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October 27, 2011


How to Explain Complex SEO to Clients

by Anthony Verre

It’s not easy explaining somewhat complex SEO to anyone. Most of all clients who simply want to understand what’s going on and why you’re doing what you’re doing. In some cases, it’s about as difficult as explaining modern genetics to a five year old: Gregor Mendel, DNA, gene receptors. Foreign concepts. And, when you try to explain why it’s meaningful and how to correct it, it only brings more confusion. In most cases, people furrow their eyebrows and stare at a spot behind your head, as if they are concentrating hard on processing the information. Sound familiar?

Building Small Chunks, Deconstructing Small Chunks

Knowing how to take difficult, complex concepts and break them down into easily accessible ideas is key to creating better relationships with clients. I think of it in this way: SEO is like a giant, multi-thousand piece puzzle. You start at the edges to build a frame. Then you reconstruct small chunks at time to create a whole picture. Once an SEO can create the whole picture, you can deconstruct small chunks. The more you deconstruct, and rebuild, the better you’ll be at finding connections and explanations. 10,000 hours of de/constructing, and you’ll be right there (starts the stopwatch).

10,000 Hour Cheat Sheet

In an effort to help you build better client relationships faster, I’m going to provide some easy, accessible explanations that I’ve found work really well over the years. In essence, I’m going to try to give you 10,000 hours of practice and work in about 20 minutes.

Explaining How Authority Flows Through Websites

This one always seems to trip up clients. They have a hard visualizing how an intangible thing like authority can flow through a website. And how internal linking plays a part in that. I came up with this breakdown when the Page Sculpting craze took hold, to explain how PageRank/Authority flowed through internal links.

The premise is a glass of water. Inside the glass, the water is PageRank. And, there’s only a finite amount. And, because I usually have a glass of water in front of me, it makes this demonstration all that more tangible for clients. Then I begin to “poke holes” in the glass of water. For every hole I poke in the glass, it releases that PageRank/Authority to another page. Too many holes, authority of that page gets spread too thin. Not enough holes, and you hoard the authority to that page, not helping other pages lower in the architecture become stronger.

Simply Explaining How Page Authority Flows

Explaining How and Why Inbound Links are Important

Most clients know that linking is important, but don’t really understand why it’s important or how it works. This seems to be the one area that clients are most comfortable addressing, and have no problem telling you, “We need to get links.” And, while every SEO/SEM will completely agree with that statement, it’s the strategy of linking that loses the clients and just how it affects a website. It’s best to take them through a very high-level premise of what linking really means to a website.

I use the concept of ego to explain linking. I equate the client to their website, that is to say, the client is their website. The client says certain things about themselves, through content on the website, describing who they are and what they do. In order to affirm what the client says about themselves, they need the others to confirm that those things are true. And on the web, people do that through linking.

Simply put: your website is what you say about yourself, and links are what world say about you. And, what they say about specifically is called anchor text. Naturally, we want everyone saying good things, and we’d also want to say roughly the same thing: “YOU ROCK.” However, everyone says that in different way, and that’s called anchor text variation. Because, after all, if someone was to see “you rock” ten-thousand times over, it would seemed forced and not completely genuine.

Explaining Link Building to Clients

Explaining Canonical Issues to Clients

This seems to be one of the more difficult items to explain to clients. We use the term canonicalization a lot when talking to clients, but the term only serves to confuse them. Clients shake their heads and look at you as though you were speaking in Martian. Definitely not the best foot forward. When it comes down to it, canonicalization is really about duplication and choices. And, so what we really mean when we talk about canonicalization, is to erase duplicate content and create one option for that content, a single source.

Use an example from their site (a lot of clients don’t have a canonical homepage), and then explain to them how search engines see the multiple/duplicate versions of the page as decision to decide which is more relevant to show users. Also, couple that with duplication and authority being split amongst the duplicates, that lessens the overall value of that page and the content. You can switch out the homepage to other things like products, services, or categories.

Explaining How Canonical Pages Work to Clients

There you have it, 10,000 hours and three complex SEO tasks broken down into bite-size chunks. Hopefully these explanations and illustrations help you better breakdown SEO to your clients, help you keep them on the same page, and, most importantly, help you strengthen client relationships.

  1. Oct 27 2011

    Good stuff, Tony!

    I’ve found that many clients have a hard time grasping the necessity of variance in anchor text, too. I’ve also had difficulty getting some to understand the concept of channeling their authority to just the pages that matter… they seem to think that all their pages should link to all the other pages.

    • Oct 28 2011

      Hey Doc! Thanks for the kind words. Indeed, those concepts are harder for clients to understand, because they have this intangible quality to them. A lot like laissez faire, or “invisible hands”. I hope these explanations (and the illustrations) help clients to visualize it in a way that’s palpable. 🙂

  2. Nov 2 2011

    Love the Gladwell theory to put it into perspective. Three nice chunks, explained clearly. Time well spent, reading SEO by Silver Arc. Thanks Tony.

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