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SEO as a Secondary Service




Kelsey: Hi everyone, welcome to today's SEMrush webinar. Today we're going to be talking about SEO as a secondary service. 

One of the first of our panelists is John Fairley, he is with Walker Sands Communications. He is the senior vice president of Demand Gen, and Walker Sands is a PR agency. He has experienced adding SEO as a secondary service in 2008, and he's been using SEMrush since 2009; that's a pretty long time, 10 years. 

John Fairley: Hey everyone.

Kelsey: Hey John. Our other panelist today is Liraz Postan. She is with LP Marketing Services. She's an international SEO and content expert. She helps brands and publishers grow through search engines. 

Liraz Postan: Hi, nice to meet you all.

Kelsey: And then we have our presenter for today, her name is Regina DiPerna. She is the content director and SEO lead at NewsCred. NewsCred specializes in the financial services vertical. 

When she's not helping brands win organically through the power of content, you can find her making and drinking craft cocktails and reading poetry, which sounds like a good combination.

Regina DiPerna: It definitely is, thank you.

Kelsey: Regina is going to give a presentation, and you can ask questions throughout the webinar in the comment box as you're watching. Then at the end of the video, there'll be a round table discussion with Liraz, and John, and Regina, and we're to answer some questions from the community. That being said, Regina, are you ready to get started?

Regina DiPerna: Yup, I'm ready. I will go ahead and share my screen.

Kelsey: Awesome.

What is SEO as a Secondary Service?

Regina DiPerna: Okay, fantastic. Off the bat, what is SEO as a secondary service? Well, basically it is a term that I made up. The definition of SEO as a secondary service is when SEO-related work is done by a team other than a dedicated SEO team.


As we mentioned here, SEO does not exist in a vacuum. Any team that creates digital content or is involved in any way with content published on a website has a pretty direct impact on that brand’s SEO performance. 

Now if you're working in a client agency capacity, your client may not necessarily see it this way. They think that they have perhaps their own dedicated SEO team, their PR team, their email team, their UX team, and so forth. And that all of those are totally separate disciplines and that those streams never cross, which of course is totally not true. 

Basically, if you work within one of these adjacent teams, you might be in the position of advising on SEO even if your client doesn't see the SEO connection.

Organic search is by far the primary channel people use to navigate to websites. According to SEO tribunal, search engines drove 93% of all website traffic in 2019. Yet, only 44% of businesses incorporate SEO into their digital marketing strategy. 

Basically less than half of businesses employ a dedicated SEO team whether that's in-house or through an agency or consultancy. That means that for the majority of businesses, website content strategy is run by non-SEO teams. 

What we're going to talk about today is how you can still do your due diligence as a "non-SEO-SEO team," and maybe even potentially upsell your client by showing the value of SEO services. 

Showing the Value of SEO Services

Let's start with an example. Let's hypothetically say you work at a content marketing agency as a content strategist, and you're working with your client on an editorial style content hub or blog. Your main responsibility is to drive the content strategy, which includes submitting article pitches and things like that.


Your client may not see their blog as an integral part of their funnel in order to build organic traffic and conversions. A lot of times brands think of their blog as powering channels like social and email without really understanding the organic potential. That puts you in a unique position to educate them about that potential.

You can start by asking them what their organic goals are, what their conversion goals are, what products and services are a priority right now at their business and so forth. Explain how SEO data-driven ideation as part of their content marketing program can help them reach those goals.

It really is an opportunity to educate your client on the value of SEO as it pertains to content marketing. It's an opportunity to build trust with your client and drive additional value within your partnership. Importantly, it's an opportunity to expand your services with your client. 

Even if you're working with a content marketing client that isn't that mature yet in their program, you can illustrate the value of SEO as it relates to their content marketing goals and efforts. If your client isn't working with an SEO team during the build of their blog, that's an opportunity to sell in SEO consulting services since, of course, how they structure the hub and where the hub lives, all of those considerations have massive impacts on organic performance.

These are just a few examples of how SEO as a secondary service and content marketing can cross streams, and how you can turn it into an opportunity. Let's look at another example. Let's say you work with a client on an email distribution campaign. Let's say you're not in the position of creating the content as you would be with content marketing, but rather you're in charge of selecting the pieces of content that will be featured in the email, and you're in charge of deploying said email.


