Can Your SEO Clients Recognize Success When They See It?

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We’ve all worked with a skittish SEO client before—the one that has been burned by a black hat firm in the past or doesn’t really believe in the value of SEO—and they are often the most challenging client an SEO provider can work with. How do you prove your value to someone who doesn’t really understand why you were hired in the first place (other than a manager telling them to do it)? How do you get a client to trust you when they have so little faith in our industry as a whole?

I once worked with a client who suffered from both of those issues. They claimed to have suffered at the hands of a black hat SEO firm, so they were wary to begin with, and the only reason they had hired that firm in the first place was because they were “supposed” to. I knew I was in for a bit of an uphill battle to earn their trust, but I was confident that my company could deliver on their SEO strategy and campaign, and I’d have a very happy client on my hands in the end.

Before getting too deep into the strategy, I was reviewing my client’s analytics, trying to get a feel for their website, pinpoint any major issues and identify positive trends. After just a few short minutes I was dumbfounded. My client had made hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from just organic search alone the previous year. Google, Bing and Yahoo were all consistently driving thousands of visitors and producing massive amounts of revenue for the company. I would be doing jumping jacks of joy around my office if my company was pulling in numbers like that, and they didn’t think SEO was working for them?

A little more digging and no red flags were immediately apparent, so I couldn’t figure out where their previous SEO company had “burned” them. It looked like everything they had done was consistently white hat and was still producing great results.

That got me thinking about the relationship between SEO providers and our clients. How many companies out there think they got “burned” by their former SEO provider because they didn’t see the results they were expecting, even if that SEO provider did a great job? One thing I constantly stress with my clients is that SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. If they need to see results right away they will be sorely disappointed. While I understand how frustrating it can be, patience is definitely a virtue in the world of SEO. How many clients have you had that pulled the plug on their SEO campaigns too soon because they couldn’t/wouldn’t wait and declared that SEO wasn’t working for them.

I know that the SEO industry is plagued by black hat practitioners and spammers that are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting business owners, but maybe, just maybe, it’s not as bad as it looks. Could some bad reviews for SEO companies actually be from clients that didn’t know a good thing when they had it?

I’d be really interested to hear from other SEO consultants/providers. Have you ever worked with an SEO client that was never satisfied, no matter what you did for their website?

Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis is the President of Brick Marketing, a full service Boston SEO firm. With nearly 13 years of experience in the Internet Marketing industry, Nick Stamoulis shares his B2B SEO knowledge by contributing to the Brick Marketing Blog and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 160,000 opt-in subscribers.
Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis

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  • Chris M

    “SEO is a marathon, not a sprint”, this is as accurate as you can get!

    I’d be interested, how long do you think a campaign should run for before it’s worth pulling the plug? I find it tricky telling clients that it could take 3-4 months before they see results, yet it’s sort of impossible to promise them results, so they could spend 4 months of retainer on nothing effectively.

    Would be interested in your views.

  • Anthony Pensabene

    Thanks for the read. It’s not my place to speak on behalf of my company, but based on “plain clothes” conversations I’ve had with others in the industry and business owners of all kinds, it can be difficult to elucidate “results.” For one, a marketing practitioner and the associated client may have a different definition of what constitutes good results from the beginning.

    I recently wrote a post, urging clients to abstain from going “cuckoo” in pursuing particular anchor text. Some clients may get obsessed over one term; only first-page results for that term constitutes success for them. Meanwhile, their marketing consultant directs their attention to scores of other “successes” taking place throughout the campaign to no avail; though it will take a long time and more investment to “chase” that golden term, some clients have “tunnel vision” and can’t see the forest through the trees.

    It is extremely important clients and providers are on the same “page” from the start. There needs to be a clear understanding of expectations, at-hand resources, and (as many of us in the industry can relate to I’m sure) reality.

  • Iain

    It’s interesting because quite often it’s tricky to predict anything at all. Ideally you would be able to manage client expectations, but a lot of small businesses only want to know “What will it cost”, “When will I be on page 1 of Google”, “What do you need from me” – generally in the hope that the answer to the last question is ‘nothing’.

    Educating clients on small budgets with no time to spare about the benefits of engaging on Twitter or integrating their email marketing and facebook strategies, or whatever is very often unrealistic.

    I remember getting the complaint “I can’t find our site on a google search”. I still have no idea what they were searching for!

