SEO for Managed Service Providers: An Overview

By Carlo Belloni
March 23, 2020

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it is a very popular marketing practice that has gained popularity in the last years. The main goal of every for-profit or non-profit organization is to increase their visibility in search engine results and, consequently, get more “organic traffic” which in turn leads to more sales or more engagement with their target audience.

Traffic is considered “organic” whenever it arrives on a website not as a consequence of paid campaigns (for more information about paid campaigns and performance marketing for MSPs, visit our guide).

This result is achieved by incorporating different search-engine-friendly practices into a page with the intent of ranking for specific keywords. These elements include things like keywords, backlinks, quality content, and more that we will explain more thoroughly below.

The working principle of SEO is based on the act of “crawling”. Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo “crawl” websites to understand a website’s goal, how authoritative the website is and who it is designed for. After crawling, search engines “index” pages of the website in a specific order and this is what will be shown to the consumer in the results.

It is important to bear in mind that the goal should never be to just get more people on your website, but to do it in a smart way by targeting an audience that can find your content useful, increasing the likelihood that they will become a customer or use the company’s services.

Why is SEO Important for Managed Service Providers (MSPs)?

Like many other businesses, managed service providers (or MSPs) can benefit incredibly from incorporating SEO techniques in their marketing strategy. SEO allows companies to build up an audience without having to pursue expensive performance marketing campaigns.

SEO, if set up correctly, can be a valuable source of income that is maintenance free. Creating two or three articles that target the right keywords could be enough to produce enough leads on a monthly basis.

Managed Service Providers, specifically, have a higher margin compared to other types of businesses and this means that every lead acquired “organically” represents a huge surplus for the business. Another advantage of MSPs is that they can target different types of consumers, especially if they have a wide portfolio of services. The more services they offer, the wider the range of businesses they can target. This is because every consumer could be interested in outsourcing one or multiple services to an MSP.

Let’s dive into how an MSP can successfully implement an SEO strategy.

Understanding Your Target Audience and Search Intent

As mentioned before, MSPs have many different possibilities in terms of focusing on a target audience: it could be a company that produces toys or an access control company. The one thing most modern companies have in common is the need to outsource IT maintenance.

Keeping this in mind, let’s try to understand what moves a company to choose you as an MSP and what are other characteristics of your target audience. Having this information will highly increase the chances of producing content that can attract qualified traffic that will convert. We can get more information by asking ourselves simple questions about our audience:

  • Background – What kind of job? Industry?
  • Demographics – Age? Gender?
  • Goals – Grow business? Save time? Temporary solution? 
  • Challenges – Growing too fast? Lack of knowledge? Need to move fast?
  • Objections – Price? Scalability? Flexibility?

Keyword Research

Keywords are the heart and soul of search engine optimization and you should consider them carefully in the development of your managed service strategy in terms of online presence. Keywords are how consumers find your page and depending on which ones you decide to target, you will get different outcomes in terms of traffic and leads.

Finding your ideal keywords can be achieved in many different ways and with many different tools. Here are some of the techniques that you can use to target the right keywords:

Start with Search Intent

Before targeting the right keywords and starting to experiment with the tools and techniques that I will explain below, try to sit down and brainstorm (maybe with a couple of colleagues) on what the thought process is for someone looking for an MSP on a search engine. What are the queries that he/she might enter on Google or Bing? In simpler words, what is the search intent of your consumers?

Always keep this in mind before you start your keyword research and also while you do it. Always ask yourself: “Are these keywords entered by people that need a managed service provider?”.

Use the Google Search Features

Even without using any paid or free tool for keyword research, Google already offers you some kind of help. Just by typing some keywords into the search box, the search engine provides you a list of related keywords that might be interesting to target. Let’s try to look for “managed service provider” and see what Google tells us:

As you can see, Google already gives a list of “suggested keywords” that you can eventually use to create some content or to update the content that you already have. This step of the analysis is useful to get some ideas and start seeing in which directions you can go with your keyword research. The same happens once you enter your query. Google will suggest other related queries at the bottom of the page. Here’s that list with our keyword “managed service provider”:

These are all ideas that you can use, after having reviewed the possible search intent, for creating new content or updating your existing one. The next step is to know how many people look for those queries on a monthly basis. This way, we can take our list of keywords and prioritize them.

Tools for MSP Keyword Research

Depending on your budget and needs, the market offers a wide range of keyword research tools that vary from accuracy and extra features. You can range from the free keyword research tool to a complete SEO software that helps you with this. Let’s dive into 5 of my favourite solutions while keeping an eye on their extra features and their price tag.

Answer The Public and Keyword Tool

Let’s start with two free tools, Answer the Public and Keyword Tool. These two tools have a price tag of $0 and can be very useful with your keyword research process. Answer the Public allows you to look for all the related searches and keyword suggestions for a specific query. Basically that’s what Google does (see the Google Search Features paragraph) but on steroids. What is holding back Answer the Public for being one of the best keyword research tools on the market is the lack of search volume (how many people looked for a specific query per month).

Keyword Tool, on the other hand, has a search volume feature. The tool works smoothly and only lacks accuracy sometimes.

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Keywords Everywhere

Keywords Everywhere is a plugin of Chrome that works beautifully by itself or as an integration of many SEO tools. It basically adds to the normal Google features the search volume and keyword difficulty index. The only thing you have to do is to launch it and then type a query in the search box. The results will appear directly on the right part of the screen and will look something like this:

As you can see, with our query “managed service provider”, these are the related queries with info about a) how many people looked for this query on a monthly average, b) what would be the cost per click (see our guide on PPC for MSPs) and c) competition. This tool also integrates with Google Search Console (see point 5 of this chapter).

