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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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