How To Talk to Your Clients in a Language They Understand
A few years ago, while enjoying a day of skiing at Aspen Highlands with a group of girlfriends, a skier crashed into me from above, out of nowhere. He was a professional skier traveling at an exceptionally fast speed, and I felt lucky to get away with a mere leg injury. I couldn’t put weight on my leg, though, so I went to the local emergency room.
After a few hours of various doctors and nurses running scans to diagnose the issue, a new doctor whom I’d never met walked in the room. The first words out of his mouth were, “You have a radial tear in your medial meniscus”. I had no idea what he was talking about. He continued speaking in words better suited for a medical peer than a patient.
I wasn’t at all interested in medical-speak. I was a new mom, anxious to return to my family. I wanted to know for how long and to what extent this injury would impact us, and how active I could be at home while caring for our son.
I didn’t get the answers to any of those questions. Instead, my doctor left me feeling overwhelmed, lost, and frustrated.
Using industry jargon is easy to do
Whether you are a doctor, marketer, SEO, or another specialized professional, this experience made me realize that using industry jargon is easy to do. And I realized that I was susceptible myself — I speak to clients all the time with words that made them feel alienated and confused.
The words and phrases that mean a lot to us as SEO professionals mean little or nothing to our customers.
When we utilize these phrases in conversations and assume we’re communicating effectively, we may be leaving our prospects and clients feeling overwhelmed, lost, and frustrated.
Years ago, feeling that way motivated businesses to hire SEO consultants and agencies. Ample industry jargon was tossed about in the sales process, leaving a prospect set on hiring a professional since SEO was too hard to understand.
There was no way that prospect felt confident in taking a DIY approach to getting found by the search engines; there was no other option besides signing on the dotted line. With a signature in hand, an SEO consultant could begin working some behind-the-scenes magic and deliver impactful results.
Today — and over the last five years — this approach no longer works.
Collaboration is the foundation of SEO
Today, we drive results by building a business’s expertise, authority, and trust online. Sure, there are technical SEO tasks to accomplish (and we can’t forget about foundational action items like dialing in title tags and meta descriptions). But long term, significant growth comes from impacting a business’s E-A-T. And for that, collaboration is required.
As an SEO professional, I often think of myself as a rafting guide in the search engine waters. I’ve been down this river before and already know what to expect around the next bend. I’m responsible for leading a team; our collaborative success (or failure) ultimately depends on my timely, appropriate guidance.
Yet it’s not all about me. The team (or client) is just as invested in our success. We’re sharing the same raft, and we’ve chosen to navigate the same river. They have their paddles in the water and are actively engaged in our journey, eager to work together. Working together — collaboration — means success for us all.
Communication is key to collaboration
Effective communication is critical to a collaborative environment; communication relies on language. If a rafting guide says “port side paddle forward,” his team will likely look at him with confusion. If he says “left side paddle forward,” his team will understand his language and take the right action.
One way to improve communication with prospects and clients is to remove industry jargon from our vocabulary. Over the past few years, I’ve challenged myself to use more everyday words in client communication. As a result, we are closing more business and have more satisfied customers seeing better results. It’s a win, win, win.
Here are some practical examples for communicating (and therefore better collaborating) with SEO clients:
XML Sitemap // Your Website’s Resume
Instead of telling a client that their website “lacks an XML sitemap,” I explain that this file is like a website’s resume. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview without a resume that lists out your assets in an easily digestible format. A resume quickly summarizes your “contents,” or the structure of your relevant roles and experience — just like a sitemap summarizes the contents and structure of a website.
Link Building // Relationships
When a client hears you talk about link building, they instantly recall how they feel when they receive spammy emails requesting a favor in the form of a link exchange. They may worry that this tactic is too aggressive or short-sighted and in violation of Google’s terms of service. Consider describing “link building” as building a network of a business’s professional relationships that the search engines quickly and easily understand. Putting up signposts that search engines can read.
Featured Snippet // Above #1
Clients are often hyper-focused on their rankings. If you talk to them about “gaining a featured snippet result,” that language will leave them lost and therefore unengaged in the initiative. Instead, focus on what they want: to rank #1 for a keyword they’ve chosen. If you’re working with a client on a new piece of complete content (to help propel them to the top of the search results by sharing their expertise), you can get the client onboard by telling them the goal is to be “above #1.”
SEO // Getting Found
Perhaps the most important term of all is “SEO.” We all assume our prospects and clients understand what SEO stands for and why it is important. But more often than not, the acronym alone can lead to confusion. Try substituting “getting found in Google” anytime you’re tempted to say “SEO,” and your client will be connected to the value instead of confounded by the vocabulary.
Removing industry jargon has been the most impactful of our changes to client communication. We also recommend (and practice) sending monthly reports, actively seeking feedback, and setting clear expectations. Read more client communication tips on the Moz blog and at Pathfinder SEO.
What expressions and words do you use in client communications?
Let’s create a shared, jargon-free vocabulary to improve how we talk to our clients. Let’s stop leaving our clients feeling overwhelmed, lost, or frustrated with SEO. After all, collaboration is the foundation of SEO. And to collaborate, we must create — and meet on — shared ground.
Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.