity analysis, audience search behaviour vs. competitors should be required to start and serve as the driver for the SEO process and fundamental to set an effective strategy and relevant goals.
- Even if you’re focusing on a specific side of SEO is critical to have as much understanding as possible of the context to identify opportunities and establish an effective strategy, so if you’re only targeting a specific aspect of the SEO process, such as technical SEO or link building, it’s then fundamental that you receive input from the other professionals focusing on these other areas to align efforts.
7. Always develop your own keyword research, to validate the audience behaviour yourself, even if the clients already provide their own data, to identify missed opportunities
- Take client audience, industry and competition knowledge into consideration.
- Use former SEO process or PPC campaigns keywords and competition research as an input.
- Always validate yourself by developing your own keyword and competition research as the audience and competition behavior can easily change over time and you want to identify also missed opportunities.
- Don’t use only a single data source, use as many sources as it is feasible, that will give enough validated input.
8. Replicate the audit and research to be “mobile targeted” in order to be ready for the upcoming mobile first Google index
- This shouldn’t be only useful for the upcoming Google’s mobile first index, but also important to make sure your SEO process take a multidevice customer journey into consideration.
- Use the “smartphone” crawler when doing the technical audit, “mobile” segmentation for keyword and content research and track visibility, traffic and conversions from mobile devices too.
- Identify potential gaps between the desktop and mobile optimisation status that should be closed before the release of Google’s mobile first index.
9. Prioritize your topics/terms/keywords targets not only based on volume, relevance, competition and seasonality but also their potential profitability towards the business
- Check with client to align the keyword research outcome based on business criteria: if there are categories, services or products that they want to prioritise due to profitability, a new release or competition reasons.
- The final selection should be balanced to cover both low-hanging fruit as well as highly beneficial but more competitive topics that will drive results in the shorter as well as longer term.
10. Establish relevant & reasonable kpis as well as goals along your client based on what’s feasible to implement and the desired ultimate business outcome
- For the KPIs: Which are the different aspects, areas and activities that you will be working on that you need to keep informed of to easily see if things are working as expected and for which you can easily obtain reliable “success indicators” to make decisions from?
- For the Goals: What’s the final outcome that the client is looking to achieve from a business perspective and that the SEO process will directly contribute to?
11. Develop actionable SEO recommendations based on the audit findings, specifying the required technical, content or promotional resources to implement them
- For every identified issue in the SEO audit an actionable recommendation should be made to implement the solution.
- Every recommendation should specify if it’s going to require technical, content or promotional support, as well as who’s going to be in charge to implement it, in order to coordinate its execution and allocate the required resources accordingly.
12. Take screenshots to every identified SEO issue to document it, and provide examples of every relevant scenario, as well as all the identified instances to be fixed, showing how to do it
- Taking and including screenshots of the identified issues in the SEO recommendations is critical not only to document them -in case there are doubts in the future about their previous status- as well as to give clearer indications about in which scenarios they are happening and examples of how to fix them.
- It’s critical to do this not only with the first audit and recommendations, but every time you validate an implementation, to leave a record of how they have been changed over time.
- Give also screenshots examples of how competitors are effectively doing it -comparing them with the ones of the client site- so is easier to take as a reference to facilitate their implementation as well as to “incentivize” the client to make the appropriate changes.
13. Prioritize SEO recommendations based on how critical the identified issues and opportunities are, taking into consideration their potential impact to achieve the desired goals
- Assign an “ideal” priority to each SEO recommendation based on how critical its implementation is to achieve the desired goals.
- The specified priorities should be updated when the SEO recommendations are shared with the client based on the effort required to implement them, and have the “highest impact, easier to implement” actions first.
- Besides giving a priority to each recommendation based on its level of criticality and impact, is also important to prioritize its implementation in those areas that are more critical from a user, traffic and conversion perspective (eg: Start by optimizing the titles of main categories and most popular product pages, instead of hidden pages with far lower value).
14. Agree on a clear and “agile” implementation roadmap, with specific deadlines to launch the established activities that you should follow-up with the client
- Development and launch times should be agreed along the client for each recommended action, following the agreed priority.
- Follow an “agile” approach to launch fast with an “iterative/incremental” thinking.
- All the required stakeholders involved in the process should agree and approve the established roadmap.
15. Get early involvement from all the relevant stakeholders who should also include SEO goals as part of their own areas ones
- The different areas involved in the SEO related implementations should also make them part of their own area goals, in order to get their complete support and involvement (if SEO has an impact on their own performance as an area, it will tend to be taken into consideration in their own activities too).
