10 Things Most SEO Consultants Hate

Image via Crestock.com  under license

Image via Crestock.com under license

Having spent over ten years as an SEO consultant, I’ve gathered a list of “top ten challenges” (or, as I think of them, my pet peeves) about the industry and our clients.

I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences to share with our community. I’ll go first, and list out 10 things that challenge and push SEO consultants to come up with their very best efforts.

1.  Fascination With Quick Fixes

Our clients, normally savvy business owners, are strangely driven by the urge for “quick fixes” in their SEO. Even though they understand the complexity of SEO and the potential benefits from getting it right, many just want a quick win.

My clients are evaluated on their quarterly or annual results. Even though my convincing pitch with fact-based reasoning demonstrates that they will double revenue from organic search by taking a long-term approach and working on a 24- to 36-month timetable, I still see resistance. They don’t like this. They want faster results. They prefer 12 month horizons.

Often, I’ll get anxious client emails before board meetings. They’ll break down our organic traffic goal into a 12-monthly figure, get pretty graphs drawn, and then discover (to their dismay) that the traffic we’re receiving is nowhere near what we “agreed upon at our initial discussion.”

Businesses should understand that organic search is important, and it cannot be rushed. Quick fixes may deliver quick wins, but it is unreal to expect them to be sustained and long-lasting.

2.  ”But My Competition Does…”

One of the toughest questions I’ve had to field begins with, “My competitors are doing _____ , so why can’t I?”

Many sites ignore Google’s guidelines and exploit loopholes in the search giant’s algorithms. They indulge in practices like shady link-building, exact match domains, ranking on duplicate content, and so on. In the near term, sometimes, these techniques help them outrank other businesses.

As an SEO consultant, I get frustrated at hearing Google’s never-ending string of (rarely implemented) rosy promises and dire threats to discourage webmasters against such practices.

In Norway, we have 5 million citizens. That isn’t many. But when I’m responsible for SEO strategy at some of the biggest, highest-traffic sites in the country, I am frequently left red-faced at Google’s lack of effective responses to such under-handed and crooked tricks to game search rankings. My personal opinion is that Google isn’t quite good at filtering out low-quality content in Norway. Even when I report poor-quality sites, nothing happens.

There are times when I even feel sorry for my clients. Their competitors have been using tricky techniques for years, and yet nobody stops them or penalizes them for such actions. They make a lot of money through their shenanigans. On the other hand, my clients are practicing ethical and white-hat SEO, adopting best practices and respecting guidelines, only to find themselves outranked by low-quality sites. It’s frustrating for SEO consultants. Have you ever felt the same, or had similar experiences?

3.  The Conundrum of “Hourly Rates”

So, I’m called to bid on an SEO consulting project. I make a presentation, hand over my proposal… and a few days or weeks later, my prospective client will call to complain that my hourly rate is too high. They love everything else about my proposal, but try to negotiate a lesser rate, saying that my competitors claim they can do it at a lower price.

Well, that’s true. They can. And it’s because they have a different approach and attitude toward SEO. Instead, wouldn’t it be nice when clients look at how much more money I’m going to add to their bottom-line? At how quickly I can help them achieve their financial goals and targets? At how effectively I can help them grow their business?

Look, a good SEO consultant is so much more than just a technical specialist. A great SEO consultant is excellent with analytics. Armed with access to valuable data, a consultant can help with your business development needs, guiding you grow your business in new ways. It is meaningless to evaluate such value by “hourly rates,” yet we see it all the time. How do you deal with it?

4.  SEO Cannot Compensate For A Poor Product

SEO can’t fix everything. I know that’s contrary to industry-driven myths, but hey! If your product, service or customer care are mediocre or just not “awesome,” you should fix that first before you call in the SEO guy (or gal) to get you more traffic.

SEO can amplify your business results. If you have a great offer which adds value to people, SEO will help you expand your reach and help many more people while making a bigger profit.

5.  Learn To Say “No” More Often

I should follow my own advice! Sometimes I get a bad feeling when a prospective client calls for a meeting. Maybe he wants to switch agencies for the 3rd time in 2 years. He isn’t happy with his present SEO vendor, or recently had a confrontation, and so, wants to change consultants.

I’ve often found that these clients are impatient, frustrated, and difficult to work with. Any trivial thing can affect their behavior and attitude toward their SEO consultant. A sleepless night, a bad quarter, a rough review by their boss, and they’ll impulsively leap to random conclusions, second-guessing your judgment, and blaming everyone but themselves.

It’s a bad situation to be in, as a consultant. Such a client’s attitude can drain your motivation and mess up your mood. You have to promptly break off these relationships. Say “No” when you see it coming. Cry “Stop” when it begins with an existing client.

Yes, you may lose an account. But it’s still the right decision. Keeping on “energy vampires” as clients can have devastating consequences on the rest of your consulting business.

6.  An Obsession Over Hit-Counters

People love “hit counters.” Ok, maybe hit counters isn’t the right way to describe this. But, many clients still place disproportionate emphasis on page views, search rankings and other such low-quality KPIs (key performance indicators).

