Lessons from pitching SEO

By Dave McAnally, Natural Search Supervisor, Content Solutions

Well we’ve been in the midst of some new business launches and pitches lately (or at least I have). I’m finding more and more, I enjoy this aspect of the business. My interests/demand has taken me more to the behind the scenes realm and now recently, it seems to be that new business is taking more time. Maybe that’s part of growing up? There’s definitely a difference between telling the story to somebody who you are in essence selling the values of your company to verses the value of a project wherein you and the client function as a partnership. I don’t mean to say that the quality of work we deliver is diminished at any point in the chain…but there’s a certain higher level learning that goes with RFP’s and business pitches that, well, frankly I’m enjoying.

With no particular audience in mind, I thought I’d share some general observations and tidbits I’ve learned along the way with some of our recent SEO-related pitches and new business I’ve found interesting:

Less is more

I am becoming a card carrying PPT geek (no shame in that!). Seriously, there is nothing more boring than a pitch that is slide after slide of bullet points. I don’t like them. You don’t like them. I’d be willing to bet our prospective clients don’t like them either.

A colleague of mine has a creative hair for non-linear slides that are almost like movies. I’ve picked his brain a lot over the past few months (much to his chagrin I’m sure). What I’ve found is that you can generate 10-12 clicks within a single slide via animations and tell a much more vivid story without a single bullet point!

For example, I’ll have a funnel graphic in the center of the slide to demonstrate our projections. Using animations to swap out numbers based on what we estimate this 4-5 slide process condenses to a single slide and the funnel (which can represent a number of things depending on what I’m talking about) provides a much better visual than a bar graph or some other chart. Sure there’s a lot going on, but since everything is more like a storyline, I find the audience is much more eager to engage in this setting.

Always tie back to a metric of success

The funny thing about SEO is EVERY single pitch I’ve been involved in (at any agency) is that your prospective client will inevitably ask the following: “Show us what you would do and what results we can expect”. This is the part where SEO’s show the various things they’d recommend to the client (optimize tags, fine tune the architecture etc etc). The “what we can expect” part is dicey though because I think the natural tendency for dyed in the wool SEO’s is to answer that question with tactical replies. “This will improve rankings” “That will help spiders get through the site quicker” type things.

The problem? Nobody cares. I’m serious! Bob the CMO is interested in “results” that justify the marketing dollars you are asking them to spend. Cutting to the chase is a good thing in this situation. It’s like that saying, nobody wants a drill, they want a hole. You can definitely show results without guaranteeing what will happen (as that’s a cardinal sin in this business). Therefore, your recommendations and tactical approach should speak to the key performance indicators of the client. Are they looking for brand awareness? Demonstrate the potential for traffic if they do all the things you recommend (potential is the operative word). Is this a cataloger looking to produce more sales? Using their own conversion rates, show them how a projected lift in traffic based on your recommendations translates to more sales.

The point is, the client’s primary interest isn’t whether or not a spider can get through their site or if they rank for a term (although they may speak in these terms). Their REAL interest is in how these things achieve their goals. Speak to that, and you will have success.

Use what is to show what could be

Your proposal for enhancements is much better received if you have context to go with it. I think a common mistake is to get really keyword and tactical centric. Sure their title tags aren’t optimized and the site architecture could use work, but so what? First thing is first – find out how they rank in search results today. Most larger sites already rank for hundreds of terms. How much traffic are these producing? Do they convert? Regardless of the situation, it’s a great starting point. What’s great about this is oftentimes, you’ll see excellent opportunities right off the bat. These can be used to tell your story. All those queries they are ranking 11 and 12 for…how “optimized” for them are they? What would happen if they made it to page 1 for one of those terms (ceteris paribus of course)? People are responsive to possibilities if they have a context to frame them.

Your mileage may vary of course, but these are some things I’ve noticed lately. Ultimately, there are many factors one must choose when determining an agency to go with (those are documented at length). What have you noticed in being essential components to conveying value?


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