I was in the middle of my regular lead-generation routine when it finally happened.
My phone let out a chirp. Was it a text message? Nope. A time-sucking social media update? Not a chance. It wasn’t even my Clash of Clans base getting raided once again by some bugger across the globe.
It was a notification that a lead had finally signed my contract and paid in full!
Getting your first client will leave you ecstatic. It’s a moment to truly be proud of, acknowledging how far you have come.
However, when the job is over, all you are left with thinking about is where you are going to find your next opportunity. And the one after that… And the one after that… And the one after that…
The most successful SEO firms have systems in place for getting boatloads of leads every single month. Especially if you’re still an inkling agency, you’re going to have to grind hard to establish your reputation.
Time is money, so here is the ROI of reading through this entire article:
- You’ll learn the basic psychology of the typical client and why they ignore 99% of inquiries from SEO agencies
- You’ll be equipped with both tried-and-true as well as unique methods to acquire new leads for your SEO business
- I’m not going to just sit here and spit out theory. You’re going to get real pragmatic tactics and advice
- Stick around until the end of this article and I will arm you with one simple tip that will set you up for wild success
I’m ready, are you?
The Three Pillars of Getting Ones’ Attention
Dive into the spam folder of any business owner on planet earth and you will uncover thousands of failed SEO inquiries.
The errors in these kinds of emails are generally obvious:
- There are severe (and several!) grammatical mistakes
- The prices are so low that it’s obvious the service is abysmal
- The email is formatted so wildly that it looks more like a sales page than a genuine email
However, take a closer look and you’ll see that some emails suffer from less obvious mistakes.
A real common error is using “high converting” email templates from online gurus with little to no modification on your part. These publicly-shared templates are used and abused by thousands and thousands of marketers.
If you go with one, take the time to get down and dirty with it. Turn it into something a little more unique. Figure out why it was so successful for one particular person and reverse engineer it.
In this section, I am going to talk about the three pillars that have constantly helped me get attention in the lead-generation phase. It’s a noisy world and we have to do all that we can to differentiate from our competition.
Pillar #1 – The Client’s Desired Result
“I will bring you 10 high domain-authority backlinks.”
Your potential client might not even know what a “backlink” is. And why should he? He hires smart fellows like you to take care of that for him.
If you’re contacting somebody cold, in most cases you shouldn’t even mention specifics. (yet!)
At this early stage of a stage in the buying cycle, you’re still figuring out if the client is someone who could genuinely benefit from your services.
“Your main competitor (ABC Heating of Portland) has been ranking incredibly well in Google, likely bringing in 50-100 additional leads every month. I’d love to chat with you to see if we could strategise a way to replicate their success.”
Now we’re cooking with gas! Instead of talking about some magical thing called “backlinks”, we’re tapping into the client’s desired result. They want more leads every month; not “backlinks”.
A backlink campaign may very well be the path to earn that client their desired result. However, the key takeaway here is to focus on what the potential client cares about the most and keep your technical ideas for the strategy call.
Pillar #2 – Curiosity
You create a custom, over-the-shoulder video for a business owner you’d like to work with. It explains some critical issues with their site’s SEO.
The next step you take is writing an email to send out to that business owner.
Here are two ways you could go about the call-to-action sentence of the email:
- “Here is the video I was talking about: https://link-to-video”
- “Let me know if I’ve intrigued you and (if so!) I’ll forward along the video.”
With CTA #1, the business owner could easily put off watching your video even if they are interested.
You know how procrastination goes… How many times have you said “I’ll do so-and-so at the end of the day”, but you never end up doing it? The same thing happens to most people you contact.
With CTA #2, you’ve stated that you have a special video just for them. They’ll likely reply that they’d be interested in checking out said video. Responding “ok, send it over” requires significantly less effort than watching your video right on the spot.
When they finally receive your blockbuster of a screencast, they’ll be less likely to put off watching it. You have successfully built both curiosity and anticipation.
CTA #2 also creates a bit of a social contract between you and the potential client. When sending along the email with the link, there is no pressure to watch the video.
When they’ve gone ahead and said “I’m interested, send it over”, they’ll feel more obligated to check it out and provide some feedback.
Pillar #3 – Short, Sweet, and Personalized Messaging
No matter where you’re acquiring leads from, you want to keep your messaging brief and relevant.
When contacting somebody cold, the goal is not to sell your services right on the spot. Instead, it’s to let them know that you see room for improvement and would like to talk some more to see if your services could help them out.
Some people think that the more detail you pack into your email, the more impressed the potential client will be.
In reality, after reading the first sentence, it is apparent that you are selling something. They don’t have time to go through your whole spiel and instantly delete your message.
The same could be applied to advertising (with the exception of advertorials). If it takes paragraphs and paragraphs to get to the main point of your ad, you could bet they’re going to scroll right past.
Method #1: Cold Email Done Right
The vast majority of SEO cold emails are complete flops.
In our section about “The Three Pillars of Getting Ones’ Attention”, we have discussed why this is so:
- All of the obvious reasons: Grammatical mistakes, crazy formatting, low-quality offer
- Doesn’t focus on the client’s desired result
- Doesn’t drive curiosity
- Is long and complicated
In this section, I will give you some ideas to create effective cold-emails.
