I’m not sure what other optimization firms do, not having questioned them, but we’re somewhat pushy with our potential clients. On our service pages, we specify that every potential client will be required to fill out a site discovery. For agencies, we require a discovery for each site they collaborate with us on.
It’s a big deal. After all, the process we go through with each client is the only cookie cutter part of the campaigns we develop, and it took us a few times of trial and error to get it right. Along the way, we’ve found some major benefits to this process, for us and for the client.
Not everyone does the steps in the same order; some don’t lift a finger until the deal is signed. I get that, and you might not agree with how we do our processes. However, let’s leave little differences like that out of the equation and arguments today, and just talk about the processes themselves.
We Take This SEO Stuff Seriously
I love our Search Marketing Discovery form. It’s eleven pages and not a single one of them are pretty. Okay – the cover page is pretty, but that’s not why we share it with clients. We share it because we want to know what we’re working with before they even hire us. It hasn’t happened yet, but there’s an off chance we may not be able to help someone – and we’d like them to know that ahead of time.
Benefit #1: Reduces time waste.
It may take the client awhile to fill out the form, but we can gain a lot of information just from a brief scan. For instance, the answer to "how familiar is your company with the Internet" gives us a good idea of the level of language we’ll be using – and how in depth we’ll have to be – with our proposals. After all, you want to make sure they understand the goodness you’re offering them, right?
Benefit #2: Allows the client to pinpoint their campaign needs.
How many times have you had a client come to you, spout a bunch of items off that clearly came from a "what you need from your SEO campaign" blog post, and then expect you to automagically fulfill it? Never mind that what they spouted is extremely vague… like… "traffic" (I’m starting to hate that word).
Several of our clients have commented on how much clearer they saw their objectives once they filled out the form. Therefore, not only does it help us understand their needs better, but it also helps them understand their needs better. It’s a win-win, in my mind.
Benefit #3: Provides an extensive amount of information.
I don’t know about you, but I’m often attacked by ideas when looking over a site and talking to potential clients. I don’t share most of them – not right then, but they’re there, lurking in the back of my mind. Later, I go back to review them as a potential part of a campaign, only to find that the client doesn’t have a piece essential to this idea or that.
For example, you can’t do a Twitter campaign without Twitter, can you? Or blog posts without a blog, and so on. Because the Discovery is so in depth, I know within a very short amount of time whether an idea I have is viable for the specific client. Until we sign a contract, I assume that no additions are going to be possible.
Benefit #4: Cuts through trust issues.
I suppose as these things go, we charge a fairly expensive price for our services. As you probably know, the more you charge, the more likely you’ll be facing distrustful companies (that is, unless you’ve been around since before search engines, which we haven’t). This is where the discovery and review process really come in handy for us, the optimization firm.
In our proposals, we have a "Comments and Recommendations" area. This area is used to add a few pointers we uncover during the review process. We give them "added value" for contacting us, as well as a clear understanding that we know what we’re doing, what we’re talking about, and that we’re worth every penny.
Benefit #5: Penny saved is a penny earned.
As we look through the discovery, we also scan over the site. It may take as long as ten, maybe fifteen, minutes. In that brief amount of time, we’ll have potentially uncovered a large amount of problems, especially on an unkempt site. For example, we might find:
Bad (or visible) code
Pages that have long been lost to lazy site updates
Recently, we’ve seen a slew of author meta tags filled out with the name of the site designer, rather than the company name. You know… little things like that.
All in all, the discovery and review process equals out to "about" a one hour free consultation. However, by the time we’re done, we’ve completed a fair amount of the foundational footwork already. We actually end up shortening the time spent on the audit and campaign creation process, sometimes by as much as triple the initial time investment. That’s a win-win for everyone.
For all of this to work and for us to incorporate all we do in campaigns, we’ve had to learn how to break things into four stages: data gathering, SEO, branding/marketing, social components. Therefore, we also break our discovery into those four components and, in doing so, answer the who, what, when, where, why, how questions any good journalist would ask. These are the fundamentals of any site discovery we do.
My question to you is what are your fundamental stages? For that matter, do you even have a site discovery and why (or why not)?