How to Sell SEO Services to Local Businesses

How to Sell SEO Services to Local Businesses
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TL;DR
  • Don't use a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to selling local SEO. Consider that every local business has its own needs, expectations, and experiences with SEO.
  • Avoid the temptation to offer a guarantee of success in the form of traffic or rankings. Google actually warns businesses to be wary of agencies that do.
  • Fill your pitches with expert quotes and statistics from authoritative third parties to reinforce how effective your services can be.
  • Show examples of your reports, but make sure they include your unique insights, so that potential clients can see your expertise and experience in action.

We all know that competition for the top spot on Google is intense, and for some industries it may not be realistic to expect that a small business client will ever reach the highest echelons of the SERPs. A local mom and pop store is unlikely to ever accrue enough SEO juice to topple a behemoth like Amazon or Walmart for the terms they want, for example.

As an SEO agency, this can make selling your services to small business owners very difficult. Knowing how to sell SEO services to local businesses can make the difference between a bungled pitch and getting a client for life. An opportunity does exist however within the field of local SEO. While it isn’t as sheer a cliff face to climb as the main search results, ranking for local search is getting harder. There are two core reasons for this;

  1. Google has reduced the size of the local pack over time, switching from seven results to just three. Fewer spots mean more intense competition.
  2. More and more data is emerging showing that local search is often driven by strong purchase intent. According to Wordstream, 72% of consumers conducting a local search will visit a physical store within 5 miles of their location.

It’s no longer easy for businesses to successfully execute their own local search campaigns but it’s also impossible to ignore. As Search Engine Land columnist Jayson DeMers says,

“Now that the internet has become the primary source consumers turn to for local business information, not showing up in local search is tantamount to professional suicide.”

As an agency, this gives you a great deal of leverage when it comes to selling SEO services to local businesses. Read on for our top tips to refine your local SEO sales strategy and grow your client list.

1. Trash the one-size-fits-all approach

While it’s fair to say that the mechanics of a successful local SEO campaign are similar no matter the client (growing an incredible review profile, creating local content, link building, building citations) your sales prospect doesn’t want to feel like they’re one of a conveyor belt of clients.

BrightLocal’s Myles Anderson advises saying less and listening more:

“Once you’ve managed to get a potential customer on the phone, you might feel under pressure to talk quickly and give them as much information as you can. You want them to know what you do and how you can ‘help’ them, after all!

“But in fact, all you’re doing is overloading that person with information before you know much about them. This is a real frustration for business owners—and an instant turn-off.

“Business owners know a ton more about their business and market than you probably do. So you need to encourage them to tell you about their business, their customers, their competitors, and the challenges they face. Then, you can use this information to showcase your knowledge and tailor your services to meet their individual needs.”

Shutting up and letting your prospect speak helps you to get to know your potential client quickly. From observing rather than leading the conversation, you should be able to gauge their level of expertise, their pain points, and their objectives. Armed with this knowledge, you can create a tailored pitch that really strikes a chord.

2. Don’t make guarantees

If your prospect has been burned by SEO agencies in the past—or they are considering making a significant investment in your local optimization solutions—they’re likely to ask for guarantees. At the very least, they will want to know what they can expect in return for their spend.

The trick here is to focus on achievable, realistic results. SEO results can’t be guaranteed—Google tells businesses to be wary of SEOs guaranteeing positions so if this is a practice you’re guilty of, it might be time to adjust your entire sales strategy.

Instead, focus on things that you can deliver—such as how much contact time your client can expect, how many reports they’ll receive and how many man hours you’ll spend working on their campaign. Provide projects and forecasts if appropriate but ensure you caveat those predictions with an explanation of why those rankings aren’t guaranteed.

3. Use statistics and expert quotes in your pitches

There is an abundance of statistics and quotes from seasoned experts which highlight the importance of local SEO. Source a crop of compelling figures to include in your presentations to underline the value of what you’re selling. Data from authoritative third parties adds credibility, authority, and trustworthiness to your pitch. Try these to get started:

4. Showcase your knowledge on your site

As an SEO agency, you won’t need any convincing when it comes to the importance of content, but are you using your blog to offer advice specifically related to local SEO? If not, create a content plan which focuses on local SEO topics. HubSpot’s pillar and cluster approach to content creation will be useful here. It makes it easier to create both overview and detailed posts around local SEO subjects, especially when you’re too busy delivering results to clients to spend a lot of time on content.

