In Search [Episode 72]: Finding More Leads for More SEO Clients
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May 26, 2020 |
The In Search SEO Podcast
How to Get More SEO Clients Using Strong Lead Generation: Summary of Episode #72
Deepak Shukla of Pearl Lemon stopped by to talk about targeting new SEO clients.
We get into:
- How to find more good leads for more good SEO clients
- Has the market shifted? Is SEO passé and should you be peddling "organic growth?”
- How to push hard to get those new clients without coming off as spammy
Plus, we show why you should not take a new course of action based solely on trends data!
of Pearl Lemon
Kevin Indig on Google Trends for 'Best" & 'Cheap'
Bing Can Now Answer With Yes or No
Google Has Updated Its Hotel Ads Policy
New Search Console Recipes Report
Google Discover Bug Removed Traffic
Google My Business Adds Proof of Reinstatement Option
Follow the podcast on Twitter
Why Using Google Trends Data to Drive Strategy Is More Complex Than You Might Think [00:05:21 - 00:24:03]
Kevin Indig, who will be our guest next week, put out a retweet of some Google trends data. It showed that the trajectory of searches with the word ‘best’ was going up and searches with the word ‘cheap’ was going down.
While this is an interesting trend, you can’t take any lessons from it at face value. We must go deeper. Let’s start with some quick and easy points to consider:
1. Just because you see a correlation, it doesn’t mean they are related. There might be a relationship between searches with ‘cheap’ going down and ‘best’ going up, or it could mean nothing. You need to qualify it, though at face value in this particular case, Mordy might agree there very well might be a correlation. The point is you need to be careful how you interpret a trend.
2. How we search may change based on how content is being generated and how content expectations have changed. In simple terms, we’ve adapted by creating higher quality content because Google looks at content more like how a real person might. Content has to be of greater quality now, so things like a simple list of cheap products is not going to cut it. So we need to create content that’s fuller, that goes into the products, and that goes into the consumer’s circumstance.
A lot of this not only has to do with Google, but it’s what we expect and what we’re comfortable with as consumers. Remember infomercials? That kind of model doesn’t work anymore, we’ve become more sophisticated consumers. So a list of cheap products may not be something people are searching for like they used to. And it’s not that consumers don’t care about price. That’s crazy. Of course consumers care about price. The implication that the trend shows that people care about quality over price more than they used to, according to Mordy, is not too true at all. It’s just the way people search for price information has changed.
The point is you need to be careful how you interpret a trend.
3. The way we use language may change and what concepts are embedded within a term may also change over time.
Here’s the main point. Do people really not care about cheapness as much as they do bestness or has affordability become part of what makes something the best?
Let’s go down a slight wormhole. Let’s look at New York and its overabundance of cars. There are too many of them, they are too expensive, and they take too much of a beating. So for a New Yorker they might consider a ‘best’ car as something that’s fuel-efficient. When you search for ‘best car NYC’ you may see the site newyorkmotorinsurance.com on the SERP and in their blog they say:
"As more people move into urban environments around the world, car manufacturers are coming up with new ways to meet the demands of the city driver. While size is often a concern when it comes to picking out a car that one will be able to park in the city, many city dwellers also want to be able to get great gas mileage to compensate for the higher cost of living in cities. There is plenty of traffic and potholes to be found in New York City, so most drivers just want a car that will not compound the problems that they are already dealing with on the roads. Let’s take a closer look at the top 10 cars that make the most sense for someone living in the Big Apple.”
So best for a New Yorker means to be fuel-efficient, withstand potholes, cheap, and affordable.
Now, let’s move out to New York State. When you leave out ‘city’ from the query and search for ‘best cars New York’, the site https://www.syracuse.com/ says:
"Central New Yorkers drive a diverse selection of vehicles, but they share the broader Upstate New York region's preference for bigger cars, like SUVs and trucks.”
So here we have the same term, but a different meaning. The point is that terms like ‘best,’ ‘cheap,’ and ‘top’ mean different things in different places over time! A trend chart showing ‘cheap’ going down and 'best' going up doesn’t tell you that ‘best’ might also mean ‘cheap’ in certain cases. So before you jump to conclusions based on a trend, dig in...
