I had the great opportunity to interview Gab Goldenberg, a well-respected industry influencer in the SEO and Internet Marketing community.  I wanted to get some some insights and tips on some important questions about selling Search Engine Optimization.

What sales techniques do you use to help explain SEO to potential clients?

I’m fortunately no longer in a position where my clients need me to explain SEO – the leads or clients I get are savvy individuals.  Where I do need to explain things at times is why I’m preferring a less commercial approach (to encourage linking, so that we can rank seriously before going commercial) or why some links are especially valuable.  I disagree broadly with Rand and others on the issue of reciprocal links value.  One current client is in a niche where that’s standard.  You need to fit in.  But they don’t view all those links that way… When I used to explain SEO, I’d say it’s a way to get clients who are interested so it’s easier to sell them, rather than the other way around.

For any agency or consultant with this problem, I’d encourage you to work inhouse at an agency or company while building up your personal brand by writing and speaking and especially making contacts. Then you get references and savvy leads and life is much better!  My first 2-3 years in SEO (with less savvy clients who needed explanations etc) were rough!

When a potential client says “so when can I expect results”, what is your typical answer? When can they expect results?

When I get paid!  Seriously though, I don’t guarantee rankings. I do guarantee deliverables, because I control those.

If you could tell the CEO of a fortune 500 company one thing about why he should switch from traditional advertising to SEO, what would it be?

Because permission marketing is more effective and more efficient dollar-for-dollar than traditional advertising.  But traditional ads build brand and if you go for a viral approach or controversial ads you get links and SEO, so best to just boost marketing’s budget!

What if I client wants you to handle 100% of the execution, do you insist that the client participates?

I can do things 100% unless I need the ability to do 301 redirects or reciprocal link trading etc. If they give me full access to the site though, that’s fine. It’ll just cost them more. I forget who said it, but there’s no bad risks in insurance – just bad [read: underpriced] policies!

Do you perform any type of initial research before you meet with a potential client?

I like to see their site, how savvy they are, whether they’ve done this before… Basically, how much hand-holding do they need, and what’s the budget? I personally hate hand-holding and reporting, hence my preference for savvy clients. Savvy clients also often (but not always) have bigger budgets.

What revenue model do you feel is ideal for SEO? Monthly Retainer, Revenue-Based, or Performance-Based?

I personally do retainers based on performance. Performance just means performing my obligations: deliver the deliverables. Rankings are by definition not a deliverable because that’s in Google’s hands.

For a typical (if there is such thing) small-medium size business, do you feel that the attrition rate sky rockets at a certain monthly retainer cost?

I’m not sure, but my experience is that really small business (under 2M a year in revenue) don’t want to put in 1k/month, or 2-3 k is the upper limit and you have to do a lot of selling.

How often do you turn down potential SEO clients? Why would you?

I turn them down a couple times a month. Usually because the work doesn’t appeal to me – eg lots of hand holding for too little budget.  The 4 Hour Workweek taught me that it’s not total revenue that matters, but hourly revenue. Would you work 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, with only 1 hour total for food, for $150K a year (2 weeks vacation)?  150K is nice money… but at those hours it’s 33$/hour. Lots of new lawyers work for $33/hour (the billable rate is higher bc it covers unbillable hours). Other times because I don’t want to promote addictive things like gambling or porn. Other times also I’ve just got a full client/project load thankfully.

About Gab:

Gab started doing SEO two years ago for his blog SEO ROI.   Gab’s work yielded 25,000 visitors his first year, in combination with active blogging, and 11,000 more the next year, with none.  Now Gab is very active in the SEO community including Search Engine Journal.  You can now download a free chapter from gab’s book, “The Advanced SEO’s 10 Rules For Routine Originality…and 30 Tactics That Illustrate Them”.