Every now and then I see an article written about what people should look for when selecting an SEO provider to manage their web site's online marketing campaign. Most of these articles written by SEOs, or those intimately familiar with the industry, provide valuable insights of (what the author believes are) some of the most important aspects of the selection process.
A recent discussion on a popular forum got me thinking about the other side of the coin. Instead of creating another list telling the business owner what they should or should not be looking for in an SEO, I wanted to analyze what it is that the client actually looks for when they are narrowing down their choices between SEO providers. Here is a list of seven things the client considers:
Price: Though many people would (or should) be willing to pay more for a better service, there does come a point where price for services is just too high for a company's current budget. Regardless of the quality, they simply can't afford to pay anymore, at least right now. Then there are the bargain hunters. It surprises me when talking to prospective clients and I'm told by one that our prices are way too high and then by another that our prices are within the range of other firms they've been investigating. It's all about each person's perspective, and each has a pricing range that they can, or think they can, afford. Funny, I don't think I've ever been told that our prices are not high enough (though I suspect for some prospects that may actually be true!)
Longevity: One of my favorite questions to get asked is "How long have you been in business?". I know that there are many quality SEOs out there that have been doing this stuff for far fewer years than we have, but I know that being able to tell people how long we've been in business is a considerable source of comfort for them. Longevity lets them know that the SEO is not some fly-by-night shop likely to cut and run or go out of business overnight.
Trust: There are many indicators of trust on a website and I know this plays a role. One of those symbols of trust is belonging to certain associations such as the Better Business Bureau. Displaying such symbols on the website serve to reinforce trust aspects, including longevity mention above.
Assurances: I was going to say guarantees here but I think people are starting to realize that top rankings cannot be guaranteed. Heck, even performance guarantees are hard to come by unless the SEO maintains virtually total control over the site's marketing aspects. We often get asked if we provide a guarantee only to find that the prospects are relieved to hear that we don't provide any top ranking guarantees. That answer gives them the assurance that they are looking for. These prospects are the ones who know to run away when promised a guaranteed #1 ranking in Google in 19 days.
Comfort: I think a great deal of determining which SEO to select is based on how comfortable the individual making the decision is with the person or company as a whole. The SEO may say all the right things, but if the prospect isn't comfortable with the relationship that will be reason enough to go with someone else. For the SEO its important to adapt their "persona" to the person they are dealing with. I have some clients that I can joke around with whenever we talk and with others I must take a more serious approach. I find what makes them most comfortable and go with it.
Size: Yes, the size of the SEO firm matters! Different people are looking for different sizes based on their needs and desires. One will be more comfortable with a single contractor working on their account for the more personalized attention, another feels that only a large firm can handle their needs. Still others are looking for something in between where they feel they'll get the personalized service yet ensure that everything isn't farmed out to sub-contractors in India. There is nothing one can do to be the perfect size other than to provide the assurances necessary that the client will get just the right amount of attention they'll need to ensure success.
Results: Many prospects rely on assurances, but the really savvy SEO researcher demands to see results. They want to know what you've accomplished and for whom, and possibly even some references that they can call to talk to about the services the SEO has provided them.
SEOs can tell potential customers what they think they should be looking for in an SEO firm, but what the client actually looks for often turns out to be something entirely different. That's not to say that the client shouldn't look for the things us SEOs recommend, but only that those things are just the tip of the iceberg. They are an important part of the equation, but often not the most important part. By being able to provide satisfaction in the areas above, the SEO will be at a far greater advantage not only at obtaining the client, but maintaining client satisfaction.