SEO Failure? Where to Point the Fingers

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Many companies as well as clients have a difficult time accepting that they may have been the reason for an SEO failure. In most situations, the blame goes immediately to the SEO company, department, or expert, and rightfully so. These are the people in charge of making sure SEO succeeds, so these are the people that will most likely take the blame (and be happy to do it). However, it’s important to realize that just because they are forced (in a sense) to take the blame doesn’t mean they are actually to blame.

The Client vs. The Expert vs. Google: Who Is Really to Blame for an SEO Failure?

If you want to be an informed client or informed SEO expert, it’s important to see all different sides to a failure and consider all different outcomes. Below explains the three different parties that are most likely to be at fault and some of the reasons and instances that might put them in that position:

The Client: Yes, it’s possible!

The clients are always right; except when they’re wrong. Even when it comes to SEO, it’s important that the client is involved in the campaign. It’s completely OK if a client doesn’t understand SEO, but there are a few things a client needs to do in order to make sure the efforts are successful. A few times when a failure really is the client’s fault include:

  • Changes Weren’t Made. In most cases, an SEO firm or expert will make recommendations about how to optimize the website. Oftentimes, these recommendations have to do with changing content slightly to include certain keywords or changing something in the Meta data. If the client completely ignores this advice and decides not to ask its developers to do anything, that’s really not the fault of the agency/expert that worked hard to offer suggestions.
  • A Plan Wasn’t Discussed. Even if a client doesn’t really understand SEO and how it works, he/she surely has some idea about the goals wanted for the company. These goals should be used by an SEO agency and a plan should be laid out ahead of time. The client needs to be paying attention to every step of the process and reading reports that the SEO will send.
  • Stop Efforts Too Soon. When all is said and done, it is usually the client who can stop the SEO efforts for the company. If the client simply too impatient to wait for results (sometimes six months are needed) and pulls the plug too early, it wasn’t for lack of trying on the agency’s part. It’s easy to be impatient in SEO, but that will surely be any campaigns killer.

The SEO Company: Often the problem, but most likely to take the blame either way.

As you would assume, this is where most of the problems lie. SEO departments or experts are the ones who have the most control when it comes to a campaign, so there are several things that could go wrong:

  • Black Hat Tactics. Any black hat tactic that is used—cloaking, keyword stuffing, duplicate content, etc.—is entirely the fault of the SEO department. You can learn more about black hat tactics here.
  • Poor Communication. Those in charge of SEO need to make sure that they are communicating with the client. The client might not always know that they should be asking about a particular method or approach, so it’s your job to keep them completely in the loop. This will often spark questions and will help keep that partnership between client and agency/expert strong. If an SEO simply decides not to communicate a change with the client and the client doesn’t like it in the future, that’s the SEO’s fault.
  • General Laziness. This might seem obvious, but as with anything, an SEO agency or expert can get lazy and just not feel like helping. It’s as simple as that.
  • False Guarantees. Many SEOs give false guarantees such as “Number 1 Ranking in One Month Or Your Money Back.” If an agency couldn’t deliver on this, it’s their own fault because they should know that guarantees are not possible in SEO.

There are of course more detailed reasons that could occur based on the specific situation, but these are just a few of the most common ways that an SEO company might be the reason for a campaign’s failure.

The Search Engine: They don’t mean any harm.

Sometimes SEO campaigns fail because of the search engines. Search engines only rock an current SEO campaigns in order to improve search results for users, so they don’t mean any harm, but they can cause harm because of a few reasons:

  • Algorithm Updates. An SEO could be optimizing a website for certain keywords and doing great, but the minute a Panda or Penguin update hits you might find the website back at the bottom. If the SEOs are building links and optimizing correctly the website should be able to bypass the very negative effects of an algorithm update, but some changes might shake the campaign whether you’ve been following the rules or not, and all anyone can really do at this point is just try and recover.
  • Negative SEO. It is the SEOs responsibility to take action against negative SEO through the disavow links tool and reconsideration requests. Now negative SEO is the fault of competitors or from spam sites that are trying to bring the website down, so you really can’t blame the search engines for this one. However, it is the search engines who are going to take the action of bringing a site down because of negative SEO (particularly if they missed a spam site or directory). This is the perfect example of the “no hard feelings” mentality.

