If you want to grow an agency (or your freelance portfolio), you need to get good at selling SEO. It doesn’t matter how good you are at keyword research, ranking sites & building backlinks, if you can’t get the clients in the first place.
SEO isn’t the easiest thing to sell, either. There’s often misconceptions about how SEO works, the results it should yield, and how much it should cost.
In this article you’ll learn practical strategies & tips to clarify your offerings, write better proposals, and win more deals.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Preparing to sell SEO
- Deciding your scope of services
- Who will you sell to?
- Preparing your team and tools
- 6 tips & strategies to close more SEO deals
- Check if your prospect is a good fit
- Asking the right questions
- Focus on revenue
- Find quick wins
- Write case studies
- Put together an SEO proposal
Preparing to sell SEO
Before you go out to start selling SEO, let’s make sure the foundations are in place. What you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, and making sure you’re able to deliver.
Decide on your scope of services
The very first thing to do is establish which services you’ll offer.
SEO can be broken down into several different service offerings, of which some are more specialized than others.
The most common SEO services to sell are:
- Fully managed SEO services
- Link building
- SEO consultancy
Within those, there are several different elements, all of which could be sold as a standalone service if you so chose. For example:
- Technical website audits & fixes
- Keyword research & content briefing
- Writing optimized content
- On-page optimizations
The service you offer will largely depend on your experience, resources, and the type of client you’re working with.
Taking link building as an example, this service is most often bought by companies that have an in-house SEO manager to do the rest. On the other hand, a small local business is more likely to need a full service, due to not having any existing resource in-house.
Lastly, consider whether or not you’ll produce content for your clients.
Other than link building & technical SEO, a huge part of delivering an SEO service is to research & plan which content to produce. Finding keywords, determining the search intent, and preparing a brief for an article or landing page that will rank for that keyword.
Some agencies & consultants will stop there, while others will continue with actually producing the content. Once again, this depends on your resource, and your client’s resource. Just make sure everyone understands who is responsible for what.
Who will you sell to?
Once you know what you’re selling, it’s time to figure out who you’re selling it to.
It’s perfectly fine to work across a broad range of industries and business models. That being said, it’s quite likely there is a certain type of client that is ‘best fit’ for you.
Once again, if you do choose to focus your efforts, it’ll largely depend on your (and/or your team’s) skills and experience.
Here’s some criteria by which you could ‘niche down’. You could focus on:
- E-commerce, local services, or SaaS
- B2B or B2C businesses
- Specific industries, e.g. finance, travel, or gaming
The general principles of SEO do apply across industries & business models, but there are differences with each. It’s difficult to have truly in-depth expertise for all models simultaneously.
For example, Skale is a specialist SaaS SEO agency, due to having prior in-house SaaS SEO experience. You’ll find agencies & consultants that specialize in all kinds of niches.
Take a minute to decide whether you’ll niche down, or cast a wider net.
Preparing your team & tools
This is relevant whether you’re an established service provider, or just starting out looking for your first client.
Resourcing vs sales demand is a constant battle for a growing agency or consultancy. It’s easy to overwhelm yourself or your team by taking on projects you aren’t ready for.
Having the right people in place is tricky, but using software tools can do a lot of the heavy lifting too.
The exact SEO tech stack that you use will vary depending on the services you’re providing, but here’s some common ones to think about.
Starting with a multi-feature tool like Nightwatch will cover a lot of your bases. Nightwatch can help you to:
- Track rankings accurately (even on a local level)
- Conduct a backlink analysis
- Conduct a technical site audit
- Generate reports for clients
In addition, you may also want to consider:
- A tool for competitor analysis and keyword research like Ahrefs or a similar alternative
- A tool like ClickFlow for SEO testing and content optimization
- Other tools to help with link building, outreach, and/or content writing
How to sell SEO: 6 tips & strategies to close more deals
The specifics of selling SEO will change every time depending on who you’re selling to, and what you’re selling.
That being said, there are some fundamentals that always apply.
Check if your prospect is a good fit
First things first. Before you go ahead and start trying to close a deal with a prospect, it’s really important to check if it’s a good fit first.
If the client isn’t a good fit for you & your service, it’ll waste everyone’s time. They won’t get the results they need & churn quickly, so you’ll be back to the drawing board looking for a new client. Not to mention, the experience could damage your reputation as a service provider.
So what makes a good fit client? Well, here’s some things to think about:
1. What’s the potential for their SEO channel?
Some businesses can scale to the moon with SEO. Others can be very limited. For some small local businesses, even if they ranked #1 for every relevant search term, the search volumes (& revenue) just wouldn’t be enough to make an ROI.
Equally, an innovative new company might not have any search demand for their services yet. Think about something like [ ]. Since people didn’t know to look for it, in the beginning, channels like paid social & influencer marketing were more appropriate.
