While many industries and businesses are struggling to survive and grow right now, that can’t be said of the SEO or online local advertising industries. It’s boom time for our sector as more and more businesses turn to the Internet and mobile as their primary marketing channels.
But, it’s not just businesses that are wising up to the opportunities which online holds. Hundreds of new SEO agencies and freelancer operators are popping up every week as people leave their old professions behind or are forced to change through redundancy or lack of opportunity.
The barriers to setting yourself up as an SEO or social media specialist are very low. The 2012 Local SEO Industry Survey (conducted by BrightLocal) found that 31% of respondents were new to SEO that year, yet were actively providing SEO and social media services.
Competition within the SEO industry is already intense, and that is only going to increase as the industry gets more saturated with new agencies and operators.
New customers are the lifeblood of small businesses, so how do SEOs and agency bosses identify new prospects and turn them into new customers?
We put these questions (and more) to three successful local SEOs and agency bosses. Here are some of the tactics they use to find and win new customers which keeps their agencies thriving.
5 Proven Ways To Win New Local Customers
There are many ways to win new customers; the five tips below show several different ways to help you win new local customers.
1. Local Workshops & Events
Create your own local workshop which provides free insights and training for local businesses about online marketing. This is a great way to establish yourself as a ‘local’ expert, create credibility for your business and impress potential clients with your understanding of the issues they face.
These events are about helping local businesses understand the opportunities available to them and showing yourself as a knowledgeable agency; it’s not about pitching your services. If you can prove your knowledge and be helpful to them, their business will come your way.
2. Informal ‘Meet-ups’
While workshops are more formal and structured affairs, meet-ups and social occasions and are designed to introduce local business owners to each other and to build your local network. You should invite existing customers, prospects and other local contacts you use, e.g., IT support, PR.
The more people who attend, the more influential you appear and the more benefit business owners get by attending the meet-up. It’s great to have customers and prospects rubbing shoulders and you can provide advice and direction to local business owners on what’s new in SEO/marketing.
3. Local Newspapers/Traditional Advertising
Despite it’s dwindling impact and consumption, traditional local media still exists and still carries local advertising. Local businesses that advertise here obviously have marketing budget to spend, and the pages of your local paper represent a great hunting ground for businesses that you can lure over to online.
You’ll need to prove the value you can deliver vs. traditional media, but at least, you know that these businesses have budget to spend, so you’re less likely to waste your time chasing ‘no hope’ prospects.
4. Facebook, Twitter & Google+
Actively building up your social networks and using your network to reach a wider group of potential customers is not a ground breaking tactic, but many businesses are not proactive enough in this area.
If you get a follower, then follow them back. If you have some useful content or local event, then share it with your network. Promote your workshops/meet-ups to your network and invite them to bring a colleague, contact, friend or even their mum — you never know where the next lead or introduction will come from!
No other channel packs the same punch as getting a direct referral from a happy customer or contact. The personal endorsement carries such weight that you should close almost every lead you get through this channel. You should make the most of this channel by actively creating case studies of successful work and then asking those customers if they would keep you in mind when they speak to other business owners. You could offer existing customers a discount on their account if they can introduce new customers to you — make it worth their while.
It goes without saying that your own SEO performance and site optimization is important. If you can’t get your own site to rank well and your site looks like a dog’s dinner and doesn’t incorporate strong call-to-action points, then it becomes much harder for you to convince others of your skills.
Use Research To Impress Local Business Owners
Below are some resources you can use to educate local business owners and impress them at the same time .
SEO Industry Data & Reports
Most local business owners are aware of SEO, but their knowledge doesn’t run too deep. Using industry data and surveys, such as the ‘Local Search Ranking Factors’ survey, is a great way to introduce them to the key areas which they should focus on and also demonstrates how complicated local SEO can be unless you know what you’re doing.
One of our interviewees (Brian Childers) actually takes a laminated copy of the survey to new client meetings. It’s powerful stuff!
Vertical Industry Data & Insights
Doing some research into a prospect’s industry is a great way to demonstrate that you appreciate that not every industry is the same and that you’ve gone the extra mile in your pre-meeting research. Business owners are always keen to know what’s happening in their industry, what their competitors are up to and how they compare (see benchmarking vs. competitors below).
If you can’t find find useful data online, you can always create your own. Services like Toluna Quick Surveys allow you to create short questionnaires and get answers from 100-2,000 consumers. You can present this data to the customer and also publish as a blog on your site. This is great content and can open the door for other clients in that industry.
Benchmarking Potential Customer Vs. Local Competitors
It goes without saying that you need to analyse a potential customer’s site and SEO before you formally meet or pitch to them. Lots of business owners are aware of their own SEO situation (some more than others), but they often don’t know how they compare to their local competitors. You can play on this natural curiosity and rivalry, showing them how their competitors are gaining an advantage on them and grabbing their customers.
Case Studies & Results From Other Customers
Creating case studies from your existing customers which includes a quote or comment gives potential clients confidence in your abilities. But even more powerful than that is actually sharing real performance statistics with them — ideally, from Google Analytics, ranking reports, call tracking software, etc.
This gives clear evidence of your ability, and the growth in site visits/calls is very tangible for local business owners. Obviously, you should get permission from existing customers to share this data and never publish these results publicly.
5 Positive Ways To Follow Up & Close A Customer
Closing is a skill most marketers need to work on; below are some activities that can help you develop this skill.
1. Call Customer To Answer Follow Up Questions
Prompt follow up after the meeting is essential for establishing an on-going relationship. Email them the data/presentation you gave within 24hours and then call them within 48 hours to see if they have any more questions. If they don’t bite yet, then tell them you will add them to your ‘closed’ mailing list so they can receive any new information and insights which are usually reserved for paying customers.
2. Add Them To Your Mailing List
Keep that connection going by adding them to your mailing list and sending through regular, insightful information. This keeps your name ‘front of mind’ and establishes you as a knowledgeable person with their finger on the pulse of the latest online marketing trends.
3. Post-Meeting Research
Most effort is spent pre-meeting, and not much is done afterwards. If you have your ears open during your initial meeting you should come away with a few questions and ideas which you can investigate the answers to.
Research these and send your findings through to the customer to show them that you’ve listened and invested even more time in getting to understand their situation. Other SEOs may not do this, so this will set you apart from the crowd.
4. Invite Them To Local Workshop Or Meet-Up
We’ve talked about the objective and value of these sessions, so make sure you invite everyone you pitch to attend.
5. Invite Them To Talk With An Existing, Happy Customer
The power of referrals is huge, so don’t just rely on your customers to bring referrals to you. If you can persuade existing happy) customers to advocate your services, then you can introduce potential customers to them so they can hear from them about the work you do. This is a great way to get converts ‘on the fence’ leads as long as your existing customers do truly like you!
I would also like to thank the SEOs and Agencies that contributed to this series of interviews on BrightLocal:
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.