Email and organic are, of course, totally separate traffic channels. However, SEO can have an impact there as well since broadly speaking highly searched evergreen topics tend to perform better on email channels than super niche topics. Looking at organic traffic data and understanding what the best-performing articles are in terms of search and why can actually help you select more strategically. 

Challenges of Upselling SEO Services

A lot of these SEO related issues can stem from a few key misconceptions about SEO as a discipline. The first issue is that your points of contact within your clients or organization, they might not have the in-depth knowledge about where SEO begins and ends that you do. The issue that it causes is that they may not be able to see the comprehensive value of SEO as a service.

The second issue is that your client points of contact may not be fully looped into the SEO initiatives that are already fully underway in their organization. This is particularly true for large enterprise organizations. Things like that can lead to silos and inefficiencies and that ultimately prevents your content from reaching its full potential. 

In summary, applying the SEO knowledge that you have to other disciplines where it's applicable can help lift performance, can improve your standing with a client, and can lead to upsells and build trust over time. 

What are the major hurdles that you might encounter when attempting to showcase your SEO knowledge within a different discipline? Well, the first is that your client may not understand how SEO can tie in with what you do. We've covered a few examples of this already, but it's worth mentioning again here since it's probably the number one issue.


Secondly, your client may not even know that your team or organization has SEO capabilities. If you're in a content marketing team, or a social team, or even a web development team, your client may assume that your expertise begins and ends there.

What's the solution? The first and major piece of this is to educate your clients; educate them on how SEO impacts your team's primary offering, and educate them on SEO best practices. This could be something as small as sending them an on-page optimization checklist or even as big as doing a full-scale technical audit of their site and discussing the findings with them.

Another important part of the solution here is to find productive solutions to silos. There could be opportunities to collaborate with other teams including even SEO teams, but you might be missing them due to the internal structures within their organization. One of the major solutions here lies in the technology you're using. For instance, are you creating content in a platform that is transparent and collaborative, or are you creating content in a closed ecosystem like via email, for example?


Essentially making the content pitching production and publication a truly cross-team affair can help open up new opportunities within your organization, both in terms of SEO and not. 

That actually brings us to hurdle number two. In an open, transparent, and highly communicative cross-team relationship, working with other agencies or teams within your client's organization can be great. However, the worst-case scenario is when there's another team that is sort of inadvertently obstructing your SEO efforts.


Let's say your client is doing an internal refresh of their content, which is fantastic in theory, but as part of that one of the other teams they're working with just straight-up deletes pages that they've determined don't have value anymore rather than redirecting them. Doing this would, of course, result in 404 errors on the site, which you know has negative implications as an SEO. You know that the right solution is just strategically 301 redirect those URLs. 

What is a non-SEO-SEO team to do when working with other agencies or teams goes awry? The first solution is, of course, to collaborate and communicate. You can think of these challenges as an opportunity to build a relationship and strengthen it by providing constructive solutions.


Find the right way to reach out to the teams that are involved and be instructive on what the issues are, how they impact SEO, how they impact even other channels, and importantly, provide recommended solutions that are backed up by data and research.

There will, of course, be times when your recommendations will not be taken for one reason or another. Other digital marketing teams will not always necessarily do the right thing for SEO if other initiatives are a bigger priority. Just remember to take small losses to advance the greater cause of building trust with your client.

Okay, so the third hurdle we're going to talk about today is a big one. Let's say you do everything right. You advise your client on SEO best practices, and they sign off on your team doing SEO related work. Okay, great, but then what happens?


You're not a dedicated SEO team, so you might not have processes that are in place for executing on and implementing that work, so what do you do? The solution, of course, is to establish those processes for the execution of SEO related initiatives. 

Let's say you've gotten the client sign off to update meta descriptions and title tags for your client's blog. From there you host a discovery call with your clients content team, and you learn that one of the biggest bottlenecks is with the tech team that actually implements those types of updates.

You could look into the possibility of making those updates manually in the client CMS and build a process around that. Or alternatively, you could time your updates such that they can be implemented during the next implementation sprint. Working with tools that help to build SEO into these types of processes is critical. 

