Advance Your Agency is a BrightLocal series designed to equip you with the skills, knowledge, and advice necessary to take your agency operations to the next level.
So, you’ve just landed your first proper local SEO client. How do you ensure that you provide them with sufficient value in the first six months?
Showing the benefits of your local SEO work within the initial six months is vital if you’re hoping to retain clients and build positive relationships, as well as securing your agency as a competent player in the world of local SEO.
With so many tasks to manage, from review generation to Google My Business optimization and beyond, it can be a challenge knowing what to prioritize.
In this month’s issue of Advance Your Agency, I’ll talk you through the most important steps to take in the first six months with a local SEO client.
But, I won’t be doing it alone…
Throughout this article, I’ve enlisted the help of three key players in the world of local SEO, who have advanced their agencies and lived to tell the tale. Thank you to Sterling Sky’s Joy Hawkins, Bowler Hat’s Marcus Miller, and RicketyRoo’s Blake Denman for sharing their perspectives and helping to inform this piece.
Read on to benefit from their top tips, actions, and tactics to undertake during the initial half-year period with a new local SEO client.
Month 1: First Steps
In this section, I’ll explain how to approach your first contact with a new local SEO client.
Talk to Your Client
First things first, you need to know what your client wants to achieve.
The best way to do this is to have an in-depth chat with your client. What do they want to gain by performing local SEO? Often, you’ll get a response like “I just want to rank higher!” but it’s important to delve deeper. Why does the client want to rank higher? Is it because they want to drive more traffic to their site, get more phone calls, or improve their reputation?
Beyond just taking the opportunity to get to know your client and their business, there will generally be a few housekeeping bits to get out the way.
Founder of RicketyRoo, Blake Denman, advises that it’s important to lay out the process of what’s to come as clearly as possible.
In month one I schedule a kickoff call, send an email with detailed instructions on what we need access to, and how to go about doing it. Since we work mainly with SMBs, giving them clearcut instructions, step-by-step, is very helpful for them.
There are also ways to streamline the process of identifying a client’s business history and future, such as creating an “onboarding questionnaire”, as Blake refers to it. This allows the client to tell you in their own words exactly what they’re looking for from a local SEO agency and what they’re currently working on.
We also send links to our onboarding questionnaires that give us a good overview of the business, branding, etc. The kickoff call’s purpose is for me to go over the questionnaires, ask a few deeper questions, and see if they have questions. We’ll also go over the deliverables again for the first month.
Once you’ve spoken to the client and sufficiently familiarized yourself with their work and understanding of local SEO, you can move on to the next part of the process: setting goals.
Identify and Set Goals
Ensuring you and your client have a shared vision for your local SEO work is vital. It’s important to understand that local SEO shouldn’t be seen as a “quick win”, but instead, a way to take your client’s business to the next level, provide them with more visibility, and elevate their current business efforts.
Similarly to Blake, Founder of SEO agency Bowler Hat, Marcus Miller, agrees that speaking with a client early on in the process is vital.
Here, he discusses the importance of setting goals.
At Bowler Hat, there are a couple of jobs that we tackle at the beginning of every project.
Firstly, we like to get a clear understanding of the client’s objectives and the business itself. We need to know what the client is actually trying to achieve, rather than the specific SEO goals. This is to ensure we give the best possible recommendations and can set some clear and measurable goals (typically SMART goals) that we can use to measure progress.
Sometimes, SEO is not the best fit for the business requirements, for example, if the site ranks nowhere, the goals are lofty and the client needs leads tomorrow, we may suggest another tactic whilst we work on SEO in the background.
As Marcus mentions, sometimes the client’s goals will span beyond SEO, and you’ll need to be prepared to adapt accordingly. In fact, sometimes you’ll need to be prepared to say no altogether if the client’s goals just aren’t a good fit for your skillset or culture.
Like I said, sometimes a client will come to you saying their “goal” is to rank number one in Google searches, but it’s your job to unpack this and ensure you have an awareness of the client’s real-world business goals and how local SEO fits into those.
