I made a mistake. It was a classic SEO blunder. Don’t judge me — it was one that you (and almost every other SEO) has probably made as well.
What did I do? I allowed a client to sign a contract without fully vetting them first. I didn’t ask the right questions, and I wasn’t sure of their prospects for success. A few months and a bit of knowledge and wisdom later, I realized the future for this prospect wasn’t looking so bright.
As with almost every business that comes to us, we were eager to help them succeed online. We knew what the client needed; but in this case, we failed to fully understand what it was the client wanted – and whether or not we would be able to deliver that.
As we delved into their online marketing campaign, we realized that the client had no real plan for success. They just wanted to “succeed” and expected us to make it happen.
We went about trying to give the client what they needed. Instead of going after the most competitive keywords first, we tried to direct the client toward keywords that had a greater chance of achieving top rankings and delivering high converting traffic. We told them that their new site lacked authority and that we would need to make significant investments in links and social. We tried to work with the client to create a UVP (unique value proposition) that would help them stand out from their competitors.
We spent several months working with the client to help turn their site into one worthy of top search engine rankings. We recommended a blog — which the client put up, posted on thrice, and promptly left to die. We offered blogging support and writing services which the client declined, only to come to us for support when their design team didn’t get the blog installed correctly the first time. We put forth ideas for video and other social content which the client seemed to like, but never made any effort to make happen.
Unfortunately, all our suggestions were falling upon deaf ears. And without client support or buy-in, many of our efforts were for naught.
But this isn’t about that — it’s about my big, fat rookie SEO mistake: I took on a client without knowing what I was getting into. And the rest, as they say, is FUBAR.
I always feel that the best mistakes to learn from are someone else’s. So learn from mine. Here’s how you can avoid an SEO disaster of monumental proportions.
1. Know What You Are Getting Into
When qualifying an SEO client (why should the clients be the only ones doing the qualifying?), remember that if you don’t know what you’re getting into, you’ll have no way to know what needs to be done. SEO isn’t “one size fits all,” and the best strategies are those that are customized for each client’s particular needs.
Most of our proposals go through several drafts as we fine-tune our offerings based on the client’s wants and needs. This process is critical for us, as each revision gives us an opportunity to understand what the client wants and what it will take to give them a marketing campaign that will succeed.
Regardless of how you do it, it’s essential to have a clear grasp of the work the client will require in order for you to build a successful campaign. As can often be the case, the client’s budget simply does not match the requirements. At that point, the SEO must make a decision: do you accept the job knowing that success is less likely, or do you pass on it altogether?
Though an alternative (the sales guys will say “better”) solution is to adjust the campaign according to their budget, that requires readjusting their expectations — which doesn’t always go as you’d hope.
2. Set Proper Expectations
As far as I’m concerned, the leading cause of death of an SEO campaign — the #1 reason that SEOs get fired — is due to misplaced client expectations. The SEO looks at the campaign and thinks, Hey, this is moving right along and we’re right where we expected to be. But the client looks at it and thinks, Where the hell is all my traffic???
Same campaign, same results, just two entirely different ways of looking at it. It’s all about setting and reinforcing expectations all along the way. Obviously, clients want to see results as quickly as possible. And no matter how many times you tell them that SEO is a marathon and not a sprint, they still expect to see something. Soon.
We’ve had clients wonder why they are not getting any traffic from our efforts while we still wait for them to reply to our first emails. The conversation usually goes like this:
Client: Why haven’t we gotten to #1 yet?
SEO: We finished our initial research last week and are waiting for your review before we can move to the next stage.
Client: How much longer will it be?
SEO: Well, once we get your reply, we will [map out the timeline of campaign that the client is already aware of from the proposal].
Client: And then will we see rankings?
SEO: If all of our recommendations are implemented, yes, we should see rankings begin to move up.
Client: When will you get us to #1?
SEO: We don’t rank websites, that’s Google’s job.
No matter how many times we have this conversation, the client still expects to see results before any results are likely. Whether that’s due to timelines, competition or lack of client investment, the client will always expect better results than are possible at the time. The only thing you can do is continue to establish expectations for when and what kind of results will be seen. Keep reinforcing that as often as possible throughout the campaign.
3. Keep The Client Involved
No matter what clients want, good marketing cannot be done without the client’s involvement. There are just too many aspects of a successful online marketing campaign for the client to dump all expectations for success onto the SEO and wash their hands of it.
As much as I like to believe I know all of the “right” keywords, the client must be involved in the keyword research process to ensure we don’t miss opportunities or go off in the wrong direction. If I could implement all aspects of a client’s social media campaign, I would, but engagement always comes best from those that can talk intelligently about the industry. We can provide optimized pages, but the client’s developers must implement them, just as they were approved.
There are many other aspects of a Web marketing campaign that simply require the client’s buy-in, if not outright willingness to take specific actions if they want their optimization campaign to be successful.
Getting clients involved early helps them understand that the marketer is not solely responsible for their success. It’s a team effort and success depends on both parties doing what they are supposed to.
4. Know When To Cut Your Losses
SEOs never want to hear the words, “you’re fired” from an unhappy client. Sometimes, however, it’s the client that needs to fear hearing those words from their SEO. When the SEO knows the client is standing in their own way of success, the smart SEO will tell them it’s time to part ways. It doesn’t have to be ugly, or get nasty, it can simply be a conversation that says, “I don’t think we’re the right team.”
Being willing to fire a client can often be the wakeup call the client needs. If you get them to understand that you’re willing to walk away from thousands of dollars in fees because you don’t think you will ever meet the client’s expectations, the client might begin to listen and be more proactive. You might, in fact, get them to understand the expectations and get them more involved in the process.
But, that’s not always the case, and sometimes you just have to walk away. Better to let a client go, knowing you’ll be able to spend your resources on other clients than continue to bust your butt trying to make a client happy, knowing they never will be. Just walk away and move on to the next better challenge.
Avoiding A Disaster Of Monumental Proportions
Nobody wants to be in unhappy situations. Not the SEO, nor the client. But sometimes this is inevitable. The more you can do to prevent these situations, the better off both you and the client will be in the long run.
Looking ahead, you can head off these situations early and avoid a disaster of monumental proportions. As a wise Web marketer, you need to be able to spot a potentially losing situation before you get into it. Otherwise, you leave yourself open for all the baggage that comes with a disgruntled client that is looking for a place to point the blame.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.