SEO discovery is the process of unearthing information about the client that is critical in the execution of SEO services.
This usually includes a client discovery session that lasts approximately 1-2 hours, depending on what is discussed and unearthed during the call.
The client’s essential requirements, business objectives, market and industry trends are also important inputs.
Good and effective SEO discovery helps in identifying the key ranking factors for the site/client in question that can be influenced to drive success in the account.
SEO discovery is an art that requires a sound mindset and persistence. It’s about asking the right questions and listening carefully to get all relevant data about a specific online marketing plan.
Effective SEO discovery enables you to focus on tasks needed for optimal search engine performance. It primarily focuses on:
Analyzing client web properties (SEO target) such as websites or blog articles written by them under their own authorship/ownership, link analysis of competitor backlink profiles, keyword analysis of competitor top ranking pages; reverse keyword analysis of competitor top ranking pages and their domain names, unique content idea generation for client’s SEO target, and more.
Here are the secrets to effective SEO discovery:
Be Well-Prepared for Client Discovery Calls
Coming up with relevant questions is key. The objective is to know as much as possible about a client at the time of the SEO engagement.
For instance, you may ask, “what do you want your online presence to be?” or, “What do you think is important for success on Google? What are your search and social media objectives?”
“Who are your competitors? How do they execute against those goals? Which keywords does simply visiting their sites bring up?”
“What resources will you use to identify the answers to these questions and what mistakes have you made in the past? How much time would you like to see this successful campaign take?”
Important Note About Questions
Asking good questions is not a science, but there are some things that you need to avoid.
They include asking open-ended questions, asking leading questions or using hypothetical language.
People love giving opinions when asked well formulated, real-life-relevant questions and they enjoy it even more if someone listens attentively.
They actually feel motivated to talk (and do). You want them talking about their business and industry so ask for their input during SEO discovery sessions.
The best way of getting information out of people is by listening instead of giving. Great information comes from people who are great storytellers so let them do the talking, and you just listen, learn and ask if you need more information to solve a problem for them.
Listen carefully when your client speaks as there are gold nuggets hidden in their answers or feedback about their businesses/sites that may be important while executing SEO services.
Their actual success metrics may vary compared to what they initially told you. Also, look out for statements that carry insight into the “why” of things like: I want my search rankings to increase because we’re getting too much traffic on our site, but not enough sales.
This opens up discussion about how many sales per click each keyword gets on average and whether it’s something deal-breaking for the client or not.
These insights are critical and could make or break the success of your SEO contract, especially when you consider making sweeping changes because the client’s initial setup was entirely wrong.
But, you won’t know this for sure until you’re more than halfway through the contract.
This is why SEO discovery is so important and can be a great springboard to starting any successful SEO project.
SEO discovery sessions should include the following:
A Comprehensive Client Interview
As a part of the discovery process, it is vital to conduct an in-depth interview with your client.
It is recommended that you begin this portion by presenting an overview of your services and what you typically look out for when conducting any SEO campaign.
You may find it helpful to create a worksheet as your guide during this session.
During the client interview, focus on the following:
What you’re looking for during this interview is information that can provide context to what you are seeing in your analysis. Ask questions about:
- Why are they looking for an SEO professional?
- What do they expect from SEO?
- Do they have SEO processes in place?
- What is the access information for their Google Analytics or Google Search Console accounts?
- Do they have an existing SEO services provider?
- What are their experiences with SEO in the past?
- Are they currently experiencing bottlenecks or problems with their server?
This will help you understand any back-end issues that may be causing a site’s poor performance, and also reveal if there have been any changes in the running of their business.
How They View Their Competitors’ Performance
This is an opportunity to ask your client how they feel their competitors are performing and what areas their sites seem to be exceptional at. You can then use this knowledge to benchmark against those websites and create a baseline for comparison during the rest of your analysis.
There are a number of questions that can be asked in this area, such as:
What do they like about their competitors’ websites and why? For example, is it the site’s load speed or the fact that they have a comprehensive blog?
It will also help you to find areas where your client may not have considered how their competitors are doing.
If your client has only mentioned one or two sites, you can use this time to find out more about these websites and create a list of sites that the client wishes to compare themselves against.
How They Will Use Your Services
As part of your discovery process, you will need to understand what your client is looking to gain from your services, and how they plan on leveraging that information.
Is their main goal the improvement of their site’s search engine rankings?
Or are they willing to spend a considerable amount of money simply because they understand the value SEO provides in terms of exposure and lead generation?
You will also want to find out if they are looking for a specific number of links, and also when they want to see results.
Your client must understand that SEO is a long-term strategy that requires investment and patience. This is the best time to set expectations—early on in the projects, not when 6 months have lapsed.
What Do They Know About The Industry?
It’s important to ask your potential clients about their knowledge of search engine optimization, and the types of services they have received in the past.
If your client has had experience with other agencies and/or individuals, ask them about their success rate.
