We once had a client complain that they didn't know if we were doing anything for them. I guess the ranking improvements they were seeing wasn't enough of a clue. That complaint only happened once. We realized then that there was a breakdown in communications between us and our clients and instituted measures to insure that it would never happen again. I'll explain more on that later.

The great thing about the SEO industry, or any online industry really, is that you don't have to be local to handle clients. In fact, most SEOs get contracts from all over the country and even overseas. Because of the distance I don't often meet clients in person. I can count on one hand the number of clients that I've met face-to-face over the past nine years.

But being distant from your clients can have its disadvantages. Because the client can't "swing by" the office when they are in your part of town, it creates an additional burden to ensure efficient communication methods are in place.

Communication protocols

So what is the best way to communicate with distant clients? Is it by phone, email, instant messenger, blog posts? I think they can all be valid forms of communication, although none exclusively. How you communicate can be different for each client. Find out which communication method works best for them and go with that as much as possible.

Blog Posts: I wouldn't necessarily rely on this as a primary method of communication. Blogs are great at getting basic, broad information out to clients, but specifics should be handled in other ways.

eMail: Probably the most utilized form of communication because it's easiest to use and doesn't necessarily force an unneeded "conversation". If email is your primary form of communication just make sure that you're professional in your demeanor and not cryptic in your messages.

Instant Messages: This can be great way to get information to or from clients quickly but it can also have its drawbacks. Some might abuse this form of communication creating lengthy conversations where none is warranted. This can reduce productive time on a project if not used properly.

Phone: Phone calls are the most personal form of communication of the four. While effective communication may be able to be handled via any of the means mentioned above, sometimes a call is what is really needed. The phone allows you to have uninterrupted one-on-one time with the client to work through any pending issues quickly and efficiently. The phone doesn't have to be used all the time, but clients do appreciate hearing the voice of their SEO from time to time.

How much is too much?

Is there a formula for communicating with clients? Should you be in touch with them daily, weekly or monthly? I say "no" to the first questions and "depends" to the second. You should contact clients as often as is necessary to get the job done. Just like you, clients are busy as well and don't have time for idle chit chat too often. Communication should be left to as-needed basis to move the project forward with the exception of the occasional phone call, just to touch base on a more personal level.

After we were told by a client that they didn't know if we were working on their account I knew that we were not communicating with our client enough. But I didn't necessarily want to call them every day with an "update" that would have taken too much time away from working on their account and ultimately would have been counter productive.

We went to work creating a client notification system that allows us to post "notes" that get uploaded for the client to view. Our standard procedure is that anytime a team member works on a client account, a note is posted with a quick summary of the work they performed that day. We average about two to three notes per week going to each of our clients.

While these notes also get emailed to the client we find that sometimes we don't get a timely response when needed. We'll then follow that up with another email and/or a phone call until the pending issue gets resolved.

Since implementing this procedure we have found that client satisfaction has gone up. Clients are more aware of what work we are doing and, we have also found, more patient with the SEO process. They see that someone is truly working in their interests and have a better understanding of the work that goes into their optimization campaign. This little bit of effort goes a long way toward building long-term client relations and overall performance satisfaction.

Our way may not be the "right" way for you and your clients, but effective communication is key to keeping clients happy. If you have no clear ways to communicate with clients you should establish some internal guidelines that will provide you the framework for consistent and effective communication. A little communication can go a long way. Your clients may not thank you verbally, but they'll be pleased by the efforts and efficiency of your communication strategies.

June 20, 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.

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