- Each stakeholder involved in each task should attend the calls & meetings related to its execution, and understand the desired final outcome as well as the reason behind, so is easier to identify alternatives and work-arounds if the ideal way to execution is not feasible.
16. Keep an on-going & transparent communication with the client about your work status with frequent calls, also useful to clarify any doubts during the implementation process
- A fluid communication is critical to make sure that you can clarify any doubts that the client might have during the SEO activities execution and that the recommendations are implemented as expected instead of identifying issues at the end.
- It’s also important that the client knows the status of the tasks that you are in charge to execute and effectively align each other, keeping updated, so is easier to identify also opportunities or issues.
17. Document all the findings, deliverables and communication with the client in a project management system that will also facilitate the process coordination
- Use a project management system for every interaction with the client (no emails outside should be allowed) so is easier to share after with other team members if necessary or follow-up.
- From Basecamp to Jira, use a system that better fit to the SEO process characteristic and what is already used by the client to avoid high learning curves and fit to their organization culture.
18. Always validate yourself the implementations before and after they are launched to make sure they have been executed as specified
- Enable a “test” environment that replicates the one in production to validate and approve directly each time an SEO recommendation is executed, before it is released.
- Always verify yourself again after each implementation is launched, to check if it has been effectively taken to production.
19. Report about the KPIs, goals and activities status every month, suggesting improvements based on the current situation
- Share monthly reports during “formal” clients follow-ups showing the advancement from an implementation perspective as well as its impact in the KPIs and goals.
- Make the reports actionable, so you recommend on actions to take or change based on the results achieved until then.
- If the results are not the ones expected due to delays or incapacity to execute the established actions, then it’s critical to identify if the situation can be changed, otherwise the goals should be updated accordingly or the whole process should be revised.
20. SEO is an iterative/incremental process: if you identify that something is not working, be flexible to pivot or change and viceversa, if something is working better than expected, focus or expand it
- Re-prioritize the process recommendations & connected actions based on the identified results if you see that something is not working as expected or working better than what you planned.
- Agree with all the stakeholders if any area or actions of the process should be changed, so they are aware of the reasons behind and provide support.
21. Parallel to your client work, keep updated by following up with search engines releases, updates, SEO related news and findings
- Due to the continuous changing nature of SEO is critical to keep updated of new search functionalities and updates.
- Follow main industry publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, SERoundtable, State of Digital, as more reliable sources.
- Twitter offers a great way to keep updated as well as interact and promote your own content and findings, but is important to have a filter.
- Take what you read with a “grain of salt”: Double check with other peers you trust, use “common sense” and test yourself.
22. Drive tests with your own sites to validate hypothesis on what is working applied to the different scenarios you have with your clients
- It’s critical that you double verify yourself what you “read” from others, even reliable sources.
- Remember that there are usually many ways to implement and achieve the same results and they might change based on each site context.
- Develop your own tests with a purpose, to validate the viability to achieve results in ways that are feasible and ultimately, beneficial, ethical, and reasonable to implement.
23. Share about your experiences in your own blog, as well as third-party platforms that can drive you more visibility as LinkedIn or industry blogs to develop your authority
- Sharing about your own experiences is one of the best ways to receive feedback, additional ideas or confirm your findings.
- Publishing will also bring your business visibility and authority, as well as could be a potential client driver or get invited to share in events.
- Use third-party platforms along your own blog in order to reach a wider audience, especially at the beginning.
24. Go to digital marketing events to network with other SEOs, stay updated and if possible, share by speaking about your experiences with the community
- This will be an opportunity to learn and ask directly to industry leaders that you might not have access to, otherwise.
- Expand your network, exchange ideas, learn and even identify business opportunities or bring new leads in a more “personal” setting with people who you might not have known otherwise or only seen online… making friends along the way.
- Meet clients or partners in a different and funner type of environment.
25. You can also go to other industries conferences to network, be inspired, share about your SEO knowledge and get potential leads
- Other industries events are great to get out of the “echo chamber” and bring new ideas to your SEO activities.
- They are better settings to get leads from, as you will be interacting with a non-SEO crowd, that could become potential clients, partners or providers.
26. When you achieve the expected results, ask for clients testimonials or success stories that you can publish in your site, proposals and share with potential clients to establish trust
- “it’s not bragging if it’s true”: ask permission to your clients to share about the SEO results you have helped to achieve (anonymizing sensible data) and/or get a testimonial from them.
- Your happy clients will also likely become a main source of leads with spontaneous referrals, let them know they will be appreciated.
There are of course many ways to achieve successful results, more scenarios and areas -this is definitely not a complete or “ultimate” list-: Which other SEO consulting tips would you share based on your own experience?