Where do the lines of responsibility of SEOs and their clients fall? Is the SEO solely responsible for the success or failure of the SEO client? Is the client responsible for anything? Or is there reasonable argument that they both can be held responsible?
A couple years ago I wrote out an SEO’s Bill of Rights as well as an SEO Client’s Bill of Rights. Both articles are worth a read as they lay out some of the expectations that both SEOs and their clients should be able to agree to. But I wanted to extend that conversation a bit, especially in light of the recent news of an SEO company getting sued for lack of results and engaging in spammy practices.
Who Gets the Credit, Who Gets the Blame?
We work in an industry where expectations between the client and the providers don’t often align. I suppose this can happen in any industry. Anyone who has seen a Roland Emmerich movie has probably suffered severe disappointment from misplaced expectations. When disappointed by a movie, you can rest knowing that the tickets only cost a few bucks. But disappointment from an expensive web marketing campaign isn’t something that either the SEO or the client wants to experience.
SEOs pretty universally reject the notion of guaranteed rankings. Unfortunately, that makes SEO a much tougher sell. To the potential client it probably sounds like we’re saying, “Please buy our service, we hope we can give you what you want.”
The SEO can only educate the potential client so much. And regardless of how much we say, “we don’t rank websites, that’s Google’s job,” the client still wants a return for their investment, and rightly so.
At the end of the day, both the client and the SEO bear responsibility for the success of any campaign. The client and the SEO must work together to develop a strategy that is reasonably certain of working. Both get the credit and both can get the blame.
Have a Solid Plan for Business Success
No amount of SEO can make a business successful if there isn’t a business there to begin with. Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean you are filling a need that people have. That’s the core of business. Find a need and fill it, and do it better or differently than the next guy.
If you already have a successful business, are you doing the things required to make that business successful online? We see many prospective clients that want to grow their presence on the web, only to find out they are not willing to do what it takes to get the results they want.
That’s a deal breaker. It doesn’t matter how successful your business is—Fortune 500 or not—no SEO can make a business successful on the web without the client’s willingness to implement the optimization strategies that the SEO recommends. If the client consistently gives the SEO pushback, success will be limited and possibly even nonexistent.
As an SEO, I try to be selective about my clients. My company only wants to accept clients we believe will be successful. Under no circumstances are we willing to take someone’s money believing failure is likely. Among other things, this means we have to believe they will be willing to implement our recommendations. That requires us to vet each potential client almost as much as they vet us. It works well that way and usually leads to long-term and very rewarding relationships.
The SEO Campaign Aligns with the Client’s Business
There is no one-size-fits-all web marketing strategy. Every client is different as is every client website. The online marketing needs of one client will never be exactly the same as another.
The SEO should come to the table with a strategy based on the client’s needs, expectations and budget requirements. And the expectations the client has should be adjusted based on what the SEO can deliver for the budget required. SEO doesn’t have a “price.” Proposals, until signed, should be fluid in order for the SEO and the client to work to develop the strategy that meets everyone’s goals and expectations.
Moving forward, the SEO has to ensure that the work they do continues to align with the expectations originally agreed upon, and the client needs to be sure that they also keep their expectations in line with the conversations had during the proposal process.
If the SEO strays from the client’s expectations, it’s important that they communicate why. The client has a reasonable expectation that the SEO will not do harm to their site. However, many SEO strategies that worked yesterday don’t work today. The client has to understand that search engine algorithms change with time, and therefore so must SEO strategies as well. Change is the only constant in this world, and this is especially true of SEO.
What does this mean for the client? They need to realize that the strategy approved in the proposal may need adjusted as time goes on. Sticking too rigidly to a set of deliverables that the SEO no longer deems effective will result in poor performance overall. Though I should add, the SEO should be more forward-thinking about potential algorithm changes down the road. They can’t be perfect, but they can optimize in a way that is largely algorithm change-proof.
Web Marketing Is a Partnership
Healthy is as healthy does. You can’t consistently smoke a pack a day or eat jelly donuts every morning and expect to be the picture of good health. If you go to your doctor and say you can’t understand why you’re hacking up a lung and you’ve gained so much weight, he’ll probably tell you to quit smoking and enter donut rehab. Doctors can only help you if you follow their advice. Surprise! There is no magic “good health” pill for your body, and there’s no magic “No. 1 ranking” pill for your website..
An SEO can tell you how to do things, and even do some of things for you, but inevitably, there are things that only you can do. Not only do you have to approve of the SEO’s suggestions, you have to have someone who can implement those things that fall outside the scope of what the SEO is able to do, yet are required to bring about the desired results.
Both the client and SEO must work together to make sure the web marketing plan is successful. Once you hire an SEO, you can’t expect to be hands off. Very much the opposite. You have to be willing to do what it takes to make and keep your site healthy.