SMART goals can be a great way to ensure you’re both working towards the same target.
To begin setting SMART goals with your client you’ll need to agree on targets that are:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic, and resourced, results-based).
- Timely (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, time-sensitive).
A SMART goal might be something like:
- Increasing revenue X amount from last year
- Increasing the number of new customers by X
- Increasing store visits by X percent
Whatever it may be, this will help you to determine the kind of work needed to put your client where they want to be.
During this six-month process, you’ll also want to be clear about setting and managing expectations. It’s important not to overpromise, which can be especially hard when just starting out as a local SEO agency.
A good local SEO strategy is a hugely powerful tool and can be what really takes a local business to the next stage of success.
That said, it doesn’t happen overnight. Local SEO is an ongoing process, and the ability to rank well is owed to numerous factors — proximity, relevance, and prominence, being the top three.
Try not to make promises to your client (“We’ll get you ranking number one in no time!”) and instead be realistic, refer back to your agreed upon SMART goals, and keep your client updated when things go out of your control (unfortunately, local SERPs get their fair share of ranking flux, too).
Complete a Local SEO Audit
Once you’ve established the client’s goals, our experts unanimously agree that the next step is to undertake a thorough audit.
Sterling Sky’s founder, Joy Hawkins, says that, although they don’t have a set “checklist” of tasks to perform, there are some projects her agency tackles first.
Our process is to first do an in-depth audit. We charge for this, it is done manually by a person (not automated), and it is designed to figure out which items are keeping the business from succeeding currently. We do use tools (like BrightLocal) as a part of this audit but I would never suggest completely automating the auditing process as there are too many things that need a human eye. While doing the audit we add labels to the things we find to rank them in the order of high, medium, and low priority.
From here, Joy and her team can identify high priority tasks. Of course, these are the tasks the SEO agent will tackle first.
Our to-do list for month 1 is to go through the high priority items first. Sometimes this stretches into months 2-6 depending on the issues. For example, if the business is getting impacted by the filter, this would be a high priority item and would need to be tackled first. Things like citations almost always get tagged as low priority and are left until much later. Link building is something that almost always gets put as high priority and is done continually (never ends). I’m a big fan of coming up with custom action plans that fit the business, their current scenario, industry, and market.
BrightLocal’s Local Search Audit tool
When identifying your client’s priority items, it’s important to remember that few local SEO tasks are “one and done”. As Joy says, projects such as link building tend to operate on a more ongoing basis.
Additionally, there are some aspects of local SEO that are commonly seen as foundational and, while they may not be game-changers, will need to be done if your client hopes to compete.
Regardless of what tasks you’ve identified as high priority, the next steps will be the same for everyone: getting to work on implementing a great local SEO strategy.
Months 2-5: Local SEO Tasks
As discussed, the order and priorities of the local SEO tasks you focus on will vary based on your client’s goals, audience, and current standing.
During months 2-5 this is where the hard work comes into action. You’ve spoken to your client, proved your own expertise, and identified what they want to achieve.
Based on your local SEO audit, you’re now going to perform a series of tasks to help the client achieve their local SEO goal.
As such, it’s vital that you develop a strong foundation of knowledge on the aforementioned topics before taking on your first local SEO client.
In this next section, I’ll provide some basic tips and resources to help you along the way in these key areas of local marketing.
Set up rank tracking and reporting
First and foremost, you’re going to need to set up rank tracking and reporting. Although ranking number one may not always be the most important thing to measure, you’ll often find it’s still something clients care a lot about. It can also be a simple way to show the value you’re providing.
BrightLocal’s Local Search Rank Checker
Additionally, it’s important to keep your client up-to-date with progress, and be able to show how tasks you’re undertaking are aligning with the set SMART goals or KPIs.
In order to ensure accurate and up-to-date results, you’ll want to make use of a local rank tracking tool like BrightLocal, designed specifically for local businesses. By using a local-specific tool, you’ll be able to break down rankings in a nuanced way (looking at the position of Local Services Ads, local pack, Knowledge Graph, and more, as well as traditional rankings).
