So you’d like to win some new clients?
I recently wrote a post on Moz called ’34 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring an SEO Agency’. That got me thinking it would be great to have a similar resource which SEOs could use with potential or new clients.
So here it is.
This post will help you focus on only taking on new business that’s right for you, and getting all the information you need to devise the best possible strategy for your potential clients.
Not only that, the questions will show potential clients that you mean business, are willing to go the extra mile, and are more thorough than other agencies who may also be pitching.
The key here is making things as easy as possible for the client. So if there is anything from this list you can find out yourself without asking them, go for it!
Collecting the Information
There is a tendency to hold back from asking too many questions for fear of ticking the client off before you’ve even had a chance to get your hands dirty. The problem is, if you don’t ask enough questions at the beginning, chances are you’ll be embarking on a journey of unknown.
Ask now and avoid sticking points in the future.
Some of these things can be asked in a face to face meeting, over the phone or on Skype/Google Hangouts. Others can be sent to the client via email so they can offer feedback at their convenience.
There are many ways to gather this kind of info. You could try Typeform, Google Forms, or Survey Monkey.
To keep it quick and simple as possible for the client, I like to use Google Sheets.
- It’s easy to share via the link
- You can link to it from other documents (like your proposal, for example)
- Updates are saved in real-time
- Multiple people can edit at the same time with no conflict
- No need to download, open, and save as you do with Excel
Once you’ve prepped your information gathering vessel, you’re ready to set sail on a voyage of discovery.
The first round of questions is for potential clients. Lower down I’ve listed some more Qs to ask when the client has signed on the dotted line.
1. May I Have Access to the Following Items?
I always like to gain access to these tools as soon as possible.
- Website CMS
- Blog CMS
- Google Search Console
- Google Analytics
- Google Adwords
‘Adwords?’, I hear you say, ‘That’s got nothing to do with SEO?!’. Maybe not, but there’s a lot of useful data in there which could help you understand what kind of search queries perform best.
Using that information you can better construct a strategy for the organic side of things.
Potential clients might be reluctant to give you access to all of those accounts from the outset. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
If they are reluctant, I try to explain why it’s important. Something along the lines of “Putting an SEO strategy together without data is like trying to pin the tail on a donkey while blindfolded.” should do the trick!
You could also suggest you sign an NDA for their peace of mind.
2. What are Your Main Goals and KPIs?
You will likely have a good idea of what their goals and KPIs should be, but it’s always good to hear from the horse’s mouth.
This information will give you the talking points needed to help the client understand if their goals and KPIs are realistic and achievable.
3. What is Your Current ROI and Goal ROI?
No doubt some businesses won’t know how to answer this.
But if they do, it will give you a good understanding of how well they are doing with their current set up, and how much you could improve it.
Try to find out their average customer acquisition cost and, ideally, have it broken down by marketing channel.
This might uncover the need for a conversion tracking review and audit which you might want to build into your proposal.
Tip: As well as all the standard conversion tracking, make sure they are tracking phone calls, too.
4. Who is Your Ideal Customer?
Get to know the key demographics and psychographics.
Once you get your hands dirty with your research, you may discover a whole new target customer in an untapped market.
Then they’ll welcome you into the team with open arms!
5. Which Countries are You Targeting?
If the potential client is planning on world domination, you’ll want to drill down on their priority geolocations.
This could open up talking points on your agency providing multilingual SEO (if that’s something you do).
Tip: If your client is targeting one particular country, like the United Kingdom, for example, make sure you suggest they reflect that in Google Search Console.
Go to: Search Traffic > International Targeting > Country > Target users in United Kingdom.
Giving a little helping hand at this stage goes a long way to building trust and ensuring the client picks you over your competitors.
6. What Are Your Main USPs? (Unique Selling Point)
This is something you can probably work out for yourself, but if unclear, ask.
I like to find out what it is the client thinks makes them stand out from the competitors. As part of your consultancy offering, you could talk about ways they can better leverage their USPs.
Are they using USPs in their metadata to win higher CTR from the SERPs? Does the landing page content shout about their USPs? How can you help them leverage their unique features? All good talking points.
7. What Other Marketing Verticals are You Investing in?
Find out what kind of marketing mix they have in place.
