How to gain insider expertise as an outside SEO vendor in 4 steps5 min read

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You’re an expert in SEO, but when you engage with a new client, you aren’t an expert in what they do. But you do need to learn fast.

Hopefully, the client is a subject matter expert with tens of thousands of experience hours under their belt. As an SEO agency or consultant, you do not need their level of expert knowledge.

But you do need to know what they are saying. In most cases, you need to gain some level of insider expertise if you’re going to earn their trust and make a real difference in their business.

To do that, you need to:

  • Get to the heart of why the business stands out in the marketplace.
  • Get into the mind of the customer to gain an intimate understanding of their needs.
  • Know what makes the website tick.
  • Understand the competition, their edge and their SEO strategies.

Let’s look closer at each of these steps that will take you from novice to expert in no time.


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1. Client research 

To learn about your new client, your primary and most available resource is the people running the client’s business. Your client will be a treasure trove of expert information, from the executives to the customer service call reps.  

Start your expert learning process with an in-depth discovery interview with those who oversee the business’s marketing, product development and customer service. You may do this on the project kick-off call, or you might break it up into a series of calls with different folks in the company.

Conversations with customer service can be extremely valuable. Knowing what’s important to their customers can help you make recommendations on everything from content holes to site navigation. Answering common questions is one way to create compelling SEO content for a website.

Regardless, you need to create a template of questions for your client research. You want to make sure that you ask every new client about their business and what they do.

Get intimately familiar with their products and/or services. You can even ask them to onboard you like they would a new hire.

2. Customer research 

It’s important to know everything you can about the people your client sells to or interacts with. After all, a good SEO strategy is all about being able to reach these people with the right messages on the web.

A good place to start is to create audience personas with the client. Even better if they already have them. Knowing the audience will set you up for the next step in customer research: keyword research.

I like to say that to catch fish, you need a few things: the bait the fish are eating, to fish where the fish are and hungry fish. Personas help quite a bit. BTW, many people think they have personas well defined… like:

  • Highly intellectual
  • Advanced degree, hopefully, PhD
  • Respected
  • Extremely theoretical
  • Curious to a fault
  • Can invent when called upon
  • “White hair” studious

So beyond defining personas, keyword research is an important exercise in getting to know how the audience you are targeting searches for what you have to offer. This is a cornerstone of your SEO strategy; you want to show up for those searches in the search results with the best information possible.

3. Website research

A good SEO strategy is only as good as the website. So you need to understand the state of the client’s website and what could be hindering search engine rankings. Usually, the best way to do this is through an SEO audit. 

There are several levels of SEO audits out there, but the best SEO audit is an in-depth technical audit. This takes many hours (ours can take over 100 hours) but offers the most thorough look at a website from the technical back end to on-page optimization and beyond.

And beware, free tools are exactly that, and they often waste time focusing on things that do not matter. 

“Any SEO tool will spit out 10s or 100s of ‘recommendations,’ most of those are going to be irrelevant to your site’s visibility in search. Finding the items that make sense to work on takes experience.”

– Google’s John Mueller

4. Competitor research 

SEO is about beating the competition in search results. And to beat them, you should know:

  • Who they are.
  • What they are doing right and wrong with their SEO strategy. 

That’s why competitor research is critical. And there’s quite a bit to it.

Start with your target keywords and then analyze who shows up for them on Page 1 in Google. 

In competitor research, you might look at:

  • The market competition to assess your strengths and weaknesses against theirs.
  • The online competition, including everything from on-page and off-page factors to link profiles to the technical health of their websites to the content and much more.
  • What keywords they rank for and the extent of content on their site. Often, this exercise identifies keyword gaps on your client’s site.

Spying on your client’s competitors is one of the best ways to improve your client’s SEO strategy and how you present the client online.

Rinse and repeat

Even as you go from novice to expert on your client, there’s always going to be more to learn.

Establish a process for staying up to date and keeping the listening channel open. Or else your SEO strategy could get stale.

And invite feedback from your client so you stay on top of their evolving needs.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Bruce Clay is the founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing optimization firm providing search engine optimization, PPC management, paid social media marketing, SEO-friendly site architecture, content development, and SEO tools and education.
Clay authored the book “Search Engine Optimization All-In-One For Dummies,” now in its fourth edition, and “Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals.” He wrote the first webpage-analysis tool, created the Search Engine Relationship Chart® and is credited with being the first to use the term search engine optimization. Bruce Clay’s renowned SEO training course is available online at SEOtraining.com.

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