This point can be a good time to introduce new platforms and tech that can help simplify the process. For instance, ensuring that your CMS even has the capability to easily create important SEO fields like title tags and meta descriptions, or that you're working with an on-page content optimizer to ensure that you and anyone else writing and editing content can ensure that they're following through on the keyword strategy that you've established.


The bottom line is that if you're able to execute on SEO related work as seamlessly as possible, you'll reduce the burden on your client and continue to build a case for SEO. 

Okay, this last hurdle is probably the biggest issue that a non-SEO-SEO team faces. Let's say you work in content marketing, or PR, or copywriting, it can be super challenging to get internal buy-in at your organization for offering SEO as a service.


Getting attention and resources for SEO initiatives can be very challenging if you're not part of a dedicated SEO team, but it is not impossible. The solution here again is to educate internally. If you're able to help illustrate how SEO impacts your team's primary services, getting colleagues and management onboard will be a whole lot easier. This will involve taking some independent initiative, so for instance, host internal workshops, host training.


In addition to that, an important way to illustrate and educate is to build case studies from the SEO work that you are able to do and share that with your company. Showing positive performance data as part of a case study is a super important way to illustrate the value of SEO and just provide the company as a whole with an incentive to continue building it into your offerings. 

That was all I had for today, thank you so much for listening. Kelsey, I will turn it back over to you for the Q&A.

How SEO and PPC Departments Can Work Together

Kelsey: Awesome, thank you so much. Joel is asking, and anyone can answer this, any of our experts. Which ways do you find that an SEO department and a PPC department, so paid search, can help each other perform better?

Liraz Postan: I think that's a great question. Basically, SEO and PPC can work really close together and generate really great results. Most of the times PPC is let's say the SEO pain point because the SEO takes time to see the results and everything. 

PPC; it's instant, you can see if this meta title worksб if this page is converting or not. Sometimes they can even focus on this piece of content, which is, I don't know, like the CPC is very high for it. By moving for an SEO strategy and winning the keyword ranking, it basically will allow you to win those results and lower the budget on the other (PPC) end. 

When working with PPC and SEOб you can improve together the quality score because SEO comes from content and technical point of view. You can optimize your landing pages and basically give them a lot of value.

Kelsey: Yeah, that's a good summary I think. Regina or John, do you have any comments on that?

Regina DiPerna: Yeah, I would definitely say PPC, I think it's especially important to think about the entire funnel. A lot of times in content marketing we're really focused on top and mid-funnel content, very long-tail keywords and long-form content, and sort of like building awareness, and building content that answers questions. 

It's really important to be in contact with your partners that may be running PPC to figure out like what sort of like at the bottom-funnel at the product level.

John Fairley: Yeah, and I would just add that the content calendar is probably the glue for all of those different channels. Every time a new piece of content is being created and promoted on the website, you have an opportunity to have an organic search strategy for that as well. 

Sometimes it might mean that we actually create a separate page just for organic and one just for our PPC landing pages. 

How to Bill for SEO Services

Kelsey: Yeah, good... Tony was asking, "What's the best way to bill for an add-on of SEO? Should you do a package that combines the services you already have or is it more of an a la carte?" 

Regina DiPerna: I think ultimately the question of how to sell SEO, how to upsell SEO is really a conversation to have within your organization. But I certainly think that there are use cases for both of the models mentioned. 

SEO is an ongoing service and SEO is advisory, but also there are certainly cases for standalone like as they put it, a la carte items. For instance, like doing a full comprehensive content audit, that is an ala carte item that you could sell ala carte, but that also might lead to ongoing SEO services. 

Kelsey: Should you bill a flat rate or bill by improved performance?

Regina DiPerna: For SEO I'm always a little bit hesitant to base any pricing around performance just because there are so many factors. I mean there are hundreds of things that can determine a page’s let alone an entire website's organic success. A lot of that is out of your hands. 

I would say it's really more about doing it based on what are best practices and basing your services around like slowly building an SEO program and working towards a fully functioning SEO strategy.