How do they feel that other service providers handled the project?
How long did it take to see results?
You want to know what your potential clients think, because this will show you the areas they have knowledge about with regards to SEO.
If you’re going to be working on SEO for their website, it is imperative that you understand what they are looking for.
You may also find out how these potential clients’ competitors feel about SEO campaigns in general, which can be helpful in determining where their weaknesses are.
Determination of Your Website’s Goals
If your client has a goal in mind for their website, find out what it is.
You can then compare their goals to the benchmarks you’ve collected from the previous steps and use this as a baseline moving forward.
There are several important questions that can be asked during this section, such as: If your client does not have a goal for their website, what would they ideally like to see in terms of results over the next 12 months? This will give you a time-frame that you can work around.
Take note of any personal or specific goals your client may have for their business over the coming months and look at how SEO fits in with these objectives.
Once you’ve found out what this is, link it to one of the industry benchmarks and create a monthly report that you can return to your client on a regular basis.
The Lowdown on Client Goals Should Also Include
What does my client want their website to achieve?
Is there any information regarding future plans that I should know about? What are they looking forward to from working with me on SEO?
Are there any possible barriers I need to be aware of?
Figuring out goals along with sticking points can be a critical determining factor in terms of how successful the SEO campaign will be.
Is Your Client Willing To Invest In SEO?
If you’re working with a business owner who is unfamiliar with the value of SEO, this may be a difficult question for them to answer.
It’s important that if your client is not serious about using SEO as part of their marketing strategy, then they may need to look elsewhere for business.
The client might think of SEO as a get-rich-quick scheme, or something that will make them a lot of money very quickly.
But, this is only something you can identify during the discovery phase if you ask the right questions.
The last thing you want to do is sign a client who may be getting their feet wet and they’re not serious about providing you with any correct information.
How Will The Site Be Monitored?
This will determine how much effort you can put into managing the site moving forward.
If your client does not have the resources to get involved with their website’s SEO then you will most likely be doing a lot of the heavy lifting yourself.
What is the Client Looking For?
As part of this interview, it’s important that you ask your potential clients what they are looking for from your engagement and how they want you to proceed.
As part of this, be sure to ask how often they plan on being involved in the project moving forward and what sort of reporting they are expecting from you.
If your clients do not have a website already, it is important that you talk about what their expectations are for creating the site, such as page count, cost, and so forth.
The most common mistake that I see new web designers make is that they create a site for their client before the two parties have set clear expectations and goals about what to expect from one another.
Keep in mind that you do not want to spend more time on each project than your clients are willing to pay for, especially if the engagement only calls for a small amount of time on your part.
Takeaway: Make sure you understand what your client is expecting from you before you sign the contract and start working.
Access to any Software Needed for the Project
You may need access to certain third-party software in order to make SEO improvements for your client’s website.
Most of the time you can get this directly from your client, but if not, then you may have to purchase it yourself.
Third-party software is critical because it can better illustrate the changes you are making on the website.
This helps to show clients why SEO is important and how their site can be improved. It also helps with transparency throughout the project.
Additionally, third-party software can help generate more accurate data.
While some software that you will use for your projects may provide limited functionality (especially if it’s a free version) we would rather have access to this software than no software at all because it allows us to input accurate information into our reports automatically.
For example, when you’re generating competitor backlinks or anchor text data, having consistent third-party sources to pull from adds credibility to your reports overall.
Is there any required third-party software? If so, is your client able to provide it for you? If not, what will you have to do in order to purchase this software if your client doesn’t want to pay for it?
Takeaway: Get access to any third-party software that you need either directly from your clients or by purchasing the licenses yourself.
Other SEO Products and Services Used By Your Clients
If your clients are using other SEO products and services already, make sure they inform you of this so that there is no confusion about how their website is being managed overall.
When this happens, we always ask my existing clients as early on in the project as possible so that there is no room for misunderstanding about what’s going on with the site moving forward.
We only want to continue handling SEO if we are doing all of the important aspects, not just the easy parts.
What happens when your clients do not let you know that they are already using some other SEO software?
If it is a major piece of software (such as Google Analytics), then we usually end up taking over management control of this tool.
If it’s a smaller item, like another link management or analytics package, then we may tell the client that they will need to cancel their subscription with their current provider and have them sign up for our service instead, especially if there is no historical data. It’s not like they would miss it.
Takeaway: Make sure you find out if any SEO services are already in place before continuing with your project.
How Long Will the Project Take?
If this is a new engagement for you, then you need to find out how much time your client is willing to dedicate towards SEO.
This will help you determine how fast you can get things done on their site and what methods might be more efficient than others.
Takeaway: If your project involves creating a brand new website from scratch or migrating an old one, it’s important that we understand how much time clients are willing to devote towards making sure it gets ranked in search engines.
What Does Your Client Expect You To Report?
While some of these details may already have been worked out during the discovery phase (such as which keywords your client wants to rank for and other high-level information), we need to make sure that we are using a good internal reporting system.
