The Local SEO Agency’s Complete Guide to Client Discovery and Onboarding

Posted by MiriamEllis

Why proper onboarding matters

Imagine getting three months in on a Local SEO contract before realizing that your client’s storefront is really his cousin’s garage. From which he runs two other “legit” businesses he never mentioned. Or that he neglected to mention the reviews he bought last year. Worse yet, he doesn’t even know that buying reviews is a bad thing.

The story is equally bad if you’re diligently working to build quality unique content around a Chicago client’s business in Wicker Park but then realize their address (and customer base) is actually in neighboring Avondale.

What you don’t know will hurt you. And your clients.

A hallmark of the professional Local SEO department or agency is its dedication to getting off on the right foot with a new client by getting their data beautifully documented for the whole team from the start. At various times throughout the life of the contract, your teammates and staff from complementary departments will be needing to access different aspects of a client’s core NAP, known challenges, company history, and goals.

Having this information clearly recorded in shareable media is the key to both organization and collaboration, as well as being the best preventative measure against costly data-oriented mistakes. Clear and consistent data play vital roles in Local SEO. Information must not only be gathered, but carefully verified with the client.

This article will offer you a working Client Discovery Questionnaire, an Initial Discovery Phone Call Script, and a useful Location Data Spreadsheet that will be easy for any customer to fill out and for you to then use to get those listings up to date. You’re about to take your client discovery process to awesome new heights!

Why agencies don’t always get onboarding right

Lack of a clearly delineated, step-by-step onboarding process increases the potential for human error. Your agency’s Local SEO manager may be having allergies on Monday and simply forget to ask your new client if they have more than one website, if they’ve ever purchased reviews, or if they have direct access to their Google My Business listings. Or they could have that information and forget to share it when they jump to a new agency.

The outcomes of disorganized onboarding can range from minor hassles to disastrous mistakes.

Minor hassles would include having to make a number of follow-up phone calls to fill in holes in a spreadsheet that could have been taken care of in a single outreach. It’s inconvenient for all teammates when they have to scramble for missing data that should have been available at the outset of the project.

Disastrous mistakes can stem from a failure to fully gauge the details and scope of a client’s holdings. Suddenly, a medium-sized project can take on gigantic proportions when the agency learns that the client actually has 10 mini-sites with duplicate content on them, or 10 duplicate GMB listings, or a series of call tracking numbers around the web.

It’s extremely disheartening to discover a mountain of work you didn’t realize would need to be undertaken, and the agency can end up having to put in extra uncompensated time or return to the client to renegotiate the contract. It also leads to client dissatisfaction.

Setting correct client expectations is completely dependent on being able to properly gauge the scope of a project, so that you can provide an appropriate timeline, quote, and projected benchmarks. In Local, that comes down to documenting core business information, identifying past and present problems, and understanding which client goals are achievable. With the right tools and effective communication, your agency will be making a very successful start to what you want to be a very successful project.

Professional client discovery made simple

There’s a lot you want to learn about a new client up front, but asking (and answering) all those questions right away can be grueling. Not to mention information fatigue, which can make your client give shorter and shorter answers when they feel like they’ve spent enough time already. Meanwhile your brain reaches max capacity and you can’t use all that valuable information because you can’t remember it.

To prevent such a disaster, we recommend dividing your Local SEO discovery process into a questionnaire to nail down the basics, a follow-up phone call to help you feel out some trickier issues, and a CSV to gather the location data. And we’ve created templates to get you started…

Client Discovery Questionnaire

Use our Local SEO Client Discovery Questionnaire to understand your client’s history, current organization, and what other consultants they might also be working with. We’ve annotated each question in the Google Doc template to help you understand what you can learn and potential pitfalls to look out for.

If you want to make collecting and preserving your clients’ answers extra easy, use Google Forms to turn that questionnaire into a form like this:

You can even personalize the graphic, questions, and workflow to suit your brand.

Client Discovery Phone Script

Once you’ve received your client’s completed questionnaire and have had time to process the responses and do any necessary due diligence (like using our Check Listings tool to check how aggregators currently display their information), it’s time to follow up on the phone. Use our annotated Local SEO Client Discovery Phone Script to get you started.

local seo client discovery phone script

No form necessary this time, because you’ll be asking the client verbally. Be sure to pay attention to the client’s tone of voice as they answer and refer to the notes under each question to see what you might be in for.

Location Data CSV

Sometimes the hardest part of Local SEO is getting all the location info letter-perfect. Make that easier by having the client input all those details into your copy of the Location Data Spreadsheet.

local seo location data csv

Then use the File menu to download that document as a CSV.

You’ll want to proof this before uploading it to any data aggregators. If you’re working with Moz Local, the next step is an easy upload of your CSV. If you’re working with other services, you can always customize your data collection spreadsheet to meet their standards.

Keep up to date on any business moves or changes in hours by designing a data update form like this one from SEER and periodically reminding your client contact to use it.

Why mutual signals of commitment really matter

There are two sides to every successful client project: one half belongs to the agency and the other to the company it serves. The attention to detail your agency displays via clean, user-friendly forms and good phone sessions will signal your professionalism and commitment to doing quality work. At the same time, the willingness of the client to take the necessary time to fill out these documents and have these conversations signals their commitment to receiving value from their investment.

It’s not unusual for a new client to express some initial surprise when they realize how many questions you’re asking them to answer. Past experience may even have led them to expect half-hearted, sloppy work from other SEO agencies. But, what you want to see is a willingness on their part to share everything they can about their company with you so that you can do your best work.

