SEO's Start at a Disadvantage

SEO has gotten an ugly rep over the years. Some of it deserved, some not so much. Unfortunately, many good SEO's get lumped into the same category as the bad ones. Kinda like lawyers, I suspect.

For years, SEO has been relatively easy to jump into, and "expert" SEO firms have appeared virtually overnight, only to disappear a few months later. The other day I talked with a friend who was hired by an SEO firm to be in charge of opening new branch offices. According to him, this company has an incredibly streamlined and automated SEO "process", that has them growing like gangbusters. Each month they are opening a new office in a new location!

I've been around the block a few times, but this is a first for me. I've not seen any (legitimate) SEO company that is growing so fast they need a new location every month. Unfortunately, my buddy doesn't really have any industry experience. When I kindly mentioned the word scam, he assured me this is all legit. I have my doubts.

There may be more to this story that I'll find out later, but right now it smells. Many of these fly-by-night SEO's find ways to get businesses to lay down their money, only to prove that they could not meet the promises portrayed.

SEO expectations are a two-way street, and it's important for any SEO to lay them out clearly, and early, so the client doesn't think they'll be getting something they won't. In most cases, these high and/or impossible expectations come from SEO's trying to sell their service to the unsuspecting business owner. The SEO makes promises they know can't be met, but closing the sale is more important that full disclosure.

These types of SEO's, both large and small, are one of the reasons that many businesses have walked away soured on SEO altogether.

Managing Client Expectations

Over the years, my company has often been in the position of signing clients that came to us after having a bad experience with another SEO firm. I'm sure we're not alone in this, and I would imagine we've had a few former clients that have done the same after leaving our company as well. It's for this latter reason that I am always very careful about how I proceed with a new--or potential new--client that comes to us from another SEO company.

One of the things I'm often amazed to find out is that the clients often don't even know what their SEO is doing for them. They get periodic ranking reports, maybe the SEO asks them to make a change or two here and there, but by and large, the client has no idea how much (or how little) of an effort is being put into their website for optimization.

SEO can't always be done in a set number of hours per month. You might go on an SEO binge for a month and then let it rest for another. But, the client should always be kept in the loop from one month to the next. Even if it's just a quick email letting them know what's going on. But, even better are regularly scheduled reports that keep the client abreast of what's been worked on, what the successes have been, and even what the plans are for the month to come.

The tricky part is, if a contract calls for 50 hours of SEO involvement per month, the SEO may have some months where they are investing 80-100 hours. The client can easily get accustomed to this level of service and expect that each month henceforth. In reality, the 30-50 hours of overage will end up coming out of other months where the SEO works only 10-20 hours.

This can leave the client feeling as if the SEO stopped trying, when in reality, they are just letting the hours catch up to the work already performed. When the client doesn't understand this dynamic, they can easily become disenchanted with the performance of the SEO.

What are the client's expectations? The client may assume they are paying for top rankings, while the SEO believes the client is paying for hours invested with an expectation of certain results. The question is, are the client's and SEO's expected results in line with each other? Does the client understand that the budget is often a factor in how quickly results can be achieved? Or do they expect something that the amount budgeted simply doesn't allow for?

Creating a Positive SEO Experience

When it comes to communicating with clients, I have found that the more you do it, the happier everyone is, even if the results aren't as perfect as everyone had hoped. Communication creates a stronger client/SEO relationship, which is much harder to sever. But, not only that, the client will have a much better understanding and appreciation for the work you're doing.

Communication allows for the unachievable expectations to be put back down, while the client becomes more aware of the total process and therefore gains a better understanding of the results they should be expecting.

Regular reports and follow-up is good, but communication has to go beyond the written report. Clients want to know what's going on and what they can expect next. Basically, they just want to be kept in the loop.

Be careful not to set any unwarranted expectations, but let your clients know what expectations they should have. Some client's don't need or want too much communication, so keep that in mind so you don't overwhelm them.

Clients that are performing well need justification to keep paying you do continue to optimize. They may feel that they have "arrived" and think nothing more needs to be done. Staying in contact ensures that they know the results they are seeing is the result of your hard work and effort. And there is always something to improve!

April 8, 2011

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.


Excellent article. There are to many problems that arise out of communication with your clients. You can send as many reports a month as you want, but with out sitting down and talking with your client will be able to explain everything in detail and get any questions that they might have out of the way. It is hard for many when they are just starting out, but I guarantee it is something that you will learn quickly if you hope to last in the SEO field.

Excellent points! I especially agree that so called "experts" have damaged the reputation of the industry as a whole. It's too easy for someone to set up shop, call themselves an SEO expert and underbid legitimate companies to steal clients. Those clients end up getting burned and lose faith in SEO altogether.

Customer expectation is so key, i have been bitten by a few of these SEO scams. If fact I have had to learn a bit myself just to weed out the get to the top quick scamers. Problem is most of us customers are in the dark when it comes to SEO, so we accept everything as is.

I agree, with such people which consider themselves as "experts" as what you've said, it will really affect the industry and those who are real skilled in such aspect will get there reputation ruined.

I always stress that SEO is a long term building process. Clients need to understand that from the very beginning. It can sometimes take months to see the results of an SEO campaign. Always be honest and upfront about this timeline. I agree that communication is key and should be consistent and ongoing.

I especially like your questions:

Does the client understand that the budget is often a factor in how quickly results can be achieved? Or do they expect something that the amount budgeted simply doesn't allow for?

For a client who bought links in the past thinking they've "done" SEO, their expectations of cost and effort are often way out of line.

Well written and a good reminder that communication equates to keeping expectations in line.

This is good info. I've been doing SEO for about two and a half years and have seen all kinds of "experts" providing 10-year old advice. Educating customers as to what to expect is a major challenge and will continue to be.

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