There are plenty of articles about how to avoid bad SEOs, so I wasn’t too surprised when I started my research to see how many articles have been written about avoiding bad clients. Many were…eloquent, to say the least. They reminded me a little bit of a particularly bad boss I had once. He possessed three nasty qualities: first, everything was a crisis and had to be done immediately; second, he refused to use a computer or even a typewriter (so I had to print out his email and get handwritten replies from him); and third, his handwriting required about a month to learn how to read with any accuracy.
I mention this because clients are short-term bosses. If your client wants you to work under conditions you wouldn’t take from a boss, you shouldn’t be working with that client. Clients are not spouses; you should not take them on hoping that they’ll change (you shouldn’t do that with a spouse either, of course, but that’s a different article). If you turn down a client because it isn’t working, or it isn’t going to work, you end up saving both you and the client a lot of pain and misspent energy and resources.
As with prospective employers or romantic partners, turning a client down doesn’t mean that the client or you are bad, it just means that you aren’t a good match for each other. For example, if you can’t help a business reach its SEO goals for the amount of money they can afford to spend, you should turn them away, and if possible point them to a colleague who can. This can happen for businesses with a highly local clientele. A very small regional real estate company, for example, might or might not get enough traffic from an SEO campaign to justify its expense.
It’s not always that simple though. You might run across clients with attitudes which make your job more difficult. And I’ll start covering these dangerous characters in the next section.
Sometimes, you might get a client with some strange ideas about SEO. Many articles tell clients to steer clear of SEO firms that make ridiculous promises; this client is their brother under the skin. Eric Enge, writing in January for Ramblings About SEO, talked about one variation of this type of client he encountered at a company that wanted to hire his services. “Where the problem started was that one of the founders kept referring to SEO as a game, and believed that the focus was on tricking the search engines into giving you traffic.” Enge was unable to convince him otherwise, despite correcting him every time he said something that reflected that attitude. “Needless to say the opportunity exploration ended with the first call,” Enge explained.
You might also encounter another kind of client with strange ideas about SEO. This client really doesn’t want to be involved in the SEO process. They show little to no interest in what you need to do. All they want you to do is get high rankings for them in the search engines, or increased traffic, or whatever. They may show impatience with the many questions you need to ask, or get surly when you try to explain what you’ll need to do and why.
This kind of client might not answer emails. They might even throw up obstacles in your path, refusing to make more than the most minor changes to their web site. Or you might find yourself dealing with multiple people to get changes made to the client’s site – someone who maintains the client’s content management system, perhaps, or the web designer, the site’s host, maybe even the copy writer for the site. This may be the kind of problem you’re more likely to have with a larger company, but then again even smaller firms can be reluctant to change, clinging to one particular design they’ve had since the beginning.
And then there is the cheap client. I don’t mean someone like the client I mentioned in the first part, who may or may not benefit from SEO because of the expense and the return on investment. A client that says “I need to do this as cheap as possible” should be told your price – and don’t offer a discount. If they try to pick your price apart, you need to think about whether you’re willing to work on the site piecemeal. A client who is that worried about cost up front is likely to quibble with you over every single invoice, and will probably complain about how long the work is taking and how much it’s costing him. You don’t need this kind of headache.
Maybe it’s all those ads and spam emails that guarantee high rankings, but sometimes you’ll see a client who expects an SEO campaign to start having an effect instantly and to cost hardly anything. Lee Rummage, writing for HowToAdvice.com, described several variations on this theme. There’s the “Gullible and Not Letting Go Client,” who tells you that he knows of several services “that will submit my site to thousands of search engines for $29.95” and will take his business elsewhere if you can’t do that for him. Then there is the “I Will Never Trust SEO But I’ll Consider It Anyway Client” who will probably go with that cheap service.
Somehow such clients never seem to realize two important points. First, it’s generally a truism that you get what you pay for. Second, if you’re in business and throwing good money at something that is supposed to promote your business, you really need to understand how it works. Otherwise, how are you going to tell whether your efforts have been successful?
Another client with bad expectations is the client that needs everything yesterday. Speaking from the experience of having had a boss who needed everything yesterday, you will find that the stress will not be worth it. If you do decide to take this client on, you should raise your prices accordingly for the expedited service. Remember, your time is valuable.
I’d still advise against taking on the “I need it yesterday” client, however, because this client might also expect to see results yesterday, too. And they may not stay still long enough to listen to your explanation that SEO is not that easy and it often takes months or even up to a year before you start getting first page rankings in the search engines, depending on the competitiveness of their chosen keywords and a dozen other factors.
If you’re a client or prospective client of an SEO, there are a number of things you can do to keep SEOs from running the other direction. It isn’t even that hard. It starts with being a good communicator, and being a good listener. SEOs know their job, but they can’t accomplish it without your help. Tell your prospective SEO what you hope they’ll do for your site – and if you have any special concerns, lay them on the table.
By the same token, you need to listen when your SEO tells you what needs to be done, and how long it will take. When they want to make changes to your site, or try optimizing for different keywords, it’s for a good reason. Stoney deGeyter, writing for the Search Engine Guide, talked about a client he worked with for several years that had selected poor keywords. Their traffic kept increasing, but their sales did not. Every time deGeyter tried to convince them to change their keywords to increase sales, they considered making the changes, but never approved them. He doesn’t know how they’re doing now, because eventually they stopped being his client.
It’s not just keywords you need to be open to changing. Sure, there might be a “good” reason to restrict what changes an SEO can make to your site, but as deGeyter notes, “when your hands are tied there is only so much you can do.”
Rummage sums things up well for what a good SEO client should have going in:
• Realistic expectations.
• A realistic budget.
• Solid information.
The last point feeds into the first one. If you have solid information about what SEO can do for your web site, you will have realistic expectations. You should also be prepared to share information about your business with your SEO, so they can do their job better.
If you’re an SEO considering a prospective client, these are the three things you need to be looking for. If even one of them is missing and can’t be fixed, you’re asking for heartache. Remind yourself that there are plenty of fish in the sea – and you just might be better off tending your own nets (sites) for a while.