How To Explain SEO To Your Clients

Written by
Digital Marketing
Time to read: 8 min, 30 sec

Many search engine optimization (SEO) clients know they need professional SEO services but can’t exactly wrap their minds around the answer to why. It’s hard to convince someone of the value of your service when a person is still asking, “Why is this important, again?”

And SEO is one of those baffling new-ish concepts that the mainstream public probably doesn’t think about in their day-to-day lives - unless, of course, they’re familiar with the online marketing world. Everybody uses search engines, but not many people think about their inner workings. And even if a company has a website, don’t assume they’re aware of SEO or their Google ranking at all. They may live under a star, enjoying the happy delusion that because they’re online, they’re going to reap the benefits of online visits.

The importance of sharing your knowledge

It’s dire for SEO companies to have the skills and ability to articulate the importance of their services because the idea of SEO is totally brand spanking new for a lot of people. Even once clients have signed up for services and understand the big picture a little better, they can lapse into frustration when their campaign is slow to begin and slow to show results. Of course, you as an SEO expert know that this is normal and to be expected, but you desperately want to reassure them to be patient, because in time, your efforts will pay off!

If clients can understand the value of their SEO investment (long-term traffic, improved conversions, brand visibility), recognize the immense online competition to be seen in the search results, and accept the absolute necessity of creating a user-friendly site that stands out amongst competitors, they’ll back your efforts 100% because they know that the service you’re providing is pure gold.

You don’t want your clients to be in the dark. Confusion breeds mistrust and fear. Arm them with confidence and knowledge - and everyone will be all the happier.

What all this means for the search engine marketer... as you learned in Sunday school, you need to be ready to give an answer at all times. You’ve got to be an “SEO Evangelist.”

Why it’s hard to explain SEO

The more you know about a topic, the harder it can be to pare it down to the basics for your audience. It’s like when you’ve seen a fabulous movie and someone asks, “What was it about?” Where do you begin? The genre, characters, overall plot, mood and tone, major themes? When you’ve got a thousand facts, tools, and case studies about SEO swirling through your brain, it can be tough to return to the essence of what it is.

New or prospective clients will require a thorough, good explanation from you. The thing is, there’s not just one way to explain SEO because every listener is different and comes into the conversation with their own prior knowledge of the terms and the broad field. So for one, you’ve got to figure out what they already know and help them understand what they don’t. Beyond that, choosing the main foci can feel like a lot of pressure because:

  • You’ve got a short window of opportunity to convince them of the wisdom of this investment.
  • You want them to understand right away so they can get excited about SEO’s benefits.
  • You want them to see that you have complete mastery of the subject and the process.
  • You want them to know that your company does things the “right way,” through ethical link earning and user-focused strategies, and trust you to take charge.
  • You don’t want to lose them to another company.
  • You see clear as day how essential SEO is for their website, and you don’t want them to be confused and shrug the whole thing off.

How not to explain SEO

Don’t lose them. If they start to look lost, or if they start to look bored, change directions! Don’t get bogged down in how search engines index content or describing algorithmic updates if they look like they're about to fall asleep. 

Don’t assume they know the vocabulary. Depending on the person’s role in their company, they’ll have a varying level of prior knowledge of terms that seem basic to you, like “search engine,” “index,” “rank,” etc. They’ll also have a specific perspective on online marketing depending on their position and the daily goals they are supposed to achieve for the company.

Don't dwell on the difficulty. Be clear on the competitiveness of the Internet, and be very honest in telling them in may take a while to get to the top of the search results. But don't paint a grim, gray picture that gives the impression that this is impossible. Stay positive!

Tips to remember

Tailor your approach based on the listener. A good enough “story” about SEO can be your basic backbone to use every time, if you have your A-B-C key points ingrained in your head. However, don’t rely on a static dictionary definition or a technical explanation that may fly right over their ponytail and into space.

Make it easy for them by clearly and quickly showing how SEO affects their department. Just as marketing ties in with every aspect of a company, so does SEO - from human resources to sales and beyond. SEOmoz has a helpful post outlining tips on what big ideas to emphasize about SEO to different people at a company based on their role, from the CEO to the Community Outreach Manager. 

Remember to emphasize both on-site and off-site SEO. You don’t want them to get the picture that SEO is just something that you DO to a site from the outside. They need to understand that internal changes to the site’s navigation, aesthetics, copy, and pages will directly affect SEO.

Stay enthusiastic. (Hopefully) you enjoy what you do, and you are a proponent of it! Deliver an explanation in a tone that conveys your interest in the topic. If you’re not interested, why will they be?

Metaphors people like to use for SEO

Figurative language is your friend. If you can connect a vague, dense topic with a familiar topic, people will have that “aha” moment. You’ll have quicker comprehension.

I think it’s funny how many real-life examples we pull out of our creative minds to bring SEO to life for someone. Here’s a bunch you may find useful (or maybe it will spur you on to find your own way of explaining SEO):

  • On white hat SEO vs. black hat SEO: High quality SEO is like artistic graffiti, but poor quality SEO can also be like vandalism.
  • On the time it takes to see results: SEO is a marathon and not a sprint - you have to pace yourself for the long run and commit to slow, steady progress.
  • On link earning to build your website’s reputation in Google’s eyes: SEO is like networking to get a job. You need to make the right connections so that people get to know you and like you, and so they endorse how great you are.

My metaphor: SEO is like dental hygiene

Here’s the big, bright metaphor I got this morning while brushing my teeth. You can relate SEO (to an extent) to the all-American routine of dental hygiene. 

I have regular dental exams and frequent fluoride treatments, just like you. I brush and floss regularly (hopefully just like you) which feels really good, but can seem kind of silly and obligatory. Every six months, I have a dentist perform a two-minute check on my mouth to tell me once again that things are good. Without daily dental hygiene, combined with my biyearly dental exams, I will have terrible breath, lose my teeth, and lose my ability to chew and ultimately, to stay alive. (Drastic, huh?) I can’t expect any other results if I refuse to brush my teeth and floss them.

In the same way, it would be absurd to expect your website to perform well in the search engines without diligent maintenance and an implementation of SEO strategy. You’ve got to care for it, maintain it, troubleshoot, and check up on it constantly. You have to do the little things every day and the big things once in a while. You have to love your website and promote it. Otherwise, you will lose it - and it’s ability to keep your business flourishing.

We can even compare the dentist to you as an SEO professional!

  • A dentist is thoroughly educated and trained in the correct way to care for my teeth.
  • A dentist has all the fancy tools in his office that he can use to perform an exceptional tooth cleaning and check-up.
  • A dentist has years of experience and knowledge on the subject of dental hygiene.

We don’t go to the pros because we’re incapable of doing things ourselves. Everyone could learn SEO. Your clients could learn SEO. But you have the expertise, the time, and the tools. You are trained. You’ve already ridden the learning curve and seen what works and what doesn’t.

That’s why they can trust you!

To recap

Really, to explain SEO well, you just have to be a good storyteller and teacher. Don't lose your audience. Tailor your content to the listener. Use metaphors. Of course, this is easier said than done. But I have full faith you can do it - and the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

Do you have questions about SEO, or would you like to hear about how SEO could help your business? Connect with us - we'd love to have a good conversation about SEO with you.

Written by Ryan Boog

Ryan Boog

I am the CEO of Happy Dog Web Productions. I look forward to taking web, mobile design and digital marketing to the next level with Happy Dog. Follow Happy Dog at @hdwebpros or me personally at @ryanboog.

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