The Cheat Code to Freelancing is Effective Communication
This one skill separates an amazing consultant from just an OK one.
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Talking is easy… but is it impactful?
Communication. Regardless of where you are in your career, enhancing your communication will only make you better at your job and open up opportunities to continue to advance. This is especially true in SEO where smart consultants might be a dime a dozen but effective SEO communicators are truly diamonds within the rough. There isn’t a single situation that can’t be made better by improving a person’s ability to effectively communicate.
This post will cover many phases within a standard SEO engagement. None of these phases should be new to you but the opportunity to improve on your effective communication can help differentiate you.
Communication Establishes Expertise and Trust
When a company is looking to hire an agency or individual consultant they want to feel confident that they are hiring someone who is an expert in their field. It doesn’t matter how many #1 rankings you can get or how many links you can acquire if you can’t communicate the value.
Not only is it essential to explain to clients the value you provide, but it’s even more critical to explain it in terms they will understand. If you go into a room full of decision-makers and start throwing out words like “canonical tags”, “link equity” and “crawl budgets” you're going to lose them.
Expertise is not established by using $5.00 “SEO words”. You’ll garner more attention and more respect by communicating the following in a clear and concise manner:
What issues does the client currently experience
Why these issues are indeed issues
How do you propose fixing them
The ROI on their investment
There isn’t a single business that prefers insights on algorithm timelines over the above bullets.
Worry less about convincing them you know your stuff because addressing their biggest concerns and outlining a strategy to not only fix but improve their site(s) will speak volumes. Adding some extra zeroes to their bottom line doesn’t hurt either!
Communication On The Job
Let’s assume that you’ve signed an agreement and you start to work your SEO magic for your new client. How are you keeping the client up to date with your initiatives? Weekly emails? Status calls? Quarterly reviews? All of these are opportunities for you to hone your communication skills.
It’s fairly simple. What does the client need to know? Tell them right away!
You’re not writing a movie script, no need to build anticipation prior to the end. Your clients are busy, they probably don’t even have the time to read your entire email. Tell them the main point of your email – right away. This way, if they truly only have 10 seconds to skim the email, you get your point across.
If you pique their interest in the first few seconds, only at that time will they prioritize reading the rest of your update.
Example of bad email communication
I hope you had a great weekend. Mine was fun. I took the dog to the park. Billy really likes the water, you should have seen the mess he made in the car since i forgot to bring a towel.
Remember last week when we talked about changing the title tag on the homepage? I told you that if we added valuable keywords in this space we could see an increase in search engine visibility? Great news, I worked with Becky within your IT team and through logging into your wordpress installation and downloading the Yoast plugin we were able to update your title tag from “BoBs Ecommerce Site” to “Shop Dog Food, Toys and More at BoB’s Ecomm”.
After making this change we re-published the page so that the changes could take effect. As we also discussed, Google doesn’t update their cache in real-time so we needed to rely on them re-visiting the same, re-crawl the page (including its title tag) and then update the SERP (search engine results page).
It’s been 2 weeks since we made the changes listed above. Great News! Changing the title tag saw an increase in rankings for the keywords “dog food” and “dog toys”. Considering your homepage saw a lift of +5% Week over week in organic traffic we feel like this was a large contribution to this success. How awesome, right?
Let me know if you have questions,
The example above might be a bit extreme but every single person reading this post can think of an email they sent to a client or a colleague that could have been summarized in 1/4 of the text. Let’s give this email another shot.
Becky and I recently made changes to the homepage title tag which drove +5% organic traffic leading to a 2% increasing in revenue compared to last month.
Below outlines the steps we took to achieve this success:
Received access to your wordpress credentials.
Downloaded the Yoast SEO plugin.
Updated the title tag within your homepage.
Published the changes to the site.
The good news is that we are seeing ranking increases for valuable keywords such as “dog food” and “dog toys” which we believe is contributing to the increase in traffic the site saw this week.
As always, we’ll continue to monitor performance. If you’d like to jump on a call to discuss further, please let me know.
The second email gets across the exact same point as the first email but is much easier to skim. Ideally, we’ve intrigued Bob enough to read the entire message but if not he got the main message within 15 seconds of opening the email.
Don’t interpret the example above as saying the details aren’t important. The emphasis is on getting the main point across quickly. The client can schedule a call or request more technical details if necessary. Email is not the channel for providing every single detail of an update.
Ever start your day by checking your site’s performance only to see a sharp decrease in traffic/revenue? That pit in your stomach is something you’ll never forget. It’s a cocktail of 50% panic and 50% WTF. What you do next is critical.
This is a great opportunity to exercise not only transparency but effective communication.
