I recently made a mistake. I took on a client without first having fully vetted them and their prospects for success. Several months later, with a more accurate picture of the situation, things are not looking so bright.
Here's what happened. The client had a URL that had been up for some time but used for an altogether different purpose than what they were turning it into. The URL didn't have much history and almost no authority but we felt we'd get some mileage out of it. Boy were we wrong. We should have realized up front that what we were dealing with was essentially a brand new URL, despite it being online for a couple of years.

But that's not the bad part. After we took the account we realized that the client had no real plan for success. His site was a sell-everything-we-can-get-our-hands-on type site. Everything from auto accessories to baby stuff to electronics to swords. Essentially, they are competing with Amazon.com and Wal-Mart and every niche site in between.

To help provide focus to the SEO campaign we told the client that we would focus only on one particular area of the site for optimization for at least 12 months. We were hoping that this would give us enough of an advantage while knowing that we'd still be competing against some well-established sites in that particular area. But real the problem was they still had no UVP.

After several discussions with the client, the closest we got to a UVP was superior customer service. We were hoping we'd be able to work from that. Unfortunately, customer service is only a small draw when comparing against more established sites that also have decent customer service and the same products for the same price. It's not enough of a strategic advantage to work from.

We spent several months working with the client to help develop their site into one worthy of top search engine rankings. We recommended a blog, which the client put up, posted thrice and promptly left to die. We offered blogging support and writing service which the client declined, only to come to us for support when his design team didn't get the blog installed correctly the first time. We put forth ideas for video and other content development which the client seemed to like and may or may not implement.

But this isn't about the client. This is about my mistake. I took on a site I knew had an extremely big uphill battle. We always try to educate the client and provide accurate time frames, but sometimes you get it wrong. And sometimes you just don't know what kind of hills you have to climb until you really get in there. Which provides a few valuable lessons.

Lesson 1: Know the terrain
In any marketing campaign it's important to know what you're getting into before you really get into it. This is true both for the marketer and the client. Only bad things happen if you don't fully--or as fully as possible--understand the foundation with which you have to work from. An understanding of the terrain allows you to...

Lesson 2: Reinforce accurate expectations
First you gotta provide accurate expectations, but continue to reinforce that. Clients seem to forget early conversations and contracts about expected performance and time frames. You simply have to keep reiterating that time and time again. Don't sound defensive about it, just let them know from time to time what they can be expecting. Knowing the expectations makes it easier to...

Lesson 3: Get 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 creating a viable business for the client to dump all expectations onto the marketer. Clients need to be involved in blogging, link building, social media, and even site development issues. Getting them involved early helps them understand that the marketer is not solely responsible for their success. If they are not willing or able to get involved then...

Lesson 4: Know when to cut your losses
Sometimes you have to lose the battle if you want to win the war. You gotta know when to cut your losses and tell the client that despite all the efforts you're not going to be able to meet their expectations. If they want you in for the long haul, and know that it'll be a long haul, great, but if they continue to have unrealistic expectations there comes a time when you gotta say "I gotta go."

I don't like being in situations like these but sometimes they are inevitable. But the more you can do to prevent them the better off both you and the client will be better off in the long run. It's a difficult situation to be in but some things you just don't know until it's too late. Ultimately it's up to the client to know all this before they get involved in business but as a good 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.

October 10, 2007

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Too true. I've had so many clients that want a website and a number one ranking on google! That's it! When you try to work out what it is exactly that they do or what exactly they would like ranking for they draw a blank. It's so important to explain there and then what it is that you need, and trying to get that from them.

Anyone that is unrealistic, just drop them there and then. They are the ones that want the world, won't pay a penny for it, but worse still will shout the loudest when they don't get it.

Excellent post! You are so right. While lots of what can be done can be done for the customer/client, their own active participation can and does make a world of difference. And you are also correct in that people tend to read and agree, and then have "convenient?" memory loss. The idea is too fully ingrained (and falsely!) that Rome was built in a day...

Up front most know it's going to take months. Then that little brain rat kicks in saying "now, now, now!"

Without the willingness to commit time and budget, with an emphasis on time, the web site owner is in for a real shock.

I enjoyed my visit, thank you! Keep up the great work with your newsletter. Off to find more info and website reading in Search Engine Guide :)

I am totally agreed with you on client involvements in SEO activity. Let work together to get traffic because client know there business better than you.

I often have people come to me for specific problems. I'll diagnose the site and give them an idea of what they can do to solve their problems.

But that often accomplishes little to nothing, because what matters is the end goal, and the end goal isn't to pump up the home page TBPR from 5 to 6 or get an article on digg or to get rid of supplemental results or to improving rank from 12th to top 5. The end goal is building a website that deservew #1 ranking for its target term and then executing a marketing / link building campaign with the long term goal of transforming a client's website into a successful business.

Great advice Stoney!

We have a tough business. Some client sites have multiple challenges and there are times you can't communicate a sites needs in a way the client can really understand.

I will remember all the good advice you have given. Nice read.

I made this same mistake recently. Boy, was that a lesson learned. Somehow I find it comforting that you made a similar error. All we can do is learn and move on.

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > 4 Strategic Lessons to Avoid an Ill-Advised SEO Campaign