Client communication is the key to client retention. It’s about more than reporting. It’s about building relationships and fostering understanding.
Emily Brady is the Senior Manager of Local SEO at Milestone, Inc., an analytical local SEO-expert who has had to learn how to get good at the client relations part of the job. The company offers both SaaS services and SEO services and has served brands like the Marriott, Wyndham Hotel Group, Best Western, and more.
If you struggle with client retention or just feel like you and your clients aren’t connecting very well, this is the podcast to catch.
Emily stresses that we need to be thinking beyond listings management or Google My Business alone.
“That’s only one slice of it. It’s also your location landing pages. It’s also going to be your site performance. No one cares about your content if it doesn’t load on time for them. All that good stuff.”
She also mentions content, listings, offsite and onsite technical SEO, link building, and more.
“A big part of my day is working with these local listings, but having a holistic mindset makes local exciting.”
“This is the age-old conundrum. SEO is so many things. There are so many facets. Every client you work with is going to have a different perception of what SEO is. The first thing you want to nail down, at the sales level, is what their goals are, and how we can help them with those goals.”
She brings up an example:
“If we have a prospect or a client who is like: my goal is to rank #1 in the ten blue links for this one specific keyword and that’s all I care about, well at that point maybe it’s time to realign about how there are other valuable things that SEO or Local SEO can be doing for them.”
Starting with the question, though, says Emily, raises a foundation and sets a precedent for better communication moving forward.
“At the end of the day, we’re SEOs. We geek about all of this every single day. We geek out about those success metrics, but on the client-side, if you’re working with an internal marketing person or even an internal SEO, their KPIs may be defined on their bosses’ perception of SEO.
You may have to ask how they measure SEO and see if something needs to be realigned.”
If you’re not on the same page from the get-go, she says, then communication becomes almost impossible.
Emily speaks of a favorite client she had in the past.
“A medium-to-large HVAC company in a large Southern California city. They were really awesome. Woman-owned. Provided this career opportunity that is not typically something women are known to be successful in: technicians for plumbing and HVAC. I just love working around that company.”
But when they came to Emily?
“They had one keyword in mind and that was what they wanted to rank for as their primary goal. It wasn’t even unmerited because the search volume was really good. So yes, that was a great way to get visibility but it was also really challenging because the road for ranking for that keyword was going to take a lot of time.”
They still needed lots of consistent calls to stay afloat.
“We understand this is our aspirational goal, to outrank everyone for this. How about in the interim, we look at the surrounding geographic areas where you serve clients but don’t currently have content on your site to accommodate, let’s see if we can get ranking where the competition is really low.
She says it’s important to tag consistently.
“Find out if there’s already a reporting framework in place to make sure it won’t rob the business of some of its success metrics. Just make sure it works within the tracking and reporting and attribution that’s already set up.”
The aggregate search volume for all these keywords was actually higher than the one they were wanting to get.”
Emily did get them to rank for the keyword they wanted too.
“But along the way, we were able to educate them and say: hey, from the data perspective we have all this traffic and visibility coming from these smaller keywords, that, combined, give you the same amount of visibility. We saw that reflected in their ROI, in their organic leads, in all that great stuff.”
She explains that she aligned to the client’s goals, but also helped them realign and expand their understanding of what organic SEO can actually do.
“It’s not just about the most important keyword. Sometimes you gotta take a step back and say: okay, but how can we fill the gap for you getting phone calls in the interim before we achieve that primary ranking goal?“
Emily speaks of training she took at a former agency called Scorpion.
“One of the things they emphasized was a framework for understanding how to communicate with clients, a sales training framework.”
She’s speaking of the Merrill-Reid method, which classifies communication styles.
Analytical people want data and facts. Drivers want to hear about results. Amiable people are focused on relationship-building. Expressive people are enthusiastic, emotional communicators.
“When you start to think about client communication: is this person more data-driven or are they more relationship-driven? Are they the type of client who asks me what I did this weekend? Is interested to talk about their kids?
Whatever it might be. Those are clues for earning their trust and having a positive relationship with them.”
She points out that a person who is analytical like herself would have an “SEO love language” that revolves around getting all those minute details from the data.
So the first step is to look for clues, but the second is to ask how they best receive the data you need to give them.
She said when she first started working with her HVAC client she made some mistakes.
“I would give them every possible piece of information that I could about their success. Your overall visibility increased by 5%. This is amazing. This is good. This is paying off. We’re going in the right direction.”
To her clients, this information made it seem as though she was making excuses.
“All this information was unrelated to what was important to them. They were like: look, don’t send us updates until it’s results. And it really clicked for me at that point.
I was approaching them as an Analytical person would. They were Drivers. Give me results, send me a short email, cut to the chase. Both are valid. But because I was communicating in the way I want to be communicated to, it just didn’t translate as well.”
She said once she came to that realization and adjusted her communication style, it got a lot easier to work with and communicate with that client.
Emily says to pay attention to how they respond to emails.
“If they respond positively to a really long email with granular info people otherwise might not read. If they are not responding to those types of emails, or just sending: thanks,
, but didn’t read it? You can put a mental pin in that moving forward.”
At the beginning of the quarterly meeting, you can also check-in and say: “Here’s my understanding of your goals, is this still true?”
She says sometimes there might be a slight realignment, but most of the time?
“The client is like, yeah, we’re still on the same page.“
If you’ve solved the problem:
“Here’s what we see as being the next problem we want to solve? Here’s the next best goal. Do we agree? Let’s talk.“
Like many on the show, Emily gives a shout-out to the Women in Tech SEO group.
“I think the SEO community has made progress on amplifying voices that didn’t have any space in the spotlight or in the SEO world. Conferences, webinars, general visibility.”
She says the group has been very supportive of her.
“That group is THE best interaction that I have had. It took me a while to get involved with the SEO community. I’ve been doing SEO for a long time, I’ve been nervous about engaging with people on Twitter because Twitter is the way it is.”
Women in Tech SEO inspired her to put herself out there more.
She says while the industry has made progress, it still doesn’t look as diverse as it is.
“Be loud and rattle cages. If you ever notice something. Hey, that doesn’t actually reflect the spirit of the community we know it to be in its best form.”
Want to geek out with Emily on Local SEO? Find her on Twitter.