Trond Lyngbø

The Secret To Landing Big SEO Clients – And Keeping Them Happy

Today's post is somewhat unique because it is about every SEO consultant's biggest fantasy...

Working with multi-billion dollar clients.

Maybe you have gained extensive experience with several aspects of search marketing and search engine optimization, and have served your clients well by getting their websites ranked high on search engines and brought revenue boosts to their business.

Now you are ready to take things to the next level - by signing a contract with a major client who can pay you the big bucks. Well, you are about to learn the secret system to find and impress these clients. When you master this approach, it is easy to get them to:

  • Hire you to handle their SEO.
  • Delight them with your results.
  • Practically force them to keep you as their preferred consultant and strategist.
  • And, pay whatever you demand in fees.

Because they will know you are worth it!

How Would I Know This Secret?

A couple of years ago, I left a cushy position at one of Norway's leading search marketing firms to build Search Planet,  from scratch, all by myself, with no funding and relying only on what experience I had gained in 15 years of SEO consulting.

I set about it in exactly the way I will explain in this article. Today, 95% of my clients are multi-billion dollar companies. Over the two years I have worked with them, I have not lost a single client. In fact, truth be told, I have a waiting list of similar firms who want to work with me!

In the very first year of operations, I booked a 7-digit profit (NOK). I talk directly to top leadership in my clients' organizations. I am intimately involved in business-critical projects about which I am often informed even before their own internal staff! And I'm frequently called to share my insights and assist with business development on a strategic level.

So I know what I am talking about when it comes to recruiting 'big fish' SEO clients and serving them well.

What is interesting is that the nitty-gritty details are well within the scope of most hardworking and experienced SEO specialists. The only constraint that keeps them from doing this is the lack of 'insider knowledge' about the process to acquire and retain such clients.

Hopefully, this short guide will help you get over this speed bump and race ahead to higher success in your SEO endeavors.

Going Right To The Top

A key element of working on SEO with large organizations is getting SEO projects anchored at the top of the organization.

Why is this important? What comes out of it?

Well, it all boils down to humans. Partly, it is about optimizing websites for humans. But the bigger goal goes beyond humans/customers, technology or marketing.

The ultimate goal is money.

Money is the universal language that anyone understands. It doesn't matter that I am a Norwegian SEO expert speaking to a Chinese CEO of a large organization. I can get his attention and support if the numbers are right - and have the symbol of a local currency behind it!

But just spouting figures wildly won't get you anywhere. Your prospective clients must believe in them and trust you.

Once they do, they will support you, cover your back, and facilitate a nearly frictionless implementation of your instructions and strategies across their organization. And they will willingly sign an ongoing SEO retainer contract.

You will no longer be viewed by their staff and team members as that annoying "keyword and SEO guy" who shows up once a year to tell them what to do and ask for more money.

In fact, everyone will be instructed by leadership to follow your instructions and communicate with you - because they understand that SEO is a critical element for the business, with a serious potential impact on the company's financial results.

How To Establish Trust

The simplest method is to showcase your expertise as an SEO consultant and business specialist.

For example, you could:

  • Perform keyword research and analysis, breaking it down by category and subcategory for a webshop.
  • Combine it with the organization’s prior historical sales data and conversion rates to identify areas that can be exploited profitably.
  • Forecast a realistic and trustworthy revenue growth potential, and communicate this effectively by demonstrating how much money is on the table, waiting to be sucked up through an intelligent SEO strategy.
  • Showcase where (which categories and subcategories) the profit growth will come from, and how to prioritize actions correctly to make sure the money is extracted quickly and most effectively.
  • Reveal the revenue potential inherent in one product category after another, and show how this can be tapped when SEO bubbles each sector to the top of search rankings.
  • Explain how problems and limitations with their technical SEO will be solved at the root with better information architecture, website structure, and URL structure, along with an optimized internal link architecture.
  • Outline ways in which better database organization and an improved database structure, or even simple tweaks such as the way categories are named in the database, can impact search ranking and website traffic.
  • Share customer journey insights gleaned from the search data, through deep and broad analysis of your keyword research, and connect the dots by showing how they can solve many pressing problems before they even arise.
  • Lay the foundation for a highly effective and scalable solution that will continue to attract qualified prospective customers well into the future.
  • Teach them ways to delight visitors by giving them exactly what they are searching for (information, guidance, or advice) that translates into a great user experience, and eventually results in a boost in sales and revenue.

Time Well Spent

Sometimes, my preliminary SEO analysis report for a new client will involve over 100 hours of research and data collection, which I look upon as an investment into gaining new business which will extend far into the future.

There is certainly some risk involved in taking such an approach, but there is no shortcut to gaining trust with a business leader who doesn't know you well.

