Ep #2: How Long Does SEO Take to Show Results?

How do most SEO consultants respond when asked the following two questions?

  • How much is this going to cost?
  • How long is it going to take to get results?

Aside from “What do we actually get?” these two questions are without doubt, the two most frequently asked questions you’ll receive from prospects enquiring about SEO. Now it would be fair to say that most SEO’s would respond with the usual “it depends” and perhaps ask for more information.

But how do you respond when the prospect asks more specific questions, such as –

  • Can you please send us a proposal and quote
  • Can you also give us a projected timeline for how long it will take for all of our keywords to be ranked first in Google?

Well, that’s exactly what happened in the example I’m about to share with you in this episode.

What you will discover

In this episode I talk about how you can answer these questions in a way that allows you to  –

  • Educate the prospect and change the conversation away from rankings
  • Provide a value proposition based upon a solid, proven outcome
  • Give the prospect exactly what they want
  • Sell and close more leads, without making false promises

Featured on the show


Click below to read the transcript of this episode.

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Hey guys, welcome to the Bring the SEO podcast. In this episode, I want to talk about something that I saw recently on LinkedIn, and it was a discussion that was shared between an SEO consultant and a prospect inquiring about their services. To give some context, I’m going to actually read through the message. They were kind enough to share it in the discussion. So I’m going to read through this conversation and share it with you because it’s really interesting and it’s one area of SEO that I think needs to change. And this all ties in with what I teach in is the SEO Accelerator program about essentially running SEO campaigns, more like PPC campaigns where the emphasis is not on keyword placement or rankings. The emphasis is all about revenue, return on investment and helping the customer… sorry, helping the prospect or the client rather get customers and generating sales.

So the conversation went like this, and I should point out that this was a conversation that was shared. It looks to me like it was shared via Messenger. So it starts out with the prospect sending the initial message through and it reads like this, “Please supply a price to carry out SEO on our website and a projected timeline for all keywords to be number one. I’ve already had quotes and proposals in from others. I could do with yours by Wednesday next week. All they really need is cost per month and timescale. Thanks.”

Now, there’s quite a bit to unpack here, and I’ll go through it real quick before I move on. Firstly, they’re asking for a quote, obviously, and let’s face it, a message like this is fairly typical. Actually, the first thing I want to point out is whenever you receive a message like this via Messenger or email, let’s say, or even via direct message or whatever it might be, always follow your sales process. You should cut communication off right here and say, “Listen, this sounds interesting. Let’s schedule a call to talk,” and to get them on a call. You should always be getting prospects on a call. You should never be trying to sell or communicate or pitch your services via email or Messenger. So that’s the first thing I’ll say.

So they’re asking for a quote, and one thing that caught my attention here is they’re saying, “We want a projected timeline for all key words to be number one.” So in the prospect’s mind, their definition of desired outcome or results is to be number one in Google. That right there in itself is a huge problem, and that’s where you need to change a conversation. And again, I cover this extensively in my program where you are shifting the conversation away from rankings and you are bringing it back to the metrics that matter, revenue.

So that right there would be a red flag and it would certainly be something that needed to be addressed. And this is something that happens, needs to happen at the very beginning of the conversation during that first engagement. “Okay, well, hey, we understand that most other SEO agencies will be selling you rankings, but that’s not how we operate. We’re about helping you ensure that you get a positive return on investment.” That’s a much healthier conversation to have. And look, this is through fault of the prospect because it’s simply the way in which the majority, as I said, that’s the majority of SEO agencies sell rankings. So that’s the first thing.

The next thing they say is, “I’ve already had quotes and proposals from others. I could do with yours by Wednesday next week.” So already the prospect is starting to take control of the process, let’s say, and this is where again, you need to get them on a call and you need to follow your own sales process. “Book a call here, let’s jump on and have a chat.” And they finish up by saying, All I really need is cost per month and a time scale. Thanks.”