BrightLocal also offers the ability to white-label reports, meaning you can quickly and easily share on-brand reports with your client (with no need to mention BrightLocal at all if you don’t want to!)
When first working with a client, it can be tempting to keep them updated about every ranking change. But try not to report on rankings too regularly, or you risk confusing the client during the course of normal fluctuation.
Google My Business Optimization
This year, local search experts established Google My Business signals as the most important ranking factor for local search. This means that optimizing your client’s GMB profile is more important than ever.
Of course, if your client doesn’t yet have a GMB listing, you’ll need to set one up for them. Once that’s done, you can get to work on creating a well-optimized profile. Here, you’ll want to ensure you not only fill out all relevant business details (and make sure these are in line with the client’s website and in-store details) but also add all the bells and whistles.
Some first steps for optimizing your client’s listing include:
- Claim your client’s GMB short name
- Write a non-salesy business description that accurately presents your client’s business
- Choose a relevant category and subcategory
- Upload at least three photos of your client’s business (Check out our full guide to GMB photos)
- Keep on top of reviews (more on this later)
- Use Google Posts to show off the client’s personality (again, more on this to come)
- Make the most of Google Q&A by answering commonly asked questions
- Try to connect social media profiles (this can be a real challenge, but you can boost chances of having social icons appear by using social schema, having a verified profile, and having links to socials on the client’s website)
Finally, you’ll want to look into any Google My Business features that might be specific to your client’s industry. For example, hotels tend to operate under a whole different rulebook.
Local Keyword Research
We often hear keyword research referred to in traditional SEO, but not so much in local. Interestingly, it’s just as important in local as it is anywhere else.
Performing local keyword research can help you understand what your client’s customers are interested in, as well as informing website copy and any content creation.
With an abundance of free tools at your fingertips, performing local keyword research is easier than ever. Make use of sites such as Answer the Public or Buzzsumo, keep an eye out for Google’s ‘People also ask’ dropdowns in SERPs, or simply make note of autocompletes that show during a Google search.
A ‘People also ask’ dropdown in a SERP for the search term ‘new york pizza’
It’s important here to avoid targeting too many keywords, and to instead create a list of 10-30 (depending on your client’s business needs of course) that are truly relevant.
You can also make use of long-tail keywords if you’re hoping to rank for more niche queries. (For example, instead of “hairdresser New York” you might target “affordable hairdresser Tribeca New York”.)
Once you’ve identified the main keywords users are searching for, make sure to implement these on your client’s website, local landing pages, and listings.
Remember when I mentioned those “foundational” local SEO factors earlier? Well, managing citations is one of those.
While citations used to be seen as a competitive ranking factor, they’re now viewed simply as “table stakes”. Nevertheless, it’s really important when starting out with a new client to perform a thorough citation audit.
BrightLocal’s Citation Tracker
Here, you’ll be looking out for NAP inconsistencies (does your client’s business address appear differently on numerous different sites?) and duplicate listings.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for any listings your client doesn’t appear on that they should. For example, if you’re dealing with a law firm, are they on Justia?
Where necessary, you’ll need to set up listings, delete listings, and make edits to ensure consistency across the board.
The quickest way to perform a citation audit and build new citations is through using a tool like BrightLocal. While Citation Tracker identifies NAP errors and missed opportunities, Citation Builder allows you to create campaigns to boost your client’s visibility.
As Joy mentioned, this is a job that needs less attention than others, but it’s still important to avoid confusing your client’s customers.
Google My Business Spam Monitoring
This may sound like an odd one, but identifying spam in Google Maps can be a simple way to help your client climb the rankings. This is a task you’ll likely undertake if you’ve identified a lot of spam among your client’s competitors (so it’s important to know how to identify and report spam!)
If your client keeps getting beaten out of the Map Pack by spammy garage door companies, for example, reporting these can be an easy way to get your client to shoot up to number one.