There are two main strategies I want to cover.
The Video Audit Email
Here’s the general idea of this strategy:
- You shoot off an email asking if they’d be interested in seeing your video audit
- If they respond yes, record a screencast video and send it over
It’s a smart idea to shoot the video after the potential client says “yes”. You’re going to have many people never respond to you inevitably. Making videos for those people would be time wasted.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, not sending the link immediately will also drive curiosity, decreasing the chance that they’ll put off watching your video.
The video should…
- Use plain English and avoid scary technical terms. Know thy audience!
- Clearly show how your SEO strategy would lead to their desired result.
- Be under ten minutes. Save the in-depth discussion for your first phone discussion with the lead. Five minutes is a good target.
- Show the potential opportunity, backed by numbers. Use a tool like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or even the good ol’ Keyword Planner.
The Case-Study Email
Want to know another thing that sucks about most emails that SEO agencies send out? They are not tailored to the business owner…like at all.
Take a look at your past clients and pick an industry. Oh, you worked with a sports bar out of Kansas? Perfect!
Reach out to other bars or sports bars across the country and — after briefly introducing yourself — use a line like this to grab attention immediately:
“I just recently finished working with Dave’s Sports Bar out of Kansas. If you Google “Kansas sports bar”, you can see he is now on the first page! This has resulted in twice the amount of visitors every happy hour. Long story short, I never have to pay for a drink again. :)“
The general formula here is [relevant job] + [valuable result] + [optional cheeky remark that shows you have a soul].
A case-study email will stand out like the most beautiful sore thumb in a crowded inbox.
Method #2: Hit Up Conferences and Meetups!
This list would not be complete without such a tried-and-true method.
A way to keep your opportunity pipeline flowing and meet new connections is by attending conferences and local meetups.
The biggest tip I could give you here is to attend meetups where your target market congregates.
At an SEO conference, you’re going to be surrounded others who offer the same SEO services. There will be some business owners looking for help, but the odds are not in your favour when you look at all the competition around you.
If you instead go to a meetup for local business owners or a particular industry, you’re going to have a more rewarding time.
Make meetups.com your best friend! There are always events and meetups happening in most cities.
Take a look at what’s happening here in Staffordshire:
A key point to remember is that people attend these events to expand their networks, and in turn, grow their businesses.
- Be interested; not interesting. This is straight out of ”How to Win Friends and Influence People“. Understand their business and future desires. What’s their biggest pain point right now and how could you improve it?
- You don’t even need to have a huge ask. Simply say “I’d be happy to take a look at your site and see if there’s any room for improvement. What is your email?”
- Come prepared with business cards. Don’t go passing them around like church bread though! Only give them to those who show a genuine interest in what you’re offering.
Method #3: Create Detailed Landing Pages for All of Your Niche Services
There’s a chance you already offer this service to your clients, so why not provide it to yourself?
Perhaps your firm does SEO, web design, lead generation, and Adwords campaign management.
Create separate pages for each service. Make these pages information-rich, add important local keywords, and don’t forget lead-gen forms!
You can find many great examples of these kinds of pages if you look up “[service] [location]”.
For example, when Googling “Adwords Connecticut”, I came across this great page from MakeItLoud. They’re not even from Connecticut! They create these niche pages for every state in the US.
Give it a try. There may not even be much competition in your local area.
Method #4: Look For Bad-to-the-Bone Websites
It’s 2019 and there is still an embarrassing amount of websites that are time portals to the early ’00s.
However, it’s not always easy to convince someone with an outdated website to change their ways. Chances are they are an old timer that is doing just fine in their business, with or without the internet.
Another concern of these old websites is that they are often built on an obscure web platform or CMS. If you’re only specialised in WordPress, this may catch you off guard. For that reason, instead of just selling SEO, you might also have to sell a complete website redesign.
When looking for these ugly, ineffective websites, it helps to make sure they are on a modern platform first and foremost.
- You can check if it’s a WordPress site by going to [website.com]/wp-admin. If you get a 404, it’s not WordPress.
- Use a tool like BuiltWith.com and look under the “Content Management System” section to determine if it’s using another web platform, such as Wix or Squarespace.
How to Find Sub-par Websites Quickly and Consistantly
It’s quite easy! First, pick a local search term.
- “London HVAC”
- “Staffordshire pool cleaning”
- “Manchester fine dining”
Start at page one of the search results but don’t be afraid to explore page two and onward. (That’s where the holy grail of bad websites is after all!)
Do this for 10-20 minutes and you’ll be surprised at the number of potential clients you’ll be able to pick out.
Method #5: Turn Your Case-Studies Into Industry-Specific Lead Generation Pages
There are SEO agencies that stick to one industry and one industry only. This allows them to become an expert and the go-to amigo in a narrow little niche.
“The riches are in the niches!”
Whether you want your agency to focus on a niche or broad market, you can still cash in on this general idea.
If you did a fantastic job working with a restaurant, create a case-study page detailing your results.
