Stabilising the Relationship between clients and SEOs

This is in response to reading an article about the so called ‘SEO slog’ by Scott Clark on  The slog refers to the time in an SEO campaign where results are yet to be seen and client confidence drastically decreases.  By the way, the image is of the Great East African Rift Valley – symbolic.

This ‘SEO Slog’, waste, no man’s land, whatever you want to call it; it exists.  The honeymoon period is lovely.  Everybody is happy and enthusiastic about what is to come.  However, this period is all too short and the inevitability is that someone at some point is going to be sending you a rather abrupt email with a subject line that probably looks a little like this: “Meeting needed” or “Urgent: Concerns”.  Unfortunately there is not much that SEOs can do to avoid The Slog.  Our processes are by no means instant and are usually time intensive.  As such, clients often have to pay significant monthly retainers for returns which take time to deliver.  So what can we do?

Be clear right from the start

For us clarity is one of the most important aspects of client management.  SEO has a toxic reputation, not least because many clients have to pester companies for weeks (if not months) to get a report on what is being done on their account.  It is because of this that being honest from the first meeting is absolutely crucial.  “Managing expectations” is probably the favourite phrase of the corporate world to describe this, but call it what you want, too many people believe that withholding some of the tougher details about how a campaign will likely run is conducive to closing the sale.  Maybe it is.  But it means that The Slog will come sooner and more importantly it will be much harder to come out the other side with the relationship intact.

This freedom of information needs to be constant, not just in the pitching process.  Remember that many clients are well aware of their lack of SEO knowledge.  It is human nature to be wary (if not afraid) of things that you don’t know much about and it is our responsibility to help mitigate this uneasiness! Invest the time to make your client aware of WHY you are making these changes and WHY it takes time.  In fact, we quite often run training sessions for our clients for this exact reason.

Short Deliverables

Even if you are really open and have been very explicit about timescales, it still does not make you immune to what Scott Clark calls ‘the ambush’.  Of course this refers to the first email or phone call which voices your client’s concerns.  Sometimes it is predictable but it often comes out of the blue when you think that everything is going swimmingly.  Keep a note of all the work that is being conducted; right down to the nitty gritty detail.  This will not only serve to show the client that the work is being done but will also help you to keep yourself in check!

Often all the client wants to see are some deliverables.  Remember that your contact may have a boss putting pressure on them or might have to be presenting the SEO campaign as part of the overall strategy to his/her managers.  As such, being able to provide deliverables will give clarity to the situation and help you trudge through the SEO Slog that you see before you.

Be Prepared

This really goes back to keeping a detailed log of the work being completed, and a plan for what is to come.   The Slog is a depressing and frustrating place to be.  As SEOs we want results just as much as the client.  The issue is that we know it requires patience and sometimes struggle to understand what the client doesn’t understand in “this is a long term strategy”.  Furthermore, we know that the ambush will come sooner or later (usually regardless of how well the campaign is progressing).  Many prefer to bury their heads in the sand and deal with it once it happens.  Experience has taught me that this is not the wisest choice.   Our knowledge that the ambush is inevitable is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal.  Pre-empt the ambush by keeping track of everything.  It is reassuring for clients to receive reports as soon as they request them rather than having to wait.  The time gap between asking for reports and receiving them is directly proportional to how long the worst aspects of The Slog will last.  The longer the gap the more time your client has to develop the notion that you are ‘winging it’.

I am glad that Scott Clark addressed this issue.  It is something that is often buried under the rug by the SEO industry when in fact discussion is the best way forward!  To read his article and advice from other SEOs and Digital Marketers click here.

UPDATE: WBF Additions to Scott Clark’s Article

I love the fact that Scott’s article has gained so much publicity – it is still the best SEO article I have read this year.  Rand Fishkin has decided to throw in his two cents so I thought it would be rude of me not to comment on the further comments of Rand on Scott’s comments.  Not sure what just happened.

Anyway, to summarise Rand’s contribution:

-          Setting expectations is still paramount

-          Don’t get carried away with initial success.  Make sure that you are realistic about future projections and have a back up plan.

-          SEO is not the only form of generating traffic.  Utilise other facets of marketing.

-          Use major indicators to show gains, not just rankings.

Rand also used a different graph to Scott.  His dichotomy was dubbed the “Delta of Dissatisfaction” and represented the difference between client’s expectations of the work being done over time and what is actually happening.  Have a watch of his White Board Friday for a more detailed explanation:

It is no surprise that Rand’s first point for mitigating The Slog is setting realistic expectations….not only because both Scott and I said it (and many many others) but also because his ‘Delta of Dissatisfaction’ is based almost entirely upon expectation of work being conducted vs the reality.  It is just a reality in life – people will assume, and very rarely will they get it right.  However, you can help them to understand the process more clearly and thus be able to take at least a manageable chunk out of this assumption!

I feel that getting carried away with success falls into the same category of setting realistic expectations.  It is not just something that should happen when you first meet during the sales pitch, but should be a constant “are we on the same page here” during a campaign.  Much like when people in films sync their watches, you must make sure that both you and the client both understand each other.

I thought that Rand did bring up an interesting point in that people should diversify.  SEO companies can be fairly militant in the way that they do business.  After all, we are operating in an industry that reeks of distrust and failed campaigns.  As a result many SEOs have developed a single minded approach to gaining traffic – a lot of blame can be placed on predecessors or the black hat world for this but the fact still remains, very few SEOs are willing to recommend other forms of marketing (especially ones that they do not do) for fear of losing a client to more effective methods.  So as SEOs should we diversify?  Yes.  SEO has already transformed from a metaphorical snake into a hydra.  A linear SEO process is simply ineffective – diversification into social media, creating viral content and brand awareness is a necessity.  As for clients, you are far less restricted.  Explore other avenues and do not put your eggs in one basket, but if you have to make sure they are all different types.  Use a company that can make a cohesive marketing strategy that includes various facets.

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