In Search Podcast: Explaining SEO Value

Have you ever struggled to justify the value of SEO to your clients?

If so, you need to listen to today’s episode with a major SEO nerd who has a side gig renting out glamping campers on Airbnb. She’s spoken at various search marketing conferences around the US. And has been named as one of the top 10 Women in SEO. A warm welcome to the In Search SEO podcast, the president of Pam Ann Marketing and Stealth Search and Analytics, Pam Aungst Cronin.

In this episode, Pam shares three ways to explain the value of SEO to your clients, including:

  • Timing
  • Targeting
  • Transactional

How to Explain the Value of SEO to Your Clients in Three Easy Steps

P: Hi David, thank you for having me.

D: Good to have you on Pam, thanks for joining me. You can find Pam over at So Pam, how do you turn a non-believing SEO client into a believer?

P: I do this all the time and I can say a lot about it but I try to distill it down into three key points. When I was preparing for this, I ended up deciding to call them the three T’s of the value of SEO, which would be timing, targeting, and the transactional nature of it.

D: Superb, the three T’s. Starting off with T number one, timing. What’s this?

1. Timing

P: I always say that all the digital marketing channels out there offer pretty good targeting options. You can be pretty sure if you do your targeting right, that you get in front of the right people. The problem is the timing. You can get in front of your perfect target audience, potential client, or customer and that’s the exact right type of person, but they just don’t need anything from you right now. It’s kind of on you to convince them that they want or need what you have to offer because the timing may not be right. Targeting may be right, but the timing is not always right.

That’s the first reason that I really like SEO. And I explain to clients that this is something that just can’t be beaten because there’s no convincing. They are searching for what you offer because they need it want or need it now or soon. So you don’t have to convince them that now is the time to act. They’re already acting. So the time is right. That’s the first one.

D: And bringing us up to number two, targeting.

2. Targeting

P: Like I said, on all digital marketing channels, it’s pretty, I shouldn’t say easy, it’s possible to target the right type of user, that you’re getting in front of the right type of person. But the nice thing about this with search, and when I say search, I mean SEO and or paid search, search engines as a digital marketing channel, there is no targeting in a sense. You could say that with your keywords there are but really the user is targeting you. They are searching for your products or services. So the targeting is completely flipped. You don’t even have to worry about trying to define the right target audience in whatever advertising channel or whatnot with demographics and psychographics and socio-graphics. You don’t need to worry about any of it. They’re targeting you. It’s completely flipped. That’s why I say that targeting is the second major value in SEO because you don’t have to do it. They’re already targeting you. There’s no match for that in another digital marketing channel.

D: As devil’s advocate, paid search is a lot better, because you can 100% guarantee that your ad will show for that particular keyword phrase but you can’t guarantee anything with SEO.

P: Correct. That’s why I did clarify that when I say search as I’m talking about search engines as a channel and the method to which users use them. Obviously, there is a lot more that goes into coming up being in front of the users when they go there, but just the nature of why they go there is that they’re looking for a company like yours, they’re searching for products and services that you offer. The work doesn’t stop there either on paid search or SEO, but just the nature of the vehicle that brings them to you I think is pretty unique compared to other channels where you have to find them and then convince them that they want or need what you have. It’s the reverse with search engines.

D: So when you’re talking to a client, and maybe they’re not ranking for a target keyword phrase, how do you persuade them to spend money when they may not rank organically for that keyword phrase for several months?

P: Yeah, well, that’s a whole other podcast, explaining to clients about the timing of SEO and how long it takes. That’s never easy. But one thing I usually say there is that, yes, it may take a long time for us to get you up there for this, but as opposed to paid search, this initiative will have an exponential rate of return on investment. If you pay for coming up high on that keyword in paid search, you’re going to always have a fixed cost with every click and every conversion you get out of that. But with SEO, there’s the upfront investment and some ongoing investment to support it. But I’ve seen so many situations where the ROI becomes more exponential, the ROI grows over time. So it’s worth the wait because of the potential for exponential rates of return instead of a fixed rate of return.

