Posted by Matthew C. Egan
This post was originally in YOUmoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
As SEOs we often live in a bubble, sometimes it’s a social media bubble where we only tweet amongst our peers, sometimes it’s a literal bubble that we don’t explore outside our comfort zone, but that bubble can easily keep us from seeing things that to consultants in other fields is painfully obvious. At the end of the day, an SEO consultant isn’t any more special than a CPA or a Financial Planner, we’re all consultants and ultimately our job is to give our clients what they want.
The question then is, what do our clients want?
Our clients want value, our clients want progress, and they’re willing to invest in consultants to get what they want, but it falls to us to prove not just the value that we know exists in SEO and other Inbound Marketing tactics, but to also deliver the perception of value. Not only to our primary contact, but to their superiors and anyone else who might be reading the documents you leave behind.
I was talking with Tom Critchlow about this and he said something to me that I asked his permission to share here and I couldn’t agree with him more. Tom said, "There’s no good nailing value, if you don’t nail perceived value."
He’s absolutely right. Starting out as an SEO consultant, my every focus was on the value of SEO and I believed with all my heart that White Hat SEO was valuable, that our tactics would increase our client’s revenue, that we had the answers to the recession’s tough questions.
I set out, a one man operation at the time, to educate my local business community about SEO. I spoke at luncheons, attended more networking events than I did actual client work, and just "hustled" to steal the term from Gary Vaynerchuck.
Our company grew, we gained clients, Image Freedom as a brand started to develop, we were providing SEO but my salesmanship abilities were primarily responsible for creating that perceived value. Value that was not shown in my documentation or my reports. My documents sucked, our logo sucked, our analytics reports changed every other month. We were a mess, all strategy, no presentation.
Image Freedom completely lacked consistency, and while we were growing, we were hindered by our emphasis on SEO’s ACTUAL value, which you and I know intimately as readers of SEOmoz and members of this community, but I wasn’t doing a good enough job on the perceived value component.
In 2010 we hired Prologue Branding, a consulting duo who helped us develop a consistent brand message throughout all of our documents, a great new logo, conducted past and present client interviews, the works. They stripped us down to our core.
It wasn’t an easy experience to embark upon. Client interviews, especially the interviews with clients we’d let down, or who I’d failed to help maintain that perception of value with. It was a painful but humbling experience that I recommend every entrepreneur experiences on at least an annual basis.
Through pain comes growth and I lost many nights of sleep re-developing documentation, research, reports, guides, and whatever I could to help me bring the perception of SEO that my clients took away from our meetings closer in line with the reality that SEO really was a fantastic tool for growing their business.
We used to provide PDF’s of our research, our audits, print outs from Google Analytics (don’t lie, you know you’ve done this) and basically weak leave behinds that were far from inspiring to our clients. They perceived disorganization, inconsistent brand messaging, and that just wasn’t the message I wanted them to take away, but I was stuck in my craft, I was the SEO, I knew what they needed and if they could just accept that it all lived in my head and not on paper then we can get on with the work of creating this value.
I was dead wrong.
Perception is reality, and through my branding audit, through our rebirth as a team and as a company, we started delivering not just perceived value in presentations and workshops about SEO, our documentation expressed that value, our audits were professionally printed and spiral bound. The documents felt substantial to hold, they escaped the "unicorns and rainbows" theoretical hindrance that effects so many in the Social Media and SEO spaces and became documented plans, strategies, and it was hard to look at what we delivered without knowing that we had a plan and you were in the right hands to get your business to where you want it to be.
I’ve owned an Internet Marketing company for two years now. As a team, we’ve exceeded my every expectation but we’ve made our share of mistakes along the way. If I can pass on one piece of wisdom to my fellow Entrepreneurs, to my fellow SEOs, it’s the need for expressing the perceived value of what you do, and not just your belief in the value of your trade.
You’re on SEOmoz, you’re educated about SEO, you’re reading tips and tactics from the greatest SEOs I’ve had the pleasure to meet and learn from. What you do is valuable, and you can break out and be a success. You can grow your business into a brand to be proud of.
Just don’t forget that perception is reality. As soon as we established the perceived value of what we did, our clients started investing more into SEO, our momentum started to snowball beyond what we had expected and we were able to deliver, without fail, not just the things we knew our clients needed, but also the things our clients wanted.