It’s one of life’s tragedies that SEO agencies and their clients seldom see eye-to-eye. We look at how SEOs and their clients can work together to ensure that the relationship is genuinely and not just superficially happy.While many client-agency relationships seem cordial on the surface, you can bet dollars to doughnuts that there are plenty of complaints behind the scenes from both sides.
Most of the unhappiness is communication-related, as in communication is usually lacking. You can see the recurring pattern of lack of communication in Julie Joyce’s article on Search Engine Watch (SEW), in which she looks at some ways in which clients can improve their relationship with their SEOs. But it’s important to note that communication is a two-way street, and SEOs can’t expect their clients to do all the work if they want to maintain good relations.
Pricing is a fairly contentious issue in the industry. SEO services are tricky to quantify, especially because it can take a while to see results. Small agencies can’t charge as much as big agencies because then they price themselves out of the market, but they still need to make a living. Alternatively, charging too little for services can make clients second-guess the quality of the work.
SEOs must be clear when it comes to pricing.
Jayson DeMers wrote an interesting article on SEO pricing for Search Engine Watch (it was so good that it made the top 10 list of most read articles on SEW in 2013). He looks at the different pricing models (monthly retainers, fixed prices, project-based pricing and consulting) and gives actual dollar and cents values for each model. Converting these values into South African rands is interesting, and should make SA clients value the cost-effectiveness of their SA SEO agencies a little more.
It’s important for agencies to make their pricing models as detailed as they can. Granted, it’s difficult to be very specific when it comes to project-based pricing, but that just means that agencies must be very detailed when they quote clients after reviewing the scope of the project.
Clients must clarify their expectations.
Many clients have unrealistic expectations; for example, they’ve been nailed by a Google penalty for something they (or another agency) may or may not have done intentionally, and they want a new agency to fix it within a week.
When clients are upfront about their expectations, SEOs can choke back their laughter and explain what is truly realistic.
Clear expectations are also important because they allow SEOs to accurately gauge the work required and determine an accurate plan with accurate (and detailed) pricing.
Clients must reveal their past.
This is the very first point mentioned by Joyce in her article, and she considers it the most important. Some clients have tried in-house SEO and failed. They may have neglected some important tactics, flouted some rules or simply not been aware of the enormity of the undertaking. It’s important for agencies to know what’s been tried before so that they know what to fix, what to avoid and what to improve upon.
It’s also important that clients be honest about any other agencies that they have used. Regardless of whether the previous agencies stayed in Google’s good books or veered toward the dark side, SEOs need to know what’s gone before so they can accurately plot the way ahead. Some things that SEOs need to be aware of include dodgy link building tactics, keyword stuffing, indiscriminate guest post buying and spammy social media marketing campaigns.
SEOs must provide honest reports.
It’s so tempting to fluff reports to hide strategies that haven’t worked or that aren’t working as quickly as hoped. Fluffing reports may buy SEOs some time to rectify the mistake or for changes to finally take effect, but it’s a very bad idea to make it a habit month after month. It’s true that some clients barely scan the reports, if they read them at all, but others study reports meticulously and ask sticky, probing questions and they won’t appreciate being lied to or treated like a fool.
It’s far better, albeit far scarier, to be upfront about what’s going on. Tell clients what you tried and why you tried it. Tell them why it didn’t work and what you’re going to do about it. If it’s a fairly significant disaster, you might want to offer them an additional ad hoc service free of charge, or give them a discounted rate for a few months. Not only will clients (hopefully) appreciate the honesty, but they’ll also appreciate the savings.
Clients must be generous with their information.
There is no such thing as oversharing in this particular relationship. Clients must share important access to various analytics tools, as well as webmaster access so that SEOs can at least have a look-see at the backend of websites and blogs and whatnot. Ideally, access should enable SEOs to make changes when required, so that they don’t have to wait for capricious designers or developers to get on board.
This point can be extended to include providing SEOs with information when it’s requested (and not two weeks later) and to being honest about their work with any other digital marketing-related companies. For example, they might be using another company to manage their PPC or social media marketing. Things can go spectacularly pear-shaped if they’re using two SEO companies to do the same job. SEO agencies need to know who they’re working with so they collaborate properly and so that they don’t work at cross-purposes.
In the end, good client-SEO relationships depend on the same things that comprise all other relationships; things like mutual respect and trust, communication and honesty. Without these, it’s only a matter of time before the relationship ends up splattered on the rocks.
Image credit: DFAT photo library, CC-BY-2.0, via Flickr