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Courtney Capellan

SEO Client Retention: Going From Expendable to Essential

Courtney Capellan
SEO Client Retention: Going From Expendable to Essential

Business owners are always watching their bottom line, searching for ways to cut costs, and re-evaluating expenses at the end of the fiscal year. They’re often tempted to cut digital marketing services such as SEO, seeing that price tag as an extra expense or something that can be handled in house.

Many small SEO firms work with clients for only a few months before moving on to other accounts. But consider that if your average client retention period is six months, you’ll lose 200 percent of your customer base during a typical year. That means you’re always scrambling to find new business and replace customers who have moved on.

How would your business model change if you were able to retain your client base and keep happy customers sticking around? You need to show your clients you understand their needs and clearly demonstrate the ROI you bring to their business. So how do you survive that end of financial year budget meeting and start retaining clients year round?

Continuous client education

Likely, your clients are familiar with the general concepts of SEO, but their expertise is in running the business- while improving traffic is yours. Spend time educating your clients about your approach, step by step, making sure they clearly understand it. They’ll appreciate your attention to details and the transparency of your efforts.

Offer to meet with company marketers or social media coordinators to discuss your current approach and demonstrate other services you offer. You’ll impress your clients and may earn additional business from them.

Listening to clients

Ask your clients in-depth questions about their business goals, what approaches they’ve tried in the past, and what matters to them. Understand their branding approach and their target markets so you’ll know where to most effectively reach out. Listening to your customers goes a long way towards providing them with top-notch service that will make you indispensable.

If you’ll be working with a marketing manager or team, invite the business owner or general manager to your early meetings where you are fleshing out your approach. This gives you an opportunity to build a relationship with the person who has the power to keep you in the budget and also lets you get project buy-in from the highest levels.

Honesty and transparency

As an SEO consultant, you understand that you work in an ever-changing environment, and that Google regularly alters the ranking rules so you can’t count on things staying the same. Your job is to stay ahead of the game as much as possible and warn your clients of upcoming changes that may affect their results.

Unfortunately, anticipating changes isn’t always possible, and if analytics show a decline, be honest about pointing it out to your client. Approach them with a solution if at all possible and let them know their problem is your problem and you’ll do everything you can to solve it.


When you take on a new client or start a new campaign with an existing client, the first 72 hours are crucial. Your top objective is to create a detailed plan of action and communicate that plan to your client. Build in project milestones, points where you’ll provide updates. If they know what to expect and when they will hear from you next, they’ll know you are serious about their business needs.

If you receive a phone call or email from a customer, always respond within 24 hours. Even if you don’t have an answer right away, let them know that you’ve heard their concerns and are addressing their issue.

Don’t be afraid to brag

If you’ve seen a noticeable rise in ranking for one of your client’s key terms, send them an email to let them know. When you hit a goal for their account, even if it’s a small goal, don’t be shy about pointing it out. Business people make buying decisions based on perceived value, so a little bragging just shows them what you’re accomplishing and can boost your retention rates.

Beware of the newbies

Say a new marketing director joins the firm and wants to bring an old SEO Company to replace you or seeks to cut costs by making an internal team take on the work. When a new person joins one of your existing accounts, reach out immediately and set up time to discuss the work you are doing for the company.

This is a situation where having more than one contact within a company will benefit you. If you’ve included owners and high level managers in your planning phase, you have allies within the organization if things get tricky.

Keep the client involved

This isn’t 2004- when a consultant could take on an account and make magic happen. You have to make the effort to keep clients in the loop during all stages of the project. Listen to their input to formulate campaign goals for their specific SEO project, update them when SEO strategy changes may affect their business, and educate them on the value of the services you provide. Let them know when you hit goals or when results are down.

In short, always involve your clients. You’ll help them increase their knowledge, keep the channels of communication open, and prove again and again the value of your service.

SEO isn’t a luxury and a company can’t hire a firm once and expect traffic to keep rolling in forever. Google is always altering their formulas and it takes a dedicated expert to keep up with changes and anticipate trends. Your job is to communicate these facts to your clients and make sure they realize just how invaluable you are.

Courtney Capellan is a “technically creative” freelance writer and digital media analyst for Hotel Marketing Works. She has a B.A. from the University of Washington in international studies, foreign policy and diplomacy. Her specialties include digital marketing, hospitality management and teaching yoga in San Diego, where she currently lives. Reach her on Twitter.

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