If you’ve worked in digital marketing long enough, you know there are plenty of people who believe search engine optimization is a scam.

And who can blame them? There are so many dodgy SEO “experts” out there, sending typo-ridden cold emails claiming they can solve every problem simply by “improving SEO.”

On top of this, SEO is a dense and opaque topic, constantly changing at Google’s whim.

Of course, you know that good SEO really can work wonders. But how can you get through to those clients, managers, and skeptics who simply don’t believe in the power of search engine optimization?

Here are a few simple strategies you can use to break through the barrier and win them over.

First, find out why they are a non-believer

Before you can start converting people into SEO fans, you need to understand why they don’t believe in it now.

Start by asking them about their experiences with SEO, but hold your tongue when it comes to responding to their comments. For now, you need to put on your listening hat and get to the root of why they don’t trust it.

Have they been burned before? Perhaps they worked with an SEO agency that was a total failure, or they were victims of an algorithm update that turned them off.

Do they not understand it? SEO is a complicated and multifaceted practice, and often people turn away from things that confuse them.

Are they invested in old-school techniques? It’s hard to let go of marketing strategies that once worked well. The fear of change can be incredibly powerful.

Do they think it’s sneaky? Your client or manager may not know the difference between black hat and white hat SEO. If that’s the case, they may assume all SEO tactics are inherently deceptive or malicious.

Whatever the reason, once you understand where they are coming from, you can start building a strategy to help them overcome their mistrust of SEO.

Be empathetic to their concerns

When you hear someone listing off their complaints about SEO, it can be easy to become defensive. After all, they’re essentially insulting the work you do on a daily basis.

But being defensive never works in an argument—whether or not it’s about appeasing Google. What does work? Empathy.

No matter what your client or manager says, their reason for mistrusting SEO is legitimate.

If they’ve been burned before… then they are wise to be mistrustful, lest they get burned again.

If they don’t understand it… then it’s only natural for them to be mistrustful.

If they’re invested in old-school techniques… they are wise enough to know what worked for their business in the past, and that’s something to respect.

If they think it’s sneaky… they’re right, at least partially. They just don’t know that there are legitimate SEO tactics as well.

Show your empathy during this initial conversation by sharing your own experiences, and find a way to respectfully acknowledge the legitimacy of their skepticism. This is a chance for you to win their trust by showing you understand.

Arm yourself with evidence

There’s nothing more convincing than evidence, so you’ll need to gather some hard data to make your case.

Remember that at this point, you shouldn’t be thinking about selling your service, but instead about genuinely trying to convince this person’s mind. You won’t ever be able to make a pitch to someone who doesn’t believe in or understand SEO in the first place.

As you research, keep their fears in mind. What specifically did they tell you about why they don’t believe in SEO? Look for data, case studies, and thought-leadership examples that you can use to counter their misconceptions.

Ideally, you’ll have some time between your initial conversation to do this research. But often, you’ll need to make your case straight away before the prospect walks away. It’s a good idea to keep up to date on best practices, case studies, and other examples that you can cite at the drop of a hat.

Make it personal

Throwing studies and statistics at someone who doesn’t believe in SEO won’t be a winning strategy.

In addition to using general research to help change their mind, find a way to put the information into the context of your client or manager’s business.

Start by looking for case studies from the same industry.

You can also look at competitors to find keywords they are ranking for. If you can demonstrate how much traffic they’re getting from those keywords, you’ll already have the foundation of a compelling case.

If you’re working on convincing a manager, then ask if you can have a small project to start on. See if they’ll give you a chance to optimize one page, or make one technical change to the site. You may have to offer to do this for free or in your spare time, but if it works, you’ll have a much better chance of winning them over in the long-term.

Remember, convincing takes time

If someone holds deep convictions about SEO (or any subject matter), it won’t be easy to convince them in just one conversation.

You’ll be much more likely to win them over if you play a long game, routinely sending them information and guidance—without crossing the line and becoming an annoyance.

One of the best ways to do this is through LinkedIn. Routinely sharing thoughtful, useful posts proving the value of SEO will slowly chip away at the resolve of LinkedIn followers who are non-believers.

If LinkedIn isn’t an option, consider writing blogs showcasing your insights and sending those to your prospect, or occasionally forward them insights from your favorite leaders in the SEO industry.

Be careful not to overwhelm them with information—showing up in their inbox every single day will feel more like hounding and less like convincing.

With some empathy, evidence, and patience, you’ll be able to turn any SEO skeptic into an evangelist.

About the Author

Liam Carnahanis a content strategist, SEO specialist, copyeditor, freelance writer, and the man behind Inkwell Content. He’s also a fiction editor and founder of Invisible Ink Editing, where he helps indie authors get published. In addition to writing, Liam is a public speaker, digital nomad, and LGBTQ rights advocate. Follow him on Twitter @LiamCarnahan.