A few months ago a long-time client of mine was launching a new site. They wanted us on board to manage the SEO efforts of the new site, so we had been actively engaged through the design/development process. As they got closer to a launch date, the client wanted to to get a handle on what their expectations should be.

Understanding expectations for business growth is important for any business owner. If you don't have some idea of what to expect, you're kinda flying blind. You can't plan, budget, or hire, unless you have an idea of what's coming down the way.

Setting client expectations isn't easy. We live in a sales oriented world and people want to hear how you're going to bring them vast sums of wealth with the magical arts of SEO. Unfortunately, it's never that easy.

This client's first site had dramatic success when we took over their SEO several years ago. Of course they are in a niche industry, and this was in the early days of SEO. But, we've successfully fought back some pretty high-profile competitors over the years.

The new site is in a much bigger niche, and therefore more competitive. Some of the same companies that compete against the first site also compete here, but because of the popularity of the niche, the competition is much more fierce. In addition to that, the competition is also firmly established now, so the game has changed, and the recipe for success is different than before.

I've explained all this to the client so they don't have the same expectations as before. They simply can't.

But, they still want to know something. They have a business to plan for and want to know if they can expect to make a profit the first year. They need to be found on the search engines and social platforms.

Therein lies the problem. They wanted to be aggressive, so we laid out an aggressive plan of attack that included SEO, link building, social media, and even pre-promotion, to get the ball rolling early. But, the cost for all that was too high for them, so they scaled it back considerably.

I get that... budgets are important. You can't over-spend and expect to stay afloat. But, with online marketing, you can't under-spend and expect to move up in the search results quickly.

Over the years, this client has kept an eye on the competition. When they feel that someone is closing in on them, they let me know, and ask what we are going to do about it to make sure they keep their positions. Well, there is only so much we can do within the budget allotted. So far we've done a great job of holding them off, but it's just a matter of time that someone with deeper pockets, or at least willing to spend more on SEO, will come along. That's a tough battle to fight.

The investment factor is just as important as any other in SEO. You can hire the best SEO in the world, but if you're only paying them a few hundred dollars, they won't be able to build success from that. You might get some good tips and advice, but it won't be a full-scale SEO plan.

Even if you're spending several thousand dollars a year on SEO, you eventually reach your limit of what you can achieve. That investment is good for so many hours, and those hours will only take you so far.

Periodically, the client keeps coming back to me asking for an expectations update. I am trying to give them the information they need, but it's difficult. The on-page SEO will be an ongoing process. We'll do as much as their budget allows. It'll be solid, but limited by hours.

It is important to note that this client also took social media and link building into their own hands. So a lot depends on how they handle those aspects in-house and how aggressive they are; whether they attack it correctly or are just self-promoting (which doesn't go over so well in social media). It also depends on whether they are just pumping out social content or actually engaging with the community.

A lot is also riding on them implementing the SEO recommendations. With the first site, there are still things we have been struggling to get implemented that are crucial, but we keep getting rebuffed. Again, for them it's a time/money issue. The cost of making architectural and CMS changes can be significant. But, the cost in lost momentum can be greater.

Ability, time, and willingness to invest in your SEO is crucial. The success of a business doesn't just rely on the SEO, or just the social media, or any one other thing. It relies on a combination of many things that all need to work together. And, it relies on how aggressively each of those will be pursued.

So, is setting client expectations difficult? It sure is. Does that mean we can write it off? Nope. Clients need to know these things, so take your best shot! Just keep in mind that expectations are a crap shoot. There are so many factors at play. But, you'll always have your best chances of success if you move forward aggressively.

October 15, 2010

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.


So true. Especially the part about a client not following your recommendations. When your client won't take the time (or spend the $$$) for the basics, like quality backlinks, there's not a whole lot of magic you can do.

Setting expectations and documenting your (quality) work is - in my opinion - the key to satisfied customers

I completely agree. But once you are in the rough ballpark of knowing what they want it is a lot easier to make minor adjustments.

Managing expectations is part of the communication process between you and your client. It seems, by this story, that you and this client communicate effectively. I think since this is the case and your client is aware of their competition makes this client somewhat easier to handle.

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