Communication. Regardless where you are in your career, enhancing your communication will only make you better at your job and open up opportunities to continue to advance. This is especially true in SEO where smart consultants might be a dime a dozen but effective SEO communicators are truly diamonds within the rough. There isn’t a single situation that can’t be made better by improving a persons communication skills.
This post will cover many phases within a standard SEO engagement. None of these phases should be new to you but the opportunity to improve on your effective communication can help differentiate you from a standard “technical /marketing” consultant from one that is a valuable asset a team can’t afford to lose. While my examples below will focus primarily on client-related work, exemplary communication skills are so rare that it can set you apart from the competition when searching for the perfect job.
Communication Establishes Expertise and Trust
When a company is looking to hire an agency or individual consultant they want to feel confident that they are hiring someone who is an expert in their field. It doesn’t matter how many #1 rankings you can get or how many links from trusted sources you can acquire if you can’t communicate the value.
Not only is it essential to explain to clients the value you provide, but it’s even more critical to explain it in terms they will understand. If you go into a room full of decision makers and start throwing out words like “canonical tags”, “link equity” and “crawl budgets” your going to lose them. Expertise is not established by using $5.00 “SEO words”. You’ll garner more attention and more respect by communication the following in a clear and concise manner:
- What issues does the client currently experience
- Why these issues are indeed issues
- How you propose fixing them
- The ROI on their investment
There isn’t a single business that is more impressed by random algorithm timelines or SEO jargon over the above bullets. Worry less about convincing them you know your stuff because addressing their biggest concerns and outlining a strategy to not only fix but improve their site(s) will speak volumes. Adding some extra zeroes to their bottom line doesn’t hurt either!
Communication On The Job
Let’s assume that you’ve signed an agreement and you start to work your SEO magic for your new client. How are you keeping the client up to date with your initiatives? Weekly/daily emails? Status calls? Quarterly reviews? All of these are opportunities for you to hone your communication skills.
It’s fairly simple. What does the client need to know? Tell them right away! You’re not writing a movie script, no need to build anticipation prior to the end. Your clients are busy, they probably don’t even have the time to read your entire email. Tell them the main point of your email – right away. This way, if they truly only have a second to skim the email, you get your point across. If you peek their interest they’ll then prioritize reading the rest of your email.
Example of bad email communication
I hope you had a great weekend. Mine was fun. I took the dog to the park. Billy really likes the water, you should have seen the mess he made in the car since i forgot to bring a towel.
Remember last week when we talked about changing the title tag on the homepage? I told you that if we added valuable keywords in this space we could see an increase in search engine visibility? Great news, I worked with Becky within your IT team and through logging into your wordpress installation and downloading the Yoast plugin we were able to update your title tag from “BoBs Ecommerce Site” to “Shop Dog Food, Toys and More at BoB’s Ecomm”.
After making this change we re-published the page so that the changes could take effect. As we also discussed, Google doesn’t update their cache in real-time so we needed to rely on them re-visiting the same, re-crawl the page (including its title tag) and then update the SERP (search engine results page).
It’s been 2 weeks since we made the changes listed above. Great News! Changing the title tag saw an increase in rankings for the keywords “dog food” and “dog toys”. Considering your homepage saw a lift of +5% Week over week in organic traffic we feel like this was a large contribution to this success. How awesome, right?
Let me know if you have questions,
The example above might be a bit extreme but every single person reading this post can think of an email they sent to a client or a colleague that could have been summarized in 1/4 of the text. Let’s give this email another shot.
Becky and I recently made some changes to the homepage title tag which drove +5% organic traffic to the site compared to last week.
Below outlines the steps we took to achieve this success:
- Received access to your wordpress credentials.
- Downloaded the Yoast SEO plugin.
- Updated the title tag within your homepage.
- Published the changes to the site.
It took roughly 2 weeks for Google to revisit the site and take these updates into account within their ranking algorithm. The good news is that we are seeing ranking increases for valuable keywords such as “dog food” and “dog toys” which we believe is contributing to the increase in traffic the site saw this week.
As always, we’ll continue to monitor performance. If you’d like to jump on a call to discuss further, please let me know a few times that are convenient for you.
The second email gets across the exact same point as the first email but is much easier to skim. Ideally, we’ve intrigued Bob enough to read the entire message but if not he got the main message within 15 seconds of opening the email. Don’t interpret the example above as saying the details aren’t important. The emphasis is on getting the main point across quickly. The client can schedule a call or request more technical details if necessary. However, its safe to say that if their role isn’t exclusive to reporting on SEO performance, they won’t need every nitty gritty detail.
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Everyone has woken up and glanced over their reporting toolset to see a dip in traffic. That pit in your stomach is something you’ll never forget. It’s a cocktail of 50% panic and 50% WTF. This is a great opportunity to exercise not only transparency but effective communication.
Your gut instinct might be to whip your phone out or shoot an email directly to the client. In certain emergencies, this might be appropriate (site going down or sites hacked etc). In many other instances, it might be worth gathering your thoughts, isolating the issue, coming up with the solution and then sending an email to the client. It does you very little value to get the client worked up without having a potential solution in place. Best case scenario, the client is aware of a reason why performance is down. Worst case scenario they aren’t aware but love that you are being proactive with not only monitoring their site but by having a viable solution to put in place asap.
