In performing search engine optimization, should SEOs keep their procedures and strategies secret from clients? Should their clients sit patiently by, waiting for the end results and not be concerned about the process that gets them there? I would answer no on both questions. In fact, I firmly believe that the client should know everything that is being done to optimize their sites for organic search. Not only do I believe in full disclosure, I believe in documenting it in writing.
There are some of those in the field of SEO that refuse to disclose their methods and processes to clients. What are their reasons? Maybe they feel their methods are proprietary and if revealed, could arm their competition against them. Possibly they feel that if the client knows exactly what they are doing, that they will no longer have any need for the SEO services. Or maybe they refuse to disclose what is being done because... well, nothing is being done. Whatever the reason, to not reveal what you are doing to market a client's site for organic search is wrong on so many fronts. Let me explain why.
For starters, the web site that is being marketed belongs to the client, does it not? If the web site is owned by the client, then shouldn't they have the right to know what changes or strategies are being implemented to market their site? Of course they do.
What would happen if you took your car to the mechanic and he turns around and hands you a $1,000 bill but will not tell you what was wrong or what was fixed on the vehicle? He simply tells you that it was broken, now it is not, and you owe him a grand. Never mind what he did - that is proprietary. Sound ridiculous? That's because it is. You want to know exactly what was wrong with the car and what they did to fix it, including what parts were replaced, and is there a warranty for the work. You want it all documented so that if any future problems occur related to that repair, you can revisit what was done.
Another reason why clients deserve full disclosure is because they have a right to know what services they are paying for. Is the SEO performing on-page optimization? If so, what does that entail? Which pages are they modifying? Even more important, what elements on each page are they affecting? Are they engaging in any link building tactics? If so, where are the links coming from? Are they submitting to directories? If so, which ones? The client has the right to know precisely what their dollar is buying them. They also have the right to have it all documented. This not only keeps the SEO accountable to deliver what they promise but it provides a history to reflect back on.
Some may have the misconception that by revealing all this information to a client also reveals all their trade secrets and proprietary methods. But in reality, SEO has very little to do with secrets and proprietary technology and a lot more to do with research and common sense. SEO is good keyword research because you want to make sure you are targeting not only terms people search for, but terms that will bring about a specific action from the searcher. SEO is about taking those keywords and making sure they are represented throughout the site in a way that not only increases search visibility but hopefully improves conversions as well. It is then about tracking results. Nothing secretive there, no proprietary technology, just good old fashion marketing.
Allow me to use another real world example. If a company hires an ad agency to create a television commercial for them, not only developing the idea but producing the media as well, does the agency then keep the finished product secret from the client? Certainly not. They deliver the creative, both idea and finished product because that is what the company paid for.
SEO is no different. The client is paying us to research their market (keywords), come up with ideas that will help them reach that market via organic search results and develop a product, which in this case is a strategy. There are no secrets to withhold, only a finished product to deliver. This is why it absolutely baffles me when I see an SEO in a forum that pleads their case for keeping everything they do secret or when I'm talking to a prospective client whose current SEO has not revealed any of the steps they have taken to market their site. What's the big secret anyway?
What are some of the benefits that an SEO will receive when they disclose and document all the details of their client's campaigns? First of all, it builds trust. If the client knows exactly what you are doing to affect their sites and that you will not only document what you do but seek their approval beforehand, they will feel comfortable in the relationship you have with their site.
Secondly they will see more value in what you do. If you provide them with concise documentation of not only what you have done to improve their search visibility but show positive results, they will have no problem spending money with you. Some SEOs feel that if they disclose this kind of information that the client will just take it and run with it themselves. Yes that may happen on rare occasion but typically it does not. The client does not want to do all the work that is involved with SEO. That is why it is important that you show you are actually doing work. They will look at that and appreciate that you are handling this aspect of marketing for them so they can invest their time in what they do best. Client's are happy to pay for value.
Finally, by carefully documenting and involving the client in all processes, you have a history to reflect on. What was successful? What wasn't? Documentation is also very useful when someone else's hand gets into the mix such as a webmaster who updates the site and innocently erases all your hard work. It is easy to replace it if everything is documented. Finally documentation is useful in the scenario where the client does not respond to your suggestions but then later complains about the results. You can go back in time and inform them that on such and such a date, you suggested the following but they never responded.
I am a firm believer that SEO is a partnership between the search marketer and the team responsible for the site's success. It is nothing less than teamwork and good teamwork involves the dispensing and sharing of information. So, SEOs, don't be afraid to reveal to your client's everything you are doing to market their sites. I have found in my almost 10 years of doing this that the more you reveal, the better. Your clients will place a value on what you do and trust your decision making. And those are the best client/SEO relationships to work in.
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David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as GoGuides.org, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.
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