Analyzing Why It Matters and How to Deal With the Blame Game

Understanding who is to blame can help an SEO agency/expert and a client work together to create the most successful campaign possible for that company. If a client knows when he/she would be in the wrong, he/she can try and prevent this from happening altogether. If it does happen, then no time will need to be wasted yelling at the SEOs. The exact same can be said for SEOs when they are in the wrong. Be up front and honest so that the relationship between SEO and client can move forward.

Have you ever had an instance where you haven’t felt like you were at fault when it came to an SEO blunder? What did you do in response (and who were you in the scenario)? Let us know your story and give us your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit:

Amanda DiSilvestro

Amanda DiSilvestro

Online Content Editor/Writer at HigherVisibility
Amanda DiSilvestro gives small business and entrepreneurs SEO advice ranging from keyword density to recovering from Panda and Penguin updates. She writes for HigherVisibility, a... Read Full Bio
Amanda DiSilvestro
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  • Felipe Kurpiel

    Really good analysis, but sometimes it’s not so difficult so know where the problem is. I think both clients and SEO companies have to have a good understanding about SEO strategies otherwise they will not get the desired results.
    Now about the search engines… they are pretty smart robots that are constantly being updated so I don’t think we can blame them.

    Great great article.

    • Amanda DiSilvestro

      I definitely agree with you about the search engines. I was trying really hard to convey the fact that we really can’t blame them, but there are those instances where everyone does everything right, but then a search engine does something that shakes up results. In this sense, I think it is the search engine’s fault, despite the fact that we don’t blame them. Does that make sense? It was so hard to try and get that point across!

      I think I agree with Will below when he says that clients maybe just need to understand the impact and basics of SEO as opposed to having a really really good understanding. However, the more the client knows the better! Thank you so much for reading!

  • Will Partington

    Thanks for the article Amanda, as marketers, we don’t often debate what we should we do when things go wrong and I think this oversight can lead to a large risk on the part of the agency. Communication must be key to maintaining a productive relationship and managing expectations in regards to KPIs, guarantees and outcomes.

    Felipe – I’m not sure clients do need to understand SEO strategies, they need to understand the outcomes they would like to achieve, the impact that this will have on their business and how they can measure and report this in a manner which enables all stakeholders to flag any issues or concerns as soon as they arise.

    I think you may be correct about not being able to blame the search engines themselves however, we’re the ones who are positioning ourselves as independent specialists, the onus must be on us to maintain our knowledge, skills and experience as Google & others , rightly in my opinion, won’t do it for us.

    • Amanda DiSilvestro

      Thank you for reading Felipe! I definitely agree with everything you are saying and really like your take one what clients really need in order to be successful. Communication is definitely key–without this you can’t just immediately blame your SEO company!

  • Abuzar Sabir

    its very good to new updates in panda. Google wants to improve the natural contents.

  • Nishant Soni

    Blaming Search engines does not come into picture as they are doing what they are meant for (that is make search useful for users). As far as client and the SEO company is concerned, both need to have an understanding as mistakes can happen by either of them. Main thing is to identify it, sort it out and keep moving.
    I completely agree with “Stop SEO Efforts” because I myself have faced this many times. Clients even after informing them well before the start of the project tend to loose patience and instead go for other modes of gaining customers.

    • Amanda DiSilvestro

      I definitely agree with you about the search engines. I was trying really hard to convey the fact that we really can’t blame them, but there are those instances where everyone does everything right, but then a search engine does something that shakes up results. In this sense, I think it is the search engine’s fault, despite the fact that we don’t blame them. Does that make sense? It was so hard to try and get that point across!

