When to Say Goodbye to a SEO Client

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No Internet Marketing company likes losing clients. Most people think that by losing clients, I mean that the client wants to walk away from the agreement because your services are under-performing or they are not seeing the value. But I am actually talking about the other side of things. When the agency or marketing company should say goodbye to one of their existing clients. So how do you know when it makes more sense for the agency to drop the client?

Let’s take a look at a number of scenarios:

Is the Client Serious About their Success Online?

Many times when a client meets with an Internet Marketing agency to finalized the proposal, they are all excited about getting things going, because they think its going to be the silver bullet to their company’s success. Once they get into it though, many of the clients lose interest or don’t have the motivation to contribute to the strategy once they see how much time and effort is truly involved.

Even if expectations are delivered properly to the client in the beginning, there are many times when the client is not as serious about the success of the strategy as in the beginning.

  • You ask for their participation, you don’t get it…
  • You ask for their feedback or to answer a question you have, they don’t get back to you until a week later…
  • You suggest the client does certain things to help with the overall strategy, they ignore it or feel its not necessary…

At some point, if you feel the client is not 100% on board with what you are doing or requesting the client to contribute, is it time to part ways? That can be a hard question to answer.

Do They Even Want to Understand What You Are Doing?

I am not saying the client needs to understand the ins and outs of Internet Marketing…that’s why they hired an agency. But they should want to learn the basic fundamentals of what it is you are doing and how it will impact the business. The more a client understands what it is you are doing, they will want to participate more and invest more dollars into the strategy.

I have found it particular difficult when a client wants nothing to do with understand the process or basic fundamentals of what it is we are doing. 9 times out of 10, 3 months down the road, they will want to cancel their services because they just felt it was “too technical” to understand or that they don’t see any noticeable results.

So the question becomes, if the agency is willing to train the client to have them better understand what it is you will be doing and the client wants no part of it…do you let the client go?

Is the Client Only Available When Something is Wrong?

For the agencies out there, I’m sure there have been a number of times that you have been continuously reaching out to clients to give them updates or asking for their feedback…never getting any type of response. However when they finally get around to thinking about their marketing or if something goes wrong, that’s when they call you up wondering what’s going on!?

Sometimes problems could have been avoided if their was better communication or if both the agency and client were updating each other on a regular basis.

So at what point when the agency has made every attempt to connect with the client about their strategy, only to get hear nothing back, do you say it is time to part ways? That can be a hard question to answer.

Are They Not Willing to Take Your Advice?

Internet Marketing moves very fast. Every day there is a new technique or opportunity in the industry to drive traffic or make more money. So if agencies are doing a good job, they will provide ongoing advice and recommendations of how they can either improve what they are currently doing or provide a new idea for accomplishing the clients goals.

For example, say a client is spending $2,000/month in Google Adwords. This is something they have been very comfortable with because they have been doing it for a while now and they also manage the campaign in-house. However when you looked at the campaigns you noticed a ton of wasted ad spend and realized they were spending a significant amount of money to generate a lead/sale. It would be the agencies job to provide the client with ideas of how to optimize or fix the problem. You propose that they try Facebook Ads to see if they can generate the same amount of qualified traffic but for half of the cost. You also recommend they delete certain keywords that you feel are under-performing and are a waste of the clients ad spend.

However after you went through the trouble of analyzing their PPC strategy, researched other ways they could be more effective with their marketing budget and reach out to them with a proposal…only to hear nothing back.

At what point if they are not going to at least entertain your suggestions (since you are the experts) is it time to part ways? Another tough question to answer.

Do They Expect the World?

Sometimes no matter what you say to a client, they still expect what you are doing for them to make them rich over night. Even if you told them that the strategy they choose to go with was all about building a brand and traffic over the long-term. So when they get upset about not seeing the results they want in the 2nd month, and you mentioned the discussion you guys had about it being a 6-12 month process, who is at fault? Of course in business, the client is always right.

So if the client is not willing to listen to your expectations, does this mean its time to say goodbye to that client? A question not easy to answer.

Is Your Time Being Under Valued?

Do you have a client who is paying you less than 95% of your other clients, but you find yourself spending more personalized attention to that client? Not saying this is always the case, but for many of the smaller business owners they expect a lot more for less. This is understandable because for many of the small business owners, that monthly management fee is coming directly out of their pocket and they are the ones impacted.

From the agencies perspective and like anything you buy…you get what you pay for. If you are only paying $99/month for a marketing campaign, don’t expect to see ground braking results that will catapult your business to being a leader in the industry. Also don’t expect the agency to be spending hours and hours a month updating you on the progress.

As long as those reasonable expectations are met, there should be no problems. But lets face it, time is money and if you are spending a great deal of your time just trying to make a client happy who is paying practically nothing….it may be time to say goodbye. For an agency, it may make more financial sense to spend their time focused on the clients who are willing to pay you for what you feel your time is worth.

Are They Trying to Nickel and Dime You?