If you’re curious about Mordy's opinion on his thoughts on the data trend, he believes that ‘cheap’ is a purely commercial query that’s a signal to buy where you get thin content sites with very little information.
Mordy believes we don’t think in strictly commerce terms anymore. We want info with our commerce so we search for things like ‘best’ when we really want info and commerce to go hand in hand. This is not saying that ‘cheap’ is any less important as price and affordability will always be popular, but we’re researching it as part of a larger analysis in our buying decision.
Building Your SEO Client Base by Using Solid Lead Generation: A Conversation with Deepak Shukla [00:24:03 - 01:04:29]
Welcome to another In Search SEO podcast interview session today. We have with us the owner of the Pearl Lemon agency. You may have heard him on other podcasts such as the one done by our great friend, Greg Campbell. He's hosted numerous webinars and wrote a ton of SEO articles. He's a marathon running, search engine optimizing rockstar, and even has the tattoos to boot. He's Deepak Shukla.
I've got to get you to do my introduction for any other show that I'm on now.
By the way, I think I should have said rap star because I've read somewhere that you used to rap?
You could find some of my old stuff up on YouTube. It still exists. Search the words ‘Deep Impact’ and I’ll let you see what wonders await for you.
That's awesome. Where did Pearl Lemon come from?
I had a former agency that was called Purr Traffic, like a cat that purrs in traffic and at the time I was rebranding I realized I don't want to use words like communications, optimization, or marketing. I wanted the kind of name that the company Gucci could hire. Gucci is not going to hire SYB marketing. The final thing was I ultimately got switched on to using lemons for dressing on the food that I eat because my partner is Italian and she told me I need to stop using that salad dressing, instead to use lemons. And she at the time had some pearl necklaces on our dresser and I was searching for random fruit combinations. I then thought, "Pearl Lemon. Is that available?” And there you go.
It's a great name for an SEO agency, or for a band. We're going to talk about SEO lead generation. As we typically do with these interviews to make sure everybody's on the same page, what is SEO lead generation?
We're talking fundamentally about generating leads for your agency, i.e., generating leads who are interested in hiring you for your search engine optimization services. That could be of course as a consequence of the SEO you do for your own website, but it also could be all of the other means that people traditionally use to generate new business. So that's what we'll be focusing on.
Alright, so let's run through this really quickly. What do you do to find new leads? How do you qualify them? Let's try to get into some of the deeper juicy aspects.
Absolutely. So on day one, when I started the agency and I was bootstrapping, I was doing outreach and direct response. Relying upon SEO to get SEO clients is a long process especially because when you get to page one of Google... it's not a local plumbing service that's in Oregon where you have a much smaller market competition. Getting from rank seven to rank one for something like ‘SEO agency London’ is a challenge that could take you forever.
With that in mind, we began by doing direct outreach. What does that mean practically? I would use various job boards including but not limited to angel.co. I would set up search parameters using their qualifiers like that I’m okay with remote work, looking for digital marketing and/or SEO services of some kind, etc. I would then put together a process to do cold email outreach based on jobs that were currently being advertised with typically a team of fewer than 20 people with quite a fluid-structure and maybe they've had a series A or series B fund.
Another job board we used was Upwork. I don't really use it so much anymore, but I like selling and I still enjoy talking to leads. I've got a team that does it now. Now I'm back on Upwork because of the Coronavirus. I panicked when our pipeline disappeared because our inbound leads just fell off the face of the earth. We went from 15 leads a week to about three or four leads a week. In terms of what we end up closing, I don't even know if we're going to close anything over the next 30 days if I'm being honest.
Another job board we use is Craigslist.
Really? That's really interesting. When on Craigslist what are you doing? There’s so much crap so how do you sift through that?
You can search for keyword searches in specific cities so you could just find out which cities are the busiest cities on Craigslist in terms of traffic. I would check something like New York or San Francisco and based upon those areas, I would then search for keywords that would include something like SEO, then I'd use an ‘If This Then That’ look up to bring up search filters and they would then produce listings and we would then identify businesses that are looking for an SEO executive. Typically a full time paid intern or maybe a full-time person. Then we would run outreach to these people. That was literally the process.