Google My Business Posts
As I mentioned earlier, GMB Posts are a great way to optimize your client’s listing and show that it’s active. With Posts you can share news from your client’s business, the latest offers being run, or simply use it to showcase the business’s personality.
Posts will only stay visible for seven days at a time, so it’s useful to develop a queue of content that you can put out to keep the listing active.
Review Management and Monitoring
Arguably one of the most important aspects of local SEO is review management. Review management involves generating reviews, responding to them, and leveraging them for social proof.
Depending on your client’s existing online reputation (again, something you’ll have identified during the local SEO audit), this could be a key difference-maker.
Firstly, identify where your client has reviews and where they’re lacking. These are the sites you’re going to target. Largely for local businesses though, you’ll want to focus on Google reviews.
Next, use a review management tool like BrightLocal to send out review requests via SMS, email, or in-store through kiosk mode.
BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager
Once the reviews come flooding in, ensure you respond in a timely manner (this is actually very important to discuss with your client — some businesses will want to respond themselves, so focus instead on training them how to respond to negative reviews and so on).
Unlike something like citation building, review management is something that needs to be done on an ongoing basis, so if needs be, dedicate some time each month to focus on review generation.
Month 6: Showing Value
Congratulations, you’ve made it to month six!
You’ve spent the past few months undertaking key local SEO tasks to help achieve your client’s goals, and now is the time to show them the value you’ve provided to their business.
It’s vital here to show your client exactly what they’ve spent their money on, and how you’ve helped them achieve their goals.
This isn’t to say you won’t have been communicating with your client throughout the process, but after six months you should have enough data to show how local SEO has helped their business progress.
Whatever you’ve decided to measure with your client, it’s essential to come to this meeting prepared and open to discuss your client’s concerns and feedback.
While having data and reports to hand is useful, think of the six-month check-in as an opportunity where you can get back to really talking to your client. How have they found the process? Is there anything they want to do differently going forward? Do you need to shift focus for the next stage of the campaign?
Though your main goal will be to show your client what the work you’ve been doing has achieved for their business, the method of doing so will likely vary. It’s good practice to adapt your reporting approach to what you’ve learned about your client during this time.
For example, does your client respond particularly well to visual charts or cold, hard data? Skip to the bottom line and talk numbers.
Do they respond better to emotional stimuli? Tell them a story; hit them with what reputation management has done for their customers’ perception of their business, for example, or how optimization and link building has led to them trouncing that particularly irksome competitor.
Are they clearly always pressed for time and rarely interested in the details? Provide a detailed report but include a top-level executive summary with all the main points, just in case they’re feeling a bit ‘TL;DR’.
Whichever approach you take, you need to show your client where local SEO has taken their business, and crucially, where they can go from there. This comprehensive assessment and outlook can be made easier using an all-in-one tool like BrightLocal. This simplifies the process for you and for your clients by generating white-label reports in which you can compare month-on-month progress across a variety of aspects of local SEO, using your own branding.
For example, if your client’s goal was to beat out a search competitor, why not generate a competitor report and showcase how your local SEO efforts have taken your client above and beyond their competition?
Throughout this process, you need to keep in mind that your six-month check-in is about showing value, proving to your client that you are worth their investment, and ideally continuing or planning out future local SEO activities.
After all, retaining clients and building strong relationships with them is only going to make your life easier and your business better.
By now you should know exactly what steps to take with your first local SEO client: from establishing goals and knowledge level in month 1 to undertaking tasks in months 2-5, and proving value in month 6.
How you approach your local SEO client’s first months is bound to depend on a lot of variables — from business type to SMART goals — but this guide should provide you with a sturdy checklist to refer back to.
And if you take away one thing from this article, it’s that it’s vital to listen to your client, be prepared to adapt accordingly, don’t overpromise, and focus on showing the benefits.
What’s in your six-month action plan? Share your tips with fellow fledgling agencies in the comments below!