Although it’s not free, Keywords Everywhere is just $2 per month. Definitely worth it, I would say.

SEMrush

With SEMrush, you will not only have a keyword research tool but a complete SEO software that can help you with all of your needs, such as auditing the website and monitoring the links in your domain. It can be useful for an MSP to have this tool as you can see how many people recommend your business and give you links.

In terms of mere keyword planning, SEMrush is a great tool. One of its features, the “Keyword Magic Tool” allows you to find, for a specific keyword, all the queries that have similar keywords and all the searches that are broadly related. The tool allows you to create lists of related keywords and to see the search volume involved and other useful information. Let’s be clear, though: if you only need a keyword planner, SEMrush is definitely a luxury tool. The price tag is minimum 99.99$ per month which is on the high end for this kind of tool. 

However, if you need a complete SEO software, always very useful in my opinion, SEMrush is one of the best on the market.

Google Search Console (BONUS)

Google Search Console is one of the many tools offered by the search engine for SEOs and, in general, marketers. It is a tool that focuses almost entirely on your search results and has many different uses. I have inserted it as a “bonus” because it’s not properly a keyword research tool. Its main use is to look at which keywords the consumers used to arrive at your website and, by doing so, you can see which are the queries that generate the most revenue for your business!

The tool is completely free and it is one of the most important tools for every SEO, I use it daily!

Create Qualitative Content

If you have worked in marketing for a while, you will have heard the sentence “Content is king” at least once. Especially in the last few years, in fact, Google is trying to be less and less dependant on keywords (or better, only on keywords), and to give more flexibility in how a specific article matches the search intent of the consumer. This does not mean that keywords are useless (couldn’t be more wrong to assume this) but that, for sure, it is not possible to have high rankings if your content is not a high quality one.

Many will tell you that quality content makes all the difference in the world and, while this is true, not many people tell you exactly what quality means in an SEO context. Quality is not (only) correct grammar, right usage of the punctuation, and nice images. Quality means broadly if a consumer has a question, a qualitative article answers this question thoroughly. 

This is why it’s very important to use keyword research to understand the questions and needs of your consumers and then it’s up to the content marketing team to answer them accurately.

Authority and Links

The fact that some websites always rank in very high positions in the SERP (Wikipedia, Apple, IBM) is because these websites are very authoritative. What does authoritative mean? It means that basically this website has affirmed itself as a trustworthy website that is very useful for consumers. And search engines really value this.

Every website has some kind of authority and this can be checked through tools like Moz.com and others. A quick way to see if your SEO strategy is working out well is to keep that metric monitored in the long term.

How can you get authority? Well, the technical answer would be to make sure to get lots of links from other websites, authoritative websites. A good example could be to ask your clients to give you a link on their website or to write a blog article that people might reshare on their domain. Another way to get more authority is to have a high engagement of your articles. Engagement meaning that people that visit your website tend to stay there for a long time, watching different pages and converting to your set goals.

In conclusion, also check your reviews on Google, Trustpilot and similar websites: search engines look at these things! Always make sure to have good internal linking and a very good looking and navigable website!

Local SEO Tips and Tricks

The last thing to keep in mind is related to local SEO (related to your location). This is especially important to managed service providers as one of the most common queries is “managed service providers in + name of a city”. Let’s go through a small SEO checklist for MSPs with regards to local SEO:

1. Verify your company on Google Business

The verification process takes 1-2 days on average. After this, you'll receive a postcard with a code to activate everything. This process will allow your business to appear on Google Maps searches and snippets as well as on the side bar for users looking for your brand name. See the picture below.

2. Optimize Your Listing on Google MyBusiness

Now that the hard part has been done (get a listing), it is time to optimize your listing. Insert pictures, description, opening times, link to your website and add some contacts so that people can reach you from the SERP page.

Google also allows you to showcase pieces of your content or eventually events (maybe not super useful for managed service providers but you never know!). The better you take care of this page the more you’re going to make a good impression on your customers (and make Google’s life easier).

3. Again, Focus on Reviews!

Reviews are so important nowadays. You would be surprised to know how many businesses take the review profile in consideration before requesting a quote or contacting a B2B service provider. Reputation management is important for every B2B company and MSPs are not an exception. This is one of the reasons why we have created a series of pages that focus on the best IT managed service providers in the main tech hubs of the United States.

Ask your clients to leave a positive review on Google MyBusiness and create and maintain a clean and detailed profile on Trustpilot and other platforms (as a managed service provider, you should keep an eye on Capterra).

Conclusions

Managed service providers are part of an emerging market that will get more and more attention in the next years as more companies seek to modernize their IT systems and maximize efficiency. For this reason, it is very important to establish yourself as an authoritative domain and to build upon this in the next years. Target your consumers, explain what your work is about, answer the public and get your results up in the SERP, where your clients can find you easily.

This guide is meant to help you get an idea of what you should do to build a healthy online presence and how you should do it. For the rest, there are plenty of materials online that can help you with the more detailed problems. We have written multiple articles related to MSPs and how to grow their business. Check out our guides on:

Carlo Belloni

Carlo is the Project Manager and SEO Specialist at Kisi.