Also, there is a huge upside benefit. When you land a high-value client through this approach, you won't get stuck in internal politics or have to fight meaningless battles with people inside the organization who have different motivations and agendas. In large companies that operate multiple offline local businesses and divisions together with online sales in a webshop, this is critical.

As an SEO consultant, you need to be focusing on how Google works in 2018 and beyond, not be caught up in how it used to work in the past (and no longer does!)

This involves elements and people, knowledge and expertise, investments in many more resources, and realistic budgets that let you bring various facets of your expertise and knowledge to bear on the problems that need to be solved.

You want to be involved early on, whenever important and relevant things happen either internally at your client company or with external agencies they hire. As a trusted 'go to' guy or gal, you will always be asked to be involved early, maybe even before they start planning specifics.

And as a trusted advisor, you don’t risk losing clients. In fact, clients don’t even ask what your hourly fees are... which is nice because most SEO consultants live in constant fear of losing clients to someone with a lower fee who claims they can rank a website better.

Keep one thing firmly in mind. When you speak to multi-million dollar clients about SEO, speaking the right language is critical. You need to use the language of leadership.

Keyword-focused, SEO-siloed pitches won't work. You must focus on what really matters. Money, revenue, and profit. Not clicks, visits and search ranks.

This is what CEOs care about.

Awesome Article, em loving it, worth reading !!
Really it is an awesome article. But there is a little bit reason to be worried.
Great article. Metrics are really the only way to show a client that you’re doing your job as a SEO. Unfortunately, it’s easy to fool clients with metrics that don’t really matter, especially when the client knows very little about SEO.

What would you (the author or anyone reading this) say is the MOST important analytic metric to report?
Melanie Nathan
Hi Melanie - for me personally, our enterprise clients care mostly about 2 metrics: organic search traffic growth (month over month / year over year), and revenue growth per the organic search channel. I hope that helps..
A good article and a really sensible approach to adding value for companies and ensuring your a vital part of the clients digital growth strategy.

How did you get your initial client and then further customers, did they know you from the agency you worked at before, did you run your own marketing or outreach programme to get in front of senior business stakeholders?
Paul Carmen
Thanks, Paul.

I haven't done any cold calling, outreach marketing, or even picked up the phone to call a prospective client and drum up business. THEY are the ones who contact me. In fact, I don't even have sales people, it's just me!

So what did I do to get business coming in more or less by itself? Other than working long and hard for many years, gaining hands-on experience as a consultant, the BIG thing is this:

I share knowledge and connect with people... by helping out, offering free advice and tips, and giving without expecting something in return.

One thing leads to another.

I have published more than 50 meaty posts in my SEO columns at Search Engine Land and Marketing Land since 2011. I'm a contributor to the book "Google It: Total Information Awareness" (2016). I ‘ve posted on sites like Moz, SEObook, and try to publish as often as possible on my own personal blog and on my own company Search Planet's blog. I also speak at many SEO and business conferences in Norway.

All of this helps build an important asset: TRUST.

People trust me. At the time they first contact me, they've already read something I have published or heard me presenting at a conference. They trust me, are like-minded, and want to connect with me. Some come through recommendations from someone they know, like and trust. And when they run a Google search on me, they find that I've been the top ranked columnist at Search Engine Land for 5 years running, mentioned twice on Forbes, and once even made it onto the list of top 25 SEO experts in the world. Two of Norway's leading financial publications have featured 2-page interviews with me about SEO, presenting me as a trusted expert on the topic. (Continues, se next comment)
Trond Lyngbø
I'm not saying this to brag, but to highlight how this trust-building scenario came into being. It took a ton of effort to get all of it in place, initially. I made the investment because it was always vital to my plan that people trust me. When they research me to find out more, they will find breadcrumbs across the Web leading back to hard proof, evidence showing that I'm trustworthy - not because I say so myself, but because reputed and respected third-party authorities like Forbes do.

All of this does the "selling" for me. When clients contact me, they are already ready to buy. We only have to agree upon the budget :)

Working with these new clients also becomes easier, because they are usually willing to give me access to all their sensitive 'insider' data, whatever I ask for like analytics data, financial figures, strategy documents, customer data, and other confidential business information about anything. I personally believe that it's hard to do this without first establishing trust.

That's why I advise those who aren't yet doing it to start right away, and willingly share their knowledge, invest into people.

To distill it down to its simple essence: Blog Actively.

Blog, blog, blog - and keep blogging! Write in-depth posts to showcase your own expertise. Give away information that's valuable to a company looking for SEO guidance. Once they discover that you're truly a knowledgeable expert, they'll want to work with you... and that's how you'll win the hardest part of the battle.