  • Ivy Solis

    I think we’ve all had to work with “this type” of client before. It’s important to educate your client. Try not to sound to technical with “SEO jargon” and instead use a lot of examples that they can understand. Try to take off your SEO hat and put on an educator hat.

    Sometimes, as you said, clients will think they were “burnt” by an SEO company when in reality they just don’t know how to read the data that’s right in front of them!

    From another perspective–It’s also important to understand that search marketers can bring the clients to the site but it’s up to their employees to close the sale.

  • souleye

    seo is a very hard business to be in. if you are a medium to big company, at least you have enough to impress prospective clients. you’re dealing with a lot of people who think it’s so easy that they can do it themselves or people who don’t understand it and won’t bother. worse, you’re dealing with people who don’t even understand marketing, which seo should be a part of. to the ones who are willing to listen, you educate them by explaining the processes even before you sign a contract. if you agree on that basis, it will make the operation smooth.

  • Wasim Ismail

    I know what you mean, It also shows how important it is for an SEO to build a good relationship with their customers, and educate them. As for a business owner who has very little knowledge about the web, analytics and conversions, can easily misunderstand results with something else, and point fingers to their SEO.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Thanks everyone for reading and sharing your thoughts!

    Hi Chris M,
    I don’t recommend pulling the plug on an SEO program (especially as sometimes depending on the client, industry, competitiveness, etc.) it could take anywhere from 6 to 12 months + to see any type of improvement.

    Rather than pulling the plug, I would recommend looking at the results and adjust the connection of the plug to socket in the wall 🙂

    Take Care,

    • Chris M

      Thank you for your feedback, Nick. I’m glad to see that we’re on the same page with this one! 🙂

  • CDaniels

    Yes and yes. We just had a guy who we had to cut ties with after he became a SEO demand tyrant. He nodded and assured us the whole way after we explained our optimization process to him. It will take time, we cannot guarantee results (I don’t own Google, sorry), yadda yadda. Not three days later he was calling me irate that we had cashed his check and his search results were the same. He then started to call us with other companies who ‘guaranteed’ their results and charged less to boot! He even complained and asked why he was paying anything to us when he could just spend $5 on a website and build 10k backlinks to his site. We said goodbye at that point. Just wasn’t worth it. Real SEO takes time and time is money. Hopefully in the future the understanding level on just what proper optimization can do for your on-line business will become more well known. Enjoyed your page, glad we aren’t alone!

  • Deepali

    Most of the time I have to deal with such clients. They come to us because they heard about us from other companies or just saw their competitors rank improving. It seems to me that some kind of negative driving force pull them inside our office. I have become expert in dealing with such clients. I always start with a training session where I educate the client about SEO, I show him some real time examples and ask him to investigate about SEO and if he is satisfied with what I’m offering than we can go further.
    My very first answer to every client is that in SEO world Patience and trust are two qualities that Client should possess if he wants to see some good results.

  • John Divine

    I agree with you. In today’s fast world everyone expects results to come quickly, but that is not possible. This is especially true in the case of SEO. You will have to wait patiently for the results to come. It may take months, but with right approach it is possible.

  • Christina

    Yes I had a client who came to us from another SEO who wasn’t supposed to be doing their job right. This client finally came to use when that SEO went on holiday for a week and couldn’t be contacted.

    I checked all the previous SEO’s work and I couldn’t find a problem with anything he had done, they had given the client exactly what they had asked for. The problem was the client didn’t understand the difference between, PPC and organic listing and everything else that goes with SEO.

    Although we took this client through everything several times to make sure they understood what they were paying for, we had to sack them 3 months after we started to work with them. The abuse and demands were not worth the fee they wanted to pay. They moved on to another SEO and told them how bad we were… and so they go on, moving from one SEO to another.

    I have also found when a business is failing they become desperate to grab at anything that may work, often when its too late. Its never that businesses fault always the marketing team, the sales team and now the SEO.

  • Paul Tagent

    Totally agree with the “marathon not a sprint” idea for SEO.
    To me, managing expectations is half the battle as I have had clients where I have posted a new website on a Friday evening; it populates over the weekend and then the client calls Monday and asks why they aren’t on page 1 in Google!!!
    Little and often gets the best results for me & the importance of Blogging, Tweeting etc must not be underestimated!

  • JC cheapdownloads

    The results are not easy to see in a short time. I have had clients asking me when the boost in ratings will be apparent. I always say to them that it takes time. It’s not like it’s a quick download of results. I really like to refer to SEO as something that needs to mature over time.