And finally LinkedIn. If I'm being honest, in the first 12 to 16 weeks, they (Angel.co, Upwork, Gumtree (the UK version of Craigslist), and LinkedIn) were probably the four channels that I used before SEO became meaningful to us.
Very interesting. I'm wondering, not to offend anybody out there, but sometimes SEO sales services come off like a used car dealership.
Yeah, especially when you've got a name like Deepak Shukla.
What the heck do you do when you're cold reaching somebody to make sure he’s not selling me an 87 Chevy that I really don't want?
It's the initial preconception that people have. The ways to get away from that preconception is you have to first act and look different. What does that practically mean? As someone like myself, who's an ethnic minority that has got quite a bad reputation in the SEO space when selling to the Western market, you have to build your brand up almost immediately. For me, I put up about 30 videos talking about SEO so when people do a quick Google they’ll see who I am.
My second point is quirky communication. If you've placed a Craigslist ad up saying you run the franchise Dan's donuts and you’re looking to expand into the eastern states of America and you’re looking for someone to be an SEO manager then I might say, "Hey, Mordy, I noticed from a post that you just posted on Craigslist that you're looking for an SEO manager to help grow Dunkin Donuts. That's completely automated based on the keywords but it sounds personal enough that you're probably going to give my application a look. It is contextual, it is relevant, and it doesn't feel like a cold email. Even if you send resumes in by cold email that has a really good way of winning. You can build that process and then pass it off to a VA in the Philippines because it's all through Zapier, it's all automation, then you start playing the numbers game.
Within the main body of the email, I would also qualify the fact that in case you think I’m another outsource guy please check out this video or please check out X on me. Then they’d ask what makes me different? I’ll say I’m British, but I'm also Indian. You get the best of both worlds. You get James Bond alongside the man who works in the 7/11 and he’s going to outwork your competition. I found a great way to frame the fact that being Indian is my advantage and that's how I'm better than all of the other guys.
Use phrases that you can earn that no one can compete upon. I'll say that I’m the last British Indian that you ever hire. I'm James Bond and Apu all wrapped up into one and I'm going to take Dunkin Donuts to the sky and back. I'd use little one-liners like this and people would just laugh.
Do you find it's worse in the SEO industry? I find there are three types of people: people who have no idea what SEO is, people who understand SEO is a legitimate science, and people who believe SEO is the Dark Arts.
It's definitely got a bad name. SEO is always a challenge. How do you track ROI? Is it a branded search? Is it a non-branded search? Is this uplifting my multi-channel marketing efforts? SEO for a lot of businesses comes as a secondary layer to a primary marketing method. People will ask me how does a link that you build actually translates into sales? They understand an ad directs people to a call or whatever it may be and that's how they generate the sale. I will add to what you said a fourth type of people who understand it's a science or say they claim to understand it's a science but then they don't understand anything at all. The final bucket I’d say is people who don't have any patience. I get corporate clients who are looking for a 20% uplift month on month. I tell them, "Dude, I'm not going to get you a 20% uplift month upon month."
That’s amazing by the way because if you invest in anything like a mutual fund, ETF, commodities, or whatever it is, and you say you want 20% profit, you would be laughed out of the bank.
Exactly. And this is the thing that has made a noticeable difference in the success of our agency. We're just about over two and a half years in and the first year was full service because I was just trying to scramble to make money. To be honest, I discovered SEO when a client said to me, "You know what, Deepak. I understand that SEO takes time and I understand that we're going to be together for six months” and I thought I'm about to change my whole agency. So I ditched all of the non-SEO clients.
At that stage I had what I would call a working marketer’s knowledge of SEO. I knew about it because I've been in digital marketing and I had a high-level understanding of Ahrefs and DA but I wasn't in the weeds. Then I did two key things that have been important in my growth. This is a big takeaway for a lot of agencies who might be struggling. Number one is outreach which everyone kind of knows how to do. The part that a lot of people fail miserably in SEO is that they don't understand the sales side of it.
