In the SEO industry, retention is often just as important (or more so) than acquisition. With clients (usually) paying a monthly retainer for SEO services rendered, the trifling cost of keeping them happy and engaged with your brand for another month yields far more value than attempting an outreach effort to bring a new customer in for a month. But as an agency, how do you continually prove your value to your clients?
But What Have You Done for Me Lately?
This is a guiding principle in the realm of SEO client retention, whether you want to admit it or not. You may have taken your client from 0 to 1,000 organic visits a month, but imagine a scenario in which those 1,000 monthly visits remain stagnant for a few months. The average client's reaction will be one of alarms, instead of focusing on the established value of the work you've done thus far, they'll see a lack of continued upward momentum, which may cause them to lose confidence and leave.
There are cases in which you'll see momentous upward growth in traffic and conversions, steadily, month over month, and with these clients, the work of proving your value will often take care of itself. But for the majority of your clients, where peaks, valleys, and plateaus are the norm, you'll have to go the extra mile to prove your worth.
Here are six steps to take to prove the value of your services to your clients.
Step 1: Prioritize the Relationship
This is the most important step, so don't underestimate it. Remember that at the heart of your business partnership is a genuine, human relationship. There's a real value, though not directly quantifiable, in simply being transparent, approachable, and sincere. Your account manager should be on great terms with your client representative and should be in relatively constant communication. Weekly meetings or check-ins combined with automated SEO reports should keep the two of you in frequent-enough contact, and your client should be in the know about everything going on with the campaign. With a good relationship as your foundation, the partnership should be able to weather any storm.
Step 2: Reduce Everything to Numbers
A strong relationship will usually prevent a client from leaving outright, but that doesn't mean you should try to get by without proving the objective value of your work. Real money necessitates real results, so you need to be able to demonstrate those results. It's fine to talk in abstract terms when it comes to SEO results under normal circumstances, but after the initial growth phase, it's important that you reduce everything to numbers. Try to quantify the value of every website visit. Try to calculate exactly how much revenue your campaign is generating for them. Numbers are inarguable, and if they justify your costs, you should be in a good position.
Step 3: Project Your Long-Term Value
Remember that SEO isn't about short-term results; it's about long-term gains. Remind your client that there's a compounding value to the work you're doing, and that every article, page, video, or another piece of content you create is going to last indefinitely on the web, retaining its authoritative value and possibly sending more and more referral traffic along the way. It's tough to calculate this, but you don't need a precise figure. You just need your client to understand that one month of costs doesn't only reap one month of value - that value carries on beyond what you can currently measure.
Step 4: Explain Peripheral Values
In addition to all the numbers you pulled in step two, make your client aware of all the incalculable benefits that SEO can offer. Depending on what strategies you're using, this could include the brand visibility benefits of off-site content syndication, or brand reputation. I describe these as peripheral values, but they do have a direct and positive influence on the strength of your campaign - they're just notoriously hard to pin down in a quantifiable way.
Step 5: Explain the Importance of Momentum
When you acquire SEO clients, you're starting from scratch, so you'll be looking exclusively forward. When you're dealing with existing SEO clients, you'll have the ability to look to the past as well. Acknowledge the importance of momentum in an SEO campaign, noting that your past efforts have accumulated to get you to this point, and to abandon them now could derail that momentum, forcing them to start from scratch at some later date. Don't think of this as holding your client hostage; instead, explain how it's just a loss of opportunity.
Step 6: Acknowledge Not Just the Good, but also the Bad
If something isn't working, or isn't working well enough for your client to be satisfied, you need to be upfront with your client about that, and work on a plan to change it. Instead of trying to prove the value of everything you've done so far, illustrate the value of the plan you have to bring better results in the future. Acknowledge the areas of your strategy that aren't working as well as you'd hoped, then outline your plans to change them, and present these ideas to your client. Even if they involve an increase in cost to your client, your client will appreciate your honesty and trust that your goal isn't purely profit, but rather to legitimately help them achieve their goals.
These steps assume you're truly doing what's best for your client, and that your efforts will bring results in time. If you've made a number of mistakes, the only thing that can save you is starting over from scratch and hoping your client relationship is strong enough to pull you through. Otherwise, these modes of value proposition will allow you to justify what you're charging your clients, and maintain a healthy business partnership for months or years to come.