  • sam

    Hi , Amanda,
    Thanks for giving good analysis between the client and the seo expert to perform SEO results based on the google algorithm time to time change.We cannot blame for any drop down results in SERP …..

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think the blame oftentimes depends on the source of the failure. If a site was penalized because of black hat link building tactics and the SEO company was the ones building them then by all means the blame falls at their feet (although the site owners have to deal with the consequence). But I have worked with some site owners that wouldn’t really let my SEO team do anything…and then 3 months down the road they wanted to know why things hadn’t gotten better. Yes, we didn’t really get much done but that was because the client kept one hand tied behind our backs!

    • Amanda DiSilvestro

      Thanks for bringing in a real personal experience, Nick. Always love to hear that!

    • Amanda DiSilvestro

      Thank you for bringing in a personal experience Nick–always love to see that!

    • Jaydon

      I can absolutely relate to the above comment. Anything from a client not moving forward on suggested changes, or in the event of a site re-build/re-design, deciding at the last minute to change things without discussing it with us, to just not communicating with us – all of this has happened. And in each and every case there are questions down the line about why they are not getting floods of traffic and sales. It’s disheartening if you’ve spent a genuine amount of time putting together the best possible solution under the circumstances.

  • Andy Kinsey

    Who’s fault can often be determined by what work was done and by who – and what work wasn’t done and why not… it is more usual for both parties to be equally guilty of a failed SEO campaign than a single one. at least in my experience – indeed sometimes things fail just because the two companies don’t get on and so don’t communicate well.

  • Chenzo

    This is such a unique position and just dealt with this yesterday.
    That is why I love just to employ the employer as much as possible and noticed those clients that to not have an intimate tie to their site rather just using it for thin affiliates – stink!

    Stay white hat!

    your pal,

  • Buts

    Bottom line, it is the SEO company to be update under google’s rules.

  • Victor

    I have to disagree here. Nobody wants to fail, and blaming happens after you’ve tried. The burden will always fall on the SEO.

    A good SEO will be clear about the risks of any project and the upsides. Algorithmic updates come as part of the risk analysis, and it is up for the client to decide on investing in the project. A good SEO agency will also make it clear that certain projects will not work without the collaboration of the client – blaming about things afterwards is a cop out and unprofessional. Sometimes when projects fail, it’s just a matter of risk that should be agreed between client and agency. I mean, how do you know this next content idea will go viral 100% of the time?

    • Amanda DiSilvestro

      I can definitely respect that opinion. You’re completely right–a good SEO agency should let a client know that success is only going to be possible (at least much, much easier) with the help and cooperation of the client.

      I certainly don’t think an SEO agency should ever blame the client outright, but if the client just absolutely doesn’t do what the agency suggested, I think it’s okay for the agency to take a deep breath and realize that they need to get these things through the client’s head and not necessarily jump to the conclusion that they need to change their SEO practices. Thanks for reading!

  • Devin Harper

    @VICTOR, spot on comment my friend. I’ve experienced the frustration of being denied FTP access and have to deal with content restrictions because it’s not directly tied to a specific product or service or blah blah blah. But to me, that’s just the nature of the beast that is SEO! All clients present their own challenges and I think that’s where clear communication, detailed reports and strong work ethic set successful SEO agencies apart from the rest! If someone wants to just sit and point fingers, they won’t learn and grow which is true for any profession.

  • Thaimeo

    Thank a lot! i will translate to my language and share to my friend.
    Nice article.

  • SEO Milano

    Great article! i think every SEO should use white hat to avoid having fingers pointed 🙂

  • Arizona Insurance

    As per my thinking no one can target each other for SEO failure. People need quality results, so search engine changes those algo for better results. so all clients & seo need to be prepare for creating or changes as per Algorithm changes. In today time all the latest techniques for link building. No one submit bunch of links & duplicate contents. All people know, it is too much harmful for search engine ranking results.

  • Paresh Shrimali

    Nice Post, Need to read all –SEO people, clients must read above post, so they must be curious to know about website quality, SEO and search engine algorithms.