What makes an SEO client – and really, any digital marketing client – want to stick with you or your agency over the long term?

Is it:

  • Providing consistent ROI?
  • Focusing on their goals?
  • Speaking their language?
  • Getting to know them well?
  • All of the above?

Sure, all the above are important.

But I submit to you, based on my experience with SEO clients large and small over the last 10 years, that there’s something deeper that makes you sticky with clients.

Are you ready for this Big Secret?

Here it is:

Giving a Shit.

I prefer to avoid the use of four-letter-words in my writing, but I can’t think of a better way to say it than that.

You must actually give a shit about your client and their business.

Period.

Not pretending to care, not caring because you’re getting paid to care, but really truly caring.

You must actually give a shit.

I’ll explain.

Your SEO client point of contact may be a small business owner.

Or they may be VP of Marketing for a giant enterprise company.

Or somewhere in between.

It’s easy to assume all they care about is ROI – return on investment.

After all, that’s why they’re hiring an SEO expert, to get results, right?

Sure, on the surface, they’re looking for an SEO expert to help them reach their goals.

But deep down inside, they want to know you actually give a shit.

Here’s the how and why:

A Quick Peek Inside the Minds of Clients

All of this happens outside of our normal day-to-day waking conscious awareness.

It’s the kind of thing we typically refer to as a gut-feeling.

We all make these kinds of “gut-level” assessments about people all the time.

Do you think your dentist or auto mechanic really gives a shit about you, or are you just a paycheck to them?

And, how do you make that assessment?

Likely your answer is something like “I just know” or “it’s a feeling I have”.

Same with your clients.

These assessments involve a lot of complex brain processing and the result is that gut feeling.

Your clients – and you – may not be able to clearly articulate exactly how they know whether someone gives a crap or not, but right or wrong, they will and do have a feeling about you and whether you in particular really do give a shit.

They have that feeling about you – one way or the other – right now.

How to Give a Shit When You Really Don’t Care

You’re mostly out of luck here.

This is not the time for “fake it till you make it”.

You either give a crap, or you don’t.

That said, if you sincerely want to give a shit but for whatever reason you’re not sure how, here are some tips that might help move you in the right direction.

Tip #1: Genuine curiosity about your client

Everyone has a story.

Everyone came from somewhere, has done things before now, has had terrible failures and terrific successes.

Everyone has interests outside of work.

This is of course true of your client.

You would likely be fascinated by the things they’ve done and seen in their life, if you only knew.

Can you feel your curiosity starting to pique?

Tip #2: Genuine curiosity about your client’s business

Maybe you’re not really all that interested in B2B SaaS offerings, or eCommerce, or IT-heavy business models.

Or whatever your client’s business does.

But I submit to you for your consideration that if you’re not interested in your client’s business model, you’re simply not paying close enough attention.

There are many interesting questions to be curious about such as:

  • Who started the business and why?
  • What are the problems this business solves for its clients or customers?
  • What’s truly unique about this business compared with competitors?
  • What are their future plans?

Get curious. Ask questions. Then ask some more.

Tip #3: Focus on the bigger picture

Think of all the employees that work at your client’s business.

Working there means they can afford to do things like buy food and pay for housing.

Maybe they have children and being employed there means they can afford to take care of their children, pay for college, that kind of thing.

You’re helping this business with their marketing goals, right?

That means you’re helping to keep all those people employed – and you’re contributing to their ability to buy food, afford housing, take care of their children, maybe take a vacation or pursue interests outside of work.

You’re contributing to the quality of their life.

Sure, their continued employment may not directly hinge on your efforts, but you’re playing a part.

That matters. Think about it.

Final Tips on Giving a Shit

Okay, so let’s say you actually do care.

How you communicate makes a big difference.

What are some ways you can help cement your genuine caring in your client’s mind?

Here are a few tips.

1. We, not you

Use “we” language.

Our organic traffic is…”

“What we need to do to achieve this is…”

Our site performance last month…”

Not “your traffic”, not “what your team needs to do”, not “your site performance”.

Get on the same side of the rope as your client and start pulling.

2. Speak their lingo

All businesses use jargon.

It’s likely the general public doesn’t use that jargon.

Years ago, I ran a plumbing company and when I first started working there, I noticed they all called a drain clog a “stoppage”.

No customer who called on the phone said, “we have a toilet stoppage”, but that’s how we talked internally.

Listen closely to your clients and the jargon they use.

Ask for clarification when you hear something you don’t understand.

Also listen to what they call a “conversion” – you may call it a conversion, but they may call it an “SAL” or an “MQL”.

Learn and use their jargon.

Speak their language.

3. Pretend it’s your website

My first management position was thrust upon me against my will when I worked for a large chain of grocery stores in Southern California called “Ralphs”.

Up to then I was happy in an Assistant Manager position, and I didn’t want the headaches of being a Department Manager because in my mind, the huge amount of additional hassles just wasn’t worth the meager pay increase.

But Alan, the District Manager who I liked very much, begged me to temporarily take over as Dept. Manager at another store where the existing Manager was going out on maternity leave.

I reluctantly agreed, and the only management training Alan gave me was “pretend the sign outside the store doesn’t say ‘Ralphs’, it says ‘David’s’”.

I took that advice to heart and it made a huge difference.

Previously I was not that great of an employee – I worked hard and did a good job, but I had an attitude problem when it came to customers and I had previously been called into the Store Manager’s Office numerous times to discuss my bad attitude.

Somehow Alan’s advice changed everything for me – I started giving a shit about “my” Dept. and “my” customers – in the 6 months I was there average weekly sales rose by 36% & better.

Pretend your client’s website is your website.

Conclusion

At some point you’re going to need to call a plumber, or need to get a haircut, or need to see a dentist.

Who would you rather have helping you? – someone who just sees you as dollar signs, or someone who really gives a shit about you and your specific needs and wants.

That’s what I thought.

Giving a shit makes all the difference in the world.

David Portney
David Portney is a published author, an experienced speaker & trainer, and proudly served on the SEMpdx Board as Charity of Choice and then Sponsorship Chair 2013-2014. David started doing SEO as a hobby in 2008 and became a professional SEO in January 2010 working for a Vancouver, WA company which focused on SEO for small businesses. He then moved to enterprise-level SEO work with Portent, Inc. headquartered in Seattle 2 years later. After 3 years with Portent, David now works as SEO Lead for 3Q Digital based in Silicon Valley. Quote: “Yes, I’m very into SEO but let’s call it passion and not obsession, okay?” Follow David on Twitter @dportney.
David Portney
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