Ideally, you’ll want to know how much they are spending on each vertical. Getting that kind of information before your collaboration begins is a bit like pulling teeth, but if you can at least get a general idea, that’s going to help.
In some cases, you may uncover they are spending on other things which you could also pitch for, like paid advertising and email marketing, for example.
I like to ask how much they are dedicating to traditional marketing such as newspaper/magazine advertising. It’s always interesting to see how much businesses are still committing to (almost) unmeasurable verticals!
8. Who Was Your Previous or Current SEO Agency?
Knowing who was running the SEO show in the past could give you some insights into what has been going on, and the standards at which they were delivered.
Heck, you might even know who it is. In that case, you can reach out to the old agency/freelancer and ask them a few questions about what the company is like to work for.
That’s assuming there are no hard feelings and the old agency isn’t too sore about losing the contract.
9. Are There Any SEO-Related Documents We Can See?
It’s a bit of a cheeky question, but like I said, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Ask if the company can send you any old documents that either they or someone else has been working on with regards to SEO.
There might be some key insights/information which you can build upon.
10. Have You Ever Had a Google Penalty?
If you get access to Google Analytics, you’ll soon find out, but ask the business if, to their knowledge, they have ever had a manual or algorithmic penalty.
In the past, I preferred to give Penguin victims a wide berth if possible. However, since the black and white bird went real-time, this sort of thing is less scary to take over and theoretically easier to get back on track than it was pre-Penguin 4.0.
Knowing about historical penalties will obviously give you vital information on the health of your potential client’s domain.
11. What is Your Level of Understanding When it Comes to SEO?
It’s not an easy question for people to answer, but I like to try to gauge potential clients’ level of understanding in the world of SEO.
Knowing how much they know will allow you to communicate with them effectively.
Not every business owner or marketing director knows their robots.txt file from their canonicals, for example.
The world of SEO doesn’t need to be scary to those who don’t know much about it. Do all you can to communicate the complexities in simple terms and you’ll have a client for life.
12. Who Do You Consider to be Your Main Competitors?
You’ll have done your amount of due diligence, but it’s always good to see who the client thinks their competitors are.
In some cases, these may be businesses who were not even on your radar as they weren’t very competitive in the SERPs.
Gathering this information means you can add more benchmarks and also educate the client on who their real SEO competitors are based on the data you have compiled.
13. Do You Own Any Other Domains or Subdomains?
It is always good to know what other web assets a client has, and if they want you to work on those sites as well.
I’ve personally signed a few clients under the premise that I was going to be working on one domain. Three months later, two more domains popped up that I didn’t know about. The client wanted me to work on the additional domains as part of the original retainer.
If you know what’s out there from the start, there shouldn’t be any awkward conversations down the line when the client says “Hey, I’ve got this other website. Can you do the same thing on that site under the same retainer?”
14. Do You Have an In-House Developer?
This one depends if you intend to implement all technical changes yourself. If that’s the case, and you plan to build the cost for it into the contract, then no problemo.
However, if you are offering consultancy and passing the work onto the client to implement, you’ll want to make sure they have capable hands in-house.
I would always be transparent from the outset and talk about how technical changes will be handled.
15. What Level of Support Will We Have From the In-house Team?
Besides the developer, you’ll want to know who you’ll be collaborating with and if they can commit enough time to make the partnership work.
Take this opportunity to find out if they have in-house writers, designers, or even digital marketers who will be part of the collaboration.
This information also helps you determine how much to charge regarding copywriting and creating design assets for the content marketing part of your SEO contract.
16. Are You Working With a PR Agency?
If so, great. That’s going to help you get some high-quality backlinks.
Where possible, I like to work closely with the PR agency and help guide them in providing their service with SEO in mind.
It’s a fine line as many PR firms are now trying to do SEO and vice versa. But I don’t see why we can’t all play nicely together and get better results for everyone.
17. What kind of CMS was the website built on?
Usually, you can work this out for yourself, and if you’ve got access, then voila. But if not all that obvious, pop the question.
It’s good to know beforehand how SEO friendly the back-end is going to be. If it’s a custom build, you’ll want to make sure it has all the right functionality for the on-page optimization you’ll be doing.
If it’s a complete mess, now’s the time to talk about an upgrade. There’s nothing worse than starting an SEO contract only to find you’re working with the world’s worst CMS!
