How to sell SEO with a paid, earned and owned media strategy

If your SEO proposals aren’t receiving the attention they used to, this post is for you.

Chances are, you’re probably selling SEO the same way you did in 2007. Your strategy is probably built on past successes of clients in dissimilar industries and not on the current and future business needs of your prospects.

Today’s climate dictates personalized strategies to help clients achieve business objectives. Business objectives are almost always measured by increases in leads, sales, subscribers or viewers.

The best way to sell SEO to clients in 2013 is to:

  • know where you can be impactful and where you cannot
  • create and enforce your own success metrics
  • throw away that suitcase full of snake oil (you don’t need it anymore)
  • target the best clients
  • segment efforts into paid, earned and owned media

The first and second points above may be controversial and seem contradictory to your clients’ goals of increased leads, sales, subscribers and viewers. However, it’s important to not confuse the business objectives of your clients with your own business objectives (the two are not the same).

Let’s start with understanding where you can and cannot be impactful.

Know which business objectives you can impact positively and which you cannot

The biggest tip I can provide (as an Internet marketer since 2004) is to establish your own success metrics. This is important because:

  • There are things you can impact
  • There are things you cannot

Some of the things you can positively impact as an SEO are obvious, like non-branded organic traffic.  Other things may not be so obvious such as:

  • Helping clients understand how much revenue their website should be generating vs. is generating (more on that later)
  • Helping clients understand how they should be measuring your success

The second point above is critical to establishing a long-term client relationship. Don’t expect clients to understand that SEO takes time, requires resources that might not be currently available and costs a lot of money. Your clients hired you because there are things about SEO they don’t understand. One of the biggest things they usually don’t get is how to measure the success of your effort.

The things you cannot impact might not be so obvious, such as sales.

Supply chain issues, warehousing issues, order fulfillment, customer care issues, UI/UX issues … all these things can come between you and measurable success. For these reasons (and many more) tying SEO success to increase sales is a bad idea.

In addition, you may often find yourself relying on in-house team members to implement your recommendations. Working with in-house team members can be a fantastic experience for both parties as long as you know your role. In-house team members are your colleagues and not your subordinates. Managing in-house team members (as your subordinates) is a losing proposition. Their performance is measured by their bosses and not by you. When it comes to manageing in-house teams, your talents are best spent elsewhere.

Create and enforce your own methods of success

In my experience, accurately predicting and achieving a positive ROAS (return on ad spend) number is the Holy Grail of SEO. Sure there are aspects of your strategy that lend themselves more towards a positive ROAS number (PPC comes to mind) but the majority of your ROAS projections are going to be difficult for even you to swallow.

Many aspects of your proposed SEO strategy will relate to supporting efforts, such as intake audits. These efforts, while necessary, cannot be tied out to a positive ROAS number.

The best way to be successful is to control your own success metrics. Seems like a no brainer, right?

As previously mentioned, non-branded organic traffic is a metric you should be able to positively impact. The degree of impact goes up when you are given the authority to:

  • Live pages on your own
  • Make changes to existing pages on your own
  • Manage Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest on your own

As long as non-branded organic visits (and referrals) trend up, you are doing your job. Here are two ways to prove it, for ecommerce sites specifically:

  • Establish a non-branded per visit value
    • Multiply this value per non-branded organic visit. Then subtract this number from your monthly fee. This number should be positive.
  • Establish a non-branded customer value
    • Multiply the number of non-branded organic visits by the current conversion rate and AOV (average order value). Then multiply by this number by the average number of times each customer orders per year. Then subtract this number from your yearly fee. This number should be positive.

Both of the above methods should paint your services in a favorable light. They should also help your clients understand how much revenue their website should be generating vs. is generating. THIS IS EXTREMELY VALUABLE.

For example, not every non-branded organic visitor will buy. Why not? UI/UX? Prices are too high? Size and selection too thin? There is real value in assuming every visit should result in a sale. You can use this simple idea to support the sale and implementation of conversion optimization services. Conversion optimization can show an increase in the amount of non-branded organic visits that result in a sale. Remember, increased sales are the business objective of your clients and not you. Your goal, here, is an increased conversation rate.