D: So how about if a client says if the opportunity really is exponential, and you believe that much in your services, then why not? We’ll commit to paying you the same amount that we pay for paid search per visit, and you do the work beforehand, and then every visit we get we will pay you per visit.

P: I do the guarantee of results method of doing business so no, we don’t do that. My answer to that is that I wish I had full control over Google. Unfortunately, I don’t. Therefore, I can’t guarantee that the Google search engine will perform exactly the way that I think it will. They could change it tomorrow and that’s just the nature of the beast. But what I can guarantee is that everything that we know does work, we will do it for you. And I don’t typically say this to the client, but in the back of my head, while I’m saying those words I’m thinking that you’re probably going to mess up your website at some point in time and it won’t be our fault.

D: That’s what I’m thinking of as well. You obviously can’t possibly guarantee anything, when the client might suddenly decide to take a page away or change the headline on a page.

P: Exactly. The client is the biggest risk for their own SEO, by far. Far more than a potential algorithm change from Google, the bigger risk is the client messing up their own SEO.

D: Perhaps don’t say that to the client’s face.

P: That’s in the back of my mind when I’m blaming Google and saying that well, because I can’t control Google and I can’t guarantee Google’s future actions, therefore, I can’t totally guarantee this other than guaranteeing we’ll do what we say we’re going to do. But in the back of my mind, I’m also thinking because I can’t guarantee that you won’t mess it up.

D: And the number three way of turning non-believing SEO clients into someone that actually really embraces SEO is transactional. What do you mean by that?

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3. Transactional

P: I guess the three T’s are in a sense all saying the same thing but in three angles. And the transactional angle is, like I was saying before, they’re typing something in because they want or need it now or soon. So they’re ready to transact, they’re ready to do business, they’re looking for someone to make a transaction with. Again, I’m saying the same thing with the three different Ts, the timing, the targeting, and the transactional nature of it but that’s the three key things that come to my mind. You don’t have to worry about hitting them at the right time. You don’t have to convince them that now’s the time to look for this product or service, they’re already looking for it. The targeting is not even needed, because they’re targeting you. You don’t have to worry about wasting a lot of money on accidentally defining your target audience incorrectly in an advertising platform. And then the third thing is they’re ready to transact, especially when key parts of your website are focusing on transactional keywords like “Buy this” or “Shop online.”

I guess it is really all saying the same thing. The three takeaways for me about the value of SEO are that the timing is always right. The targeting is just done for you because the user is targeting you. And these users are usually ready to transact. They’re ready to hand over money and I just think that can’t be beat compared to other digital marketing channels.

D: Do you have any clients that are less willing than nowadays to actually focus on top-of-funnel/informational type keyword phrases? Do you see most people just wanting to focus on transactional?

P: That’s an excellent question. Yes, their first top-of-mind goal is to show up for the transactional queries on the pages on their site that focus on how they make money, whether it’s a services page or a product page. So I say yes, of course, we want to get you there, we want to get you found for those money-making phrases on your money pages. However, like a rising tide lifts the boat, that’s where the informational queries come in. That’s where you have to write blog articles for the people that are just researching.

And really, you can kind of take it out of your head completely about who might be reading the articles and what role that might play in the sail. Although of course, there is a role there, for those that are not completely decided. But I try to keep them focused on the fact that it’s like water under the boat. If you want your boat to rise up, you simply need to have a presence of a lot of supporting information, documentation, and keywords to show Google that you are a whole encyclopedia on this topic.

I tell people about the time that Google was saying that they want to become more of a topical match engine as opposed to a simplistic keyword match engine. So you really have to show that you have that whole topic in your book covered. And then I use the bicycle wheel analogy for the hub and spokes. You’ll have to have your money page be the center of the wheel. And all of the blog articles and informational queries that you have on your site about that topic linking to the money page, feeding the money page with equity, or with the tide under the boat. I mix up my analogies all the time, but people tend to get what I’m talking about.