Communication is extremely important regardless of the good or bad news. Communicating bad news is absolutely critical to establishing a great partnership
Consulting / Technical Deliverables
How many times have you sent an official recommendation or project outline to a client to only start the process of “let’s ask 50 questions?” It’s amazing how efficient you can be if you take the time prior to delivering the “ask” if you put a bit more critical thinking behind it. What exactly are you asking the client to do? Has the client already agreed to implement? Who will be working on this executable and most importantly when will it be completed? Think of all of this before you hand over a deliverable. If you don’t know the answer to any of the above questions then you need to find out before requesting other people to act on your request.
At this point in the engagement your most likely working with someone different than who made the decision to hire you on. Make sure you work to these peoples strengths (and weaknesses.) At this point, all your requests need to be extremely clear. Not everyone within the organization will understand 100% the impacts of the requests you are making. Giving an explanation is typically always beneficial but you run into the email examples outlined above. Educating your partners is always going to bear fruit. Don’t assume they already know why or even worse assume they don’t need to know why. Educate when appropriate, otherwise get to the point and be crystal clear about expectations. Execute appropriately and you’ll see major efficiencies in the execution of your deliverable.
Oh reporting. What a necessary evil. I’ve yet to meet a consultant that enjoys this function of their job. Ask half of them and they will tell you that they aren’t convinced their clients even look at the reports. This is why it’s even more important to be extremely effective in your reporting communication. Similar to the email example below, you can communicate the main take away in one line of text or within the first 3 minutes of a phone call.
Bob, site was up 15% in organic traffic, up 5% in revenue and down 1% in total orders in the month of August YoY.
Hey Bob, it’s Nick. How are you? … I know your very busy. For the month of August the site was up 15% in organic traffic, up 5% in revenue and down 1% in total orders. Do you have time to talk about some of the details I’ve put together in the report?
Email is fairly quick but the back and forward emails can eat into a lot of your time. Definitely, think about how you can answer all questions in advance. The phone is another opportunity to get stuck in a long-winded conversation. it’s amazing how many 10-minute phone calls you can have if opening up a weekly status this way. Obviously, when performance is down they will want to talk about the details more frequently. When life is good and the trust has been established it’s not uncommon for a client to respond saying they appreciate the quick overview and they feel comfortable reviewing the report in more detail on their own time.
You didn’t think we’d go through an effective communication post without touching base on public speaking, did you? Public speaking is ranked within the top 5 things that scare people the most. I get it. It’s something I personally have worked on for the last few years. While i’m by no means an expert at it, below are just a few takeaways I’ve come to while making public speaking a higher priority. I have no doubt everyone reading this can benefit or seen the benefits from this as well.
Whether it’s talking to a single person or giving a presentation in front of hundreds of people, public speaking challenges you on exactly how well you know your trade. There is nothing like the feeling of walking a technical team through the SEO hell that is faceted navigation and how it impacts e-commerce sites. When you see their eyes open up and you can just see that light bulb go on — you know you’ve nailed it. This is how you establish the trust of your clients and peers before you even touch one line of code on their site. The best part is your confidence will only rise the more you push yourself.
Clients like when they can feel confident in their consultants. If you communicate to the c-suite at the highest level the issues, the solution and the ROI they will likely empower you to work with other teams within the company to execute said strategy. At this point you can work with the IT team and get into the nitty-gritty about faceted navigation, the duplicate content it creates, the crawl efficiencies it adds in addition to technical solutions to fix this.
As cliche as it sounds if you can walk the SEO walk and talk the SEO talk, you’re already within the top 5% of SEO talent. Every single SEO consultant regardless of role should aim to be just as good at their public speaking as they are their technical SEO recommendations. Not many SEOs actively seek out getting better at public speaking. SEO can be learned fairly easily over time. Finding someone eager to effectively communicate is much harder.
Tips for Public Speaking
As mentioned earlier, I’m by no means an expert at public speaking. I have however been working hard at getting better. Below are just a few tips/suggestions that I saw value from. I hope they can help both you and your teams as well.
- Find a public speaking class. I participated in Toastmasters. It was the single most difficult and yet rewarding decision I’ve ever made.
- Practice. I have a buddy at my work who is on a completely different team that I run my SEO decks/strategies by. If he doesn’t understand what I’m trying to get at then the client won’t either. The key here is to find someone who doesn’t share your skill set.
- Read Out loud. I have three kids at home. I know I’m not a strong speaker so I forced myself to read all books to my kids out loud. Simply saying words out loud will get you comfortable with talking. Don’t limit this to story time, print your emails, your deliverable, your power points. Simply read out loud.
- Breath and read your audience. When you’re talking to a group it’s extremely important to pace yourself. The only thing worse than passing out because you aren’t breathing appropriately might just be losing your audience. If your materials aren’t resonating with your audience, change it up. Make it more interactive, ask questions, validate. You don’t want to speak to simply hear yourself speak. If you’re going to go through the challenges of public speaking, someone must take something away from your efforts.
Challenge Yourself To Better Communicate
Everything outlined above will make you a better SEO regardless if you’re in a junior analyst position or if you’re the owner of company. It’s something we can all be better at and that we’ll never master. I have absolutely no question that your return on investment will be returned 10X if you actively work on this. Do me a favor. This post is very likely not the first nor the last marketing post you’ll read today. I know everyone is extremely busy but ask yourself a simple question. What will benefit both you and your clients the most in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years? Is it a single SEO “trick” or “hack” or is it a skill set every single SEO can be better for mastering?
What tips can you share on effective communication or other “soft skills” in the SEO niche?