Mastering the “SEO Results” Conversation: Questions to Ask From Both Sides of the Table

21325434One of the most anticipated, yet often dreaded, questions an SEO or digital marketer hears out of a prospective client’s mouth is this: “What results can you get us?” or even How quick/long does SEO take to show results“?

These are perfectly legit questions. The danger isn’t in the question, it’s in the perceived assumptions behind the question.

See, most people think that achieving SEO translates to sales. But what organic search engine optimization really should translate to first is qualified traffic and conversions. SEO unfortunately doesn’t always make the sale a shoo-in and it is not going to magically put money in the bank.

What SEO truly does is add another way to fill your pipeline with people who are interested in what you have to offer.

In the spirit of answering the question directly, here is what I say when on the phone with a prospect:

“Within a reasonable amount of time after execution, if we stick to the plan, we should see an uptick in qualified conversions and leads that come in from SEO based on our stated CTA (call to action) and website goals (encouraging email subscribers, filling out a website form, or driving calls).”

I know, I know. No poet will ever write sonnets about that response. It’s not exactly satisfying. Because what people really want to hear is this:

“I expect organic traffic to increase by 17% and sales to increase by 22%. Oh, and we’ll have 17 of your preferred keywords on Page 1 within 6 weeks.”

But the truth is even great SEOs struggle with predicting metrics like traffic increases and sales increases. And while you would think that no one would ever hire me based on my response, most savvy prospects know that adding another pipeline source to leads in invaluable.

4 Reasons I Cannot Guarantee Specific Sales Metrics

Here are 4 reasons why I cannot give the sexier and specific response to the results question:

  1. Website traffic is not guaranteed to increase: One of my SEO mentors taught me early on that traffic can actually DECREASE once good SEO work is done. Because instead of getting rankings and clicks on a lot of random/generic terms, you’re going after targeted, conversion-oriented keywords that may bring in less – but better targeted – traffic.
  2. Seasonal demand: seasonal fluctuations can really make your monthly website traffic fall or rise. It’s not a bad thing, but of course SEO can’t always influence or create demand when it may not naturally exist. When are you securing SEO help within your annual seasonal fluctuation?
  3. Market demand: are you in a mature, saturated industry? Or on the opposite spectrum, do people even know what to “call” what you do and must you educate heavily? How savvy are your competitors? Is your sales cycle complex? The responses here do impact SEO results.
  4. Solid business footing: How competently can you as a business close a lead and deliver and maintain a good reputation? What resources do you consistently invest in for these efforts?

5 Important SEO Questions I Ask Prospects

Now, here is when I turn the tables to vet prospects to see if they’re a good fit for me. Five important questions I ask:

  1. How committed are you to results? (By being relentlessly committed to making it work and tweaking the strategy we’ll get closer and closer to desired results until we’ve developed a solid execution plan)
  2. How valuable would it be to you to have another marketing channel that drives more leads into the pipeline consistently?
  3. What time frame are you willing to give this? (SEO is a long-term game, with the norm being 3-6+ months. This depends how competitive your keywords are, what shape your site is in and how savvy your competitors are)
  4. What marketing – and to what quality extent – is being done parallel to the SEO efforts? Social, email, CRO, face-to-face events, content, offline, etc.
  5. Who is executing and how much of a priority is this for your business right now? Have you cleared their plate to work on this for the next few months?

An honest, authentic conversation is important to have. With important questions that should come from both sides of the table.

Every day I see prospects – at least mine anyway – understanding the right metrics and having practical expectations. While I’m all for being aggressive and fighting the good fight to win the Google game, it’s important to have a balanced philosophy shared by both parties.

Oh, and for more about SEO results check out “Setting Expectations: What is the Average SEO Results Time Frame for Success? (and how I almost got fired)” and “Will SEO Give You Guaranteed Search Engine Rankings?

Photo Credit: 5 Resources to Give Your Clueless SEO Clients 

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.

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