How To Overcome Your Client’s Expectations Of Impossible Results

There isn’t much I dislike about Web marketing, but dealing with clients whose expectations don’t align with reality has to top the list. While many might gripe and complain that the client “just doesn’t get it” (often a true statement), the client’s absence of reality often has more to do with the marketing team than […]

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There isn’t much I dislike about Web marketing, but dealing with clients whose expectations don’t align with reality has to top the list. While many might gripe and complain that the client “just doesn’t get it” (often a true statement), the client’s absence of reality often has more to do with the marketing team than it does with the client themselves.

Translation: It’s you (the marketer/agency) not them (the client).expect results

There are three types of expectations that clients often have when they engage in Web marketing services:

  1. Rankings: “We’ll be on the first page by [insert date here].”
  2. Growth: “Our leads/sales will increase by xx% by the end of the year.”
  3. Client Involvement: “I hired you to do it;  just let me know when it’s done.”

As Web marketers, we know that the client’s expectations are very often unfounded. But where did they get those expectations? What made them believe the wrong thing in the first place?

I’m sure, if you were to ask, most Web marketers will tell you that they laid out the expectations with the client well in advance. Despite that, the client continues to believe what they want to believe. Is the client delusional, or is the SEO full of crap?

Probably neither, but the problem still remains. The gap between what the client expects and what the SEO knows to be true are about as far apart as Jar Jar Binks’ chances of becoming chancellor of the Klingon Empire.

(Note to you sci-fi purists: Yes, I know. I crossed universes. Get over it.)

Overcoming The Expectation Gap

The question is, how do we get Jar Jar into the same universe as the Klingons, and what does he have to do to navigate his way through unfamiliar — and merciless — Klingon military and political ranks?

While I hope and pray that no such thing ever happens on the big screen (Jar Jar wouldn’t even have a fighting chance!), I do think there is potential for closing the expectation gap between the client and the Web marketer here in the real world.

It Starts With First Contact

Setting the expectations of the results of your Web marketing services starts at the very beginning. As Web marketers, we don’t want to sell clients on the idea that they are buying rankings. Instead, talk to them about building their Web presence. There are many ways to grow your business, and while rankings can be a nice traffic generator, they don’t produce sales. Ultimately, sales are what the client should want.

As soon as the client starts talking about rankings, bring them back to their goals. Is their goal to be ranked #1 or to grow their business? My guess is that it’s the second option. You just need to have the conversation.

You know, that conversation — the one about how rankings matter, but not as much as they used to; the one about how personalization and geo-targeting are dominating the search results; the one about how everybody sees a different set of results. Give them the lowdown so they understand that rankings are not the goal. Growing the business is.

Lay Out A Timeline Of The Future

To really get ahead of the expectation issue, it’s a good idea to lay out a timeline for both deliverables and expected results. This should definitely be done once the client signs a contract; but, it’s probably a good idea to issue this timeline as early in the sales process as possible. With our clients, we break things down into phases. We outline exactly what we’ll be delivering in each phase, how long each phase lasts, and what the client can expect in terms of results.

It helps that we start the conversation with potential clients by talking about their goals (which is just a more passive word for “expectations”). By understanding their goals, we are able to create a Web marketing campaign designed specifically to help them achieve those goals, assuming their budget matches their desires.

By getting so specific with the goals and the deliverables needed to achieve them, our clients have a good understanding of what’s going on with their campaign and what kind of results will be seen as it progresses.

Keep The Com Links Open

One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed over my years of performing Web marketing services is lack of client involvement. Sure, clients like to talk a good game about being involved and some of them actually are, at least for a while. But far too often, clients tend to drop out of communication range shortly after work begins. This can be a huge problem.

Not everything can be done by an SEO. There are just some things that fall outside of the scope of work and/or skill of the SEO. Many clients have their own developers, and all back-end changes must flow through them. That’s fine, so long as there is someone approving the recommendations being put forth by the SEO. When a client stops communicating, they need to understand that their results will suffer.

We’ve seen this happen time and time again. The client wants results but is negligent in providing us the feedback needed to do the job they hired us to do. Sure, we can optimize for keywords they have not approved if it comes to that; but, many times the implementation of optimization and site architecture can only be done by someone on the client’s side. This is important stuff if you want results!

The best thing you can do is to clearly communicate the need to stay involved in the process to the client. Make this clear up front and every step along the way. If the client goes into hiding, keep a record of all communications and recommendations. That might come in handy when they ask why your timeline for success didn’t pan out as planned.

Prioritize Your Battle Strategies

Not all strategies are created equal, nor are all the recommendations you send to the client equal in the results they will achieve. We keep a running spreadsheet of all the recommendations we present to our clients so we can keep track of progress and completions. However, even clients that are good at staying on top of the recommendations occasionally fall behind.

When this happens, it’s helpful to prioritize all recommendations so the client can easily sort through the critical, important and low-priority items. This allows them to focus on what will give them the most value first without getting bogged down in changes that will have lesser impact. That’s not to say that any particular recommendation isn’t valuable; you just want to make it easy to hit those that will provide the highest value first.

Report Your Progress To Headquarters

No Web marketing campaign is complete without the proof that what you do is working. And this is the biggest boon for the SEO who’s trying to move the client away from measuring rankings. Digging into analytics and reporting progress, traffic growth, conversion rate increases and new revenue can do wonders for getting a client out of the “only rankings matter” mindset.

Regular reporting allows you to show the client that you are on right track with the goals you laid out before the campaign even began; and hopefully, it will show them where they are starting to see some ROI from the money they have invested with you.

In this process, don’t shy away from bad news or reporting failures. An honest approach will lend you credibility when you may inevitably have to tell the client that the optimization is sound, it’s them that’s holding you back. That’s not a conversation anyone wants to have, but sometimes it’s necessary. Honesty in your reporting grants you the credibility to have that “tough love” conversation.

Unfortunately, there will always be those clients who insist on believing what they want to believe. You could tell them the world isn’t flat, J. J. Abrams isn’t a god and #1 rankings don’t happen in a day; but, all they’ll ever hear is, “You promised me I’d be number one in 30 days!”

I can’t help you with those. But with the rest of the more reasonable clients out there, taking an early, aggressive and ongoing approach to laying out expectations can help you close that expectation gap considerably. You may not be able to eliminate it completely, but at least you won’t be light years apart.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Stoney deGeyter
Stoney deGeyter is author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period! and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a leading web presence optimization firm since 1998.

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