Showcasing your expertise via your blog will likely help you to build your lead pipeline, but you can also pass specific post links to prospects as they relate to questions and topics discussed during the pitch and presentation stages. If, for example, your lead asks about reviews and this is a topic covered on your blog, you have a great excuse to follow up your meeting with a helpful email linking the prospect to your blog post.

5. Explain the secondary benefits of local SEO

Many of the activities you’ll need to conduct to boost local SEO will have secondary benefits for your client. Take the time to walk through each of these benefits so they appreciate the value for money and usefulness of your service.

Reputation management helps to improve service quality, for example, and link building via involvement in the community can aid with brand building and visibility. If you carry out digital PR to help build local back links, you may spend some time generating local media coverage which can increase footfall in store.

There’s hardly a single area of local SEO that doesn’t have a positive knock-on effect elsewhere, so be sure to communicate these to your clients with examples during your pitch.

6. Manage expectations

There is nothing worse than working hard to sign a new client only to have to explain a few weeks in that what the client is expecting from you is vastly different to what you’ve actually sold them. Avoid this by being upfront about that fact that local SEO is a marathon, not a sprint before contracts are signed. You can do it quickly, which will return short-lived results, or you can invest in it on an ongoing basis, and see better and more stable results in the long run.

It can be frustrating from a client’s perspective to see regular debits coming out of the account but very little progress in terms of rankings first off, so along with making secondary benefits clear, being transparent about timeframes from the outset sets the stage for a happier client relationship before a contract is signed.

7. Provide report examples

This is especially important if your client has been burned by SEO agencies in the past. Providing report examples not only helps to paint a clearer picture of your service, it also demonstrates accountability which can swing the pitch in your favor.

This is a chance to show added value, too, by highlighting analysis and recommendations along with reports. It’s very easy for people to just log into Google Analytics and work their way through the results there, so it’s key that you indicate the additional expertise that your reports bring to the table. Bear in mind that your competitors may well be doing the same, so you have to make sure these first reports are stuffed with the best insights you can offer.

8. Cherry-pick the most relevant client testimonials

Google advises businesses seeking an SEO agency to ask questions such as:

  • Can you show me examples of your previous work and share some success stories?
  • What’s your experience in my industry?
  • What’s your experience in my country/city?

You can turn this to your advantage by having client testimonials relevant to your prospect ready to share. Businesses want to see what you’ve achieved for firms like them when trying to gauge what value you might bring to their organization. Sharing testimonials from clients in the same industry and the same local area shows that you’re comfortable with the job at hand and capable of making a difference. It also demonstrates that you understand their business sector and location and suggests you can hit the ground running if they commission your services.

9. Share your local knowledge

Demonstrate knowledge of the business’ location in person. You’ll likely be focusing on their local area throughout much of the optimization process so it’s good to show that you have an understanding of the foibles of that particular area. This might include referencing local competitors or picking up on an incorrect address listing.

10. Pinpoint their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses

Conduct competitor research ahead of your presentation so that you can show how your prospect’s competitors are performing. Explain what they’re doing right to be in their position, then share what you’ll do differently (or the same but better) to beat them. Small business owners will know their competitors well, and the emotional satisfaction of beating them is a powerful incentive.

We’d love to hear your thoughts

If you’re an SEO professional, how do you ensure you ace your local SEO pitches? What’s your best sales technique or tip for closing a local SEO contract? We’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.

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10 thoughts on “How to Sell SEO Services to Local Businesses”

  1. I’ve never been one to make guarantees when it comes to SEO, and I’ve always criticized people who do for more or less outright lying, but I do have to admit that “If you give me your money, I might be able to help your business, or I might end up accomplishing absolutely nothing and your money will be completely wasted” isn’t the greatest sales pitch either 😛

    1. Hi Mike,

      Haha, yes I agree, which is why the only guarantees you can make are that you are a trained professional with a proven track record of success and that you’ll use all available resources to deliver it.

