What Should I Do in My First 6 Months With a Local SEO Client?

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Advance Your Agency is a BrightLocal series designed to equip you with the skills, knowledge, and advice necessary to take your agency operations to the next level.

So, you’ve just landed your first proper local SEO client. How do you ensure that you provide them with sufficient value in the first six months? 

Showing the benefits of your local SEO work within the initial six months is vital if you’re hoping to retain clients and build positive relationships, as well as securing your agency as a competent player in the world of local SEO.

With so many tasks to manage, from review generation to Google My Business optimization and beyond, it can be a challenge knowing what to prioritize.

In this month’s issue of Advance Your Agency, I’ll talk you through the most important steps to take in the first six months with a local SEO client.

But, I won’t be doing it alone…

Throughout this article, I’ve enlisted the help of three key players in the world of local SEO, who have advanced their agencies and lived to tell the tale. Thank you to Sterling Sky’s Joy Hawkins, Bowler Hat’s Marcus Miller, and RicketyRoo’s Blake Denman for sharing their perspectives and helping to inform this piece.

Read on to benefit from their top tips, actions, and tactics to undertake during the initial half-year period with a new local SEO client. 

Contents/Six-Month Checklist 

      1. Talk to Your Client – Get to know the business’s brand and what they’re looking for through an onboarding questionnaire and kickoff call.
      2. Identify and Set Goals – Understand what your client is hoping to achieve, use SMART goals to set measurable targets.
      3. Manage Expectations – Don’t overpromise. Be realistic with your client about what can be achieved and in what timeframe.
      4. Perform a Local SEO Audit – Familiarize yourself with the client’s current local SEO practices (if any) and identify priority areas that need looking into
      1. Set Up Rank Tracking and Reporting
      2. Optimize Google My Business
      3. Perform Local Keyword Research
      4. Citation Audit
      5. Spam Monitoring
      6. Google My Business Posts
      7. Review Management

Month 1: First Steps

In this section, I’ll explain how to approach your first contact with a new local SEO client.

Talk to Your Client

First things first, you need to know what your client wants to achieve. 

The best way to do this is to have an in-depth chat with your client. What do they want to gain by performing local SEO? Often, you’ll get a response like “I just want to rank higher!” but it’s important to delve deeper. Why does the client want to rank higher? Is it because they want to drive more traffic to their site, get more phone calls, or improve their reputation? 

Beyond just taking the opportunity to get to know your client and their business, there will generally be a few housekeeping bits to get out the way.

Founder of RicketyRoo, Blake Denman, advises that it’s important to lay out the process of what’s to come as clearly as possible.

In month one I schedule a kickoff call, send an email with detailed instructions on what we need access to, and how to go about doing it. Since we work mainly with SMBs, giving them clearcut instructions, step-by-step, is very helpful for them.

There are also ways to streamline the process of identifying a client’s business history and future, such as creating an “onboarding questionnaire”, as Blake refers to it. This allows the client to tell you in their own words exactly what they’re looking for from a local SEO agency and what they’re currently working on.

We also send links to our onboarding questionnaires that give us a good overview of the business, branding, etc. The kickoff call’s purpose is for me to go over the questionnaires, ask a few deeper questions, and see if they have questions. We’ll also go over the deliverables again for the first month.

Once you’ve spoken to the client and sufficiently familiarized yourself with their work and understanding of local SEO, you can move on to the next part of the process: setting goals.

Identify and Set Goals

Ensuring you and your client have a shared vision for your local SEO work is vital. It’s important to understand that local SEO shouldn’t be seen as a “quick win”, but instead, a way to take your client’s business to the next level, provide them with more visibility, and elevate their current business efforts.

Similarly to Blake, Founder of SEO agency Bowler Hat, Marcus Miller, agrees that speaking with a client early on in the process is vital. 

Here, he discusses the importance of setting goals.

At Bowler Hat, there are a couple of jobs that we tackle at the beginning of every project. 

 

Firstly, we like to get a clear understanding of the client’s objectives and the business itself. We need to know what the client is actually trying to achieve, rather than the specific SEO goals. This is to ensure we give the best possible recommendations and can set some clear and measurable goals (typically SMART goals) that we can use to measure progress.

 

Sometimes, SEO is not the best fit for the business requirements, for example, if the site ranks nowhere, the goals are lofty and the client needs leads tomorrow, we may suggest another tactic whilst we work on SEO in the background.

As Marcus mentions, sometimes the client’s goals will span beyond SEO, and you’ll need to be prepared to adapt accordingly. In fact, sometimes you’ll need to be prepared to say no altogether if the client’s goals just aren’t a good fit for your skillset or culture. 

Like I said, sometimes a client will come to you saying their “goal” is to rank number one in Google searches, but it’s your job to unpack this and ensure you have an awareness of the client’s real-world business goals and how local SEO fits into those.

SMART goals can be a great way to ensure you’re both working towards the same target. 

To begin setting SMART goals with your client you’ll need to agree on targets that are:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic, and resourced, results-based).
  • Timely (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, time-sensitive).

A SMART goal might be something like: 

  • Increasing revenue X amount from last year
  • Increasing the number of new customers by X 
  • Increasing store visits by X percent 

Whatever it may be, this will help you to determine the kind of work needed to put your client where they want to be.

Manage Expectations

During this six-month process, you’ll also want to be clear about setting and managing expectations. It’s important not to overpromise, which can be especially hard when just starting out as a local SEO agency. 

A good local SEO strategy is a hugely powerful tool and can be what really takes a local business to the next stage of success. 

That said, it doesn’t happen overnight. Local SEO is an ongoing process, and the ability to rank well is owed to numerous factors — proximity, relevance, and prominence, being the top three. 

Try not to make promises to your client (“We’ll get you ranking number one in no time!”) and instead be realistic, refer back to your agreed upon SMART goals, and keep your client updated when things go out of your control (unfortunately, local SERPs get their fair share of ranking flux, too).

Complete a Local SEO Audit

Once you’ve established the client’s goals, our experts unanimously agree that the next step is to undertake a thorough audit.

Sterling Sky’s founder, Joy Hawkins, says that, although they don’t have a set “checklist” of tasks to perform, there are some projects her agency tackles first.

Our process is to first do an in-depth audit. We charge for this, it is done manually by a person (not automated), and it is designed to figure out which items are keeping the business from succeeding currently. We do use tools (like BrightLocal) as a part of this audit but I would never suggest completely automating the auditing process as there are too many things that need a human eye. While doing the audit we add labels to the things we find to rank them in the order of high, medium, and low priority.

From here, Joy and her team can identify high priority tasks. Of course, these are the tasks the SEO agent will tackle first.

Our to-do list for month 1 is to go through the high priority items first. Sometimes this stretches into months 2-6 depending on the issues. For example, if the business is getting impacted by the filter, this would be a high priority item and would need to be tackled first. Things like citations almost always get tagged as low priority and are left until much later. Link building is something that almost always gets put as high priority and is done continually (never ends). I’m a big fan of coming up with custom action plans that fit the business, their current scenario, industry, and market.

BrightLocal local seo audit

BrightLocal’s Local Search Audit tool

When identifying your client’s priority items, it’s important to remember that few local SEO tasks are “one and done”. As Joy says, projects such as link building tend to operate on a more ongoing basis.

Additionally, there are some aspects of local SEO that are commonly seen as foundational and, while they may not be game-changers, will need to be done if your client hopes to compete.

Regardless of what tasks you’ve identified as high priority, the next steps will be the same for everyone: getting to work on implementing a great local SEO strategy.

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