My name is Tom Buckland and I’m an SEO freelancer. With that one statement, you probably already have a grudge against me.
The truth is the SEO industry gets an extremely bad name for itself – with the constant cold emails that business owners receive and the horror stories of client websites dropping from Google. There is good reason why the average business owner automatically takes a defensive stance when an SEO / digital marketing guy introduces themselves.
But, like a lot of industries, when direct marketing is done correctly, there is no reason why you can’t land clients in even the toughest industries.
This article is about a case study / client generation strategy I ran for my seo company HQ SEO.
Our strategy was simple. We would use direct mail and email to pre-qualified prospects. I would personally write the copy, a skill I learned from 2 business books, which I’d highly recommend to anyone who owns a small business, “Guerrilla Marketing” and “Words That Work”.
Stage 1 - Create a list of pre-qualified prospects. For anyone interested in replicating this process you want to create a list of business owners who are already actively marketing their business. This is essential, as dealing with business owners who don’t understand why they should be marketing is not a conversation you want to have with someone when you are trying to close them.
To get the list of prospects, go through your local magazines, newspapers, online classified ads, and most importantly, search in Google to see the businesses using AdWords. Find businesses that are already spending money on advertising or marketing. These prospects will be 100 times easier to eventual close than ones that can’t see the value of online marketing at all.
Stage 2 - Once you have your list of prospects, the next step is to decide on a contact medium. I’m not one for cold calling, which left me with either direct mail or emails. We tested both, but play to the strength of your business.
Stage 3 - Write your copy. There are a number of aspects that change depending on who you’ll be emailing, but below are a few keys to remember when writing copy, for both email and direct mail.
- Keep it on 1 page.
- Keep it short.
- Don’t add fluff.
- Make it personal.
- Make it relevant.
- Say “you” and “your” more than “we” or “I”.
- Use imagery.
- Have a catchy and relevant headline.
- Include at least 2 calls to action.
- Describe the benefits.
- Don’t add irrelevant points.
- Use simple language.
If you keep to all of these rules you should be able to have a piece of copy that you can use as an outline when you send to your prospects.
A side note on personalization: We contacted close to 800 businesses in this period. 100 through direct mail and 700 through email. Ideally we would have researched each individual and business separately, but that would have taken forever. Instead on our emails we used a semi-personalized script, repeating the business name and owner’s name, as well as including an image relevant to their business. In some cases this was a screenshot of their current rankings, in other cases it was a picture of their website discussing potential redesign elements. Either way, to the prospect it would have felt personal. This is the key.
Stage 4 - Delivery. If you are using email, then your delivery medium is pretty simple, you press send. But if you are using direct mail and physical letters, there are 3 key elements to remember:
- Hand write the envelope. This looks more personal and not mass-generated.
- Use headed paper. Looks professional and costs pennies!
- Use a white, standard envelope. Again very professional and also the cheapest.
In total we sent 700 emails. Managing to increase our open-rates to 1 in 3. The click through rate of 14% on the emails was again lower than we wanted but all in all gave us 32 “bites”. Screenshot of our email stats are below.
Of those 32, 18 prospects went on to contact us for the consultation / audit. Although this number was far higher than the results generated in the direct mail testing, we also noted the style of response was negative and short. Such as the one below.
And although the stats, volume and personalization all came together quite nicely, we concluded that people simply were more negative when they receive a semi-cold email, than they are when they receive a semi-cold letter. The physical aspect and cost might have something to do with it, or (and what I believe) the nature of the industry plays a big role.
A side note on the industry: If you’re in digital marketing, it’s better to do what other marketers and businesses are NOT doing, which is sending a physical letter.
The direct mail results were more difficult to calculate. But assuming 90% of mails were delivered and opened, we can say approximately 6% of individuals took action. This lead to 5 individuals making direct contact requesting a proposal / consultation. 2 of which came on to be clients.
Time, Costs & Conversions
Direct mail results
Research time: 50 hours (yes it really did take this long!)
Writing time: 15 hours (Semi-personalized script made this easier)
Printing/Writing and mailing: 5 hours
Cost: approximately £100.
Results: 2 signed clients @ £300 / month.
Average time of a client is around 6 months. Meaning our total earnings for the campaign were £3,600.
Although this is not all profit, the ROI was incredibly high. This is also a technique I highly recommend for start-ups, as it’s extremely time heavy with the research and writing, although relatively cheap compared to other start-up marketing techniques.
Research & writing time: 60 hours
Costs: £640 (Wages + Email tracking software)
Results: 1 signed client @ £400 / month.
The email outreach did generate more “bites” but the eventual traffic was a lot colder and hence more difficult to convert leading to a lower ROI. The eventual conversion rate was only: 700/1 = 0.14%.
Thoughts and Advice
If I had to give one piece of advice to someone looking to generate clients in this way, it would be this - Don’t get bogged down in the numbers or the methods. 10 highly personalized direct mail pieces or emails, to warm pre-qualified prospects is better than 10,000 cold ones. And taking action is better than 50 hours of research! So although testing is a key to success, remember you can test with extremely small volumes and refine your copywriting and data so that when you do run larger out-reach campaigns, they will be extremely profitable for your business.