Acquiring new clients is no picnic. SEO agencies invest plenty of time and resources to sign up new accounts.
Ongoing clients are an agency’s greatest asset. And while some are successful in retaining the majority of their clients, many others struggle to keep good clients on board.
Oft-cited research from Bain & Company shows that improving client retention by just 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.
Keeping your current clients happy is essential for your profitability and growth.
If boosing retention is on your agenda, consider these six common reasons SEO agencies lose clients and learn what to do about each one below.
1. Misaligned Expectations
One of the main reasons SEO agencies lose clients is a failure to set realistic expectations right from the start.
Mark Williams-Cook, Director at Candour & Founder of AlsoAsked.com, explains:
“Having worked at several agencies, I think the root cause of most client loss is incorrectly setting expectations at the start. This happens for a variety of reasons, ranging from sales teams making promises on performance to not challenging unreasonable targets that the client sets.
Those honest conversations mean you win or proceed with slightly fewer pitches, but it’s the best long-term strategy in my opinion.”
Ask yourself, are you overpromising and underdelivering? If it’s not a perfect match, it should be the other way around.
Also, many times clients will come through your door not knowing how SEO works and carrying very high expectations.
Don’t say yes if you know you won’t be able to deliver.
2. A Failure to Educate the Client
I’ve often encountered clients who, despite having worked previously with one or two SEO agencies for a while, have absolutely no idea how SEO works.
People appreciate being informed, and they will trust you more, as well. Building this level of trust with your clients is essential for the health of your long-term relationship.
I sent an email to one of my clients the other day, explaining to them that Google released a new update and we would need to do a review of their website. Their response was:
- Appreciated for being informed.
- Gratitude that we keep them up-to-date with industry trends and changes.
- Understanding of the work that needed to be done and that it could lead to changes.
Educating your clients isn’t a one-and-done. It means communicating with them regularly in a way that reflects your expertise and adds value to them.
It positions you as their go-to expert for any questions or concerns they have, which is exactly where you want them to turn (not to random “SEO gurus” they may encounter online).
3. Lack of Value for Money
Clients want to see the value of their SEO investment as soon as possible. It’s a perpetual challenge for SEO professionals because good SEO can take time.
Daniel Foley Carter, Director at Assertive, says:
“A lot of SEO agencies lose clients primarily because of a lack of ‘value for money.’ Many clients will try to benchmark SEO ROI in a similar fashion to PPC despite SEO generally being a channel that takes longer to yield results.”
One way to approach this, depending on the client’s business goals, is to agree on long-term goals. For example, if your client is a publisher, you may suggest a goal to achieve an increase of 50% in traffic in 24 months.”
While we know for sure that you may hit the 50% increase in traffic way earlier (remember always under promise and overdeliver), this gives your client a tangible, measurable expectation of value.
Make sure you are showing your clients how your SEO efforts are positively impacting revenue and conversions, and not just traffic and rankings.
Jonathan Berthold, VP of Customer Acquisition at Path IQ, says:
“SEO agencies tend to lose clients due to misalignment on milestones and deliverables. Agencies that rely on merely trotting out reports showing increases in traffic & rankings will have difficulty retaining clients if there’s no clear tangible increase in revenue generation — or at the very least, a roadmap to increasing conversions.
Rather than focusing on quick wins that inflate traffic counts or preparing audits with no substance, agencies are better suited for long-term success by exhibiting how organic search can propel revenue generation. Make sure both parties are aligned on what’s expected over the course of the mandate.”
4. Your Clients Don’t Know What You’re Doing
Don’t leave clients to guess at the work you’re doing and the effort you’re putting in for them. Keep them aware of what’s happening now, as well as the next steps.
For example, you might create a monthly email that includes:
- Performance report.
- Summary of work done and deliverables.
- Next steps.
Check in once a week with a quick update on any major initiatives or to share a recent win.
Make sure they understand the direct line between the SEO action taken and any measurable business outcomes.
You may also want to create a roadmap at the start of the contract with the client, and update it every month to show the progress.
These regular communications go a long way in keeping your clients informed on what you are doing. It also reflects structure and accountability, and clients appreciate both.
Some agencies report the number of hours dedicated to SEO work for a client every month, even though they are not charging clients per hour. This helps reflect the amount of work put into each task and deliverable.
5. No Visible Results
So your clients stayed the duration of their six or 12-month contract with you, and they cannot see results.
We have to assume here that it’s not for a lack of actually producing anything. If that’s the case, you have bigger issues than we can address in this column.
For the rest of you…
Check Your Internal SEO Processes Set Up
Even agencies that do great work for others may lack clear processes and internal templates of their own.
This is a recipe for failure.
Build your own tried and tested process. It’s part of the value you offer clients.
Make Sure You Have a Solid Project Management Tool Setup
If you are not using one, it will be very hard to keep organized and execute SEO strategy properly at any sort of scale.
Review Your Process on a Regular Basis
For example, hold team meetings every three or six months to discuss your processes.
When there’s a new Google update, work with your team to see how this will be incorporated into your standard processes.
Train, Train, and Train Some More
Always seek opportunities to train your team.
You don’t necessarily need to sign them up for a course, but make sure there’s a scheduled bi-weekly or monthly meetup where you all discuss the latest and greatest news and tips in the SEO world.
Give team members the opportunity to identify when there are skills or new areas they want to learn, and make sure they have the time and budget allocated to do so.
6. The Product Just Wasn’t Ready for SEO
Is SEO always a good channel for all businesses?
Most of the time, SEO is a great channel for generating revenue. If you have a good product, there’s definitely an opportunity for your business to grow with SEO.
But if your business is not ready yet, no amount of SEO is going to help.
So the real question is: are you in the right stage of your business for SEO?
Sam Wright, founder of Blink, says:
“Lots of SEO campaigns fail for strategic reasons; it could be a lack of product market fit, pricing, or poor positioning or categorization. SMEs (particularly in the ecommerce space) often don’t put the time into this side of the business before jumping on to the tactical execution of something like SEO.
This means they are on shaky foundations – it’s hard to make a campaign work in these circumstances. However, a lot of SEO agencies plow on ahead regardless, either because they are unaware or lack the skills or experience to change things from the top down. Often bad results follow, the client gets frustrated and the relationship ends.
Changing this is partly a question of client education – we now make market analysis and positioning/categorization the first step of nearly every project. This is something traditional marketing agencies have been doing for years, but it’s still a bit unusual for an SEO-focused business like ours.
However, it is important to show that tactics don’t work unless the strategy is right to start with.”
With all of the above said, every single SEO agency loses clients. It’s not because the agency is incompetent — it’s part of the industry.
Jeff Ferguson, Partner/Head of Production at Amplitude Digital, leaves us with his parting thoughts:
“Client loss is always a mixed bag. It’s easy to beat yourself up about losing a client. In my experience, nine times out of ten, it’s for a reason out of your control – there’s a new CMO (or lower), a new investment group, or something similar – but it had nothing to do with you and everything to do with a regime change.”
The real goal is to minimize those losses and improve customer retention by understanding why they’re happening, recognizing when the relationship is at risk, and knowing how to right the ship.
- Questions to Ask Before You Hire an SEO Agency
- The Pros & Cons of Niche SEO for Agencies
- A Guide to Essential SEO Tools for Agencies
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