Do you feel that anytime you offer additional suggestions that are outside of the scope of the project, that they try to nickle and dime you? Are they expecting that it should be part of the project scope or that they feel it should be 50% less than what you quoted? Sometimes this can be a hard situation to deal with, especially if your client has been loyal and has been a reasonably good client for you.

Final Thoughts

All of these questions and situations are extremely hard to deal with and do not always have a clear answer. My suggestions are to take everything into consideration as a business owner. Even though I am one of the first people to want to go the extra mile and make clients happy, at some point you need to let a client go. If you feel that they are being unreasonable, not willing to devote time to you and the strategy, and overall don’t respect your time/efforts, it may be time to say goodbye to certain clients.

From dealing with SEO clients for 5 years now, I can say that it makes the job A LOT easier and more profitable when you can find the right client base to work with. Of course that is easier said than done; but if you make an effort to find clients who are passionate about what they are doing, what to contribute, and respect your time (and vice versa) you will have much more success in the future.

I would love to hear from other marketing agencies about some of the reasons you have dropped clients in the past. Any additional reasons besides what I have listed above? Please respond in the comments below.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson is the creator of StayOnSearch, a blog dedicated to Marketing Professionals, SEO's, and Business Owners. He also is the President of Search Creatively, an Internet Marketing and Consulting company.
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  • http://twitter.com/SEOAssistantAF Aarn Farmer

    Good Article. I have a customer showing some of these signs and in figuring out how to move forward, just dropping them as a customer wasn’t even on the table. You’ve definitely given me something to think about.

    Aarn Farmer

  • http://www.thelostagency.com/ David Iwanow

    I’m sure i could get in trouble with my responses but yes thank you, a lot of this can also be applied when pitching or quoting for a job, sometimes while the projects and budget look interesting you need to walk away.

    It can benefit the client if they pay you for initial consulting time so you can focus on the project once they sign off, the first 2 months where they don’t see results can also be linked to their daily emails/phone calls questioning your decisions. You don’t stop a building contractor in the middle of pouring concrete (base) how come they haven’t put the roof on yet (#1 ranking), as there is a whole house to build (seo/links/content).

    Too much focus around on reports and admin can be a great reason to leave because as you point out the client might only respond if something is wrong or the 2 months after u sent the report saying its going to be tougher than originally planned so we have to look at more resources or reduce expectations.

    Having a client say goodbye after 3 weeks into a 18 month plan is painful but often the best idea as it shows they are not thinking beyond im going to be #1 by the end of week….

  • http://www.seoibiza.com/blog/ kev grant

    hey Mark. good piece, our business has gone from strength to strength since we started being really fussy about who and what we would take on, and sacking a few of the “non-performing” clients.

    a thorough “interview” of prospective clients is the way forwards, (let them think they're interviewing you if you want 🙂 to gauge how responsive and actually interested they are likely to be, and a little delving into the technical KPIs during it is a good way to make sure you're on the same playing field before committing to anything, if they're just wanting to “be top of Google” for unrealistic things, unrealistic money, or start glazing over when you mention any input from them, fresh content etc, we've found walking away from the wrong ones has accelerated the business with the right ones 3 fold.

    • http://www.stayonsearch.com Mark Thompson

      A client interview is a good idea. Funny how normally the client is the one thats doing the interviewing.

      Its good to hear of other companies that try to be selective with who they partner with to help with their Internet Marketing. It really is a two way street.

  • kammyb

    Great article. I've parted ways over a few of the reasons stated, but probably the easiest (or hardest depending on how you look at it) is having to let someone go because they won't correct their conversion methods. There's nothing more frustrating than increasing someone's visibility and traffic to have them not DO anything with it and not take your advice on how to improve conversions. One guy wasn't even answering his phone- he just had a crappy tape message machine. Not confident inspiring for prospective clients in his industry.

  • http://www.seodesignsolutions.com/blog/ Jeffrey Smith

    Love the conversation, reminds me of a piece from the past “Do SEO’s Really Need Clients or is It the Other Way Around”? I believe it boils down to (a) scope (b) budget (c) time management and (d) managing expectations.

    If you have a dissonant client, no degree of success will matter to them, since there is always something more to critique in their mind. On the contrary, passion can go along way and willingness to comply, but if they can only afford a small fraction of what your team or the market demands, then you can’t burn up all of your time on the smaller clients who have to inevitably (deal with where they are at) on the scale of the market and the big fish who dominate those markets.

    Personally, I like working with those savvy enough to do their own SEO who hit a brick wall who have a budget large enough to compete and they understand what it takes to make a dent, capture a competitive vertical and maintain the trajectory once you funnel that market share away from the big fish.

    Patience you cannot instill in others, but results when they arrive can quench the shortcomings along the way (if the client can be patient enough to let the synergy occur).

  • http://searchmarketingwisdom.com alanbleiweiss

    I like this one Mark. Cutting dead weight is an emotional process necessary to keeping a business healthy and moving forward. Where the line is drawn will need to be an individual and very personal choice, yet it's a choice that is better considered before the act needs to actually take place rather than after endless lengths of time in chaos.