Let me ask you because I find it funny. You're talking about people being skeptical of SEO services and its ultimate impact and what the ROI is going to be and they then compare it to ads where you can see what the revenue is. When you have your ad manager sitting down in a meeting asking, "How come we're not getting the ROI on the ads that we thought we would get?” They're going to answer back saying, "Well, think about ads more holistically. What’s the brand awareness that you're getting with the ads. Think beyond the click.” And everybody accepts that there's a brand association to the ads and a brand benefit to the ads. So yeah, the ROI on the actual return via the traffic or the conversions may not be exactly what we thought, but there's still benefit. But when it comes to SEO people say no, it's got to be exactly measured ROI. But why? You don’t do it anywhere else.
Absolutely. I think there's a big barrier to entry with understanding the technical and the link building side of SEO. I don't think there's a lot of marketing managers with the companies that we work at that want to get into the nuances of the relevance of this particular dofollow link from this trusted site and therefore, the potential uplift. The problem with SEO is it’s like a crime where it's not causal, it's correlational. A lot of the work that you do is fundamentally correlational. You can't say that this link that I got you in Sally's Savory Foods for Dan's Dunkin Donuts caused a 20% uplift. We can't do that, it's correlational.
I think that this is the challenge that a lot of people have when they're trying to demonstrate the value of SEO. You can't look at an ad in Facebook Ad manager or Google AdWords manager and say we're going to adjust our ad sets and negative keywords and launch a campaign. With all of that being said, the truism underneath it is that guys naturally work with people that believe in SEO because then it's a moot conversation.
The second element of it is that I think a lot of people either lose or don't win business when they generate leads because everyone's running a bot these days on LinkedIn. The challenge for everybody is that you have to understand how to position your craft. I think a lot of people do themselves a disservice when they aren't able to effectively communicate the value they're providing. My best success in SEO has not come from the courses that I've taken, both the commercial courses where I've downloaded Brian Dean's course because he's a popular guy and then I've gone into Udemy and I've watched like the kid in the bedroom who's actually really smart, then I've looked up Craig Campbell because he talks about PBNs and how that works and you just go on this weird journey.
My best education and what made me a great SEO is actually listening to Grant Cardone’s The Closer’s Survival Guide, the 10x rule, listening to Zig Ziglar and Jordan Belfort. And people will ask what does this have to do with SEO? The best way you actually become an expert in any niche is real-world experience of the actual niche. You can't claim to be the best Formula One driver if you've never been outside of the test track. And the way you get to actually be on the track of SEO is you have to position and sell your value because otherwise, you're never going to get the experience. As a consequence of getting that experience, you realize that you may have taken Brian Dean's course about guest posting skyscraper content but my client doesn't care about any of that stuff. So how do I apply what I've learned in this real-world scenario? Or my client promised that he would build skyscraper content, but he hasn't at all. He's got thin content and he thinks that this page should rank when it's a category page for an e-commerce store that's got 75 words of content and 15 images. That's the real world.
So do you profile your clients? If you have a certain outlook or certain expertise and you have a certain way of approaching SEO, do you profile your client? If you’re into skyscrapers and you have long prolific content and that's how you're gonna build SEO, well, if you don't profile your client, you're not going to get people like that and you’re going to end up screwed.
Absolutely. I think that I've done a really bad job of building a client avatar. I think that I've really screwed it. I think that I've won money, but I lost operational efficiency because I have not thought about my ideal client avatar and the challenge with the way that I've done my outreach was that I wrote good emails, but I was still doing spray-and-pray and the remit for the team was anything that comes up.
Yeah, but that's hard because you want to bring in the sales.
Exactly. Now I think that we're beginning to do some actual paid outreach for the first time and I'm going through this whole "Download my free PDF and on page 15 I talk about x” and I'm building that for ourselves because I'm seeing a lot of guys do this. The reality is if you've got a cash flow problem and you need cash, the truth is SEO can be for anybody.
That’s hard though because you're essentially in a way rebranding if you want to put into the marketing sense. You're trying to rebuild an identity and that's hard once you already have an identity.