Kelsey: Yeah, I think that's good because I would say to customers if they are working with an agency that's promising results like, "We'll get you to page one of Google in three months." I would almost be cautious of that because you just never know in SEO like you were saying there are so many other factors that SEO isn't responsible for.

Regina DiPerna: Right, I mean let's say there's a really expansive algorithm update, or even let's say you're doing everything right, and one of your competitors just swoops in from nowhere because they've improved their SEO strategy. 

How to Build Credibility in SEO When Starting Out

Kelsey: Yeah, for sure. “How can an agency or a company build credibility in SEO if they are just starting out?”

John Fairley: I think it starts out in the sales process, so when you first establish the relationship with the prospect and then ultimately the client. If you don't tell them you're an SEO, if your website doesn't show SEO, it's going to be very hard for you to establish that credibility. 

Also, what I like to do in the sales process or when they first kick off even if we just sell them PR services, is to get access to their Google Analytics and to their search console. Then your team can start doing investigations to see if there's any real need, immediate need. I would say 99% of the prospects we've worked with, they have SEO issues that should be resolved immediately. 

Kelsey: Yeah, for sure. If the client that you're talking about SEO with doesn't show any interest in getting SEO wins despite you showing how other companies have maybe done it or some case studies. Is there a way to prove to them that SEO is worth the cost, or worth the time and effort, or organically what it can do for them? Do you have strategies for that that can help agencies sell SEO as a secondary service?

Liraz Postan: Yeah, sure. The answer for everything is data. If I can show what they're missing or let's say anything that their strategy is missing from the paid side or PR side, that can easily get them on board with me. 

I would aim for quick points. I would aim for the bottom of the funnel first. I would aim for how they look in terms of the other competition looks. By that, I will slowly start building trust. 

Kelsey: For sure. That goes along with the question that Jules is asking who's watching today, hi Jules. Do you suggest charging for the SEO audit or is that something free that you could offer to get your foot in the door?

Regina DiPerna: I would say definitely charge for it. A truly comprehensive SEO audit is a lot of legwork. I would highly recommend charging for it.

John Fairley: Yeah, and I would say that what we usually do before we recommend an audit is we do a small, mini audit that might take a half an hour, run through the site just to say, "Yes, there's actual opportunity." 

Usually, you'll come up with a couple of good nuggets there. And even if they don't go for the audit, you've added value to the prospect or to the client, and then they'll often come back. 

Another great time to introduce SEO services is if they're doing a site redesign because everything is going to change, the content is going to change, URL paths are likely to change, everything. They're very scared often of losing the SEO value that they've built up over the years, and it's a great opportunity to come in and say that you can help them.

Best Collaborative Software for SEO Initiatives

Kelsey: Let's see, another question we had. What are some examples of some software or technology that helps siloed teams collaborate on SEO initiatives?

Regina DiPerna: NewsCred, we specialize in content marketing, but also integrated marketing. I think the key piece there is breaking down those silos. I mean I can speak to how our own platform works, which is it helps to get a lot of different teams across the organization in a single platform that is easy to use, is very like content forward and also serves as ostensibly like megaproject management. 

I also think things like SEMrush has a lot of like incredible capabilities that can really help display the value of data. Anything that you can do to get out of email when you're collaborating with teams I generally find it's useful because like I mentioned in the webinar, that is a closed ecosystem.

Liraz Postan: I would also add that I use personally Google Docs. Everything is visible to everyone. They can comment, they can share their point of view. 

And task management platform; I use currently Monday.com, which basically helps me to collaborate with different organizations, different teams in an organization, different departments, even across the sea. Everything is like very visible to everyone and this allows me to tag people if I want to ask something, for their opinion.

John Fairley: Yeah, we use Trello... it's a good collaborative tool. You can tag people in it. I'd say an interesting way to get the content team aligned is they really want their content to be successful

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. I just heard about a tool called Notion, and it's supposed to take all the tools and put them into one like Google Doc, Trello, Asana, whatever. I'm going to check that out. 

Okay, somebody asked in the audience: “some clients don't prefer to provide their Google Analytics or search console access. In that case what tools or things do you do when you're running an SEO audit or gathering initial information to present to the client?”

