Client Horror Stories: The Auto Company

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David Price
David Price
Client Horror Stories: The Auto Company

Sometimes, even client horror stories have a happy ending.

Several years ago, my company was approached by a major automotive company to do SEO content and promotion for one of their luxury car brands. My “bad client radar” wasn’t as finely-tuned as it is now, and I didn’t pick up on the warning signs that we might be working with an escaped mental patient.

They had an Internal SEO Specialist named Ted*, whose main job responsibility was to hire outside SEO firms to complete the work he was being paid to do. He was a scrappy guy in his 20’s, with thinning hair and mutton chops. He was like a younger version of Civil War general Ambrose Burnside.

Picture this guy doing your keyword strategy.

The Meeting

Our pitch meeting with Ted and the VP of Marketing went well. I took Ted out for drinks afterward, and the subject of his past SEO experience came up. “I helped my uncle with his washing machine repair business,” he told me proudly. “We got to #1 on ‘orlando washing machine repair.’”

I had a brief vision of writing a piece about Orlando Bloom starting his own washing machine repair company, and taking over the #1 spot from his uncle.

I also sensed that Ted had anger issues. He told me a story about getting into a fistfight at a bar the previous year, and how unfair the Orlando police were to put him in jail overnight. “The other guy ran away, and nobody chased him,” he complained.

“It’s the mutton chops,” I joked. “The cops are prejudiced against the ‘chops.”

He gave me a knowing look over his beer, as if to say, You don’t know how right you are.

We Are Hired

The company hired us to do 50 pieces of great SEO content a month for their blog, as well as an on-site SEO audit. The site was in decent shape, but the META tags were a mess, clearly written by a monkey with Alzheimer’s. We rewrote all the META tags, as a value-add.

When I presented the META tag rewrite at our one-month status report, Ted grew livid. “What’s wrong with our META tags?!” he fumed. “They’re in great shape.” He quoted some incorrect numbers about how their SEO rankings had recently improved. That’s when I realized: Ted had written the META tags. The one thing that Ted contributed, we had just taken away from him.

From that point on, Ted soured. It was like a switch had gone off. Usually when things go wrong between a client and agency, it’s due to a string of miscommunications or missed expectations. This was overnight: because we had insulted his META tags, Ted wouldn’t return calls and ignored our emails. We were continuing to deliver great content, which he was paying for, but he wasn’t publishing it.

Down the Road…

I did get one call, about a month later. At 10:00 pm, my cellphone rang. As soon as I answered it, I heard Ted’s voice. He was breathing heavily.

“John? Yeah. Ted here.” He was panting like a thirsty camel. “I’m looking over this pile of content you delivered. First one I opened, I found you linking to the homepage instead of the subpage. What did I tell you about this?!

“Okay,” I responded, trying to remember what he told us about this. “Our mistake. We can fix that.”

Pant, pant. There was a bizarre drone of heavy metal music in the background. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.

“Get it fixed NOW!” he ordered, and hung up.

Was Ted manic-depressive? Did he have alcohol or drug issues? Maybe his mother’s birth canal was too narrow, damaging his prefrontal cortex. We’ll never know these things, because he was fired three months later – but not before going out, blaze-of-glory style.

After months of successive SEO drops — in which Ted ignored all our advice, and started buying links from content farms — he was given a terrible performance review. According to company legend, he got so mad during the review that he walked out of the conference room, gathered up his things, then stormed out the door – but not before throwing a vase of flowers at the receptionist, who had recently turned him down for a date.

Fortunately, he missed.

 Agency’s Fault?

Usually when this kind of thing goes down, it’s the SEO agency’s fault. But we had built up a good relationship with the VP of Marketing (always a smart strategy, unless the VP is also nuts), and she promptly hired a replacement for Ted with some actual SEO experience. And mental health.

In our first meeting with the new SEO director, he observed, “These META tags are a mess. Can you guys help us rewrite these?”

I sent over the same rewrite we had sent Ted three months ago. This time, the client was thrilled.

*Clients and names have been changed to protect the crazy.