An ideal SEO client:
Knows the goals.
Is easy to reach.
Is ready to listen.
Is happy to learn.
Appreciates your work.
Pays on time.
This is what makes an ideal SEO client for me. But in the real world, ideal SEO clients are rare, to the point where you may think they are mythical beings that don’t exist in nature. In fact, in most cases, you are dealing with clients who fall far short of the ideal described above.
What I have learned over my years of building digital marketing strategies for my clients is that each of them is particular, and so are their businesses, their needs, and their goals. Nevertheless, all clients – existing or previous – have some traits in common, or happen to share similar thoughts or views when it comes to SEO.
Thanks to my observations, but without any deliberate intention I have come up with a list of typical SEO clients. Aside from ideal SEO clients, I believe every SEO professional or agency has had the pleasure of working with a number of clients from my list. So I hope you will have fun when you identify some Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones among these examples.
Client #1: Mister “Low Budget, Unrealistic Expectations”
What’s he like?: This client expects you to move mountains for him but is not ready to pay a higher fee. He is always demanding and never satisfied with what you do, even if you are squeezing every drop you can from his miserly budget. Mister Stingy is sure that SEO is a piece of cake, and that it takes nothing to appear at the top of SERPs. And he does not understand why his website cannot make it to the top.
The good: When working with such a client, you are always prepared for the worst, and you are never disappointed.
The bad: No matter how hard you try to explain that the client will get what he pays for, all your efforts are in vain.
Client #2: Mister “I Pay, You Do”
What’s he like?: This type of a client gets the full package of SEO services and always pays his bills. He understands his business goals, knows why he hired an SEO agency, and he wants positive results (which is fair). This makes him almost a perfect SEO client. But the dark side is that he is never engaged in the process, and is normally too busy to answer your questions, check the reports, and provide feedback.
The good: He never bothers you and always pays on time.
The bad: SEO is a team game in which the client has to participate to get best results.
Client #3: Mister “I’ll Pay You Tomorrow”
What’s he like?: No matter what package he gets and how high his level of engagement, he is never able to pay for your work ‘today.' This type of SEO client is always super late with payments and has a ton of excuses to justify such frequent delays.
The good: He pays eventually and remains loyal.
The bad: You are paying expenses before you get revenue.
Client #4: Mister “You Can Figure It Out Yourself”
What’s he like?: This client’s SEO strategy is highly dependent on content. And this is where the fun starts. The client is the one who knows his business the best. But if he is not ready to share his knowledge about the business or provide any help (or at least provide a reliable resource you can refer to for information) you will have a problem providing quality content.
The good: While digging for the necessary information to create a decent piece of content, your content creators temporarily turn into a team of super skilled detectives
The bad: The content still happens to contain semantic mistakes that the client keeps throwing in your face.
Client #5: Mister “I Want First Rankings!”
What’s he like?: This SEO client is obsessed with only one metric. When you try to explain for the umpteenth time that his metric is not the only way to measure the performance of his SEO campaign, it falls on deaf ears. Yet, he continues to insist, “I want first rankings!” leaving you no choice but to get back to what you were doing.
The good: The perfect challenge for endurance!
The bad: Sometimes you feel as if a client is trying your patience to see how long it will take before you explode.
Client #6: Mister “Call My Assistant/Wife/Son”
What’s he like?: Because of being super busy, this client usually has someone else contact us for him. Well, I’m absolutely OK with that as long as they just pass along the client’s message. The real hell starts when the person calling has a whole bunch of different opinions on this or that update or recommendation. Obviously, the process turns into a complete mess.
The good: Sometimes you feel happy that a client has an assistant because the boss is a wack, you know.
The bad: With so many opinions to choose from, you don’t know which one is right.
Client #7: Mister “Weird Website”
What’s he like?: Mister “Weird Website” is the one who runs a truly weird and confusing website. Once you get on it, you don’t understand a thing:
What kind of business is this?
What is the purpose of the website?
And who has created it, and why on earth?
