What SEO’s can learn from Business Owners

When doing web consulting for businesses, a lot of time is spent with the web expert trying to educate a business owner about the realities of digital publishing.  There is usually a mixture of technical centric information and marketing related information.  SEOs are usually very passionate about what they do (I know I am), so this can often become more of a geek-out for the SEO then a useful education for the client.

A somewhat counter-intuitive question: How much does the client actually need to know about what we do?

In reality, probably not much.  The reason we are valuable as SEO and digital marketing experts is to be able to handle our side of the fence while the client is busy running his/her business.  Detailed explanations about all the cool tactics we can use are not very useful.   In fact, it may be exactly the opposite of what is most effective:

The business owner has much more to teach the marketing expert, than vice-versa.  Here’s why:

Business Owners Know Their Target Customers at a Much Deeper Level

Business owners deal with their customers on a day-to-day basis, so they have access and knowledge that any SEO agency can never really have.  While this won’t necessarily change the overall tactics and strategies, it could provide some really useful information to help guide those strategies, such as:

Niche keyword research

Standard keyword research can often lead to a log jam of competing companies going after the same money keywords.  This not only leads to more difficulty ranking organically, but drives up the costs of PPC clicks.  Targeting more niche services and products will allow you to avoid the knife-fight that is high competition and get some easy wins.

The best way to get insight into this is to simply ask the business owner.   Would you know that your roofer also does sidewalk repair?  Not unless you ask.

Lucrative Customer Bases

Not all customers are created equal, some are going to be much more flush with cash than others.  Some are easier to deal with, more/less agreeable, or more likely to provide referrals.

It’s either difficult or impossible to know this just by looking at keyword data.  Sure, we can gain some types of insight into the lucrative nature of a geo-area based on CPC and competition metrics, but that data can be noisy.  Furthermore, every company is different and might prefer to deal with specific sets of customers.  You won’t know unless you ask.

As an example, I recently worked with a contractor that was getting leads from a suburb of a major metro.  By all metrics it would look to be a good target geo (high media income, 500k+ population, lots of homeowners), but after a few months of getting the leads it proved otherwise.  “Everyone has a cousin that does roofing, so they’ll wait to hear back from them before signing up.  It was a race to the bottom in terms of pricing.”  You won’t get that type of insight from Google Keyword planner.

Other Sources of Traffic

I’ll be the first to admit, I can be myopic sometimes when it comes to traffic sources.  I just assume everyone goes to Google to find what they need.  Let’s face it, most of the time that is true, but there are still other sources of traffic out there.  You’ll only really know by getting as close to the target customer as possible, and the business owner does just that.

Some of the more common non-Google traffic sources:

Let’s be honest, the bulk of traffic will likely still come through Google Paid and Organic, but marketing is all about going where the customers are, so don’t have tunnel vision about other possible channels.


A business owner doesn’t need to know what a title tag is in order to get his/her job done right.  The SEO expert, however, does need to know about the target customer base and other detailed, nuanced information about a business in order to succeed at a high level.  So next time you are giving a technical breakdown to a business owner, consider turning the tables and do a bit more listening then talking.

This post was contributed by Michael Hayes is founder and CEO of Darby Hayes Consulting, a full service digital marketing agency, specializing in SEO and PPC, and based in New York City.  He can be reached at mike (at) darbyhayesconsulting.com.