Regina DiPerna: One of the other great things about the NewsCred platform is we actually have our own proprietary analytics. If you are fully integrated into our platform, there's really like a very powerful analytics capability. It's great for clients because they can see it too and everyone in their organization can keep tabs on it.

But I will also say in the past if we run into issues like this, using a tool like SEMrush, and I'm not just placating you, is genuinely very helpful because you're able to see like things like traffic estimates. You're able to get real-time ranking data, things like that. Even if you don't have hard performance data, you can do a lot of fantastic forecasting from SEMrush, and other tools like that.

Liraz Postan: Yes, Screaming Frog, SEMrush, DeepCrawl, Sitebulb...I have tons of tools. I'm trying to get a lot of data, different aspects from each tool, but sometimes if you just stick with one tool it gives you a narrow picture. What I'm trying to do is look at several tools and see a wider picture and get the SEO data from that, that the SEO audit.

Kelsey: John, it's interesting because Walker Sands is a PR agency, so how do PR and SEO intersect?

John Fairley: PR is actually close in some ways. We don't refer to link building as link building, we refer to it as link earning because that's really what you're trying to do. It's very analogous to what the PR teams do when they build media lists. 

Secondary SEO vs In-house SEO

Kelsey: Let's see, I think we have one more question and then I'll ask everyone for their final advice or thoughts. Is there a difference between tackling SEO as a secondary service from that angle versus in-house at a brand? 

I know when I worked at agencies in the past just when SEO was starting to get popular or continue to grow about 10 years ago, there was some resistance to SEO in-house. Does anybody have any insight on that, that would be helpful for the audience?

Liraz Postan: There are differences. When you're in-house SEO, you've got a lot more data and a lot more insights. When an agency is a bit far from this and they are a third party, sometimes with the organization doesn't want to share those thoughts and doesn't want to share and delegate things. When you're in-house, we would have a lot more data that you can use in order to convince the other teams to work with you to solve those pain points. 

When we were in agency and you don't have this information, it's really hard for you to get all those insights. It's a very delicate positioning. There is a problem with internal politics sometimes.

Sometimes there are a lot of things that are happening inside the organization when you're stepping in on someone else's toes. And you can't know that when you're outside. This is why it's best to have a lot of meetings even when you're doing one service and you have one contact point. 

Just make sure that you're doing, I don't know like monthly meetings with other teams just to explore, just to hear other things and not be on the outside of the organization. You've got to make them, your clients, believe that you're a part of their organization even though that you're basically not. This is something that will build trust over time.

Kelsey: Anyone else has any insight?

Regina DiPerna: I definitely agree with that 100%. I would also just add on that we've established that it can be really tricky to sell SEO as a secondary service when you're an agency and some of the challenges around that. 

I will also say in some cases working at an agency can actually be an asset in that capacity because to a degree your client is paying you to innovate and to advise. Whereas, I think with the internal teams there's just more of an expectation that like, here is how we're already established. This is how we're working, so I think sort of fighting that battle internally can definitely be in some cases a little challenging. As Liraz mentioned earlier using data to help make a case for it I think is key to winning in the long term.

Closing Thoughts on SEO as a Secondary Service

Kelsey: Perfect. Regina, since you were talking and we have about five minutes left, do you have any parting words or any other wisdom, pearls of advice that you can share?

Regina DiPerna: I would just say, to echo the presentation from earlier, communication really is key. And this is true whether you're establishing trust as it relates to SEO, but also even more broadly for creating an ongoing true partnership with either a client or internally within your own organization. 

Kelsey: I like it. John, what about you?

John Fairley: I would echo that celebrating the wins even if they're not done by your SEO team, they're done by the client, builds a lot of trust. When their developers do something right and you praise them, and you show them the awesome results they've gotten, that does a lot towards building trust.

Kelsey: For sure. Liraz?

Liraz Postan: Anything that you can do in order to shine others through SEO and show them how SEO can basically benefit. 

Kelsey: All right, well that's it for today. Be sure to follow SEMrush on Twitter. If you have any other questions we can probably get that to our panelists as well through Twitter. Thank you all for coming today, it was really insightful. We will see everyone next time, thank you, bye.

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