None of these correctly reflect your business’ performance. You need to focus on the right KPIs. Ones that are actionable, and which contribute directly to bottom-line profitability. Those are the ones you seek to improve through your SEO strategy.

In many clients’ eyes, ranking is still king. But, SEO consultants understand that a site’s placement in the SERPs is only a rung in the ladder to business success. Without an acceptable conversion rate, more sales and higher profit as a consequence, even a #1 ranking on Google will be worthless.

7.  SEO Is Still Icing On The Cake

A few business owners cherish a naive belief in the ability of SEO to transform everything and magically create results. So, they put off consulting an SEO expert until everything else is ready with their website development.

Unfortunately, when this poorly planned and constructed site generates sub-optimal results, fixing it will need expensive changes. It’s far better to involve an SEO consultant right from the planning phase so that all aspects of your commercial website will work in harmony and synchronize with other elements to deliver stellar results.

8.  IT Consultants Can Fix Everything

It still amazes me that my family will call whenever they have trouble with their printer, PC, mobile phone, scanner, or have a virus problem — just because I’m an “IT Consultant.” Sometimes, they’ll even call for help with their TV, cable connection, or satellite dish!

It’s the same story at work, too. Clients don’t see a difference between a Web designer, Web developer, paid search expert, or SEO consultant. They figure that “If you’re an IT manager, you should be able to fix everything that runs on electricity.” Well, that’s not how it works!

9.  ”Content Is Easy”

Sorry, it’s not. Unless all you need is to fill in some white space with text and stuff it with keywords.

Time and again, I hear clients saying they can handle content by themselves. I no longer go into raptures of delight when clients say they have a “good copywriter or writer on their staff.” Rarely, if ever, do those writers have a good understanding of SEO.

Whenever I’ve relied on these “inside experts,” I’ve been disappointed and ended up having to teach them how to do what’s needed. That also cuts into my SEO budget, wasting time that’s better spent on other SEO tasks. Does this sound familiar?

10.  Getting Paid Per Link

When the SEO discussion turns to link building, the issue of buying links crops up. In the aftermath of Google’s Penguin update, it’s weird to even hear that businesses dare buy links from people offering “pay per link” deals.

This is risky, and I always turn down such requests from clients. But, some still go ahead with shady or black-hat link building techniques, and then blame SEO consultants when the ax falls on their business’ head.

So there. These are my pet peeves about being an SEO consultant. I’m sure there are many others you’ve faced in your career. Please go on and share them in the comments below. Let’s get some discussion going on these vexing problems and talk about how to solve them.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO


About The Author: is Head Of SEO at MediaCom Norway. He has over 10 years of experience specializing in digital strategy, e-commerce and SEO. Trond is the author of the books "Importance of SEO for Your Online Business" and "Power Social Media Marketing". He can be found on Twitter @TrondLyngbo.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    That’s absolutely right, Mandy. I often tell my
    consulting clients, “You’re not getting a few hours of my time, you’re
    getting many years of my experience!” The biggest mistake is to position
    yourself as an SEO consultant (or be perceived by your clients) as an “$X
    per hour” service provider. The real cost of being (and continuing to be)
    a top SEO specialist is the hours and dollars spent in keeping up with
    ever-changing trends, staying on top of changes, knowing what really works
    through extensive testing, and dealing with several issues across various
    niches and industries. That’s the real expertise we are paid for, not just
    optimizing on-site content or building quality links back to a client website. Thanks
    for sharing that perspective, Mandy.

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    This made me laugh out loud, Nick… “or are
    you paying for someone to argue with?” I’m sure every SEO consultant will be able to relate to this experience!

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    That can be a real challenge, and one I still face and overcome in my practice, though it’s getting better. Like any service, the benefits of what you offer must be your selling point – and buyers may not always see the true value in what you can do for them. It’s often easier when they’ve had a bad experience earlier, or have tried the “do it yourself” way, and it didn’t work out well. That’s when they are more willing to listen to an “expert”.

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Ah, Nina, if only the answer to that evergreen question were simple and straightforward! How easy life would become for SEO consultants pitching their offer to a potential client. :-)

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Nicola, I agree with your point of education being an ongoing need in an SEO consultant’s engagement with a client. Many firms make a compelling “education-marketing” pitch at the beginning, but then seem to trail off, hoping the client will just leave them to do their work.

    It rarely works that way. Most clients want some amount of hand-holding and an explanation of the rationale behind what you’re doing while you do it. It doesn’t help that SEO results are not usually “instant” or even “quick”, which only makes the role of ongoing education ever more important.

    With that said, it is important to select and work with clients who will then avoid interfering in your work, and support you by co-ordinating your SEO efforts with their other departments. There are a few who want you to explain everything clearly, and then will continue to interfere and step on your toes. That’s when it’s time to say “No” – firmly and clearly.