This approach has worked very nicely for me over almost two decades. I'm sure it will work for anyone else who uses it, too.
Trond Lyngbø
Can you help me? I just sent a you email, Warren
Trond, you are absolutely right in that it takes 100s of hours of research on a new client to be able to present your strategy. It really IS such a gamble though, to invest that much in a client before they've even really invested in you. How do you figure out how long you should be spending on research on a new client when their budget is really low? Say I have two new clients. One client is in a niche I'm familiar with, so research will probably take less time, but their budget is a lot bigger. I'm guessing I would start researching more complex trends. A second client is a brand-new niche with limited budget. I'd have to spend hours doing the proper research to even get familiar with their industry. I'm just concerned about sinking more money into the lower budget client. What are your thoughts?
Jenny Stradling
I try my best to utilize my team in situations like this. I personally would designate someone else to do the preliminary research for the lower budget client, and then when I get the chance to look over it, I'd be able to dive deeper into the complexities and numbers immediately.
Great post, Trond! I think one thing forgotten in your first bullet list is - before you can delight them with your results you have to set their expectation. So often we have clients come to us (even large budget ones) who think SEO works overnight. I think giving them a realistic timeline (and updates along the way) is essential to retention. Would you agree?
Jenny Stradling
I agree completely, Jenny.

Setting realistic expectations is vital. I take an approach similar to that of a physician - "diagnose first, and only then prescribe". In other words, I invest a lot of time, effort and energy into finding out what the client needs.

It might seem that this is "wasteful" effort (especially if you don't land the client!) - but I get paid to run this Situational Analysis, and deliver an extensive report that is itself quite valuable to the business by itself i.e. even if they don't hire our firm for SEO services, if they fix problems in the Situational Analysis report, their business grows.

In more cases than otherwise, this extensive research is what convinces a potential client about your expertise/skill, and develops trust which is so critical when it comes to executing a plan. At this point, when you "educate" a new client about the timeline to expect results, they are more receptive to whatever you say, willing to wait more patiently, and allocate a sufficient budget that lets you work on a strategy than react tactically to meet short-term milestones.

I've rarely had to make the difficult call to walk away from an account because the decision-maker insisted on attaining certain near-term metrics, even after I explained how it would be counter-productive in the long run. But just as a patient will co-operate with a physician's treatment regime once she understands how it will help make her healthier, a trusting client will listen to your vision and plan for the future - if you denominate it in their business' best interests, backed by data and metrics.
Trond Lyngbø
You make a wonderful point about how the clients have to trust us to diagnose them properly. Very astute. I think there is a lot of hesitation for businesses to invest in SEO when they haven't before, but if they're sought out your services then that's a good indication that they are, at the very least, receptive to new ideas.
Jenny Stradling
I like when websites show analytics so that companies can see their money really is paying off with SEO.
Hi Trond,
Great article you have here, well written and informative. The tips you presented are remarkable. The on thing is know these strategies and the other is implementing them.

However, here's a simple strategies that works pretty well for me.

Before you start pitching big clients, you need to work out a system that is adjusted to the needs of the magnitude of client you want to work with..

Marshal Simmonds of Define Media SEO said, "the methodology that works for big brands is to “Organise, Analyse, Educate, Execute and then Track results”.

This is a great way to get big clients because all you do is first build trust and credibility by organizing their website, you analyze it to identify what's working and what doesn't work.

When you have these information in place, the you educate them about it and finally you execute. They will trust you for life - making you their #1 go-to.

Thanks a lot for sharing Trond!
Moss Clement
Moss, thanks for your nice comment. Yes, there's a big difference between knowing what to do, and actually doing it.

It has taken over ten years of working with BIG clients (with millions of pages of content, and multi-million dollar SEO budgets) to arrive at this winning approach. And the thing is that, conceptually, it is within the reach of any SEO consultant who is willing to adopt this model and "take a risk" (of investing some time, money and effort into being attractive to a large client).

While I enjoy simple formulae that make it easier to remember the principles involved, one thing I've learned over the years is that, when it comes to high-value clients, customization and personalization is the key. Any general, formulaic approach has its own limitations, unless they are, as you so correctly point out, "adjusted to the needs" and circumstances of a specific client.

Your summary of the seemingly complex process using Marshall Simmonds' 5 steps is excellent - and concise. Thank you for sharing it.
Really cool approach Trond! I agree with the sentiment. Powerful, information-packed post! I like that its very positive and encouraging, Not a lot of successful people reveal much about their process..!!
Saravanan Subramani
Thanks a lot, Saravana. I really appreciate it. You just landed the first comment on my first SEMrush blog post ever. Woohoo! :-)
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