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Qualifying Your SEO Clients: The Intangibles

Yes or No Questions to Qualifying Your SEO Clients

David Harry wrote a really phenomenal post on Search Engine Journal that dealt with how to qualify your SEO Clients. (If you haven’t read this post, I would suggest it’s pre-requisite reading before this post) The gist:

Or as I like to say, 80% of your grief will come from clients worth 20% of your revenues. Anyone that has been in business for any length of time will have seen this. Not only can these ‘bad’ clients be emotionally taxing, they are also a drain on the resources of your company.

It is important from time to time to assess the clients…this is why it is a good reason to pre-qualify clients. Then you will hopefully never end up in this situation.

I thought I’d write a continuation piece discussing some intangibles when qualifying your SEO clients.

Two Important Intangibles For Qualification

David’s post did a tremendous job at looking at and evaluating tangible factors and data for qualifying potential SEO clients. And yet, there are some intangibles that can only be measured from experience and gut-feel. Those would be trust and seriousness.

Even if all the data and budgets line up, if you have a client that doesn’t/won’t trust your expertise, none of that matters. If you have client that isn’t really serious about search, performing well and capitalizing on the potential revenue streams available with a strategic SEO and SEM game plan, again, no amount of serendipitous data aligning will matter.

Energy Vampire Clients

Trust: Avoiding the Energy Vampire

Even if it all looks perfect on paper, it rarely ends up perfect. There are going to be snags, hiccups, and just plain ole’ misfires. The data is rarely perfect and sound out of the gate. It a guesstimate of what the data tools are telling us in the beginning, without some analytics in support, how people search for what you do.  So that means tweaks to everything. With tweaks comes change. Change a client may not always be comfortable with, but will serve them best in the long run.

If you’ve got a client that won’t listen to the data or you, then you’ve got a tough, and most likely untenable, situation. They may know their business and the products/services, but they pay you to understand how that translates to online consumers.

If they don’t trust you to shape the site, and by extension, the brand, then you spend all your time convincing them to pursue menial changes (because that’s all they trust anyone to do) that don’t amount to anything. Small battles all the time frustrate everyone and everyone’s nerves get frayed.

It boils down to an order-taking situation. Those relationships don’t last and become “energy vampires”.

Serious SEO Clients

Seriousness: Getting on Board

How serious is the client about search marketing and online marketing strategy? This takes time to evaluate, and it’s difficult to gauge from the first few conversations, primarily because everyone is excited about the prospect of doing great things.

Then the excitement wears off after a few months. And their true colors show. They’re “just fine” with the results. No need for expanding the architecture, or creating content to focus on what the data says people are on your site for. Everything is as it should be. They spent a good deal of money on a new site design and architecture, see some results, and are happy to just be there.

Things I’ve Recognized Over the Years

Here’s a few things I’ve seen over the years that, 9 times out of 10, will let you know you don’t have a serious client dedicated to building the best results possible.

  1. The “I just need a site so we can be where everyone else is” mantra
  2. Flinch anytime you mention the words “proposal” or “estimate”
  3. Back-peddle on every great idea with excuses about “needing approval from higher up” or the “not in this year’s marketing budget”

I would take all of these as a cues that one should walk. They just want the bare minimum and aren’t concerned with the possible results or revenue streams. It’s not somebody you can build a partnership with. It’s not someone who wants to share some risk with you.

The Objective: Building Partnerships, Creating Dialog

These two intangibles, if they’re present, in combination with David’s post, bring us impossibly close to a creating lasting, sound client relationships. And, after all, isn’t that what any of us wants? A client who trusts you, a client is serious about search and wants to harness it for all its worth?

If you’re sitting across the table with someone you can’t see this happening with, then they aren’t the right client for you.


The SEO Blame Game: Who’s Really to Blame?

Dealing With the SEO Blame Game

At one time or another, every SEO and SEM has been here. Maybe, you’re even here right now. Wondering aloud, “WTH? They ignored our advice completely and blame us for the bad results!” Trust me, you’re not alone. As I’ve said before, some people just have to fail miserably before they figure it out.

This doesn’t happen very often, but on the off-chance you find yourself here, in this place, I’m hoping that this will help mollify the situation.

And, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll provide you with an example.

Who’s Really at Fault?

The situation: your client is going through a site redesign working exclusively with you. The site, based on your recommendations, should have a new site architecture. You construct a new site architecture with a new taxonomy based on the new focus of the site. After several lengthy, time-consuming conversations with your client, explaining your decisions and getting verbal buy-in, then it comes time to sign off and move forward with the project.

The Problem: the sitemap and taxonomy the client sends back to you, don’t contain a single thing you’ve advised them on. In fact, it’s looking a lot like the old site that had problems getting SERP position to begin with (mainly because of the poor structure and lack of focus).  You spend one more meeting explaining, nicely, just why you believe what they’ve sent you is a bad idea. They don’t budge. They like what they have and think it’s great.

The Resolution: normally it goes only one way; you do whatever it is they want you to do. (I know that seems silly, but a paying client is a paying client, and they have a voice too).  That, or you fire them or they fire you (and nobody wants that, really).

An Alternate Solution

It’s simple. The “Not Accountable” clause. You (the client) ignored sound consult and advice from a professional, and I (the professional) can no longer be held accountable for the results of the website. In any other profession, this standard is good as gold (i.e. doctors, lawyers, government, etc) so why should it not be good enough for our profession of SEM/SEO?

It doesn’t have to be a micro-font clause interlaced between NDA (non-disclosure-agreement) and privacy language. Not at all. It could simply be the above statement:

Sample “Not Accountable Statement”

You (_client company_) ignored sound consult and advice from a professional, and I (_your company_) can no longer be held accountable for the results of the website.

You have willfully chosen to ignore the following pieces of consult provided by (_your company_):




As such, we feel this would be detrimental to the progress that can be achieved to your website (_client URL_), and hereby cannot be held accountable for the results and/or ROI (return on investment) for the client.

We (_your company_) will optimize (_client URL_) to the best of our ability using all best practices to achieve the most optimal result.

You slide this across the table BEFORE you begin work on the project (don’t get caught in that trap) and waa-laah, everyone is happy again. They get their site, you optimize and get paid. Done and done.

In The Best of All Possible Worlds

As Dr. Pangloss said in Candide, it was just meant to happen that way. Fate will have its way. That’s true here too. Do I necessarily think that Not Accountable clause would actually work? Not really. It could lend itself to the client seeing that they should be heeding your advice and renewing the trust. But, I think it’s more likely to offend and skewer the relationship to a place that it can’t be recovered.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to correct a situation like this. I’d love to tell you that the clause will fix it, but it won’t. Perhaps, in the best of all possible worlds, we’d have connected and understood the delicate line between BRAND and KEYWORD PHRASES. So the real solution is to communication. And if that fails, then walk away from the table, because no conversation or clause will rectify that disconnect.


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