TJ Kelly

Here’s what an SEO client email looks like.

I’d also like to use your brain for better SEO. We are non-existent right now on Google. It will help just to have something new, but we need to be a top result.

“We need to be a top result” is dangerous thinking. You may be focusing on the wrong goal. SEO is a means to a means to a means to an end. It goes SEO > traffic > leads > sales. Ultimately it’s a waste if the other pieces (turning traffic into leads and turning leads into sales) aren’t also in place. All the traffic in the world is meaningless if none of your visitors buy your products.

Therefore SEO can’t exist in a vacuum. It must be accompanied by conversion rate optimization: the science of perfecting your lead-capture system. So yes, we need to think about SEO. But we have to include CRO with it, otherwise I’d be wasting your time and money.

This process, collectively referred to as inbound marketing, is its own project. It typically includes content creation (writing blog posts, publishing whitepapers, shooting videos, etc), and it’s an ongoing sort of thing. WordPress is built to allow for the technical side SEO. But the real work to be done in inbound marketing happens after the site is built.

To give you an idea, I signed a contract recently for a redesign and inbound marketing project for a company in Wellesley. Development made up 55% of the contract and inbound made up 45%. That 45% came as a 6-month retainer, during which time my writers and I will be generating and promoting content for the client.

Or, to put that another way, the inbound marketing stuff essentially doubles the project total.

For that reason, a lot of my clients are gun shy on it. And I understand. I definitely think you would benefit from it–everyone would. But it’s hard, expensive, and time-consuming. Not qualities of an easy sell.


Questions I ask my clients

Too many developers and marketers focus on having the right answers all the time. Not enough focus on asking the right questions. Clients often don’t know what they don’t know. It’s our job to get the info from them. Here’s how I do that.

What’s your timeline?

Inbound marketing takes time. The typical retainer contract is 6-12 months. Results don’t happen overnight, but they can grow exponentially, especially in the first year.

What’s your budget?

Most clients feel like this would be tipping their hand in a negotiation, but we’re not negotiating. We’re cooperating. I can give you a website to fit any budget, even $0. I just want to know what you’re comfortable spending. I’ll agree to any number.

What does your customer database look like?

How many customers? Do you contact them regularly? What software are you using to collect/manage their info? Are you interested in tying the website to it?

Are you ok with using a stock theme?

This would mean that other websites elsewhere on the internet will have the same design. Or would you prefer something unique and custom to you?


Do you have any other bells and whistles you’re hoping to include on the site?


The SEO Audit email

Every so often, there are clients who ask for audits or review of their SEO efforts. These audits take lots of time and energy, so I have to charge for them. But occasionally the resulting report is discussed (or even delivered) via email. Below is one such case.

The email thread is a real conversation between my client and I. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and all that. In a few places, I’m using blockquotes to respond to another vendor’s comments. We discuss three primary areas of SEO efforts:

  • Technical SEO/Foundation
  • On-page SEO/Content
  • Off-page SEO/Publicity

It’s like the food pyramid. Sort of.


Technical SEO

The site needs to have a sitemap and be submitted to Google’s Webmaster Tools.  I can’t find your sitemap by doing a search for it, by looking in Robots.txt or any of the other standard ways. It’s possible there is one, but without access to your google analytics and Webmaster Tools account I can’t know this.

This can easily be accomplished with an SEO plugin called WordPress SEO by Yoast. It is the industry leader and used on over 1 million websites. Highly recommended. And it’s free.

The site needs a much more robust robots.txt file.  Right now yours is the most basic there is and google is indexing lots of pages it shouldn’t.

Same as above. WordPress SEO by Yoast can do this easily. But this is worth repeating. Google has 287 pages in its index for this client. Best I can tell, only 35 of those 287 are content pages. The other 252 are themes files, plugin files, upgrade files, etc. Those should be removed from the index immediately. Robots.txt and Webmaster Tools can do that easily.


Content & On-Page SEO

Content:  This is perhaps the most important of any of these items. Right now, you’re getting some new content from the agency with the job they are doing. However, the content of the base site needs to be written with search engines in mind. Let’s say you want to be found for the search term “[products] for sale in [region]”.  That term needs to exist on your site in both content and/or in anchor text (the words used to make a link to another page) and the alt tags that are part of them.

This is outside my scope as a developer, but it is the single most important thing this client can do. If they spend energy on only one SEO factor, this should be the one.