Basic keyword research should yield the answers to this question.
2. What’s their in-house resource?
A lot of what we do in SEO is about making recommendations. Which technical changes to make to the website, which content to create, and so on.
Is the client in a position to actually execute on your recommendations? Or if not, do they have additional budget to outsource things like content creation to you, or hire freelance writers?
Don’t leave any room for confusion -- make sure the client knows what’s involved. Not only your fee, but the ongoing resource required on a monthly basis too.
3. Can they afford to invest?
SEO doesn’t need to take 12+ months to reach ROI, but it’s still not the fastest channel.
If a small business owner would absolutely need to see a positive ROI within 3 months or go broke, it’s probably not a good idea to proceed.
There should be a long-term mindset there, with room to invest & grow.
Ask the right questions
On a similar note, there are several questions you can ask your client in advance of a sales conversation or proposal. Their answers will help equip you with the data you need to make a solid proposal, and confirm you can help them. Here’s 5 things to ask about to get you started.
1. Average customer value
This question will help you figure out the breakeven point for your services.
Average customer value could be calculated slightly differently depending on the business model. In e-commerce, there should be data on average cart value. Ideally, there would also be data on repeat custom, so you can calculate lifetime value.
With a monthly subscription product, you can take the average profit margin per month, times by the average length of subscription (e.g. 9 months).
Figure out how many customers you’ll need to win through SEO to make this profitable.
2. Measuring success
Although you’ll be tracking multiple different metrics & KPIs, it’s good to agree on a ‘main’ KPI for simplicity. Once again, that’s going to depend on the client.
- For e-commerce, it could be transactions, or transaction value
- For a sales-led SaaS it could be demo bookings
- For a product-led SaaS it could be free trial sign ups
- For a local business it could be enquiries
Clarify the attribution model you’ll be using too. First click, last click, or something else? There are pros and cons of each, but the important thing is that everyone is on the same page, and measurement is consistent.
3. Competitors & positioning
In order to adequately understand the SEO landscape for your prospect’s niche, you need to know who the competitors are & what they’re doing.
Ask your prospect to give you a list of their main competitors. Double it up with your own research too. See who’s ranking for key terms currently.
In addition, make sure you ask the client to clarify their positioning. How are they different from these competitors? It’ll help you to speak their language, understand the USPs, and think of content or CRO ideas.
4. Current & past SEO initiatives
If this company has ever done SEO work in the past, now’s the time to find out about it. What did they do? How did it work?
Maybe it worked well, but there was no resource to continue pursuing it, in which case you can pick it back up. If it didn’t work, you can dig into why, and learn from the mistakes.
Perhaps they’ve worked with an agency in the past. What was good & bad about their experience? What can you learn from it?
5. Other marketing channels e.g. PPC
It’s likely that there’s something to learn by enquiring about other marketing channels too.
PPC in particular. If the prospect runs paid search ads, see if they’ll give you a report of their top converting queries. See if you can double down on winning keywords with your organic strategy too.
It’s a much easier sell if the client already knows search marketing works for them.
Pick your KPIs, but focus on revenue
As SEO professionals, we often talk in terms of rankings, backlinks, clicks, impressions, and conversions.
You should definitely work with your prospective client to figure out which are the important SEO KPIs, as mentioned earlier.
At the end of the day though, your client only cares about revenue. If you’re talking to a business owner or a marketing director of some kind, all they’re thinking about is whether or not they’ll make more money than what they pay you. Whatever you do or say, always tie it back to revenue and ROI.
Having asked the right questions & done some research into the opportunities available, you should be able to make some rough forecasts. What is the potential growth & impact you can have on their organic channel?
Find some quick wins
Although your client should understand their investment in SEO is a long-term one, they will still want to see some results as soon as possible.
To increase your chances of making the sale, you should put forward some ideas on how you can make an impact within the first 3 months.
Find the quick wins. Here are some ideas to look for:
1. Low-competition keywords for new content
When you map out content ideas, mix in long-term and short-term targets.
You might have some super high potential keywords to work on which will take 6-12+ months to rank for. In the meantime though, how can you move the needle for your client?
In most niches, there’ll be some smaller volume & lower competition keywords. The maximum potential is sure to be lower, but it’ll prove to the client that this channel works.
2. Correct a search intent mismatch
Audit the prospective client’s existing content. Is there anything that you (or they) think should be ranking, but isn’t?
Perhaps the search intent isn’t quite right. Google is pretty good at figuring out what people are looking for, and the dominant search intent is almost always what gets delivered in the top few results. For example, if you’re trying to rank for ‘fish oil’, then you’ll need to publish an article on the health benefits of fish oil. An e-commerce category page will not rank.