Even when you browse the website from top to bottom, you still don’t have any idea what business the company is in. Before long a desperate feeling sinks in, knowing you are supposed to help the client with optimization, but not having a clue how to do it.
The good: You can always (or almost always) talk to your client and figure everything out.
The bad: Eventually, after having a few such clients, nothing surprises you.
Client #8: Mister “I Want SEO, But I’m Not Ready For Change”
What’s he like?: You audit the website and suggest a comprehensive list of changes that are most likely to be rejected. And this happens over and over again, each time you say “You need to change this and that.” At times like this, you wonder why the client even hired you, because SEO is about changes, updates, and improvements.
The good: You get super creative while trying to figure out the least “harmful” SEO strategy.
The bad: You are not able to implement any truly effective change to make your SEO work.
Client #9: Mister “Oh, My God! What’s Going On With My Website?!”
What’s he like?: This client freaks out over literally everything, even over a typo in the blog post you just published, never mind a slight drop in rankings. This is the type of client whose number on your caller ID gives you the creeps. He calls, texts, and emails you a hundred times a day, even on weekends. And if you don’t respond, he freaks out even more.
The good: At least, the client is up to date with every change – both positive and negative – that happens on his website.
The bad: He takes up too much space in your life and requires too much time.
Client #10: Mister “I Know It All”
What’s he like?: This client reads an article or two and thinks it makes him an expert who can suggest his own optimization strategies. He will never miss an opportunity to show off the scope and depth of his SEO knowledge to you and your team. He might even assume that he knows SEO better than you do. Just when you think things couldn’t be worse, he tries to prove that he does SEO better than you.
The good: In most cases, such clients are harmless, unless…
The bad: ...they start to “optimize” their websites themselves.
Client #11: Mister “Prehistoric Website”
What’s he like?: He wants you to optimize a website that looks as if it was designed back in the days when you went to elementary school. Before directly saying “No” to this client, you:
Try to explain, “A good website design and SEO go hand in hand, and one cannot exist without the other. There is no point in first rankings for a website that will scare visitors away the minute they see it, blah blah blah.”
Offer him redesign services and:
If he is smart enough, you will happily sign a contract for both a redesign and SEO services
If he is sure that he is better off without a cool design, you choose to not waste your time, because...( see para. 1)
The good: In most cases, he trusts your expertise and is ready to improve for his own sake. It is a real pleasure to work with smart people.
The bad: Sometimes you have to deal with real bitter-enders.
Client #12: Mister “Don’t Do Anything Without My Approval”
What’s he like?: Working with Mister “My Approval” is really tough. He wants to keep track of each stage of the project, and you are not allowed to make a move without his approval. There is nothing bad about being up-to-date with what’s going on with your website. On the contrary, I encourage such efforts. But not to such an extreme extent.
The good: At least the client is engaged.
The bad: Waiting for approval causes serious delays and rescheduling of activities.
Client #13: Mister “I Want It Done by Wednesday”
What’s he like?: “I want it done by Wednesday/Monday/today/the end of the week” – this is a phrase that you most likely hear at the end of each conversation. No matter what you are supposed to do and how challenging and time-consuming the task, he will push you every day. You might be spending several nights in a row in your office, trying to put things together, but who cares? (not them)
The good: After a few sleepless nights you feel you have developed some superhuman abilities.
The bad: This feeling doesn’t last long.
Client #14: Mister “I’ll Check the Report Tomorrow”
What’s he like?: He never bothers to check the reports you send each month, always telling these “tomorrow” (aka “never”) stories. You put a good deal of time into these reports, but you never get feedback on how your strategy performs or what he wants improved based on your list of recommendations. However, sometimes he does check them. And then he asks: “Why didn’t you let me know about [something]?” You: “Sigh.”
The good: He pretty much never bothers you.
The bad: You are pretty much always headed in a vague direction.
Client #15: Mister “Thanks, We Don’t Need You Anymore”
What’s he like?: He knows that he requires SEO to get high rankings, but he forgets that the SEO process is all about consistency. Once he gets initial positive results, he bails, mistakenly assuming that SEO is a one-time-only thing. The battle for better rankings never stops. And it is naive to think otherwise.