Keywords.  You need to decide what keywords you want to optimize for.  It’s unlike you will ever show up in a search for [generic term].  However, you might be able to show up in a search for “[generic term] [region]” (this is called a long-tail) search.

I couldn’t agree with this more. Long tail search provides the best value and best overall success rate for SEO. Targeting these specific key phrases is an absolute must.

The current site has too many outbound links on your home page.  It’s a hard concept to understand, but Google penalizes you for having too many links that take you away from your own page. Google looks at these links as if you’re saying our site isn’t good enough so go look at these other sites.  At a very minimum, these need to be set to “rel=nofollow” links.

Interestingly, I disagree with this. What can I say? We can’t always be in lock-step :) I think if the outbound link is relevant to your users, then leave it. Nofollow the link if you want, but I don’t put much stock in this part of the game. I don’t think it matters very much. I have no data to back this up, it’s just an experienced opinion.

For instance, there is no reason to have your website designers link on the page. It ads no value and only provides free advertisement for them.

This, however, I do agree with. Google doesn’t like it. They refer to this practice as an “unnatural” link profile. If my link appears in the footer of every page of my client’s 500-page website, I just picked up 500 backlinks overnight. Each of those links is identical to the others, and all of them are irrelevant to the rest of the content on that page. To Google, that’s a very low-quality backlink and it can actually do me more harm than good.

Instead of the backlink in the footer, I ask my clients to write about me on one page of their site. If they’ve just launched a redesign or a new website, I ask that they announce this new venture and mention me—with a do-follow backlink—in the announcement. That way, I still get my additional backlink. I get my name in front my client’s users, and my backlink profile grows organically.

In this client’s case, I’d recommend a compromise: add the vendor logo in the footer of every page, but without a link. Users will see the company name on every page, but there will be no negative SEO impact. Then, on the Contact Us page, include contact information and a link to the vendor website and the Great Island website. The backlink profile will remain organic and interested users will have no trouble finding those websites.


Off-page SEO & Publicity

Backlinks: A Backlink is a link from another website to your website.  The more of these you have, the more important google thinks your site is and the higher up in the search engines you will rank. Right now you have 380 backlinks. That might sound like a lot, but it’s not when you consider they come from only 9 individual domains and of those 9 three of them are “nofollow” (this means the owner of the site who created the link told google not to crawl that link or attribute any SERP weight to it).

This may be outside my scope as well, though I’d be happy to help. These backlinks ought to be priority #2 or 3. They are extremely important. They’re also extremely difficult to get. They require personal attention, blogger outreach, media relationships, etc.

The [major international publication] article provided excellent publicity, but there were no links to this client’s website. A few other [industry]-related websites wrote about this client after the [major publication] article was published, but they didn’t link back to the site either.

The [major publication] is unlikely to retroactively add a link to this client, even if we knew someone over there whom we could ask. It’s likely against their editorial policy. These other [industry] websites and blogs, on the other hand, might. I suggest someone at this client, vendor, or the agency contact these [industry] blog authors and request that they provide a link to the this client’s website. Some will say no, but every little bit counts.

That manual process of seek-and-ask for likely linkers is tedious and time-consuming, but it is, in my experience. the most effective way to generate backlinks.



These things above are all just basic items that when fixed will help to solve some of the search problems. However, none of them replace content.  The more keyword rich content you have, that is shared socially, is by far the best way of getting yourself noticed in search.

I want to reiterate John’s “shared socially” point. Google tries to make their ranking algorithm mimic users. Humans know best. The searchbots just try to follow the humans’ examples. And what better way to do that than social media? It is, by definition, humans sharing things with each other. It’s far and away the best indicator Google has of a website’s popularity and contextual relevance. Therefore, it is in every publisher’s best interest to achieve as much social success as possible.

Google has a term for this—linkbait. In the early days of blogs and easy web publishing (2004-2008-ish), linkbait meant publishing content on your website that other authors would enjoy blogging about and linking to. Nowadays, the term really ought to be sharebait. Publish things that people will want to tweet about. “Going viral” has its connotations, but the heart of the idea is simple—write things people will tell their friends about. Obviously a [industry] website operates in a certain niche and not everyone will care, but within those circles of interested visitors, there’s a lot of notoriety to be gained.

It’s easier said than done, of course. And, from our call this week, I gather that the agency is currently working on generating this content. That’s excellent. But if this client wants to be successful on the web, this needs to be a primary focus for all marketing folks.