This is where most people stop. You already have a great asset to win over new clients, but we could take this a bit further.
I plugged the term “restaurant SEO” into Ahrefs.
While not every term is raking in hundreds of clicks every month, it’s all about quality over quantity. We now have more than enough ideas of how we could optimise our restaurant SEO page.
- We could now discuss how we helped our client digitalise their menu and optimise it for SEO
- We could discuss the different opportunities for different kinds of restaurants: Japanese, Indian or Italian as examples
- We could discuss a realistic budget for a restaurant to spend on SEO and what they should expect
Method #6: Email Your Past Clients for Referrals
A warm introduction makes all the difference.
Make it a part of your strategy to follow up with past clients to see if they know anybody who needs help with SEO.
You could even offer a small percentage of referred sales to your best clients that you know are well-connected.
Also, make sure it is dead-easy for someone to refer you! I’m sure they love you dearly, but the busier they are, the less time they have to create some beautiful, well-constructed referral email. Provide done-for-you scripts as well as informative landing pages they could link to that describe your services in detail.
Method #7: Create a Website and Rank It for Local Keywords
The great part of local SEO is that instead of competing against the entire world, you’re just competing against your neighbour.
In essence, competition is significantly lower for location-based keywords.
There’s this whole concept of “rank and rent” where you create lead-generation websites that rank for many local keywords. After you start getting some traffic, you rent them out to local businesses for a fee.
My favourite write-up on the rank-and-rent strategy is from Chase Reiner.
What’s great about this strategy is that, in addition to earning passive income, you are put in direct touch with businesses that want the benefits of SEO. You could easily turn a renter into your next client.
If you’re still looking for your first client and are having trouble proving your abilities, this is a great way to get some success under your belt.
Certain keywords get a fair amount of searches but don’t have much competition due to not offering much of a benefit for those who rank for them.
An example of one of these search terms is “things to do in [small town]”. In large cities, these results would be dominated by big event marketing companies. However, in small towns, there aren’t all that many relevant results.
Take a look at keywords for ten small towns near you. You could get all sorts of ideas for local niche websites.
While you might not be able to use this local small-town site for rank-and-rent, the results very well could be leveraged to get your first client.
Method #8: Create a Free SEO Audit Tool
Now, don’t worry. You don’t have to hire a developer to make one of these for you. There are a variety of existing solutions available.
Here are a few of the top choices. All of these are easily embeddable on WordPress websites.
- SEOMator – Starts at $19/month for unlimited SEO audits.
- SEOptimer – Starts at $19/month.
- SERanking – This tool is commonly used to provide rank-tracking tools to clients. Recently they added embeddable lead-generation features. Pricing starts at $23.40/month.
Method #9: Forums and Q&A Sites
Never underestimate the value of giving someone a helping hand.
Whether you’re on reddit, SEOChat, Moz’s community board, or any of the hundreds of niche business forums, there’s an opportunity to help somebody out, build trust, and eventually do business with them.
In 2018 I was mucking about in various IRC channels. (That’s right, that relic from the ’90s that everyone thinks is dead. Well, believe it or not, there’s still a decent sized community.) Anyway, I watched in amazement as somebody answered a question and subsequently converted a stranger into a new web design client.
In addition to forums, Quora is a massively popular Q&A site. Marketers in all sorts of industries are using it as a valuable tool to gain new leads.
There are pages and pages of questions about SEO posted in the last week alone!
The secret sauce to both forums and Q&A sites is to help first. If somebody is asking for a good SEO WordPress plugin, don’t get excited and say “Yoast is great, btw for $40/hr I can help you install it!!”
No, no, no. Give them a proper answer, full of detail. Once they post a thank you message in response, send a private message and continue learning about their business and goals. Once you are certain that your services are a great fit, that’s when you could start the pitch.
Similar to my tip with meetings and conferences, you’re going to get the best results by helping out on forums for various types of businesses rather than SEO-centered forums.
Believe me, plenty of business owners head over to Moz’s community forum to get expert answers. However, you have to realise that there are a lot of competitive eyes looking out for those kinds of opportunities. Less so on a niche forum for restaurant owners.
Bonus: The SEO Lead-Gen Action Plan
We’ve gone through NINE incredible ways to get more SEO leads.
It’s easy to get so overwhelmed by a surplus of options and then do nothing at all.
This is called analysis paralysis and the best way to overcome it is to pick one option and go with it.
Do you want to…
- Send cold-email campaigns?
- Network at meetups and conferences?
- Create SEO-optimized niche landing pages?
- Hit up the owners of bad websites?
- Create SEO-optimized landing pages from your case-studies?
- Email your past clients for referrals?
- Create a locally-ranked niche website?
- Implement a website audit tool?
- Network on forums and Q&A sites?
You’re only allowed to pick one! You could always come back to the others later.
For the next 15 days (maybe 30 if your strategy is going to be meetups), I want you to put serious focus into this single plan.
I hope you have learned a thing or two from this article! I wish you luck drumming up some new leads for your SEO business.
There’s a world of opportunity out there. Go get it!