Don’t be a snake oil salesman

Image credit: Gaping Void

Selling SEO in 2013 means being able to stand behind your proposed efforts truthfully and honestly.

If you don’t have a really good idea of how impactful the services you are selling are going to be, then you shouldn’t be selling them in the first place.

Go get a job in an agency. In fact, go get a job in three agencies. You’ll learn more from seeing what not to do than you will from seeing what to do. Agency work is the best way I know of to become a better SEO.

The image above brings back memories as my friend Todd Malicoat used it on his business cards back-in-the-day.

Target the best clients

The best clients are not the ones that are bamboozled by the sorcery of SEO. In fact, the best clients are the ones that already understand SEO and may already have in-house resources that you can use to help you achieve your goals. Typically, these are growth clients; ones whose traffic is already going up. Growth clients bring you, the SEO, closer to your business goals.

Segment efforts into paid, earned and owned media

At a very basic level, your services as an SEO fall into one of three basic categories: paid, earned and owned media.

Although the concept of paid, earned and owned media isn’t new, the use of it to craft SEO proposals might be new to you. Neither paid, earned or owned is an island. All three should be implemented concurrently with as much cross channel pollination as your production environment will allow for.

Image credit: Forrester

The image above from Forrester Research describes the differences between paid, earned and owned media.

Owned media

What worked in 2007 won’t work in 2013. Gone are the days when SEO focused on tags, titles and keyphrases. Here are the days when SEOs need to focus on entities. According to some experts, keyword optimization, at least as traditionally practiced, is soon to gasp its last breath.

Today’s owned media needs to think ahead. It needs move away from being acceptable (well written, optimized, relevant, original) and towards being exceptional (ground breaking, news worthy, timely, shareable).

The importance of social sharing in the next five years will increase. If your owned media isn’t shareable, its effectiveness as a marketing tool is limited.

Paid media

Search engines make a lot of money from paid placements. Social networks have followed their lead. Paid media isn’t going away. And you don’t want it to.

Ads, PLAs (Product Listing Ads) and similar paid media are really good at capturing traffic with transactional intent. You need to know, ahead of time, which keyphrases related to your client’s industry are transactional and design a paid media strategy to capture that traffic. This produces quicker wins for both you and your clients than SEO alone.

In addition, paid media will steal from your organic conversions. If you don’t have a strategy to cover both, you are severely limiting your own success.

Earned media

Your earned media efforts are made easier with exceptional paid and owned media. By creating exceptional content worthy of sharing, your earned media effort starts from a point of advantage rather than disadvantage.

In many situations I’ve been in, my earned media strategies have transformed owned and paid media. I’d rather have it the other way around, as community building is made much easier when the products and services my clients create are exceptional to begin with.

Strategically speaking, there are very important reasons your clients need earned media. For example, your clients’ blogs can capture keyphrase traffic that is outside the reach of their current website. Your clients’ social media networks can become customer feedback channels, idea farms and promotional vehicles to support buzz marketing.

Writing a proposal

Writing an SEO proposal starts with identifying your clients’ top three pain points. Do not assume that increased sales and leads are your goals. In fact, they are not your goals. As previously described, your business goals as an SEO consultant are different from the business goals of your clients.

Tailor your proposals to ease the pressure exerted on clients by their top three pain points. Organize paid, earned and owned media strategies into short, mid and long term goals.

Prioritize quick wins using paid media and show positive ROAS early. Position owned media for mid-term success with conversion optimization driving the idea that better pages equal more results. Highlight earned media as a long-term strategy for gaining a larger share of search.

Getting paid

Consider a tiered proposal structure with a fee obtained up front to cover intake audits and keyphrase research. Remember, it’s beneficial to know ahead of time how much of your clients’ keyphrase universe is transactional and bias efforts towards paid media and landing page optimization in your proposal accordingly.

Your thoughts are welcomed

The above represents my experience. Your experience will be different. Please let me know what you think about any of the points I’ve made by leaving a reply below.


One thought on “How to sell SEO with a paid, earned and owned media strategy

  1. Phil Segal says:

    Great thoughts, clearly from a lot of experience. I especially agree with educating clients on what they SHOULD consider success metrics. While the industry has evolved significantly, as has the playing field with search engines, so many business owners still insist on vanity rankings as a measure of success.

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