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Qualifying SEO clients; keeping Pareto at bay

For the longest time now I have wanted to write about this topic as it’s one that has legs when I am talking to my fellow search warriors. Deciding on which clients one takes on is paramount to not only keeping your sanity, but the success of your company in general. I’d even go as far to say the process has a lot to do with the success of an SEO program.

But how does one get there? I have had great clients, not so great and bloody horrid ones over the years. How does it happen? Well, most of the time it is over before it begins. So today we’re going to talk about the process of qualifying clients. I have some of my own thoughts, also parts of this from recent group sessions I’ve held… and even some Tweeple chime in at the end.

I hope you find some points of interest and feel free to add your own 2c in the comments

What to look at

While it can vary, we need to establish some of the parameters by which we can evaluate a client prospect. You can even cover some of these elements by creating a form for clients (RFP style). How you go about it, or how much weight you give to each point can be more personal, but here’s a list to get things rolling.

Qualifying the project

The first thing we want to do is look at the project parameters such as;

  • Budget
  • Control
  • Profitability
  • Resources (client side)
  • Benchmarks

These are fairly straight forward. Is there a realistic budget in place to compete in the space? Will you have enough control to be effective? Does the site have the potential for growth? Are the benchmarks realistic?

If you aren’t scoring high on these ones, I doubt there is really a need to continue on with the process. The last thing you want is to be in a situation where success is all but impossible. You need to be realistic.


Qualifying the client/contact

If you’ve made it past the first part… then we would want to consider;

  • Business model
  • Knowledge of SEO
  • Resistance to change?
  • Relationship

Now we want to look at the people behind the contract. Do they have a sound business model? What is their level of knowledge towards SEO? How do you get along with them on a personal level?

We have to remember there are PEOPLE on the other side of that dotted line. In any relationship there are going to be situations where personal interactions come into play. In this section I can live without having high marks on aspects like understanding SEO, but would be more stringent on the relationship and their own business savvy.


Qualifying yourself

If you’ve made it past the first two, then you’re almost home free;

  • Familiarity with the market
  • Experience in setting (small/medium/corp)
  • Can you work within the budget?

This last part is all about your comfort zone. Do you know the market (query spaces)? Will you be able to adapt? Are you more comfortable working in a Corp setting? Or with SME? And of course, will you be happy with the financial terms?

We can have a great client, with a great site and wicked budget, but it can still fall apart if you’re not (or staffers) in the comfort zone. Best laid plans and all that.


Putting it together

If you manage to get through all of those with a high degree of positive factors, then you are likely entering into a situation where you can succeed. Obviously we don’t need to hit each and every one of the factors out of the park, but it should be substantial. All to often the success of the situation will be dictated right at the outset.

As an added bonus, you will also be more savvy as far as potential areas where the program might break down.


Pareto Principle for Clients

A simplified business version of the Pareto Principle;

“A business principle that holds that 80% of the impact of a problem will show up in 20% of its causes.”

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 you have and weed out the problem ones. Yes, you can ‘fire a client’. Ok, sure, you’d best have this covered in your contracts, but that’s another story. What is important is understanding that this situation is often quite destructive.

And yes, this is why it is a good reason to pre-qualify clients. Then you will hopefully never end up in this situation….


Ok? If you have additions, just leave them in the comments.


Just for fun, before I go, some feedback from the fire-hose

Tweeple Speak;

Thanks for the input to;
@joehall @cyandle@localseoguide@craiglparker
@tinywook @GrosenFriis


Category SEO
David Harry Lead SEO Consultant at Verve Developments

David Harry is the lead SEO at Verve Developments and specializes in SEO audits and forensic analysis. He’s been in ...

Qualifying  SEO clients; keeping Pareto at bay

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