The good: He usually comes back.
The bad: You have to start from square one to achieve the same results.
Client #16: Mister “Show Me What You Are Worth”
What’s he like?: From the minute you start talking to him, he does his utmost to demonstrate his arrogant attitude. Mister Arrogant acts and talks as if his company is the center of the universe, and the least you can do is to get on your knees and kiss his feet.
What he asks of you is to audit his website, detect the problems, and devise a comprehensive SEO strategy based on issues you find on the website. And, mind you, he wants these services for free! You should feel lucky when he graces you with his judgment of whether or not your agency deserves to promote his website.
The good: We make some good fun of such clients!
The bad: As for this jerk, he ends up empty-handed.
Every digital marketer would like to have a bunch of ideal SEO clients in their client base. Actually, me too. But then it gets me thinking: If every SEO client were perfect, wouldn’t I feel bored without the challenges they bring every day?
Anyway, the majority of my clients actually fall under the umbrella of these less-than-perfect SEO clients. Don’t get me wrong; this is not because I am unable to say “no” to potential troublemakers, or because I’m too zealous to build my business. There will almost always be at least one thing that stops you from calling a client “ideal.” And my task is to figure out whether or not I can get along with this one “thing” before the relationship turns into a nightmare.
Among these examples, however, there are clients I wish I had never met because they brought me nothing but sleepless nights, bloodshot eyes and a pervasive state of unhappiness. In the early days, when I was just starting my career, I would take on any client because I was not in a position to be too picky. But now I’m kind of grateful to these “from hell” clients because I have honed the ability to spot them quickly. I hope my experience will come in handy to SEOs who want to save themselves a headache.
How to Spot an SEO Client from Hell?
There may be no better chance to keep yourself from making mistakes that cost you blood, sweat, and tears than during your initial meetings, calls or emails from your potential clients. So you should be extra sharp and armed with all the attentiveness you have got. Here are some comments that should raise a red flag.
#1 “Our Previous Agency Did This and That…”
It is important to make clear how many agencies a client had worked with before they came to you. If they never mention hiring and firing a couple of agencies in the past, you should be the first one to bring up the subject. If you discover the client had been changing SEOs like a woman changes clothes, it leaves no doubts that you will end up being fired as soon as you fail to meet their (often too high) expectations.
#2 “I’ve Read a Lot About This, and I Want It Done No Matter What.”
“I’ve read about this/ I saw it on another website / I’m sure it would be great to do it this way…”. In most cases, this client wants something that runs counter to the final objective and makes it impossible to implement a strategy that will actually work. If the client is just too crazy about his or her self-education and refuses to follow your reasoning, you are better to not take responsibility for the possible outcome, and just walk away.
#3 “I Want Results...Now.”
You and I both know that SEO takes time to deliver results, but unless you want to bash your head against a rock trying to explain this to a client, you will be better off doing something useful. It is more trouble than it is worth. Run, run, run!
#4 “The Agency Next Door Charges Less for the Same Set of Services.”
So remind me, why are we having this conversation now? You know what you are worth, and if a client is not ready to pay for your services, they had better go and get those services someplace else. Good quality SEO is not cheap, but if the client is OK with poor quality content and dangerous optimization techniques, then the agency next door is probably the right place for them.
#5 “Can I Get a Website Audit for Free?”
A website audit, keyword research, analysis of competitors’ businesses or anything else they ask you for free when making a decision about whether or not you are a perfect match for them... I cannot remember how many times potential clients asked me to do some research for free. But what I do remember is that such clients end up not hiring you, but comparing prices and hiring an agency that is ready to slave away for ridiculously low budgets. Hopefully, you are not the type.
In most cases, the first impression is more than enough to judge whether or not a client is a complete jerk. But things are not always what they seem. Anyway, my advice is to always sign a detailed contract to keep yourself safe from difficult clients, and above all, to make sure you are getting paid by any means.
Have I missed any “types” to add to my collection of examples? Or maybe you can suggest other signs to spot a nightmare SEO client? Post your suggestions in Comments!