The Negative Perception of SEO
You hear a lot about the negative perception that many in the business world have of SEO. I think a lot of this is inevitable for any new industry just emerging. For years SEO has been relatively easy to jump into and “expert” SEO firms were known to appear overnight, only to disappear months later. I often cringe when reading forums where somebody with a online name of “SEOprophet” (I pulled this name out of my hat, I apologize if it’s yours!) asks a basic question that not only has been asked and answered many times over the past few years but is completely irrelevant to the optimization process today.
Many of these SEOs found ways to get businesses to lay down their money only to prove that they could not meet the expectations portrayed. Expectations are a two way street and its important for any SEO to lay them out clearly and early so the client doesn’t think she’ll be getting something she won’t. In most cases, the high/impossible expectations come from the SEO themselves as they try to sell their service on the unsuspecting business owner. Promises are made the SEO knows they can’t keep, but closing the sale is more important that full disclosure.
These types of SEOs are not the only reason that many businesses have soured on SEO. There seem to be a few big companies that do pretty much the same thing. These companies stay in business by employing a host of telemarketers who sign dozens of unsuspecting clients daily. Sometimes these firms do their job well, but just as often clients are found to have fallen through the cracks of the machinery. These firms have so many clients that none get the individual attention they deserve.
Balancing the SEO Expectations
We often find ourselves signing up clients that have come to us from other SEO consultants or firms who didn’t serve them well, or as well as they had hoped. One of the things I’m most amazed about is that the clients often don’t even know what their SEO is doing for them. They get periodic ranking reports, maybe the SEO asks them to make a change or two here and there, but by and large, the client has no idea how much (or how little) effort is being put into their website for optimization.
SEO is often hard to quantify and the amount of hours spent on any one client can fluctuate wildly from month to month depending on circumstances. I think those that perform SEO but initiate very little contact with their clients do so simply because they don’t want the client to know exactly how much time is spent from one month to the next. If an SEO puts in 100 hours one month for a client, the client may expect to receive 100 hours of work EVERY month. This goes back to the whole idea of communicating expectations up front.
A lot of work that is performed for clients stems from hours of research and the continuous education that is necessary to keep up with the search engine and their technologies. Even if the SEO is not an algorithm chaser, it’s their job to stay educated. These hours cannot be considered as “billable” time as one would pay a lawyer performing research that pertains to a particular case. A large portion of research hours performed by SEOs is hours spent on forums, blogs, studying search patents, testing, etc., and cannot be attributed to any one particular client. This is why the SEOs time working on an account is so much more valuable, and why the good SEOs charge a lot for their services.
Creating a Positive SEO Experience
When it comes to communicating with clients, we have found that the more you do, the better. Not only will the SEO have a better relationship with the client, but the client will have a more positive experience overall. Communication causes the unachievable expectations to be put down, while the client becomes more aware of the total process and can therefore better appreciate the work that is being performed on their account.
Our client management/communication/reporting system is built in such a way that allows us to be inconsistent communication with our clients about the progress and status of their campaign. It’s not just a matter of providing monthly reports, but offering a transparent system of communication that keeps the client “in the loop” as to who is working on their account and what in particular they are doing.
We don’t have to be overly specific in a way that creates more unwarranted expectations, but we do make sure the client is aware when each team member works on their account and they are kept updated of ongoing progress. On average, our clients get two to three email updates each week. If I work on their account, I document this and the client is emailed this documentation. Whenever any team member works on their account the same thing happens.
Even clients that are performing strongly still get their updates because we continue to work on their account regularly. We don’t believe that a strong performing account should rest so we are constantly analyzing, linking, adding and tweaking. We have found that this matters just as much to the clients that are performing strongly as much as it matters to those that may not be performing as well as we would like for any given period of time. Clients performing well need justification to keep paying us just as much clients who may feel that their campaign has not progressed as they expected. In both cases, this constant communication let’s them know we are on the job, and problems or not, we’re working diligently to overcome any barriers to continued long-term success.
Inevitably, there will come a time, even if temporarily, when a client questions the value of the services being performed. Whether it’s the thought processes of, “I’m doing well so I don’t need you anymore,” or “Why aren’t we number one and Google, MSN and Yahoo this week for our ultra-competitive phrase,” effective communication helps establish a relationship that can smooth over any bumps in the road. Not only will the SEO be more likely to keep the client for the long-term but if client does leave, they won’t necessarily be soured on the whole SEO industry.