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Client Horror Stories: Silence of the SEO Client

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Jared Carrizales
Jared Carrizales
Client Horror Stories: Silence of the SEO Client

What You Can Do To Avoid Being On Your Client’s Dinner Plate

Much like Clarice, I’m still considered a noob in the respective SEO realms. However, whether you are 10 years in the search business or only 2 (like me), you’ve probably had more than your fair share of difficult clients.

As most of you hired guns know, there is not as much time as we would like to dedicate to drafting long term contracts, customizing payment models, or ensuring that the influx of quality clients keep coming. What you may not know, is how to overcome your own horror story to ensure that you don’t fall prey to your own personal “Hannibal Lector”.

Image by rivieragalleryartist

In my particular case, I had an error in judgement and got involved with someone who could have easily launched my career forward significantly *enter first red flag*. Everything was there-good clientele, capable team, and good cash flow to get the necessary accomplished.

However, this client had had a “bad relationship with the previous SEO” and was extremely skeptical about the process in general. The time that I took to convince her that the $50 e-books she purchased, ridiculous plugins, and that PageRank shouldn’t be paid attention to, fell on deaf ears *enter second red flag*.

After 5 weeks of keyword research, content freshness tweaking, and scheduling/optimizing new content, I was told that because I was spending so much time optimizing content it wasn’t worth it to keep me on board when a writer+plugin combo could do anything necessary content-wise. I tried to explain the importance of leveraging the hundreds of pages of content she currently had (and adding more) instead of worrying about building more poor quality links. While she’s still following the content strategy I laid out, we disagreed on what was and wasn’t needed, and parted ways after only a few weeks.

Whether it’s because we just clashed on what each of us thought was needed at the time, or that she just didn’t want to pay after a strategy was in place (the day she fired me was payday, go figure), I’ll probably never know.

Be Prepared

We will all have clients that disappoint, cheat, or sidestep us in various forms whether we like it or not. Unfortunately nothing can be done about this. However,  taking proper measures to ensure that the worst doesn’t happen is our first line of defense against bad clients.

So what’s the lesson learned? Be prepared. Prepared to break hard news to clients, prepared to do extremely tedious work, and in some cases even firing a client if need be.

Overcoming The Inevitable

Whether you’re an agency, or a consultant like me, Buffalo Bill and his Acherontia Atropos Nemos will probably find you eventually. The question is, what can you do to keep you skin intact? (pun most definitely intended).

Like any campaign, you want to establish goals. You don’t want to make the same mistake I did by not correcting unrealistic expectations when they come to your attention at the onset *third and final flag*.

For sake of argument though, let’s assume Buffalo Bill already has you in his hole. Aside from Clarice coming to your rescue, how do you propose to be saved from the unfaithful client who owes you $5000, $10,000, or more in fees and services? Like me, you probably want to tell the client that they will get the hose again if they don’t cooperate and pay you, but I doubt this will get you anything more than a restraining order. Instead, let’s think pragmatically.


At the very least, you can report said business to the BBB via Consumer Complaints, but you will want to make sure that you have the proper documentation ready. Things like business name, address, phone number, people you have spoken to, and even specific transaction dates should be things that you need to have on hand if at all possible.

In most cases, the FTC handles identity theft, spam, and larger “trends affecting consumers”, but they also reply to General Complaints.

In addition to legal avenues, don’t forget about all the other freelancers and agencies that have shared their unfortunate experiences at your disposal via Google. Sometimes all it takes is an advanced search operator to get the correct information that you need.

While, IMO it’s definitely a last resort, some may consider the threat of posting Ripoff Reports (funny and true as they may be) as a primarily method to receiving payment. These may be fine and good (and if you’re truthful , legal), but they shouldn’t be considered as a viable response to a client not paying. Posting bad information about them isn’t going to make them want to pay.

Unfortunately, aside from small claims court filing, the FTC, BBB, and RoR, there isn’t that many avenues that you can take unless cash flow isn’t a problem. In this case, court jurisdictions, contract circumstances, and other variables may come into play. Many arenas like FreelanceUnion, FreelanceSwitch, and others, may help you find ways to get paid as well.

Search contracts are very common, but they should always be tailored to specific clients and their needs. Hopefully you’re able to recognize most unfavorable traits ahead of time, and address them in a fitting contract. The time and energy that can be saved by having precautions in place to address those poor traits is invaluable.

Lessons Learned

I haven’t got burned more than once, but the one time I did was more than enough to learn my lesson. My ex-client leveraged the content strategy that I put in place, fired me, and has been doing great in the SERPs ever since (although her unnatural link profile has recently been confirmed by GWT :) ). For the sake of total transparency, I say this so that others can learn a valuable lesson on what some people are capable of in the client-side search world.

If you haven’t got torched by a client yet, hopefully this post will be enough to make you fear (and take the necessary precautions) the ever-lurking, Silence Of The Lambs story that’s out there for all of us.

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Jared Carrizales

Content Development

Jared Carrizales is a SEO consultant that loves content development. When he's not knee deep in Google Analytics and spreadsheets, ... [Read full bio]