When you’re just starting out as an SEO, there will most likely be trial and error involved with setting up these reports, but it won’t take long before they become relatively simple to update.
Takeaway: Find out what your clients expect you to report on and how they want the data delivered in the future.
Access to Google Analytics and Google Search Console
To optimize a website accurately, you need to know what Google sees on their end. The best software for this by far includes Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
You will need access to these tools because they provide significant insight that you won’t find anywhere else.
What Is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a free tool from Google used to track site traffic information.
You will see how many visitors your site has had, what pages they visited, where they came from, and more!
It gives you a ton of valuable data about your overall website performance that will help you better understand your audience.
Google Analytics also provides conversion tracking, so you can see if users who visit certain pages are converting into leads on your pages.
This access is important because this will allow you to see exactly how SEO is performing for your client, and allow you to diagnose and make changes as needed, such as during an SEO audit, and after the audit during implementation.
What Keywords You May Want to Address and Why
You will want to ask your client what keywords they want to rank for and why.
This will give you insight into what the client thinks is important and why.
It will allow you to see where they are going with their marketing strategy, and help you propose SEO ideas that align with them (and also likely Google).
Clients who aren’t familiar with the idea of SEO may have a different definition of success than someone who understands it.
Also, this will give you a window into what the client thinks are their important keywords vs. what you think right now.
These seldom align, because the client themselves are not always going to be the SEO professional.
This is an example of how SEO professionals can build better, stronger relationships with their clients.
You should also be sure to ask for the keywords that are already ranking in Google (though you may assume some).
The client will have insight into which keywords they think might make sense to target and why.
They also know a lot about what words people are using to find their website already.
You want to try and align your keyword recommendations with the clients’ priorities as much as possible.
This will save both time and effort down the road when it comes time to begin your SEO campaign!
Your Client’s Content Quality
Assessing the quality of your client’s content is important during discovery, because this is something that can make or break their SEO.
Your client’s content needs to be as relevant, well-written, and useful as possible.
You have a lot of room to improve your clients’ content during the SEO campaign!
Quality, relevance, authority, and trust are all good measures of quality content that you must assess at the outset.
The Quality of Your Client’s Website Overall
If you’re doing an SEO audit, while it may do a deep dive into a number of SEO issues, part of your discovery should be identifying anything glaring that you can bring with you to the discovery call.
If you can talk about how your client’s website is organized, outdated, or doesn’t align with user needs like accessibility, this will help put the client in a place where they understand why SEO is important.
You also want to look at what competition your client faces.
For example: If you are working for an attorney in a smaller town like Orange, CA but notice that their main competitors are all based in Los Angeles, CA—this means they will be fighting much larger players for rankings and traffic.
They won’t win if they use the same SEO tactics as their competitors!
As part of discovery you need to identify what your competitor landscape looks like in order to make effective recommendations and suggestions to better optimize their content for it.
Be sure to include elements such as mobile optimization, site on-page and off-page signals, technical issues, like server response time, and items that might damage the user experience.
Also, you’ll want to keep an eye on your client’s site speed.
A fast website is essential for conversions because it shows Google that they are a good website—Google wants pages to hit the sweet spot of two to three seconds!
Think horse race: the faster, the better. So if your client has a slower than ideal page load speed, you have even more leverage for increasing their traffic!
Looking at the overall quality of your clients’ existing content can be beneficial in many ways as well. You may find there are some areas where their content is very high quality, or else you may discover places where it needs improving.
The latter will provide additional opportunities to save them money in the long run by correcting issues early!
Your Client’s On-Page SEO
You should also go through your clients’ site and assess all of the different elements you can control as well.
For instance, you could assess: Title tags, Meta descriptions, Heading tags like H1 and H2 (though this is not a strict “must” for every page, it is something to consider), image alt text (this will improve discoverability on Google image search!), and finally, an element that typically gets overlooked in most SEO projects: User Experience.
This doesn’t mean just building trust with your potential website consumers, but actually testing their website’s usability from an objective point of view, rather than the client’s rose-colored-glasses point of view.
Some of the factors that you unearth during the discovery phase should help you continue to increase trust from your client’s perspective as well as reinforce the fact that you are the SEO professional they wanted to hire.
Discovery Calls Could be Just as Important as The SEO Project Itself
In addition to all of the things mentioned above, you’ll also want to go over your client’s website and their content from a more holistic point of view.
That is to say, get inside your clients’ heads!
Think: how do they imagine their customers’ experience in terms of their brand?
How are their competitors positioned against them?
Are they doing anything unique enough that makes them stand out from the crowd?
Use the discovery call as an opportunity to learn from your client and think like your clients’ customers.
They are an invaluable resource to be able to understand how they see themselves within the marketplace, so take advantage!
This will help you prepare for a more efficient SEO contract that will put you in the best possible position to give them better results than their competitors!