Creating local SEO reports that brick-and-mortar clients understand and are relevant to them is a tricky but important job.
But, how can you make SEO reporting more meaningful for the local businesses you work with so they easily understand the value that you’re bringing?
Here are five things to consider to make your job a little less challenging:
1. Mom and Pop stores don’t think like software companies
Working with clients in the tech sector has its challenges. Startups in particular often bring in agencies once they’ve secured funding, at the kinds of critical moments when senior leaders have little time to devote to supporting external projects, and nevertheless, expect results.
But if there’s any vertical that can be called home by SEO agencies, it’s tech. Despite the difficulties, skilled SEOs typically understand the needs of these kinds of clients. The culture of SEO, after all, has evolved side-by-side with the explosive growth of the software industry.
One consequence of this is that SEOs are often great at describing their activities and results in engineering terms. Data is the shared language, so metrics take center stage.
This style of communication translates reasonably well to e-commerce, and indeed to any kind of business that lives, first and foremost, on the internet.
Even global brands that first found success offline, like Nike, have spent the last decade-or-so going through rigorous digital transformation programs. Even if they’re not quite fluent, many businesses can speak the language of software to a certain degree.
For most SEO agencies, good client management depends on a well-honed intuition of when it’s possible to have technical conversations with clients, when to explain difficult concepts and when to avoid them. Many clients may be perfectly at home with complicated SEO analysis, or even reading SEO audit reports themselves, while others may require a more simplified method of reporting focused on key real-life outcomes.
But remember, not every business has gone through these changes. For thousands of retail and hospitality companies, ‘online’ is simply an uncomfortable necessity. Family-run businesses, especially those of which the key decision-makers are from older generations, might even view the internet as something rather dangerous and unfamiliar.
2.‘Traditional’ business owners know they need to change
Despite this, most brick-and-mortar businesses know that they need to think about how customers are finding them. At the very least, they’ll be passively aware that they could be losing business to a competitor with a more complete Google My Business listing, or more reviews on Maps.
SEO can be a fantastic way for a store, cafe, hotel, or local service provider to improve its bottom line, and its business health in general. Agencies that understand the quirks of local SEO can offer immense value to these clients, even while executing repeatable, predictable activities. It’s an enormous opportunity to scale.
But the execution is only half the battle. Getting results for a local SEO client demands a decent understanding of their business, and for the client, in turn, to understand the value of what’s being delivered, especially in the earlier, less predictable stages.
Increasing a site’s Moz Domain Authority by ten points, or shaving five percent off its homepage bounce rate, may be meaningful to tech-savvy clients. That kind of thing is less likely to be obviously exciting news to a local restaurant owner.
In order to demonstrate value and earn trust from brick-and-mortar clients, it’s necessary to understand their businesses on their own terms. All good client onboarding processes feature a lot of careful listening and asking questions, but when it comes to local SEO it has a whole extra level of importance.
3. ‘Educate us’ or ‘Just take care of it’
SEO agencies should seek to understand both the desired business outcomes and the knowledge goals of their brick-and-mortar clients.
Fundamental concepts like the customer journey still apply in this world but have an additional dimension. For instance, retail stores are conscious of footfall. This isn’t quite parallel with website traffic; a small increase in footfall can have an enormous impact. In-store experiences tend to be more memorable than website visits.
The challenge for SEOs is to map rankings and online interactions to offline goals. When it comes to in-person transactions, you can’t precisely track conversion rate.
With purely online marketing, identifying bottlenecks in the sales funnel is straightforward. Sometimes Google Analytics gives the answers in black and white—low click-through rate to product pages; poor site speed; most traffic coming from countries the business doesn’t ship to. For local businesses, it’s a little different.
Asking clients the right questions can yield insights like—“we’re busy at breakfast but the lunchtime crowd goes across the street” or “locals come from across town for our Chai Latte.” Sometimes this information can directly guide local search tactics, other times it’s simply a useful north star to ground SEO reporting on results.
One way or the other, when local SEO clients hear that they’ve nabbed a first page ranking for a high-volume keyword, or acquired prominence on Google Maps, they need to understand why that’s meaningful.
Some brick-and-mortar business owners have the intention of becoming more digital-savvy. In that case, being an educator is one of the most sticky value-adds an agency can provide. Other clients might prefer to build a relationship with a trustworthy expert who can simply take care of these matters so the owner can focus on what they do best.
The key is to establish the client’s preference early on in the engagement.
4. SEO reporting should focus on tangible business results
Of course, the best way to retain brick-and-mortar clients is to demonstrate that SEO activities are making a tangible impact on their businesses.
But there will almost certainly be periods of time when authority-building, experimenting, or investigating has to take center stage. Local SEO clients might not immediately see why these activities are important if they don’t directly move the needle for them.
Building trust early on is vital to create long-term success with these businesses.
Whether providing education or concise reports, each piece of information should connect back to the client’s day-to-day realities. For example, citation building and efforts to improve the performance of a client’s Google My Business listing should be understood in light of extra-digital customer actions like asking for directions or calling.
The ideal local SEO report presents the headline metrics in the context of real-world objectives. For many businesses, the relationship between website traffic and revenue is immediate and visible. In the brick-and-mortar world, it’s not always so clear.
Situations may arise where it’s necessary to explain something a little more abstract to a local SEO client. Perhaps enormous digital progress has been made, like a plethora of new page two rankings or a dramatic improvement to site performance. These results can be made meaningful to clients by indicating their place in the overall plan.
5. Adapt client services for brick-and-mortar businesses
For agencies in the process of niching down to local SEO, there are some assumptions that are easy to make but ought to be avoided.
For example, it’s typical for many business owners and managers to routinely use email at the heart of their workflows. At the more tech-savvy end of the spectrum, they may use tools like Slack or Asana to stay organized and connected. But restaurant owners and managers spend significantly less time plugged-in.
It’s a good idea to put some consideration towards adapting client service processes to better fit with the workflows of these clients. In the first instance, agencies should have a frank conversation with each new client at kick-off.
If the client is somewhat tech-savvy or committed to the strategic importance of SEO, there’s no better way to offer them clarity and convenience than having a client portal that brings all information into one place.
In other cases, perhaps phone calls have to make up the overwhelming majority of project communication. Agencies must consider how this will impact internal workflows. For instance, if extensive client knowledge is required for content creation, their input needs to be saved and made accessible to the delivery team.
There is an enormous opportunity for agencies that can find ways of working that flow dynamically with brick-and-mortar clients. These businesses absolutely need the expertise of SEOs. Any agency that overcomes these operational obstacles will surely secure lucrative relationships with local businesses.
As we’ve seen above, making local SEO reporting meaningful for businesses requires some extra thought, from thinking about who your audience is and how tech-savvy they are, to what their business goals are and what tangible results they want to see. I hope that by providing the advice above I’ve made your job a little easier. Good luck!
If you have any words of wisdom to share or add on this topic, let me know in the comments below.