Despite changes in the digital advertising age, SEO – Search Engine Optimization – services are still very much in demand. In fact, 93% of online experiences start with a search, usually through the most popular search engine Google. Knowing this it’s safe to assume that SEO isn’t dead, at all, but changes often and will need the advice of a true professional to stay on top of trends.
While there’s no specific or formal training that you need to do work as an SEO professional, it’s helpful to have a background or some experience in marketing and sales. Not only will it give you some common ground when consulting with your clients, but you’ll have the tactics needed to find, attract with great proposal templates, and retain clients for your freelance business.
If you are completely new to selling, however, it’s still possible to have a viable SEO business by implementing some proven prospecting methods. Read on to see how you can get SEO clients in record time.
It should go without saying, but you should best display your professional skills by using them. If your own freelance portfolio website isn’t coming up well in search, then you have a huge opportunity to polish your SEO results before reaching out to clients. While some of the terms are so broad – and popular – that ranking for them might be impossible, there are many terms you can try to rank for that will not only help you reach those who are looking for SEO help, but will demonstrate that you really do know what you are doing.
Start by choosing the geographic area that you either operate in – or that you wish to focus. Large cities should have the surrounding suburbs included in keywords. “SEO New York” or “SEO New York City” can be supported by terms like “SEO expert Highland Park.” Since Highland Park is a fast-growing suburb of NYC, this makes sense to include.
You should also try to rank for keywords that are close to the problem people are trying to solve. It’s not as likely that someone would type in the terms “SEO NYC.” They may, however, type in “how to rank on Google.” You could use a combination of targeted geographic ads – and the questions people will be typing into Google – to get a good result in search. Other key terms to rank for may include search terms that reflect:
Recent Google updates
Solutions to manual penalties
How to choose and vet an SEO expert
Red flags to watch for
The cost of an SEO service
How to do various SEO tasks (such as build incoming links, gain higher rank, etc.)
The differences between “good” and “bad” links
How Googles services work
As inspiration for ideas for new keywords, check the forums and sites of webmasters and business owners and look for often-repeated phrases, similar groups of questions, and common challenges. Remember that the words an SEO expert may use will vary somewhat from what a business owner uses. They aren’t familiar with all of the technicalities of the industry, so try using keywords that reflect the average Google user, such as “what’s causing this drop in traffic?”
1. Content marketing
One of the most popular – and talked about – methods of getting the word out, content marketing can include blog posts, articles, and social media campaigns that create an opportunity for you to establish yourself as an expert. The content can answer questions, give advice, and eventually point the reader to you and your services for more advanced or personalized solutions.
While hosting this content on your own website or blog makes sense, it won’t likely get the most views – unless you have done an extremely good job of positioning every blog post well in Google search. The best way to gain visibility is to offer to guest post on sites that take content, use channels like Medium to share your articles, or distribute your advice as articles on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to follow the rules for Google; if you’ve syndicated the blog post to several places, don’t allow the engine to index the article more than once. Use social media to amplify.
2. Be helpful
While it’s not recommended that you work for free, you may have to do some extra community building when first learning how to get SEO clients. For that reason, giving basic advice and guidance (in a community setting) is encouraged. It can be difficult for potential customers to know where to start, or that they even need an SEO expert. By participating in forums and community sites regularly, you can establish yourself as proficient in your field, and get a reputation for being genuine, helpful, and friendly.
Other ways to connect with future clients include:
Focus on unanswered questions or those that seem to have not had much activity. There is nothing more frustrating to a user than posting and not getting any viable responses to your questions. Be the one who saves the day, and get some attention for your services!
3. Solicit referrals
You’ll need at least a few clients established and happy before this one works, but after you’ve gotten up and running, referrals are the quickest and most profitable way to grow your freelance business. There are a few ways to ask your current or former clients for extra work from their friends or colleagues. (Just make sure, if they were formal clients, that you left on good terms.)
Start by creating a formal “referral” or affiliate program. Let your clients know that you will give them a discount on future services for every lead they send you that turns into a viable client. Let them know about this program on every invoice you send out. Be sure you follow up with all leads promptly and encourage clients who haven’t referred in awhile to continue sharing!
For people you know who aren’t clients because they don’t work in related industries, offer to give them a percentage of each new client contract you sign from their leads. This cash kick-back can be paid however you wish, but be sure to track it for tax purposes! Some companies send out one big payment at the end of the year as a holiday gift.
If you can’t afford to give a cut of your earnings for referrals, you can still participate in good, old-fashioned referral solicitation. Just ask your colleagues, friends, families, and those happy clients if they know of anyone who could use your services. You’d be surprised how coming out and asking can be so simple – and effective. Do this at least once a year, and utilize tools like LinkedIn to stay connected with your peers and track your conversations.
4. Monitor milestones
Still stumped on how to get SEO clients that will pay? Companies are more likely to invest in SEO services when they have experienced a big win, major growth goal, or funding. Follow news updates on companies you’d like to work with, and reach out when it seems that they are ready to take the plunge. You can also use sites that specifically track and announce angel and seed funding, making a note of those businesses that seem like a good fit. Angel List is a good resource to find start-ups and newly-funded projects that are hiring; even if they don’t need SEO now, the fact they are expanding with new talent means that they are open to spending for it.
