How to Offer SEO to Your Clients

John Tabita

So you’ve decided that the opportunity to offer SEO to your clients is too good to pass up. But what if you didn’t get accepted to the Harry Potter School of Search Engine Optimization? Lacking the necessary skill set, you have a couple of choices:

Learn How

By doing it yourself, you get to keep all the money. That’s the good news. The bad news is, you get to do all the work. Only you know what’s best for you and what you’re capable of. Just beware of stretching yourself too thin.

If you’ve decided that sleep and a social life are overrated, there are plenty of resources available to get yourself educated, including SitePoint’s own, The SEO Business Guide.

Outsource It

I chose to outsource SEO when I ran my web business. The trick is figuring out how to make a dime on it. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Find someone who knows what they’re doing.

My first two experiences using SEO contractors were less than successful. With traditional advertising, at least clients could actually see the Yellow Page or newspaper ad they had purchased. With SEO, it’s all voodoo magic (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…”) with little accountability. Since most firms refuse to guarantee results, it’s easy for them to claim, “Well, we tried, but we couldn’t get you the ranking you wanted.” From my perspective, those two firms took my clients’ money and simply did nothing. I’m not saying that’s what they did, but that’s how it felt.

<happyending>I eventually did find a SEO expert who achieved excellent results for my clients.</happyending>

2. Find someone you can trust.

Just finding a qualified person is no guarantee they’ll deal honestly with you or won’t end up stealing your clients if they offer services that overlap yours. Make sure you trust the other person and agree not to solicit each others’ clients.

3. Once you find the right person, agree who owns the client relationship.

The ideal partnership is someone who specializes in front-end design and someone who specializes in SEO. You could each sub-contract to one another and agree that whoever lands the client, keeps the client.

4. Figure out how to price your services so that each can make some money off the other.

I found it easier to charge my client directly for the first two stages of SEO during the initial design phase. Once the on- and off-site optimization was finished and the SEO entered the maintenance phase, I let the SEO person deal directly with the client (so long as he agreed not to solicit them for any services I provided).

Get a Business Partner

Another option is to form a partnership with a person or people who bring additional skills to the table. Partnerships involve risk as well as benefits, so I don’t recommend entering into one lightly. There are many horror stories of partnerships gone bad, or friends who are no longer after going into business together. Perhaps I was one of the lucky ones; the people I chose to partner with became good friends and when we split, we did so amicably and are still friends today. If you decide to partner up, choose wisely. And be sure to draft a partnership agreement with an exit clause.

As web services begin to fragment, it’s nearly impossible for a one-man or one-woman shop to offer design, programming, SEO, Pay-Per-Click advertising, social media marketing, and mobile web development and marketing. Forming a strategic or formal partnership is often the best choice.

Are you doing it a different way? Post your comments below.

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  • http://www.daydreamservices.com Justin Bianchi

    Thanks for the reinforcement, John! It’s taken some trial and error, but after many years I have someone I can reply on and know how to spot a good client we can share, and ones I can refer directly to him without any hesitation. It’s been a few years now we’ve worked together and nine times out of ten I can estimate *his* costs without the need for a consult. Great relationship. There really is no better way to grow and expand than to have a solid team behind you. Thanks for posting!

  • Adrian Rice

    I eventually did find a SEO expert who achieved excellent results for my clients.

    I’m in the market for a happy ending for a new client.

    Don’t suppose you’d care to share the name of your SEO expert?

    • http://johntabita.com/ John Tabita

      Sure: seo-writer.com is his site.

      • Adrian Rice

        Thank you very much. There are a lot of flim-flam merchants out there. Really appreciate you sharing the results of your quest.

        A belated thank you for the post itself. Great advice.

  • http://www.wnwdesign.co.uk Camilla

    Yes, that ‘voodoo magic’ aspect of SEO is really tricky. Overcoming that is often simply a matter of excellent communication. It is entirely possible to spend a small amount of time educating a client about what is being done and why, showing them the actual work (even if they don’t understand it, it can be helpful for them to see where the actual man-hours are being spent) and showing them statistics and reports demonstrating gradual changes that will eventually become increased business.

    In fact, I can recall one client where we listed their website for the phrases we had researched, found that business was not coming through, and had built enough trust through our communication that they invested in more time with us and we were able to re-direct the SEO and turn the project into a very successful one that brought in the business they wanted.

    So i guess that’s an important thing to check when choosing a company to outsource with – what information will they be providing about the work they’re doing and how it is performing.

  • http://www.webdesign.org vince

    I’m currently trying to outsource myself. Could you possibly recommed me the best way to find a SEO of high quality?

    • http://johntabita.com/ John Tabita

      Ask a lot of questions and get some examples of clients they’ve helped. (Also, see my response below to Adrian’s question.)

  • http://www.adhocmarketing.com Scott Salwolke

    I’ve done SEO for a few web designers and ad agencies and they’ve always proven successful. I think the key is that the designer or agency decides in the beginining whether I’m to stay behind the curtain or actively participate in discussions with clients. This way I know my role going in. Those that do have me speak with clients usally give me email addresses so that all discussions and correspondence come from their agency. And another key is to sign an agreement saying I won’t contact clients without their permission. This helps alleviate their concerns right away.

  • http://webilicious.com.au Neil Robertson

    Hi John,

    Yes, it certainly is hard to be a one person business and be an expert in everything. I decided that I didn’t want to be an SEO expert and found another business in my local area that I thought I could trust to look after my client’s SEO campaign. It didn’t go well and I’m still not sure if they were honest with my client. He doesn’t think so! He wants me to look after his SEO now.

    Whether I am going to be the SEO expert or outsource this part of my business, the lesson I have learnt is to try and take away the “smoke and mirrors” aspect of SEO. One way to do this might be:

    1. Before starting, use independent tool(s) to report the current status as a benchmark. This would probably include pagerank, keyword positioning and back links etc.

    2. Run the same report every month and provide this to the client together with a summary of what changes have been done during the month, so the client can see if they are getting value for money or not.

    If things appear to go backwards some months, then an explanation should be included. For example, who else is competing for the same keywords and what did they do this month?

    Do you think this will work or am I over simplifying things?

    Neil.

  • http://preetmedia.blogspot.com/ preetmediablog

    It’s really useful for me. I need to learn many things more about SEO.

  • http://www.adobetec.com PERCY

    Thank you for the tips and information John, it does help a lot.

  • Shafina

    Hi John,

    I’m about to start an online branding agency which will include almost all of the services that you’ve mentioned. Thank God I came across this article. Now I have some ideas on who to hire for my SEO service!

    Shafina