      It’s all about education. If an SEO can’t get a potential client to understand how SEO works, and they continue to insist on guarantees, then either the SEO isn’t doing their job properly or the client isn’t worth the hassle they’ll eventually become. Guaranteeing ranking positions is a great way to set yourself up for failure, as is dealing with someone who offers those guarantees.

      Jamie

  2. Hey Jamie,

    I love this article! I just started my SEO business, and the biggest struggle I have right now is getting clients. I work a 9-5 so the only tactic I have to contact customers is sending emails. I need to change my strategy!

    -Navi

    1. Hi Navi, thanks for your comment. It’s worth trying a host of strategies, but the key is to try one at a time rather than all at once, so you can easily see what’s working.

      Best of luck with your client acquisition strategies!

      Jamie

  3. I agree with all four key takeaways in this report.

    Trust is always one of the biggest obstacles to overcome so another one, I think, could be lead by example i.e. demonstrate that you practice what you preach. If you’re going to explain the criticality of having reviews, then you had better have some yourself. If you’re going to explain the importance of local links then you had better have some examples of links you have for your own business. Same for local content and of course prominence in the local business results for your own business, including the basics like properly drafted titles, descriptions etc.

    Another one might be to generate your leads by referral based on great customer service. Those leads hardly require closing. Your referrer already did most of the work for you so all you have to do is fill in the gaps.

    1. Hi Ewan,

      Thanks for your comment – absolutely agree, leading by example is the way to go. If customers are to trust that you can do the job, you need to use your own business as a shopfront for your skills.

      Rosie

  4. Thanks Jamie! This is a very good article.

    I do – however – have some reservations about going in a complete opposite direction of guaranteeing rankings and traffic. What I mean is that I agree that we (agencies) should never guarantee position or traffic, etc. through SEO campaigns.

    But I feel like if all we offer up is reports and our time, then we might as well not show up to offer our services. SEO agencies are supposed to be able to make gains for clients. It is always my goal. I want to help clients grow their business. I will ‘at the very least’ explain that we are striving to move toward top positions and more customers to the door. I believe I can deliver movement and more customers. Otherwise, I shouldn’t be in this business.

    And without a level of success in doing this, how can I grow my own business. Because it truly takes client referrals to scale (in my opinion).

    Thanks again!

    Bryan R.

    1. Thanks Bryan, glad you enjoyed the article.

      I think it’s obviously necessary to communicate the goals your’re striving for, but the issue is always one of education and managing expectations by making sure the client truly understands the various uncontrollable factors that can affect or impede an SEO campaign. I think we should all be guaranteeing things that we’re in complete control of, e.g. regular communications, positive attitude, jargon-free reporting, etc., but when it comes to things we can only attempt to influence it’s a better tactic to educate the client and ensure consistent communication of results and, crucially, the reasons for those results (going above and beyond the ‘reports and our time’ you mentioned in your comment).

      Thanks

      Jamie

  5. While I agree that packaging can pigeon-hole customers into receiving a less customized solution that might ultimately lead to a higher marketing ROI; as a consumer it irritates me to no end not having access to some sort of pricing expectation that can be found on the pricing/service landing page or website.

    I like giving ranges of pricing that can be tailored depending on:
    1. How much content and/or outreach they need
    2. How soon they want it completed
    3. Limitations of their monthly budget spend

    The only reason I would digress from the above is if you’re selling one off services like:
    1. Website audits
    2. Content strategies/calendars
    3. A fixed number of citations, outreach posts (guestposts, guestographics, interviews) etc.

    1. Hi Justin,

      Thanks for sharing your experience and viewpoint. Pricing is an interesting one as some would argue that displaying pricing on the website allows people to make a decision without having the full pitch experience tailored to their needs. I would say it’s a case of market research: if you find out that your particular audience won’t consider talking to you unless you’ve displayed a price point, then at least you’d be including it from a position of confidence rather than making an assumption.

      Jamie

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