18. Are There Any Plans for a Website Redesign?
Before working with a new client, I like to assess whether their current website is conversion worthy.
If it’s more dated than a Nintendo Game Boy, chances are it won’t convert for toffee. In which case, no amount of SEO is going to skyrocket their performance.
If the design is questionable, ask if there are any plans for an update. Better still, if you offer design too, make that part of your pitch.
Side note: If the site isn’t mobile responsive, you know the priority!
19. Do You Have Any Other Offices Around the World?
Knowing this will give you an idea if there is any need for local SEO. While you’re at it, do a little digging to see if they have any Google Business listings and what kind of optimization you can suggest there.
20. Do Changes Need to be Approved By Legal Before They Go Live?
Arrggghhhhhhhh! That’s the feeling I have when creative ideas fall by the wayside due to legal teams holding things up. There’s nothing worse than missing the boat on something because of bureaucracy and red tape.
Find out what their internal process is. Where possible, I always make suggestions which encourage as much autonomy as possible for the SEO team.
The more freedom you can get, the quicker things get done, and the faster the results come in.
21. What is Your Budget for SEO?
The million dollar question!! In the words of Jerry Maguire “Show me the money”!
Jokes aside, it’s not just about making more money for the agency, it’s about asking yourself “Do these potential clients have enough budget to make an impact in their industry and surpass the competition?”
If the answer is no, stay away. In my opinion, it’s not ethical to work on SEO for a company who doesn’t have the budget to compete. Don’t take the small retainer for turnover’s sake.
Instead, look for new business that can afford to invest in SEO.
In my experience, not many companies are willing to answer this early on, but the sooner you find out, the less time you’ll waste for both parties.
If they are reluctant to share exact budgets, ask for a guideline.
Assuming you sign the deal, after popping the cork, it’s time to get down to business. Here are a few more questions to help you get a great start to the campaign.
22. How Involved Would You Like to Be?
This is something you should hint at in the proposal phase. The client needs to know they need to put some time in for the collaboration to work well.
Get a feel for how autonomous you can be with your work. No doubt you’ll want to show them all the great things you’re doing, but if you can set the tone early on regarding how much freedom you have to get sh*t done, that’ll make your life easier in the long run.
23. Do you Have Any Brand Guidelines?
If they have some, get them. Brief the team and make sure everyone involved knows the quirks of the company.
Then you can sleep at night knowing no one’s going to say or do the wrong thing regarding representing the brand.
24. Do You Have a Specific Writing Style You’d Like?
This goes hand in hand with the brand guidelines. I like to have a meeting with any in-house copywriters and pick their brains on the brand tone.
Make sure you have a great team of writers who know the industry of your new-found client and give them a concise brief.
As SEO merges with digital PR further and further, it’s never been so important to have an artillery of creative writers at hand.
25. Do You Have Any Design Assets We Can Have Access To?
Images, logos, fonts, brand colors, etc. Get access to everything.
I like to save all of these things in a company intranet which I build for each client using Google Sites. It’s a great way to centralize all the assets and make sure you always have things to hand which any member of your team can access via one URL.
26. Do You Have Any Partners Who Would be Willing to Link to Your Website?
Who knows, you might have some incredible link building opportunities right under your nose.
Most companies have built relationships with other businesses and entities over the years. See if you can tap into their network and get some instant links back to the client’s domain.
Wouldn’t that be a great start?
Essential Actions for Ultimate Client Discovery
As part of the client discovery process, below are ten actions I like to take to make sure my research is as in-depth as possible.
- Conduct a Technical SEO audit
- Read pages from their website/blog
- Test their sales funnel
- Subscribe to their newsletter
- Research competitors
- Investigate their employees on LinkedIn
- Talk to several members of their team
- Check out their social media presence
- Read reviews and speak with their customers
- Setup mention tracking and see what people are saying about them
As I mentioned, there is a tendency to avoid giving the potential client more work. You don’t want to annoy them with all of these questions before you’ve even got the ball rolling.
However, if you have a slick system for gathering the information, there shouldn’t be any problems.
Be thorough! But in doing so, try to take as much work away from the client as possible. Don’t ask a ton of questions if you can easily find out the information yourself with a little digging.
What other questions would you ask before signing a new client, or at the beginning of a new contract? Let me know in the comments below.
All images from: unsplash.com