Absolutely. I don't know personally, in a single marketing space, someone who niches based upon industry. I don't personally know anyone who only does PPC, or SEO, or content, or whatever for this category.
They’re few and far between. I’ve seen a couple for the travel industry and some for health but for the most part, no.
If I'm being honest, that's been maybe a failure of mine. The challenge also is that when we see results, we try and scale that activity but because of the way that we are, I'm quite short-sighted. I haven't taken a long term view of how to scale Pearl Lemon into a million-dollar business that works in a particular niche. And the challenge we all have is how can I stay focused and not get distracted by the shiny objects? Even within SEO there's this new strategy, there's this new technique, or there's this new thing that we can try. In software, it's Feature Creep or in services, it's Scope Creep. It's a continual problem. You achieve more by doing less. Do you realize how hard that is to do? It's very hard. It's very difficult to say for example, I'm manually messaging on LinkedIn 50 people a day and it's not working. The weird thing is if you just stick with LinkedIn and you just work on figuring out over time, you will see results but find me a guy who has the patience to just do that. That's like one in 10 I think.
Yeah, no matter what, it's going to take time and this is what it is. I wanted to ask you something you just mentioned a few minutes ago. You said SEO is applicable to everybody and theoretically you can go after anybody. When you talk to people who are not SEO oriented or SEO affiliated, do you package it as talking about organic growth or do you go full-on SEO with them?
Honestly, I don't tend to talk about SEO in general when I'm selling. I tend to talk in terms of the growth of the business. I talk about what you are trying to do or what you are trying to achieve. I take a general question approach like understanding more about their business and what current marketing channels they’re working on at the moment. How do you see ranking on Google being a benefit to you? What are you looking to achieve? There's always a different kind of buyer. So when you're talking to people, let's say, via LinkedIn, who you outreach, then you get people that depending upon the industry are interested in business goals. So then you talk about business goals. The Upwork crowd is a sophisticated buyer. They've got maybe less money depending upon who they are. But they want to understand your link building process so they’re more of a technical guy. When you've got the inbound from Google, then it tends to be a marketing manager. So they have a working person's knowledge or they've been given a budget for an SEO agency so that's more about trust.
I find that there are buckets. There’s the trust bucket, the technical bucket, and then there's the business goals bucket. And depending upon the size of the engagement, you may need to go through all of those buckets to actually sign off the engagement because you might start off talking to one person in one bucket but then you might be introduced to the CEO and he might be more of a cultural person. I find that's the big takeaway that I got that I didn't necessarily know from reading some of these books about sales. And that was how I then began to land bigger contracts.
Also, the other thing that a lot of people get wrong is they don't build enough corporate documentation or they don't build enough robust documentation. As the team, in terms of sales, is growing outside of me, I had to produce even more robust documentation because the whole principle is that we've got one guy who's really the technical lead salesperson. I think he's great technically, I think that he's not as strong on the trust look and feel. But another guy who is amazing with the trust aspect.
People don't realize that. Take my role as CMO. You have CMOs who are really good at brand authority and brand building. You have CMOs who are very much advertising guys with Display ads, Google Ads, LinkedIn, etc. It's very rare that you’re going to find a person who does everything the right way for you. You'll rarely find the full-stack marketer, the full-stack salesperson, or the full stack content writer.
Exactly. And also, as the team expands you need to produce supporting infrastructure for your team to fall back upon. For the guy who is the cultural guy he was the direction I wanted to take the business in because the bigger fish you get, the technical complexity tends to go down a little bit. But what happens then is that they introduce you to maybe their IT operations manager or someone internally does.
One of the big other changes was me building a 20-page link building documentation guide. This is how we build links. This is our outreach process in a video.
One person told me that one of the big things that he noticed about my documentation is that I’ve got an amazing technical document, but I talk in the same language everyone else uses. He said his process is called the DISCO process. The D is for discovery, etc. He said he’s not selling SEO anymore, he’s selling the DISCO process.