If you don’t have a connection at a company, reach out and send your congrats. Email is fine, but if you can get a physical address, it goes much further to print out a copy of the news story and put it into a physical card or letter. It shows that you are pro-active, hands-on, personal, and watchful – all things that are good qualities in an SEO professional.
It’s also easier to send out a targeted and convincing proposal when you have your finger on the pulse of a company’s recent wins and challenges. (Before you send out that first bid, be sure to see Bonsai’s proposal templates.)
5. Knock on doors
While this doesn’t have to mean going door-to-door in a literal sense, it doesn’t hurt to get to know the businesses in your city and neighborhood. You may choose to visit the companies in person, or you can place phone calls. Other people get rather clever with their email campaigns and personalize their outreach with copy that is meaningful for people in the area. Whatever you choose to do, don’t neglect those that live closest to you.
6. Attend select events
Marketing conferences and SEO events are common these days. While they can be a clever way to get to know other peers in the industry (or competition, rather), they are more of an echo chamber than a way to get new clients. Instead, think of reaching out to your ideal client in an atmosphere where you may be the only SEO expert attending. As long as the conference allows non-members of the association or group that is hosting, you should be welcome to join the event.
What kind of niches are you most eager to serve? Insurance, medical, education, automotive, media, and even the baby products industry all have companies with website needs look for ways to reach their target audience. By attending, being helpful in your interactions, and participating in genuine community (not just trying to sell), you can make those connections that will later turn into warm leads and finally even clients.
Save money by attending events close to you, or choosing to travel just select times during the year. You can check sites like Eventbrite, which sell event tickets, to see all of the things happening in a certain city for any month of the year. Facebook events is also a good way to scout out new event opportunities in your area of interest. In time, you’ll figure out how to get SEO clients most economically.
7. Sponsor meet-ups
Even better than attending someone else’s event is hosting your own. You don’t have to have a lavish event to get attendees. Doing a small, informal meetup at a brewery or restaurant can be a fun way to get to know people with SEO needs. Offer to buy the food, and see who shows up! While it can be tempting to think that only freeloading dinner-seekers will attend, the truth is that most business owners are too busy to pursue free eats unless there is a chance for them to get one of their business problems solved. See everyone who attends as a potential prospect, but don’t forget to genuinely listen, reach out as a helper, and enjoy yourself, too. (Don’t forget to check Bonsai’s tips for getting new clients, too.)
8. Create demand
Perception really does matter in the marketing of your business, so – even if you are desperate for clients – never seem that you are. The moment you think that you may fill up with active clients, set up a waiting list by email newsletter subscription so that you can keep track of those who want to do work with you, but you may not have room for, at the moment. By being upfront that you are in demand, you keep people interested; prospects are more likely to want to work with someone who is continually filling their calendar.
9. Target buyers
All successful freelancers struggle with qualifying leads, and no one wants to waste time consulting with a tire-kicker. To avoid spending too much time figuring out if someone has the money to spend with you, try creating a targeted list of people who are already spending money to solve their digital marketing problems.
Places that you can check to see if a prospect is spending money include the ad section of website magazines or events. Most big conferences have a list of attendees; if a company can afford to send two of their team to a $1,000 conference, it’s likely they have a marketing budget that has room for SEO.
10. Create case studies
There are a lot of places in the world where it is inappropriate to brag about your accomplishments. SEO is not one of them. In fact, why not round-up your best client outcomes in one document that you can house on your website or send to people who sign up for your newsletter? Case studies are incredibly effective, and they show prospects that you understand goal-setting and measuring results.
You do not have to be a professional writer to put one together. Many writers charge between $1,000 and $10,000 for a well-written case study, so this is one task that really pays to DIY. Fortunately, there are many guides on how to write a case study available for free online; try your hand at putting one together, and, if you decide to pay a writer, have them just do the editing.
11. Offer white labeling
It can be hard to break into certain industries, at first. That’s where white labeling can be incredibly useful. By offering your services to the head of a professional trade group that represents several member companies, such as a group of financial professionals or doctors, you can earn 10-100 clients at once! Partner with a design or developmental agency to create a white label solution that the organization can then provide to their members for a reduced fee or free if they want. They pay you for services, but they keep the branding. It’s a win-win, and an incredible way for the organization to market their member benefits.
12. Start now for best results
As you can see, there are at least a dozen ways to identify, nurture, and sign new clients for SEO services. Since anyone who markets online is a potential lead, it’s just a matter of time before you get the hang of figuring out where the most eligible prospects can be found. The key is to be consistent with your efforts, and don’t put off the hard work of finding new work until you most need it.
Many SEO professionals make a goal to reach out to at least 10-25 new prospects a week, through a combination of efforts listed above. You can choose to focus on industry, business size, or method of pitching. As long as you are putting in the time to prospect, you’ll never be disappointed in the number of new clients you can bring on board. Remember, once you have a full roster, don’t stop selling! One of the signs of a successful SEO business is that you may have to turn clients away!
Congrats! You now know how to get SEO clients. Need to brush up on your skills? Start with the basics in the Bonsai guide that shows you how to become an SEO expert.