Years ago, when I was in Jr. High School I remember a guy who worked for my parents. He always used to say "perfect costs extra." This wasn't one of those, "that's as good as you're gonna get from me" statements, it was more a testament to the expectations that customers have. In everything we do there will be an element of imperfections. If a customer or a client wants perfect, well, that's a whole other pricing ball park.

Recently I dealt with two clients that have suddenly gotten into "rush" mode. Everything needs to be done and it needs to be done now. Normally, this isn't a concern for me because I'm the same way about most things. I don't like to procrastinate, but instead I try to stay ahead of the game.

What makes these two clients unique is that I've been working with both of them for several months and they, not I, have been the primary holdup in making progress. Bear with me here, I'm not just passing the blame.

Perfect is Unattainable.

Case Study: Client #1

I've worked with this client for about five months before my primary, and only contact, quit (or was let go, I don't know which.) I inherited a new contact who really didn't know much of anything that had been going on and they had to go through a pretty steep education process. Any time you put a new person in a new role, it's like throwing someone into a moving vehicle and expecting them to grab the wheel. It can be done, but it takes some time for them to get oriented and up to speed.

As my new contact was getting situated in the new position, the web stuff was moved to the back burner. They new enough to know that the didn't like the way some things had been planned out but not enough to know what it was or what to do about it.

With this we jumped in and began re-organizing the campaign, developing new strategies. Several months later I was finally given the opportunity to bring my new contact and company president up to speed and together we decided on a course of action. Many of the keywords we were told to focus on had been thrown out and we began anew.

That's when things came to a screeching halt, as the companies priorities never quite shifted into giving the SEO top priority. The site went through a re-structuring, and they had been working with their developers and a few times brought us in to provide some guidance. In the mean time we moved forward with the keyword research only to have all our calls and emails ignored for months at a time.

As the site development neared completion my contact wanted to get back in the SEO game again. We had loads of research for them to review and make decisions as to how to move forward. Which meant that we were once again waiting on the client to review the research and provide their input, thoughts and suggestions back to us.

Several weeks later we finally get enough feedback to move on to the next stage of research. Within a few days we provide that to them again and the waiting starts all over.

Once the research was returned back to us, it was our turn to do more research. I found it completely ironic that after a few days of not hearing back from us I received an email from the client asking what's happening and when will they hear from us again. It's been a whole week! (gasp!)

We spent months being ignored, but now everything is rush, rush, rush. On a conference call the company president tells me I need to be more proactive in keeping this process moving forward. "Call us every day, if you have to!" Over the past six months we've sent emails, made phone calls and sent notes to the client asking for their input so we can move forward. Almost all of which were ignored. At some point we have to stop badgering the client.

I do a good deal of client hand-holding to ensure the SEO process moves forward. Whenever we need approvals from the client I'm calling or emailing them weekly until we get the feedback we need. Short of that, there is not much we can do other than to just do an end-run around the client, implement what we want and risk the client disapproving of something that they didn't bother to review when they had the chance.

Case Study: Client #2

This client came to us with what should have been a quick SEO job. We planned to provide keyword research, get the client's input, and optimize the site in a couple of months and then work on more detailed keyword targeting as the months progressed. Here we are six months later and we have only just finished completing a quick search engine friendly optimization of the site. Why? Client perfection.

The keyword research took far longer than it needed to. The client sent us their AdWords keywords assuming that was all we would ever need. While that information helps a great deal, it does not supplement good research on a variety of keyword tools. Each time we would perform research and then seek their input they kept referring back to their AdWords campaign.

What should have been a two-week process at worst, dragged on for well over month. But finally, we got keywords settled and were able to move forward with the site optimization. We made an initial round of changes to the site and presented them to the client for approval. Two things happened.

First, he rejected almost all of our changes out of hand. I spent an hour on the phone going over each change point by point (his doing, not mine.) Each time he would ask about why we are making such and such change and I would explain to him the reason why. It got to the point that I was providing the same explanation for each and every page, but he kept asking anyway. Questions like "why did you put my geographical location here," "what's the point of the calls to action," and "can we change this" were repeatedly asked and answered.

I continuously stressed, we can change anything he doesn't like. But then he feared that if he changed it then he wouldn't rank well. Yeah, that's quite possible. Over and over we covered the same questions with the same answers.

He decided to go through each page and to send us his edits via email. We then had to go back and make all the changes in the site. He took weeks to go through the pages and send us edits. He'd send them in batches that we would implement as we got them.

Not long after this process started we received an email asking why the process is taking so long. !!!?!!! I couldn't believe it. Here we were hung up on keyword research because the client wasn't providing the feedback we needed, then he rejects all of our changes, and spends a couple months correcting everything. Now he asks what is taking so long? Wow.

Every time we implement his edits, he reviews them and makes more changes. The majority of the changes he makes are to his own stuff, not the changes we made. He's a perfectionist and can't let it go until its just right. While he continues to edit and re-edit he's losing valuable time in gaining search engine exposure.