That's awesome. That's the best, by the way, and the fact that you're able to assimilate that because it's not a matter of being good at everything. No one's going to be good at everything. It's a matter of knowing what am I strong at and what am I not strong at and how to fill those gaps.
Exactly. And these are some of the limitations and productizing our services has been a big limitation. So now we have the Dragon SEO framework. And that's something that the CEO can understand if he’s not technical. He’ll ask, "What do these guys do?” "Well, they've got a Dragon framework.” It sounds good.
One of the big things that we don't think about enough is building your ideal client avatar and then focusing out and reaching in. The big mistake I made was I did a spray-and-pray approach. My big realization recently is that I want to work with Shopify businesses because one of our best clients pays us 2000 bucks a month. We do good work. I hear from him once every two or three weeks, it's a really easy campaign to run, it's a decent enough sum of money, and maintenance is so nominal. I've got other clients who pay us more, but the actual time involvement is out there. If I had 15 of these guys, that would be amazing.
There are standard issues that come with the Shopify out-of-the-box platform and the key is connecting the challenges of a savvy enough Shopify owner with my knowledge and also outreaching them in a poignant way. I think that for me, that's my next learning and it's the advice I offer to people to be intentional about who you're going after because I wasn't right and I think that's harmed me more than it's helped me and the only way I've been able to overcome that is that I am better at sales. I've trained, I recognize it.
So one, own it. Two, think about and be clear about the advantages that it brings. And three, if people are good, they're good. Another thing is a lot of the problems are the problems that we bring to the pictures that we do.
You're talking about honing in on a target which is great but to sort of play devil's advocate for a second, is the SEO niche too small for that? Because when you do that you are missing out on all those digital marketers who fall outside of SEO.
I think that SEO as a niche probably has a perception problem. There is an education piece that will forever remain a part of SEO which is people don't just say they get SEO. That is the challenge but that's also the opportunity. If you’re an SEO team you’ll discover you will retain clients longer. If you are a Facebook ad guy, then the perception will be to a degree for the client that they can take this in house and I can bill you. The same will be with LinkedIn outreach. So the advantage of SEO is that you've got a more complex sales process which then leads to the perception that you have a smaller market focus. But actually, it's just about education.
Ultimately, to build a million-dollar business, if a client is paying you $100,000 a year, you need fewer clients than you think. Even on the basis of a $5,000 a month client, if you get 10 clients paying you $5,000 and all of a sudden, that's $600,000 a year. You don't need every business but you need to have the patience to wait for the right client. That is something I think that a lot of us will always struggle with. You should actually say the word ‘no’ more than you say ‘yes.’ Within that, you already have to be quite sophisticated because you have to be good enough to get the guys that might be a fit.
I should be taking less to do a similar client because it's part of that process to build my expertise. I probably would have built my name as Deepak the Shopify SEO guy. To be that guy, you have to get recognition, you have to develop expertise. What comes before that is having the discipline to just focus on one niche. 95% of the people, including myself, don’t do that because it’s so hard.
Optimize It or Disavow It
If you could target only one of these leads… would you go after a small client that’s easy to work with or a client with the big bucks who will most likely be a sizable pain in the ass?
I’d go with the client who will pay me less and not cause me trouble and who’ll still be there in a year not causing me much trouble. I’d be more than happy to earn a little less because then my freedom will allow me to get more of these guys.
That’s long term thinking right there. Thank you so much, Deepak, for joining me today.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
SEO News [01:04:48 - 01:07:20]
Bing Can Now Answer With Yes or No:
Bing now answers some questions with a yes or no above its Featured Snippets.
Google Has Updated Its Hotel Ads Policy:
Now you can structure hotel ad bids to only pay once the guest actually checks in, so if they cancel you are not obligated to pay Google.
New Search Console Recipes Report:
Search Consoles’ new guided recipe enhancement report gives you information specifically about recipe markup performance.
Google Discover Bug Removed Traffic:
Hey, where’s all the Google Discover traffic? A bug has plagued Search Console and may mean you are not seeing your Discover traffic!
Google My Business Adds Proof of Reinstatement Option:
Good news… Google has added a way to upload proof that your business should be reinstated to GMB!
Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast