One of the things I like to tell my clients when I'm trying to get them involved in the SEO process is that they know their business better than I do. This is true. What do I know about flow meters, motorcycle batteries, baby diapers, ski jackets or cost segregation?

An argument can be made that as soon as I take on these clients I need to learn everything I can about their industry so I can market it properly. This is also true. But no matter what, I'll never be an expert at cost segregation. Nor do I believe my clients want me to be. They want me to be an expert in SEO and that takes enough of my time as it is.

Jack in the boxAnd this is why clients need to be involved. I can do the keyword research, weed out the junk, and help them organize them into strongly optimization groups. But I still need the client's help telling me what's good and what's not. How am I to know that "net present value equation" is a good keyword while "net present value annuity" isn't. The client, that's how.

It would be foolish of us to barrel through an optimization campaign without seeking the client's guidance along the way. We have to rely pretty heavily on the client's expertise in many of the marketing tasks before us. Are these keywords targeted? Is this text spot-on? These are all common questions we pose to the clients before moving on to the next task.

Who's the real expert?

I found that the client isn't always the expert they think they are. So often we provide them keyword research and they just barrel through it and say, "yup, these look good." So we run with it only to have them remove those very same keywords from the text we had developed. "We don't do that," they say.

Or we send them text to approve and they say, "looks good," only to come back months later remarking that don't like how it's written. Fair enough, it deserves to be right, but couldn't they have mentioned that earlier?

These things happen and it does no good to get bent out of shape about it. Everybody makes mistakes, gets things wrong or is caught not paying close enough attention. But sometimes clients think they know more than they really do.

I recently had a client tell me that content focused on the benefits their customers get wasn't the way to go. They wanted to tout their knowledge and experience pretty much exclusively.

"It just doesn't work better, I'm sorry. I know my business. I know who my clients are. It just sounds trite and meaningless when you tell people [what the benefits are,] their eyes glaze over. The point is to undersell not oversell. This is a prestige business. People want to be treated like adults. "

The client is always right? Well, yes. Ultimately the client always gets what they want, even if it works against their best interests. You can only make your point so many times before you just have to say, "Okay, we'll do it just how you want it."

And you do it their way knowing full well that they won't like the results and will likely come back and blame you for it. I guess that's what paper trails are for! After a few more rounds of trying to share my knowledge of online marketing I was told, "I really think we just have to focus on technical stuff. I don't need help with marketing. Believe me."

I'll believe him. But will he believe me when the technical stuff isn't enough to get their site ranked for their keywords? Or if by chance we are able to get their keywords ranked without any on-page optimization and they don't see any improvement in conversions?

Follow the expert's advice

Just as SEMs (that stands for Search Engine Marketing) rely heavily on their client's to guide them through the maze of industry specific knowledge, clients must also rely on their marketer's expertise.

As far as the technical stuff goes, what's technical? Sure there is a technical side of marketing such as analytics, cleaning up junk code, researching keywords, etc., but it all goes hand in hand with the creative. Is it the technical side or creative side that determines which keywords are more likely to be better converters than the other? Is it the technical or creative side that writes search engine and user-friendly Titles and Meta Descriptions? Is it the technical or creative side that builds relationships with other sites for links?

I'm always one to compromise and look for solutions that make the client happy. I understand they come with knowledge that is valuable and we need to integrate that knowledge into what we are doing. But compromise is a two-way street. This goes back to clients who want SEO but don't want to make the changes required to SEO the site. What better way to do that than to test differing versions?

You like your version, I like mine, lets put them both out there and see what works!

The problem is sometimes clients have an ego stake in it. They feel superior in knowledge and don't want to be proven wrong. It's a shame because they are only hurting themselves.

Sometimes you just have to let go. And if you're right, hey then you've got the proof to back it up.

You don't know jack

Let's assume that SEOs don't know jack about your industry. We can also assume that most client's don't know jack about online marketing. Most clients think their audience is just like them. If they like technical details then that must be what the audience wants. If they like fluff then that's what you have to provide because nobody looks at the technical stuff. Right? Wrong.

But our audience isn't all like us. They search differently, they expect different things, and they respond differently. But there is one thing that all searchers have in common. They all want to know they landed in the right place. And if you don't show them that with your content, they're gonna bolt.

Searchers don't have time to figure out if you are going to meet their needs. Only once they know you do will they stay and read more or dig deeper. But you only have a couple of seconds to keep them interested or they move off. If at first glance they don't see their keywords on the page, they are gone.

Both SEOs and clients can learn a lot from each other. But it takes a genuine collaborative effort. Knowing your stuff isn't enough. Because you don't know jack about SEO. How do I know? Because you hired someone to do it for you.

November 25, 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.


What?! No comments? This is one of the best posts I've read in a while. Insightful, well structured, balanced, and easy to read.

The one thing I don't necessarily agree with is your response to the clients argument: "I know who my clients are. It just sounds trite and meaningless when you tell people [what the benefits are,] their eyes glaze over. The point is to undersell not oversell. This is a prestige business. People want to be treated like adults." I agree that, 99% of the time, clients who say this are wrong. But 1% of the time, they're right. Some audiences are really, really, REALLY peculiar.

Having said that, from the way you speak, I suspect you'd see reason if your client could justify that claim somehow.

Anyway, nice post. Thanks.

Glenn Murray

I have the same experience..most of my customers just give me the product whitout even me knowing and being an expert on that..but i have the do some SEO anyway..

Thanks for the info..its really helpful..i'll try to involve my customer in the proccess nowadays

I agree - this is a very well written article and many of the points stated are what I am confronted with and frustrated by as well. It takes a lot of effort to both educate and understand the clients business. But you know what I think the bottom line is.... listening to and 'educating' each other and unless it is a two-way business relationship it doesn't always go as far as it could. Our choice I guess - either cut loose the un-educatable or just keep trying and maybe one day clients will see the importance of SEO and product knowledge.

Glenn - I think the reason there's been so few comments is that fact Stoney completely summed up how a large chunk of SEMs feel and has us all sat nodding our heading affirmatively!

Brilliant post - the keyword throughout is 'compromise'. There's always the struggle between the two parties as to who knows what - generally the SEM has the stats to backup any 'case' through site analytics, but the client, rightly so, knows there market (and to a certain extent, their clients) better. The compromise is found through each party trusting the other to 'do the business'.

The results are the concluding factors... and as long as each party can learn from the other - and build upon any possible mistakes- there should be a great long term relationship between SEM and his/her client.

All the best


I really appreciate these insights because they address an unknown in our business with our site. As a small company, the business of maintaining our web site falls almost exclusively on me. Part of me likes that and part of me worries about it. . . a lot. I know our products and most of our market but from an 'insider's' perspective. I wonder about search terms and keywords that our perspective clients might be using that aren't even on our site or in our content.

While our analytics show that our site is doing quite well, I may never know how much better it could be doing, or which market segments we are missing. All of our SEO has been done using my knowledge without the benefit of an outside evaluation and this article sure convinces me of the need for that. Now for the budgets . . . Maybe if the site wasn't doing so well the budget might accommodate the need. I guess that's how it works.

Thanks for some great insights obviously gleaned from real-world experience. I'll work on the budget!

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