Remote work has become the norm for many SEO agencies out there, since March and the start of a new chapter in our global lives.
As a trend that is here to stay, it has its perks — from increased productivity to more flexibility for creative work or more time spent with family. Yet, it has many challenges that are still being negotiated — from the pitching process on Zoom to a new form of brainstorming and virtual synchronous feedback.
And what about the way remote and online environments influence business development? Removing offline events from the big picture has a crucial impact on how agencies can interact with the potential customers.
Yet, we can look at it with a deeper lens, and that’s what we’re exploring today. Business development for an SEO agency encompasses reaching new clients and engaging with them, but can also involve a stronger retention and an increase in revenue through activating frozen accounts.
So, beyond the virtual conferences and webinars out there, agencies can start getting creative about both new clients and upselling or re-engaging existing clients. At the intersection of strategy, useful tools, and client acquisition and retention, this article tackles how SEO agencies can increase their revenue through expansion and leveraging their client base.
Outbound marketing and “hedging” for key partnerships
One direction that agencies can get strategic with is how they create that first impression for potential customers. With a mix of data-driven outbound actions and even automation at hand, agencies can experiment with their sales funnel and new ways of qualifying leads.
If traditionally agencies would target businesses based on revenue and size, in today’s tech environment, you can find out what platform or technology is powering the client’s website, how their specific keywords fare in terms of year-over-year shifts or what their monthly market share is (YoY Trends).
This lets you create highly targeted marketing messages and sales offers, turning the personalization game up a notch — showcasing your expertise in a certain platform (Wordpress, Magento etc.), gathering competitors insights to start a conversation, or presenting surprising industry trends for a specific customer.
Before personalizing your offering, you can go even deeper and think about hedging as an approach to your client and services portfolio, which enables you to explore new markets, verticals, industries or additional services to add to your agency. This approach will give your outbound strategy a clear direction into ideal client profiles for your agency or what services gap you can start filling.
Hedging is an investment strategy where you mitigate risk by taking an opposite position in a related asset. If a stock is negatively affected, you don’t sell your share but invest in another stock to balance your portfolio.
Translated to your agency portfolio that means diversification in terms of clients, to maintain a balance of industries / verticals you target, or expansion of types of solutions for your clients, to ensure a revenue stream from multiple sources.
An approach that Found has ventured in even before the pandemic: calling it growth partnering, this involves working with an agency member with a broad knowledge of strategy, channels, tactics etc. to make sure the client receives the right media mix. Instead of focusing on one particular area, the client gets a higher-level strategy in place and consultancy throughout the process (as the agency knows the trends across their clients’ portfolio and their market specifics).
As the digital environment continues to be challenged, you can explore these choices when evaluating your business development efforts.
SEO agencies have a great advantage in their hands, especially when making sense of big global changes: search data. With your know-how and in-depth understanding, you can help your clients see how their industry looks like, what are the new trends and what can be done for their business outcomes.
But, this type of knowledge can also be leveraged for your branding or sales efforts all the same. As you use search trends and content development to support your clients reaching their sales and marketing KPIs, how about using it for your agency? A thorough, well-written report for the state of a specific industry, a consumer analysis for the first half of 2020 or a cross-industry report based on current trends and YoY data can get you media coverage from various publishers, be it news outlets or industry magazines.
With this type of brand awareness for your target market, you not only gain exposure to potential customers but also have an opportunity to showcase your value as a consultant. For instance, Found, an award-winning digital growth agency, analyzed news publishing trends for a particular client and identified a hidden opportunity in a new sector for them to enter, and then supported the business to capitalize on it. You can find more examples and insights on how to use search trends for PR purposes in our dedicated article.
Another way to gain visibility can be to combine a press release presenting a bespoke report with a proprietary tool you’ve developed. Or create strategic events around it. That’s what Upswing, a +30 person SEO agency in Europe, did with their COVID-19 Data Trends and a dedicated webinar that brought over 350 qualified participants who didn’t have any contact with their agency before. Both tactics allowed the agency to collect highly relevant emails and keep these persons in the loop with exploding/tanking targeted trends — valuable information for their business and a good way to open the sales conversation.
Re-Forecasting to “unfreeze” accounts
Coming back to your client portfolio, as search intent and demands have changed drastically since the start of 2020, you’ve probably had to renegotiate contracts and reassess campaigns. As Kevin Gibbons (founder @Re:signal) put it in one of our conversations, the current question remains: Where did the search volumes move?
This can be a struggle. But it’s also a continuing opportunity in helping clients adapt their strategies and plan for what’s coming next.
One way to do this is through re-forecasting with the newly available data — search volumes calibrated with year-over-year trends since February 2020. This is critical in highlighting changes in what people actually search for (products, services, information), as the 12-months averages which were the industry standard can be misleading now.
Re-forecasting can be a good chance to open frozen client conversations or even propose new avenues for existing clients to test. And, in order to make a thorough business case, it’s important to highlight the ROI — by correlating estimated new traffic you can bring with additional sessions and conversions, based on your SEO objective.
Explaining how your SEO performance impacts the business’ day to day activities is a major point in deepening the agency-client relationship, especially in times of crisis.
Proactive communication — Keeping an eye on your clients’ health
One last thing in our exploration of approaches to productive business development methods in remote times is, without a doubt, client communication. Which needs to be high energy and proactive, as offline meetings and events are, as we’ve earlier mentioned, not as frequent.
So, it’s even more relevant to be a reliant partner for existing clients and helpful for clients you wish to re-engage. Keeping track of the clients’ health, which can be defined in terms of sessions, conversions, MRR, industry trends, or the overall status of the SEO objective, is a method of both averting issues and offering critical insights that can push the business further. For instance, Upswing used YoY search trends to keep their clients in the loop even though their campaigns were on hold during the start of the COVID-19 crisis — this strategy helped them grow those client relationships.
Knowing if the clients’ health is good or bad helps you both in timely strategy adjustments, campaigns development and an engaged conversation. Which in turn implies trust and accountability.
Doing business development in a remote context can be tough. Yet, it leaves room for creativity and innovation. Here is our take on ways to approach it for your SEO agencies:
- Use data-driven outbound actions and target your client with highly personalized offers based on search insights, their tech stack etc.
- Hedging as a business development strategy — diversify your client portfolio or your services according to relevant market shifts you can observe through search data.
- Digital PR: Use search data to create compelling industry reports and leverage them for media coverage. You get to raise awareness in the market segment you’re targeting.
- Use re-forecasting as a way to re-engage clients or advise your clients for better business results.
- Monitor your clients’ health and be proactive in communicating their status and what can be done to support their SEO & marketing efforts.