Your gut instinct might be to whip your phone out or shoot an email directly to the client. In certain emergencies, this might be appropriate (site going down or sites hacked, etc). In many other instances, it might be worth gathering your thoughts, isolating the issue, coming up with the solution, and then sending an email to the client.
It provides very little value to get the client worked up without having a potential solution in place. In the best-case scenario, the client is aware of a reason why performance is down. Worst case scenario they aren’t aware but love that you are being proactive with not only monitoring their site but by having a viable solution.
Communication is extremely important regardless of the good or bad news. Being able to share bad news is arguably even MORE important than good news or day-to-day updates.
Consulting / Technical Deliverables
How many times have you sent an official recommendation or project outline to a client to only start the process of “let’s ask 50 questions?”
It’s amazing how efficient you can be if you take the time prior to handing over the deliverable if you put a bit more critical thinking behind it. Are you providing answers to these common “next step” questions?
What value do these recommendations offer?
Who will be executing these recommendations?
How should these recommendations be prioritized?
When will it be completed and when can we expect results?
Think of all of this before you hand over a deliverable. If you don’t know the answer to any of the above questions then you need to find out before requesting other people to act on your request.
Adding clarity behind your deliverables will decrease the time between deliverable and taking action.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming your boss/client understands the purpose behind a deliverable and or recommendation. Always communicate this clearly and quickly.
I promise, if you nail this, you’ll see a significant increase in the execution of your SEO strategy.
Oh reporting. What a necessary evil. Ask half of the people putting together these reports and they’ll tell you that their boss/clients don’t even look at the reports. Sigh.
Similar to the email example above, you can communicate the main takeaway in one line of text or within the first 3 minutes of a phone call.
Bob, site was up 15% in organic traffic, up 5% in revenue and down 1% in total orders in the month of August YoY.
Attached is the full report for your to review at your convience.
Hey Bob, it’s Nick. How are you? I know your very busy so let’s jump right in.
For the month of August the site was up 15% in organic traffic, up 5% in revenue and down 1% in total orders.
Do you have time to talk about some of the details I’ve put together in the report?
I want to reiterate that many decision-makers are extremely busy. If you can’t communicate your update within just a few seconds or lines of text, your update isn’t ready to be sent.
Public Speaking & Presentations
Public speaking is ranked within the top 5 things that scare people the most. I get it. It’s something I have worked on for many years yet still avoid whenever possible.
While I’m by no means an expert below are two key elements from my experience over the past 10+ years as an SEO consultant.
Whether it’s talking to a single person or giving a presentation in front of hundreds of people, public speaking challenges your ability to communicate how well you know your trade.
There is nothing like walking a technical team through the SEO hell that is faceted navigation and how it impacts e-commerce sites. When you see their eyes open up and that light bulb clicks on — you know you’ve nailed it.
This is how you establish the trust of your clients and peers before you even touch one line of code on their site. The best part is your confidence will only rise the more you push yourself to effectively communicate your knowledge.
Clients like it when they can feel confident in their employees/partners. If you effectively communicate to the c-suite the issue, the solution, and the ROI, they will empower you to work with teams to get shit done. Leave them scratching their head and you’ll deal with one roadblock after another.
If you can walk the SEO walk and talk the SEO talk, you’re already within the top 5% of SEO talent.
Additional Tips for Public Speaking & Presentations
As mentioned earlier, I’m by no means an expert at public speaking. I have however been working hard at getting better. Below are just a few tips/suggestions that I saw value from.
Find a public speaking class. I participated in Toastmasters. I didn’t get as far into the program as I wish I had but it was undoubtedly one of the best professional groups I tested out.
Practice. I have a buddy who is also a freelancer (not SEO) that I run my SEO decks/strategies by. If he doesn’t understand what I’m trying to get at then the client won’t either. The key here is to find someone who doesn’t share your skillset and run it past them as a test run.
Read Out loud. I have three kids at home. I know I’m not a strong speaker so I forced myself to read all books to my kids out loud. Simply saying words out loud will get you comfortable with talking. Don’t limit this to storytime, print your emails, your deliverable, your power points. Simply read them out loud. It feels weird but it helps. I promise you’ll re-work 10% of your deliverable from this simple exercise.
Breath AND read your audience. When you’re talking to a group it’s extremely important to pace yourself. The only thing worse than passing out because you aren’t breathing appropriately might be losing your audience. If your materials aren’t resonating with your audience, change it up. Make it more interactive, ask questions, validate with them.
Challenge Yourself To Better Communicate
You don’t want to talk to simply hear yourself speak. If you’re going to go through the challenges of public speaking, someone must take something away from your efforts.
Effectively speaking to people will take your career to new levels.
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Great post. Thanks a ton.
Thanks, Nick. Great material!