I suggested he upload all our changes as-is months ago just to see if we can start getting some exposure and rankings. If he didn't like the results then we could change things, and edits could be made later. But he couldn't let it go live until it was perfect.

Both of these clients are burning money. In the first case, they have a lot of unused time that we can invest once we get past the research phase. The second case, because he kept having us make edit after edit after edit, he's gone way over the estimated number of hours when we proposed this campaign. But for both of these clients the real cost is in lost time. Both campaigns should have been well on their way to moving up in the search engine rankings, but their delays have set us back considerably.

Sometimes it's best to just move through things quickly, get it done, start getting the benefits, and perfect it later. Hey, it works for Microsoft!

I don't suggest doing shoddy research, or even shoddy work, but waiting on perfection to move forward is a time-losing strategy. Putting out less than perfect work isn't ideal, but perfection rarely ever comes. Look at what George Lucas did with the original Star Wars Trilogy, trying to make it perfect. He pretty much screwed it up. But at least Lucas wasn't dumb enough to perfect Star Wars for 20 years. He got the first version out and screwed it up later.

I'm not a proponent of rushing things through, but sometimes you just need to move things forward. When it comes to SEO, perfect may not cost you any more money, but it will cost you time, and time is a very valuable commodity.

September 17, 2009

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.


Hey Stoney!

Feel better now with that off the chest? phew! We all have those days!

However, awesome points on how perfection is a waste of valuable up-front time when working on websites. The great thing about websites is that they can be changed down the road - brilliant!

We have all had those tough clients looking for perfection and stuck in what seems a never ending loop of review and research. Something that I have found helpful in limiting the issue is setting review expectations with the client i.e. 1 or 2 rounds of review then informing them on-going edits will be made based on reporting.

Good luck!

That's not a bad idea adding something like that to the contract. Good point!

Definitely agreed. The problem is that people have trouble trusting professionals. They may have some input of their own, but they really don't understand the extent of SEO, web development and other such things. Everyone has an opinion on how they want things done, but businesses need to understand if they come to a professional then chances are they know the best way develop things. The frustration of clients taking a long time and then accusing us of taking too long is definitely understood. Thanks for the post.

So much sympathy for your struggles - happens a lot in law too - takes ages to gain instructions and then of course deadlines are in crisis on overnighters to complete!
I learned a while ago to be patient (well, the appearance of it anyway) and come on stream when I saw the deadline was progressively in peril....very often it was because the client had no idea how to progress the matter and an early doors meeting face to face was worth the travel (even waiving the cost(did I say that???)) to help clients delegate individual activities to the right people in their organisation to enable them to take the right decision at the crucial time...phew - that was a mouthful but I am sure this pattern is recognisable and it takes the heat off everyone? Sometimes cannot avoid the occasional near heart attack though - thats life!

I know exactly how you feel. I just lost one of my clients because they waited 6 months before implementing the seo advice into their website.
Now they first want to see some results before proceeding, but ofcourse they only implemented half of the advice and they 'forgot' a few important pieces (like using the keyword research....). So I doubt they're going to see results.

There is only so much you can do for clients, they have to do their part aswell.

Stoney, these scenarios are soooooo familiar! Thank you for making me feel better because now I know we're not alone!

Oh my gosh... I could have written this myself. These guys sound so much like ten or so clients I've had in the past. Sometimes I've had both attributes in the same client. And... sometimes I'm even tempted to look my gift horses (clients) in the mouth and rant and raise my fists to high heaven, but I don't. Because in the end every website has some form of project delays (client #1) or project creep (client #2) and I have learned to take it in stride -- all part of the job. And there is so much good in the job, it's so rewarding, that all the mid-flow crises that occur become just water under the bridge by the time we've reached the other side, a challenge surmounted.


Great post. Like yourself we face these sorts of problems on an ongoing basis. If these things continue then I would think it's probably worth considering 'dropping' your problem clients. If they aren't listening to valued opinions (which they've paid for!) and this is then comprising your work, as well as possibly running the risk of getting bad word of mouth from them accusing you of doing a bad job, then it's best to get out. Obviously it's not an ideal route to go down but there will have to be a point where you walk away.

I liked your point about just getting on with it and then refining things as you go on. With SEO and keyword research, you're probably never going to get it 'perfect' from day one anyway, so why try! It's an ever evolving process which needs constant change so I hope that they learn the hard way.

Best of luck! :)

Hey Stony,
what a information you shared with me, Saluting you for this kind of posting.
Very nice defined.

Wow, that was a lot but, I feel your pain. Recently we built an addiction recovery site for a client and it was sort of a night mare for us. After a year of hold on and rush, hold on and rush we were finally able to rap it up. Good job for sticking with it!

Good post! This should clarify those close minded business people who are still into traditional marketing and thinks that SEO is just a waste of their money. This should make them understand that SEO is NOT an expense but an INVESTMENT.

Perfection will always cost more - a lot more pro-rata. The further up the curve you go to perfection, the more you have to spend to make headway - it's the same with cars or any other product.

And I know exactly what it's like to have a change of personnel within your client's organisation part way through a project - it can throw a real spanner in the works.

Many Thanks,

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