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Where Does the Responsibility of the SEO End and the Client's Begin?

Last week, as I recounted my story of a troubled client, I got to thinking about this question. In the world of SEO, where do the lines of responsibility fall? When is the SEO responsible for failure and when is it the client’s fault? Or can lines be drawn between them so easily?

We work in an industry where expectations between the client and the SEO providers don’t often align. Before putting down significant sums of money many clients want some kind of guarantee, expect to see results in a certain amount of time, or want to see “top rankings” for specific keywords they feel are important. On the other hand, SEO providers almost universally reject the concept of guarantees, can only guess at time frames for “success”, and believe there is more to life than top search engine rankings for “important” keyword phrases.

We’ve all heard it said that it is the SEO’s job to educate the client, or potential client, as best as possible in order to insure they have accurate expectations. But with all that, it still seems that some clients go on looking for promises never made and have a hard time dealing with certain realities. Understandably, it is their money on the line and they want to get a return on their investment quickly, but sometimes quick is just not possible.

So the question I ask is this: Where are the lines drawn between the responsibilities of the SEO and the client? As I flesh this question out for myself, I’m hoping I can provide some basic guidelines for both SEO’s and SEO clients.


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Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

2 Responses to Where Does the Responsibility of the SEO End and the Client's Begin?

  1. Chris G. says:

    Whether we like it or not it will always be our fault, even when it is not our fault.
    That is the nature of the business. However, as you said, proper client education can help minimize the finger pointing and disappointment felt by clients when things do not turn out the way they hoped.

    This expectation of a guaranteed performance outcome has got to be one of the hardest things about selling our services in this industry. Our culture has become so persuaded by instant gratification and false guarantees that people, I believe, need and expect to be lied to just to feel comfortable, just so they have some “thing” to hold on to.

    We have actually turned away clients and had others walk away because we refused to lie to them and give them “a number”. Looking back now I am glad they are gone because it would be more trouble than they were worth.

    Now, if I could just lie to them and be the @$$hole they want, we would be rich!!! 🙂 (Yeah right!)

    Anyways, I look forward to following your posts on this topic as I know it is something we are dealing with as well.

  2. Stoney G deGeyter
    Stoney deGeyter says:

    Chris, you’re right. It’s often difficult trying to be realistic but also getting the sale. Getting the sale means telling them what they want to hear and sometimes what’s realistic is definitely not that.