Another common example of search intent mismatch is trying to rank a landing page for a search term that requires an article. Or vice versa. In SaaS, a company might be puzzled as to why their feature page is nowhere to be found for ‘invoicing software’. By checking search intent, you’ll learn that this query demands a list of tools -- not a sales page for one tool.
3. On-page optimizations
Another thing to look out for is basic on-page optimizations. Often, if content is being created without the guidance of an SEO person/team, really easy things get missed.
Perhaps a landing page or article was created without having targeted a specific keyword for search ranking purposes.
I had an example of this recently with a client, Perkbox. Their platform page was ranking well accidentally. Without being optimized for any specific keyword. The meta title & h1 was focused around ‘employee experience platform’, which doesn’t have any search demand.
By spending 15 minutes to change the meta title & subheadings to optimize around ‘employee benefits platform’ instead, the main keyword ranked #1 in the UK within 3 days of the change:
Rank tracking screenshot from Nightwatch
4. Conversion rate optimization (CRO)
Not every SEO provider will include CRO within their service, but I do recommend considering it. You can offer recommendations alone, or full implementation & testing too.
CRO provides another opportunity to improve your organic KPI quickly. Especially for an established client that already has some good non-brand traffic.
Analyze high traffic pages and check their conversion rates. If they’re lower than you expect, propose some experiments that might increase it. Think about:
- Rewriting copy above the fold
- Moving a CTA, or changing it entirely
- Adding media (e.g. product UI shots, or an explainer video)
- Adding social proof (e.g. client testimonials and/or logos)
- Trying an exit intent or slide-in popup
Look at site-wide changes first for the biggest impact. The blog sidebar, the navigation, and the footer. Then, look at the highest traffic content.
Write case studies
Try and put yourself in the shoes of your prospective client. If you were the one spending money, and hiring an agency for a service. What could reassure you of their ability to get the job done?
Their past work. Right?
The industries & clients they’ve worked with, the results they’ve achieved, and what their other customers have to say about their experience.
You need proof that you can do the job you say you’re going to do, and case studies are the way to get it. In fact, 62.6% of respondents in one survey by eMarketer of marketing agency executives said that case studies were effective for new client lead generation.
So, what should be in a case study? Here’s a high level overview of what you can consider including:
- The client: who they are & what they do
- Their challenge. Be specific - e.g. looking to grow non-brand MQLs in UK & US
- The strategies used. E.g. template pages, competitor comparisons, listicles
- The outcome, with data -- what was the uplift in their main KPI
Write an SEO service proposal
All the previous tips come together when it’s time to write your service proposal.
Writing an SEO proposal could easily be an entire article of its own, but here’s a summary of what to include, and some tips.
What to include in your SEO proposal
1. A high-level view of your strategy
There’s no need to give away your entire strategy up front, but you need to give enough that the prospect trusts you know what you’re doing.
Share examples of technical issues you can fix, content & keywords that you’ll pursue, link building strategies, and so on.
2. Estimated impact
This one is tricky, but you’ll need to estimate for the client what kind of impact you can have on their organic SEO channel.
You could break that down into 3, 6, 9 or 12 month forecasts. Based on the keywords you plan to pursue, what’s the potential KPI uplift if you ranked #1 for them all?
Remind the client that it is just an estimate, based on the best data you have available.
2. Resources needed
As well as your fee, what else will the client need to commit to doing?
Most commonly that would be writing, design, development, and sometimes even product team resources.
3. Estimated timelines
What will happen, and when?
There’s no need to be too specific. Add milestones on key dates so the client knows what to expect, but not the precise day that every different task will happen. That would be stressful, and plans are sure to change.
4. Your case studies & testimonials
Include whichever ones are the closest in terms of relevance (business model & industry) so that they’re relatable.
5. How you’ll collaborate
This section is to give the client a better insight as to how you’ll work together on a weekly basis. Think about mentioning:
- How you manage tasks (e.g. a project planning or timeline software)
- The best way to communicate (e.g. a shared Slack channel to join)
- How, what, and when you’ll report (share a report example if you can)
- Points of contact (who to ask about what)
Last but not least, the price. How much you’re asking them to pay for your service.
If you’ve managed to forecast the revenue impact, repeat it here. Position this as an investment, not a cost.
If there’s a minimum term commitment, make it clear up front.
Selling SEO isn’t rocket science, but it can still be tricky if you haven’t done it before.
Ensuring that you clarify exactly what you’re selling & who is your best-fit customer is the first step. Following that, taking the time to figure out if your prospect is a good fit will save a lot of potential stress later down the line.
If your prospect believes you can make them a profit, and they can afford to invest, they’ll buy your service. It’s down to you to do the research, find the opportunities, and present them in a way that is easy to understand.
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