So again, I think this is a fair and reasonable request, and this is, again, fairly typical for what we all receive as SEO consultants. “How much is it going to cost? How long is it going to take?” They’re probably the two most frequently asked questions. And another one that you’ll often get is, “What do I actually get?” But that one typically comes later. But I think these two questions, “How much is it going to cost and how long is it going to take?” Are questions that many SEO consultants need to get better at answering.

Now, let’s take a look at the way in which the SEO consultant in this case responded. “Hey, thanks for coming back to me. Sorry, but I cannot provide you with what you are asking for. SEO doesn’t work like that. SEO is a specialist process that takes time. There are too many factors outside my control that impact how rankings change. I’m not prepared to undermine my integrity for the sake of money by telling you a timescale that I have no idea on. I wish you all the best of luck with whoever you select.”

Okay, so I’ll stop it right there for a second and let’s break down the response. So for most SEO consultants, they would probably agree with this response and perhaps many of them would say likewise. And I’m sure that going back a few years, I probably would’ve given a very similar response. But most people in the discussion that’s taking place right now online have actually supported this response and said, “That’s fair, unreasonable. We can’t guarantee anything in the SEO space. The outcome is beyond our control.”

Now, if you think about it, that’s a pretty awful way to pitch and sell your services. What you are doing is saying, “I want you to pay me for an outcome that may or may not happen.” Now, I don’t know about you, but that to me sounds like a pretty horrible value proposition. And let’s face it, again, this is how most SEO agencies operate. “I want you to pay me monthly for 12 months, $5,000 a month, and I don’t know if this is going to work.”

So firstly, the first response is that SEO is a specialist process. It takes time, and that’s a fair assumption to some extent. One question that I want to ask you is this, should you be paid more for the job to take longer? Because that’s essentially what you’re asking, right? “I want you to pay me, let’s say, $5,000 a month and this could take 18 months.” What if, let’s say that someone could get those same results in half the time, so nine months or six months? They should be paid more because they achieved the desired outcome faster, not less.

It makes for a really interesting conversation, and that’s why I think that’s such a fantastic question to be asking, right? Should you be paid more or less? Because if you get the desired outcome, if you’re extremely efficient at your job, I believe you should be paid more. You shouldn’t be penalized financially for being proficient. And this is essentially where I think SEO in many ways is backwards because if the job takes you longer and you are telling the client that it’s going to take longer and you are charging a monthly retainer, you’re actually being rewarded for being slower.

He then goes on to say, “There are many factors outside of my control that impact how rankings change.” So there’s two things there. Many factors outside my control. The first thing you need to do is say, “Well, what can I control?” Okay? Rankings obviously are difficult to control, we all know that. But what can you control? You can control things like conversion rates and you can also control return on investment to some extent, and this all comes back to pre-qualifying the lead at the very beginning where you say, “Okay, we intend on charging, let’s say $5,000 a month. What’s the transaction worth for you? Okay, it’s worth 15,000. Well, we’re pretty confident that we are going to get you, at least, let’s say to be conservative, five customers a month at $15,000, which is $75,000. You are going to be paying us $5,000 a month.” That seems like a pretty good deal, and they’re metrics that you can control so long as you pre-qualify and onboard the right types of clients.

I’m not buying into this. There are too many things outside of my control anymore. I’m not buying into that discussion with the SEO because I think it’s lazy. If you spend the time to break down the service offering and reposition and be a lot smarter about what it is that you do, your service offering, focusing on ROI and being more proactive in the types of clients that you bring on board and working with pre-built web templates where you know how they’ll perform and your ability to forecast earnings over let’s say a 12-month period are far greater than simply guessing about whether or not you’re going to be able to rank a keyword first page and Google. I’m just not buying into that discussion anymore.