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    It is difficult, but important – both for yourself and your client. Once you take on a “difficult” client, it becomes harder to later let go and walk away – especially if you’re being paid well for your services. That’s when it’s a tough choice to keep the money, and go down the route of constant arguing, lack of support, and increasing frustration… or walk away. Far better to do it right in the beginning, if you feel there isn’t a good match between yourself and your prospective client. That’s my personal opinion, based on more than a fair share of difficult experiences in the past!

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Derek, I think with regard to social search, we are still in a phase of evolution, with not many people quite sure about the impact it could have in the future, not just on traffic that comes from social sites, but how such a social presence will impact organic search results and rankings also.

    I look on it as a kind of “defense play” to safeguard one’s ranking and position against an unclear future. Even if the traffic is less valuable today, it’s affordable enough to secure a social rank – but that might change in the future, especially if the value of social marketing peaks suddenly.

    Think about how easy (and powerful) it once was to get a listing in Yahoo’s directory back in the 1990′s and how valuable that became over the next decade. Maybe “social” is the new “Yahoo!” :-)

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    It’s one of my favorite peeves, Stephen. I work with clients who need a huge volume of content created, and hearing that “it’s easy” really gets me riled up! It’s not. At least, not the right kind of content for SEO purposes.

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Randy, I sure hope someone at the Big G is listening to you… and me! :-)

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Yes, Luke, that’s what makes it difficult to convince a client. They just pull up search results and see the top ranked sites doing exactly what we are advising them AGAINST doing… and then the conversation gets difficult! Taking the long view and trying to explain how this kind of behavior could lead to penalties which make any benefit short-lived might help change their perspective. The trouble is that when one junk site is removed from the SERPs, another one replaces it. Sigh! :-)

  • http://kercommunications.com/ Nick Ker

    Brings to mind Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic” sketch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQFKtI6gn9Y

  • http://www.dekh.com/members/profile/13 Harsh Bawa

    “You’re not getting a few hours of my time, you’re getting many years of my experience!”
    the line sums it all.

    It is indeed funny how even after a couple of meetings, clients still ask the same questions again and again. Most of the clients ask for multiple seo proposals from different consultants and end up confusing themselves which one is right or wrong.

    A couple of my clients also had issues with Microsoft office and windows and I had to convince them that this is something I know but I am not an expert in troubleshooting windows.

    We might be at different ends of the world but we face almost the same issues.


  • http://anthonygoodley.com/SEO Anthony Goodley

    I hate that Google blocks access to keyword referral data unless your willing to pony up mega bucks. Lack of access to this vital keyword data makes it really difficult to track what is working and what isn’t. Google do no evil my ….. In the SEO world it doesn’t get more evil than this in my opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/mjancosek Matthew Jancosek

    YES! YES! YES! These are the same problems I encounter all the time. I just lost a job because the owner would not listen to my advice about natural rankings and still went with a company from India that did nothing but link spam. When Google had the Penguin update, several sites went away. Because the sites were not listing anymore became my fault. My lesson from that is to stand up be heard and if they do not take advise = time to move on rather than have your reputation ripped apart by poor judgement.

  • http://www.pimediaservices.com/ Henry Smith

    Being a SEO professional I too always think for my clients only. It is often tough to make them realize that SEO strategies keep on changing. And I also think that there can’t be anything called perfect SEO. What are your thoughts?

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Matthew, I feel your pain, and have been in a similar situation often in the past. It does indeed seem at times as if the client wants an SEO consultant only to argue with, and are more interested in challenging their advise (by not taking it!) than in profiting from the consultant’s experience and expertise. And it’s worse when one is held to account for the poor results after the advise was willfully not followed!

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Patricia, from some other comments, it appears as if the situation is the same even in those countries! It’s like bad parents telling their kids not to smoke, while puffing on their own cigarettes or cigars!

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Right, Bryan. It’s nice to be #1 on Google SERPs. But it’s nicer to be there for a long, long time :-)

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Jarv, that’s exactly what I mean. It would seem impossible for an algorithm to miss something like that, but apparently it does – which leaves SEO consultants struggling to explain to an irate business owner why he or she shouldn’t do the same thing to get higher ranking pages.

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Good one, Tim. Though I guess we do get noticed eventually by our target audience when our clients get ranked well (sometimes we catch the eye of their biggest competitors!) :-)

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    I’ve wasted hours of precious time on this earlier, but have started preparing some informative material that gets used as “education-marketing” content. I share it with new clients to help them understand the role of SEO in their business. In the short time I’ve used this approach, I’ve found it easier to close a sale, and save a lot of time in answering repetitive questions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/henry.smith.96387189 Henry Smith

    Problems faced by SEO consultants

    I completely agree Trond! It becomes increasingly difficult to convince a client when he/she fails to understand that the entire process is lengthy! All they want is overnight results, which is practically impossible. Then they blame us citing that they are not getting the desired results. I so wish I could tell them that the fault is in your product, and we SEO consultants cannot take care of that! But the job is my bread earner, and I cannot afford to lose a client. So, what’s the solution? How to make them understand that it’s not a week long process?


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