  • http://www.whole-seo.com Rebekah

    Great advice – thank you! I always feel guilty when considering this, or get mad at myself for not realizing various red flags or warning signs sooner. Now I just need a post about the best way TO say goodbye to a client, haha 🙂

    • http://searchmarketingwisdom.com alanbleiweiss

      I'm sorry to have to inform you that I/we can no longer continue providing services to your company. My/our current workload is just too heavy and I/we feel it's best to let go now so that you can find another provider who will be able to devote the attention to you that you deserve and which we can no longer provide.

  • http://www.iexposure.com Camella Lobo

    I think we've all been here more times that we'd like. I really liked the point you brought up about training the client. I have found this is so necessary for them to understand the value of the service you are providing. This is especially important when you are establishing baseline metrics. If the client's goal is more traffic to their site or more traffic from non-branded keywords, etc., we have to be very thorough in how we specify these things ahead of time. And especially when we are trying to explain to them WHY they are important. Usually, if you can't tie online marketing tactics back to clear goals you establish from the beginning, you will find yourself always having to justify your service.

  • Greg

    Facing this situation right now.

    I think it is time to let them go. Pitty to next guy who gets mixed up with this mixed up client.

  • http://modifiedcarspictures.blogspot.com/ modified cars

    hmm.. sounds interesting and pretty good post. No need to carry lot of stress on our minds..!

  • http://www.a-cross.com Kenneth Peeters

    Great article which difficult -but oh so IMPORTANT – food for thought for any digital marketing agency!

  • http://www.strategyinternetmarketing.co.uk Pay-Per-Results SEO

    I guess we must be lucky, we have rarely had to say goodbye to clients though we have had some trying to “nickle and dime” us, we don't have a UK phrases for that but I know what you mean!

  • http://www.professionalsofttech.com Chintan Kotadia

    Amazing article. Sound really interesting! Thanks for sharing. 😉

  • http://www.webdesignhouston.com Houstonwebdesign

    Thanks for sharing wonderful article. Really enjoyable article.

  • SteveG

    The ability to be able to fire a client is a wonderful thing to learn. After decades of being told that “The customer is always right” business owners are coming to understand that not is the customer NOT always right, it's usually the customer is rarely right..

    There is nothing more frustrating than being hired for your skills only to have them called in to question at every turn.. The money is rarely that good.. Learn the art of saying “you're fired” and live a happier business life..

  • http://twitter.com/Doc2626 Sheldon Campbell

    Great article, Mark! As a consultant, I've faced most of the situations you outlined, and I nearly always waited too long to cut the cord. I've finally gotten to the point that I explain up front, how each of us needs to perform, or the process will fail. And I'm not bashful about telling them when they're not holding up their end of the bargain. Still, sometimes you just have to cut your losses. My concern is usually how to do so, so I don't end up looking like the one that dropped the ball.

  • http://www.emarketing-egypt.com Waleed

    Yes Good

  • http://www.optimise-firstfound.co.uk Andy @ FirstFound

    Some good thoughts. It's always bad when a relationship goes sour in business, but it sometimes has to be done. It's got to come down to cost though. If the amount of time you spend on a client doesn't tie in with the money they spend, then it's bad for your business and time to say goodbye.

  • http://twitter.com/jvcrum jvcrum

    “Paying less than 95%” – I think this is a little drastic, even 60% less than your next lowest paying client is a huge cut.

    Alan: Wow is that ever the nice way to put it 😉

    Could we give them an ultimatum to raise rates or we can no longer serve them. How has this worked for anyone? Replies are welcome.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QOZNTY2OTUREKQVS2BBINMFGN4 Vincent

    Need a way here on this site to delete comments/posts, I was accidentally logged into my clients twitter account and posted under him. Help?

  • BusinessTrader

    I am going to go againts all comments here and say that I personally do everything to keep a client happy. The client is always right, if you want to get paid. I have been in sales and marketing for many years, and if I parted ways with a customer everytime they questioned my work, or tried to negotiate a better price, then I would be out of business! When did everyone get so precious?

  • http://yoyoseo.com DanaLookadoo

    I am copying down Alan's “template” Dear John notification.

    I appreciate the timing of your post Mark and had a moment thinking, “how many of us did Mark interview before writing?” It appears we have common, too common, situations.

    My biggest frustration is your point about not taking an SEO consultant's advice. If we rewrite your robots.txt for you and you don't bother to upload, who's to blame? If we provide training for your team but you have members who “forget” the basics, who's to blame? If you are low on resources and don't get around to “it,” you suffer. It's not worth the stress.

    The weeding process is oh, so difficult…

  • http://www.directorysubmissionservices.net Nick

    I think i do everything what client said to me as they are paying us and that's are job to make good relationship with client because who know when we need them..thanks nice blog

  • http://www.jonrognerud.com/ Jon Rognerud

    If a client is keeping you up at night (ie can't sleep), and you are constantly p'ed off, and your life is feeling miserable, let them go (probably). If not, service them like crazy – and upsell where natural, refer out if needed, and genuinely help them out! 🙂 Cheers, Jon