D: Say someone is listening, reading, or watching and they’re perhaps just starting off establishing their own SEO agency or as an SEO consultant, and they’re starting to talk to prospective clients for the first time. And these prospective clients are maybe talking to a couple of different agencies or a couple of different consultants before making their minds up. How would you advise positioning what you do as being a little bit different compared with other people out there? Is it good, for example, to focus on a very distinct niche of SEO services for your particular industry? Should you try and focus on a specific type of SEO? What kind of conversations should you be having with a prospect prospective clients to actually persuade them to do business with you?

P: That’s a great question too. Of course, they say the riches are in the niches and you could look at niches either like a vertical or an industry that you specialize in, that does tend to ring true for the people in that industry. Then again, it narrows your target prospects. You could also look at the niching from the sense of the subset of SEO work that you specialize in, whether it be technical or writing, or link earning, I try not to say link building anymore. I have had the most success over the last 11-12 years focusing on the scope. Focusing the discussion with the potential client on the tasks that are going to be done for you. Kind of tied into what I was saying before, we can’t guarantee the results, but we can guarantee you that we’re going to do the work that we say we’re going to do. And we’re going to make sure you understand what work we’re doing. And that, no matter how green you are or aren’t, I think that a large percentage of the time you will win over other proposals if you make your proposal more focused on scope than results.

People buy a process because with SEO, you can’t guarantee results. No one can. They’re hopefully getting that answer from everyone, results aren’t guaranteed. So let’s then focus on the tasks. What tasks are these other companies guaranteeing that they will complete for you on a month-to-month basis? Oh, they’re not really being clear. Okay, well, here’s my list of all the tasks we’re going to do for you every month and for me, that’s worked up till now and continues to work and that’s what I tend to find closes businesses the easiest.

D: Would you tend to recommend selling projects and charging on a project basis as opposed to charging on a per-hour basis?

P: Either project basis or some kind of a retainer basis but with a very clear scope. You do have to be careful if you give people an unlimited free lunch, they will take it. For example, I used to say that our retainers included a monthly conference call. Well, every monthly conference call ended up being like 90 minutes long because there was no limitation on it. So now I say every monthly retainer includes a 30-minute monthly conference call and guess what? The conference calls now stick to 30 minutes. No problem. So it is important to be super clear.

We usually do the upfront work as sort of a project basis. And then the ongoing as a retainer. But all with exquisitely clear details on what is included and what is not. But the hourly thing is tricky. Because if you bill the exact hours that you spend it’s tricky because the client can then question, why did this take so long? Or why didn’t you spend more time on this, and you’re backing yourself into a corner of time-based pricing as opposed to value-based pricing. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the later years of my business era is that I deserve to get paid for the amount of knowledge that I know. It doesn’t matter if a task takes me six minutes. It would probably have taken a greener person six hours because I’ve seen it 60 times before.

Value-based pricing I think is incredibly important in probably a lot of service-based industries, but especially in SEO. And you can get that with project-based pricing. You can get that with monthly retainers with a specific scope. But I don’t think you can get that if you’re telling the client exactly how many hours you spent on each thing.

D: Great advice. Let’s finish off with Pareto Pickle. Pareto says that you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What’s one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for modest levels of effort?

Pareto Pickle – Pay Attention to Search Console

P: I often say go straight to the horse’s mouth, meaning Search Console. If you’re thinking you might have to do this or might have to do that in order to improve your SEO, why don’t you go to Search Console first and see exactly what issues Googlebot is having with ranking your content right now? Look at your coverage report, what pages are excluded? What’s under the crawled not currently indexed category? What’s under the Duplicate Without User Declared canonical category? Look at your Core Web Vitals. Which pages does Googlebot think are too slow and have a bad user experience and so on and so forth? I think a little time spent in Search Console can have huge results because you’re going straight to the source of the issues and finding them and fixing them.

D: Search Console is your friend, people. I’ve been your host David Bain. Pam, thanks so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.

P: Thank you for having me. Always a great time.

D: And thank you for listening. Check out all the previous episodes and sign up for a free trial of the Rank Ranger platform over at

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