Anecdotally, I’ve fully refunded the down payments of a few incoming clients who claimed they couldn’t take the time to fill out my forms, because I detected in their unwillingness a lack of genuine commitment to success. These companies have, fortunately, been the exception rather than the rule for me, and likely will be for your agency, too.

It’s my hope that, with the right forms and a commitment to having important conversations with incoming clients at the outset, the work you undertake will make your Local team top agency and client heroes!

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What To Do If Your Website Traffic Is Down

ThinkstockPhotos-454305393-721421-edited.jpgYou’ve noticed a dip in website traffic. Your email marketing, social media and content strategy are all on target, so what’s causing a decrease in visits, and what do you do?

First thing: Don’t panic.

Keep in mind that Google updates its algorithm between 500 and 600 times per year — and that doesn’t even include the major updates such as Panda (2011’s emphasis on strong content) and Penguin (2012’s crack down on over-optimizing and keyword-based anchor text).

It’s good to keep an eye on your website visits and performance to notice change over time, but if you’re getting less traffic and fewer phone calls, it’s time to investigate further.

Step 1: Check your code.

Even seemingly simple website tweaks could result in the accidental deletion of your tracking code.

Whether you’re using Google Analytics or a marketing automation tool such as HubSpot, double check to make sure you’re receiving the accurate performance data from your entire website.

It sounds like an obvious check, but you won’t believe how often it can happen if you have a webmaster or someone else making website edits for you.

Step 2: Analyze your keywords.

Those search terms that had you on page one of Google last week — are they still holding up?

If a few of your website pages dropped from the first, second or third search result position down to seven, eight or nine, that could result in a major drop in visits to your website.

I recommend you look at your larger traffic-driving keywords and overall pages to see if there has been a decline in placement across the board. 

Even a drop in placement from the 1st page to the 2nd, 3rd, 5th+ page could be a sign that you’re in penalty — meaning Google sees suspicious or outdated tactics and lowers your search result ranking or removes your website completely from its pages.

There is plenty of keyword tracking software out there that can do all the heavy lifting for you. All you would need to do is check your rankings and monitor for big keyword shifts. From there, you should evaluate how bad the drops in rankings are and adjust your SEO strategy.

(Download the “How to Rank Above Your Competition Using” eBook to learn more about the free tool that shows which companies are ranking for your search terms.)

Step 3: Take a look at Domain Authority.

A key factor in calculating your search engine ranking is Moz’s Domain Authority.

It’s calculated by the frequency of new pages published, number of pages, number of outbound and inbound links and quality of links, among other parameters — and it’s so influential that Google weighs it in the algorithm.

So when Moz rolls out an update to the Domain Authority of all websites, if you’ve lost quality backlinks or stopped making updates, your ranking could fall and subsequently get a loss in website traffic.

You can keep an eye on it here.

Why is this important? Well, your website’s authority tells Google a lot. If your authority is dropping, it’s a signal to Google and other search engines that maybe the quality of the site isn’t as good as it used to be.

If the quality is suffering, Google doesn’t want to damage its reputation as a search engine and deliver poor results.

You want to keep an eye on this on a monthly basis and make adjustments as you see your authority start to change. If it’s getting better, keep doing what you’re doing! If it’s declining, then it’s time to change your strategy — either by adding content that people would find interesting and linking to or reaching out to high quality sites for a link back to your site.

Step 4: Analyze for toxic backlinks.

Although Google says bad backlinks can’t hurt you, they definitely can.

Even if you believe you have strong and clean link building practices, you could be in penalty and not even know it — thanks to Google’s Penguin update.

You definitely should look for referral links that you wouldn’t necessarily want your website associated with. You can see this by taking a look at your referral traffic in your web analytics or marketing automation tool — pull up the data and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have any partners in different parts of the world? 
  • Do you see an increased amount of links coming in from a different language?
  • Do you see links to pages that don’t exist on your website? 

Those are definitely things to watch out for as that could be a clear sign of a hacked website or unfavorable links. Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately.

If you uncover toxic backlinks, compile a list and call in the professionals — it’s time to submit a disavow file to Google and start the cleanup process.

Step 5: Call in the outside reporting.

If you’ve made it this far and still haven’t found the issue, I recommend purchasing reports from SEMRush. This tool provides a small amount of data to show where you’re ranking, charts to show a drop in organic keywords and a look at whether there’s an algorithmic change.

Once you have the data,  a look the organic graph and analyze what it’s telling you: If you’re seeing declines in keywords and traffic, then check and see if it coincides with an algorithm update.

Typically, you can pinpoint what month and year your decline took a nosedive and research to see if Google rolled out any updates during that timeframe — there would likely be extensive coverage on Moz with advice on how to remedy the situation.

Final Thoughts

The truth is, Panda and Penguin are just the beginning of changes Google is going to roll out over the next decade.

Usually major algorithm announcements are made the same day they’re rolled out in search, but I tend to see movements in website data weeks — or even months — before that.

You’ll tend to see major movements in other industries before they’re rolled out everywhere, so that’s why I like to keep my ear to the ground.

You never truly know what Google will change next, so you have to keep analyzing what’s happening with your online presence and stay up to date with tactics and trends — it’s all part of a strong inbound marketing strategy.

We’ve got a bunch of great content on understanding keyword fundamentals, ranking above competitors and tips for increasing website rankings to help you master your search engine marketing strategy.

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