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A Salesperson’s Approach to Explaining SEO to a Prospect

How to explain SEO

Every salesperson in the digital marketing game is repeatedly faced with the same problem: how to explain a complicated subject like SEO (search engine optimization) in a clear and concise manner. The topic is inherently technical and often confusing, but almost everyone you talk to has at least heard of the idea, which sometimes makes this process even more difficult. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had where a lead begins the conversation acting like they have a complete understanding of the topic only to find out they were wildly misinformed.

Some people think getting on the top of a front page of search results is merely a service you pay a search engine for. (They aren’t entirely wrong.) Some people think it is an ongoing sham because search engines constantly change the rules. (which is why it's critical to pay the right people) Some people believe paying $500 monthly to an SEO vendor will ensure their success. (They are almost completely wrong…) Please allow me to note that for the rest of this article I will refer to all search engines as Google. Yes, there are others like Yahoo and Bing, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just focus on Google, as it is by far the most powerful and widely used search engine.

The point is, explaining SEO is inherently difficult, not only because of the technical nature and the ever-evolving rules but also because everyone has their own preconceived notions about what it is and how you can affect it. This widespread confusion has led me to develop a system for explaining SEO to a prospect, a system I will share with you all today. After all, “if you cannot explain the value of SEO and what it does, it’s quite difficult to acquire and keep business” (Faltz).

Keep It Simple

The worst thing you can do in trying to enlighten your prospect about SEO is to dive in too deep too fast. While it is great to be able to explain every element that can go into an SEO campaign, you also don’t want to overwhelm your prospect with unnecessary information. John Tabita advises that you should “always be prepared to explain the details. But keep in mind that you and I live and breathe this stuff; our prospects do not. The best approach is to spoon-feed them information until they’re satisfied. Confused prospects do not buy; so beware of over-explaining yourself out of a sale.” It is much more helpful to begin with a rough outline of what you will cover. And when trying to explain a complicated subject like SEO, I have found no better approach than dividing the conversation into two parts: Optimization and Authority.


Optimization refers to optimizing your website pages for the ways that Google crawls, or scans, them. Search engines like Google use certain words to link to your pieces of content. So when you optimize your website pages you are “making sure that Google can understand what keywords you’re targeting, which services and products you sell, and where you sell them” (Russell).


The other primary aspect of SEO refers to domain authority. Simply having your website pages optimized for certain keywords doesn’t magically shoot you to the top of your desired search results. Yes, the search engine can find your content when they want to, but you still have to demonstrate that your content is worthwhile, and you do that through demonstrating authority on a topic. Google is trying to make sure that you have the best content for their users. To improve your website’s authority, your company should put out quality and informative content that readers will be compelled to share and in doing so will link back to your site. According to the article How to Explain SEO to Clients, "The more authority your website has, the higher up in the search results it will be. Having your website appear on others will prove to the search engine that your site is better than all others on the same topic."

Diving in Deeper… Through Metaphors

Once your audience has a basic grasp of the concepts, you can dive in a little deeper to explain the process. Often in my conversations, I hear prospects mention having heard about the “black hat SEO” techniques. Many of them have actual first-hand experience with this because they used to pay an SEO vendor who utilized many of these, and they are currently paying the price. (Google is constantly evolving and identifying the ways people have gotten around the system.) These days SEO strategy is built around embracing the rules and trying to create quality, optimized content. To hammer home this point, I like to use this metaphor: High-quality SEO is like artistic graffiti while poor quality SEO is more like vandalism. Sure there may be some similarities between the actions taken, but the intent and the execution are very different.

Another important aspect of SEO that you should tackle with each prospect is managing expectations of a timetable for success. SEO does not work like a light switch. You cannot simply turn on an SEO campaign and expect to see all the desired results right away. It is a process that takes time and effort to see the full effect. Boog writes that “SEO is a marathon and not a sprint - you have to pace yourself for the long run and commit to slow and steady progress.”

Hammer it Home with Additional Information

To complete the process of enlightening your prospect about SEO, it is important to quickly outline the different aspects that go into an SEO campaign. To do so, all you have to do is walk them through the importance of these four steps:

  • Link Building – These are the different roads that connect different web pages to one another
  • Page Content – The quality of your content will play a large part in your domain’s authority
  • Title Tags, Metadata, and Image Alt Text – These are three of the primary areas where you can optimize your pages by ranking for designated keywords
  • Keyword Research – The actual terms you are optimizing your pages around and ranking for

Choosing Quality Keywords

The final part of every conversation I have with a prospect about explaining SEO revolves around selecting the right keywords. According to the blog SEO Explained Simply, the author writes that “There is an immense amount of competition out there for keyword phrases on the internet. Some keywords would be impossible to rank highly for because of the large number of businesses also targeting those same keywords. Also, some of the competitor sites are long established websites that already do a great job of SEO already.” In other words, it won’t matter how great your content is if you are trying to fight the wrong competitor. That is why I advise you to ask yourself these three questions when choosing a keyword strategy.  

  • What terms best describe your business’s products or services? – You want terms that to accurately reflect what you do and sell, so your audience can easily find them.
  • What terms are most often searched? – Paying attention to the volume of monthly searches on a certain keyword is also incredibly important. If no one is searching the terms you own and optimize for, all of your hard work will be for nothing.
  • What is the difficulty rating of your focus keywords? – The difficulty rating refers to the amount of competition you will face optimizing for a particular term of phrase. Keywords that already have a lot of quality content ranking for that term will make it too difficult to adequately impact your ranking.

The best thing you can do is to start with your list of target keywords and put them all through these gates. Think of these three questions as a Venn Diagram of three circles. Your focus keywords should come from the terms where all the circles overlap. It should describe your business, it should be searched often, and it should have low enough competition for you to be able to move the needle.  TO learn more about this process, you should check out Nicole Rende’s blog article “The Beginner’s Guide to Keyword Research.”

By covering all of these topics, you should be able to provide each prospect with a good foundational working knowledge of SEO. And for more helpful information to assist you in your process, feel free to check out our other sales support materials.




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