Rhea and I were having a conversation about our business recently when the topic of vendor vs. consultant was brought up. I can’t speak for Rhea but I’m not sure I had ever really thought about the difference. Luckily for me, there was a third-party present who was able to perfectly put it into terminology that I understood.
When you talk to someone about putting a new roof on your house and they tell you exactly how much it will cost without ever looking at your roof or assessing your needs – that’s a vendor.
When you talk to someone and they spend time getting to know you before pricing out your roof based on elements specific to you (the condition of your current roof, noted damage spots, etc) – that’s a consultant. It’s a higher level of service, through which you have the ability to foster a better and more long-term relationship.
At Outspoken Media, that’s always our goal. We want to grow a team of SEO consultants. Not SEO vendors.
But truly calling ourselves that means we take on quite a few responsibilities when working with clients. Because if you’re a true SEO consultant, you’re actually a lot of things, too. I thought maybe I’d break them down.
What six OTHER hats do SEO consultants wear?
1. Hunter & Gatherer
Fine, you may not run around your client’s business with a bow and arrow in hand (we don’t want to know if you do), but your relationship starts with you in the role of Hunter & Gatherer. As a true SEO consultant, you spend that initial few phone calls on the hunt with your client as you try and gather information about their value proposition, the way they seem themselves in their market, where they want to be, their strategy for getting there, and what their plan for their business looks like. Sure, you can create some keyword lists and recommendations without this information, but you won’t be able to provide them with real value without understanding their business, their goals and their core objective. So yes, if we ask you about your business plan and where you want to be in two years, we’re not feigning an interest. We need to know so we can do our part to help you get there.
If you’re NOT asking your clients this information before crafting a strategy for them, you’re doing them a huge a disservice. And you should stop it.
Let’s play a game! What are these?
To me they’re rain boots. Or rubber boots. Or the boots that gave me an infection so bad in my heel that it needed to be SCOOPED out with a tool reserved for SCOOPING out infections (you’re welcome).
But if I was an expert on boots? If I looked at boots every day? I’d probably call them something more clinical. Perhaps I’d use the term “Wellies” because it more accurately describes them and it differentiates them from all the other boots in the world. I would definitely use Wellies if I was a shopper coming from the UK.
As an SEO consultant you’ll often have to remind your client that their audience is not an expert. You’re going to have to use keyword research and your own brain to act as their customer translator and help them customize the language to not meet THEIR needs, but to meet their customers’ needs. Because, let’s face it. In business, those are the only needs that really ever matter. People don’t so much care about your needs.
But you’re not JUST a translator, you’re also an interpreter. It’s your job to interpret that when a client tells you they want more Twitter followers, what they really want is more traffic to certain service-specific landing pages. It’s your job to know that the reason the client wants them to visit that page is to make it through the end of that video and take a specific action.
You need to be able to hear what the client is telling you and then figure out what they really mean. Otherwise, you can’t look shocked when you triple your client’s traffic and they’re still looking at you all pissed off.
4. The Ruler
No, not that:
It’s your job to not only help your client to identify and achieve their goals, but to understand what parts of the process were the most important in helping those goals be achieved. So that they can set even higher goals the next time. That’s why you’re there. To help them with their mission and provide the insight a simple SEO tool can’t give them. Otherwise, they can just go use a tool. And then you’d be out of a job.
Of course, you’re also there to make sure they’re measuring the right elements. Sure, rankings are nice and make for pretty charts when the search engines are behaving themselves, but they’re not the best measure of anything. By really getting to know your client and understanding their business, you’ll be able to help them pinpoint what the real data points are that they want to be measuring. It’s a consultant’s job to work with them and be that ruler.
As an SEO consultant, your job doesn’t end with simply identifying and recommending what changes need to take place on your client’s site. You must also educate your client so that they understand the reasons behind the changes and can become an active part in their business’ SEO and success. It’s your job to balance the two roles of expert and educator to help them get a more strategic understanding of the work you’re doing on their site. Doing so not only helps you run a smoother project, but it helps that client understand the need for SEO and how to help their business over the long-term, even if you’re no longer with the project. That is your job. If you’re not educating your clients and you’re simply implementing the work and then getting the hell out of dodge – you’re a vendor, not an SEO consultant.
Who are we kidding – along with your role of Educator, you’re also a Mythbuster. You’re there to listen to everything your client THINKS they know about the search engine optimization process and then hop in to help them see fact from fiction. It’s a position that requires a lot of patience, understanding, and the ability to clearly explain and define things which may be foreign to them.
It’s a big job being an SEO consultant, however, we think someone’s gotta step up and do it. ;)
About the Author
Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.