And the second part of that is that there are things that are out of my control that impact how rankings change. Again, the conversation is about rankings. You need to change that conversation. Now, it goes on to say here, “I’m not prepared to undermine my integrity for the sake of money by giving you a timeline that I have no idea on.” Okay, well, that sounds very noble, but again, it doesn’t really mean anything. What you should say is, and this is the way in which I actually shared my response, and I said, “What they’re asking for is completely reasonable. So long as you change a conversation from rankings to revenue, a talented SEO should be able to forecast ROI with relative accuracy given they’ve niched down and specialized.” In this case, you’re essentially saying, “I don’t know,” which isn’t good enough. What you should be saying is, “Thanks for your inquiry. As you know, we specialize in SEO for X, Y, Z, and typically see a 500% return on investment for all of our clients within 12 months.” That is how you should be responding.

He then goes on to say, “I wish you all the best of luck with whoever you select.” Okay? So he’s essentially saying, “I don’t know, good luck.” The prospect then responds and says, “So if others can provide a quotation for SEO with a detailed breakdown in timeline of rankings, why can’t you?” Okay, so I think the problem lies at both ends here. The client is asking for something that doesn’t make sense and the SEO consultant is responding accordingly. So it’s probably broken at both ends, and this is where you need to get them on a call and you need to help educate the prospect and change the conversation to get away from rankings to revenue.

But in any case, it’s probably likely that whoever this prospect has spoken with previously, when it comes to, okay, they’ve been able to provide a detailed breakdown and timeline of rankings, why can’t you? Well, most of that stuff that… those conversations they’ve had with other agencies have probably been nonsense. Let’s face it. Most agencies sell big bags of hope. “We can rank all of your keywords within three months.” Well, that’s all nonsense as we know.

The prospect then goes on to say, “I found you ranking top in Google, so surely you’re able to give some indication of whether we could expect to see results.” So again, the definition there of results is based upon someone Googling something and the page being listed within the first page of the results. Again, that’s a problem that lies at the prospects end because they have this broken understanding of what the true definition of results are for SEO.

Now, lastly, the final response here, and in fact I haven’t read this up until this point, and this is what the SEO consultant responded with. “Well, for a start, how Google will treat the work done is completely unknown. How things work is determined by quality, by history, and by what will happen, i.e upcoming Google updates that can happen anytime, a month from now, six months from now, no one knows. I don’t give timelines. I do the work, and we review quarterly. No one can forecast ranking timeframes. Anyone that does should be treated with caution. It’s simply a case of audit, create, implement, test, review. This takes months of hard work and persistence.”

Now, some of that is quite fair, and some of that I would agree with. We all know that SEO is typically a case of, okay, we need to take a look at existing auditing perhaps, to some extent on a low level, creating, implement, testing and review. Okay, that’s all fair and true, and that’s true for any marketing channel, right? It’s not just set and forget. You’re constantly making amendments and working towards improving the outcome. But again, the conversation there is about rankings, and that’s where it’s completely broken, and that’s why there’s that reluctance to… there’s reluctancy around being able to get involved in that conversation around timeframes.

So anyway, I wanted to share this with everyone. I think I’ve made my point. I think the conversation needs to change at the very beginning. Everyone that’s working in the SEO space that’s providing SEO services needs to reposition themselves and start treating their SEO campaigns the same as they would a PPC campaign. You wouldn’t sit down with a client at the end of each month and say, “Okay, Karen, this month we spent $35,000 on ads, and all of our ads were in position one.” You just wouldn’t do it. It doesn’t make any sense. The first thing a client will be asking is, “Well, okay, we spent $35,000 on ads. How much did we make? Are we getting a return on ad spend?”

SEO should be treated exactly the same way. Bring the focus back to revenue. Stop wasting your time chasing vanity metrics. I see this all the time on LinkedIn, people celebrating vanity metrics. “Look at all of this reach. Look at all of this growth. Look at all of these rankings. First page rankings.” Who gives a shit? It doesn’t mean anything. All clients care about is what they care about, and typically that’s getting customers, making sales and generating revenue. So focus on helping them do that.

Hey, if you’ve enjoyed this episode and you’d like to learn more, you have to come check out the SEO Accelerator program . It’s my monthly coaching program where we take all of this material and we apply it, we take it to the next level and we study it. Join me over at bringtheseo.com. I’d love to have you join me inside the SEO Accelerator program . I’ll see you there.

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