SEO Clients: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and Umm… 2 More

In an ideal world, clients would hire an SEO agency and actually follow the direction from that agency. Sadly, this is often not the case. In fact, with large companies, like the ones I've been working with for years, I sometimes wonder if there'd be any difference if they just cut a check and went a away for twelve months. OK, so I'm exaggerating, but it does seem like there's a disproportionate amount of wheel spinning in place of actual progress with some projects. What's more, it seems like the client, during the pitch process, gave plenty of clues about what type of client they were going to be. So I've put together a guide to bucketing prospects that should help in deciding whether to take a particular project on.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

1. No SEO Knowledge, But Eager to Learn

These are generally my favorite clients. Not because I like to be the know-it-all (although that doesn't hurt), but because clients with no knowledge are generally receptive to anyone willing to fill in the gaps. So with a list of recommendations you simply need to provide some high-level rationale for the recommendations and generally the client won't push back. If you can also turn-around answers to questions such clients have without ever showing frustration for having answered the same thing 17 times, you'll remain their favorite for a very long time.

Identifying Traits: Asks a lot of basic questions. Often the same question multiple times.
What To Do: Land this client! Don't tell anyone.
What Not To Do: Don't take advantage of the client's lack of knowledge because there's a good chance you'll regret it. A client without SEO knowledge eventually becomes one with SEO knowledge. If you're twice as expensive as everyone else, you better be providing twice the value.

2. Some SEO Knowledge, Overly Eager to Demonstrate Expertise

I can hear my SEO readers snickering now. They understand exactly what I mean by the client that knows some SEO coupled with an uncontrollable urge to convince everyone that they're experts. These are the folks that read an article, attended a conference, or skimmed through a book and feel they have grasped all there is to SEO. The problem is that their knowledge is out of date (e.g. just put your keywords in the meta keywords tag) or they haven't thought through the implications of an idea (e.g. nofollow all external links). The challenge with such clients is that any SEO recommendation that is not inline with the client's knowledge must be vigorously defended and even then a compromise with a mediocre outcome is common. And with a mediocre effort comes mediocre results.

Identifying Traits: Tells you about SEO experience during first conversation. Tries to one-up you at least once in the first 3 conversations.
What To Do: If the SEO budget is big, suck it up. If not, walk away.
What Not To Do: Don't let your ego get the best of you.

3. Unreasonable Expectations

Whether accompanied by SEO knowledge or not, there are some clients that have crazy expectations. Somewhere along the line these folks concluded that an SEO effort requires little work and/or can quadruple traffic in 30 days. If only that were the case… Many in the industry will say that these clients just need to have their expectations managed. A seemingly simple thing to do, but my experience has been that clients that are actually receptive to having their expectations managed aren't the ones that have unreasonable expectations. Know what I mean?

Identifying Traits: Asks questions along the lines of how soon before traffic will double.
What To Do: Be very clear about what success is in the contract. Sure you may double traffic, but only a 25% increase in the first 6 months is actually required.
What Not To Do: Don't agree to all of the client's demands. You will fail.

4. Limited Development Resources

These sorts of clients are often pleasant to work with except for the tiny fact that nothing you recommend actually gets implemented. In some cases, the client is aware that their lack of resources is the reason for a lack of progress and so a renewal is quite possible. In other cases, the client gets frustrated as the contract end approaches and so there is no hope of a renewal.

Identifying Traits: During the pitch, gently inquire about the process for implementing website changes. Any mention about submitting a ticket to the web team or having to prioritize workloads is a red flag.
What To Do: Take the project, but identify goals other than ones directly connected to site traffic. For example, having the client's team “SEO Certified” is a good goal that doesn't require as much from the client as making site changes. A renewal will get you closer to having recommendations actually implemented and so eventually everyone wins.
What Not To Do: Don't point fingers at and complain about whichever team is the bottleneck. Doing so will just make you more enemies.

5. Resistant to Change

The worst clients are those that won't adapt to a changing online space. They don't want to change how they write titles, they don't want to target keywords, and they certainly don't want to get involved with social media. Umm… so why did you hire an SEO agency?

Identifying Traits: During the pitch mention a type of recommendation you expect to make. Look for any humming and hawing from the prospect about the recommendation going against corporate policy.
What To Do: Take the gig and hope your assessment of the client is wrong. Sometimes it is. Do your best to evangelize SEO within the company.
What Not To Do: Don't count on a renewal.

Have more types you want to add to the list? Send descriptions my way. If they're sufficiently different than the above, I'd be happy to give you a link in exchange. Happy prospecting to the rest of you!

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  1. This is a great post. I can't tell you how frustrated I get when someone who heard about SEO or had a friend help them try's to bargain with me on our fee or give us advice on how to do it! In the past, I used take #3 clients, but way!

  2. I came upon this post doing a search on "bad SEO clients". You nailed it! I laughed out loud. I needed that after a trying day with a client from the number 2 category.:-)


  3. Educating the client about SEO is one of the most tedious tasks. I am also facing such issues for a long time. I have also blogged a bit about it at

  4. I agree with PB Blogger, I couldn't have said it better. I have worked with many of the clients you identified above and would also add that the ones that seem to pop most are the client's with a relative who have a sound grasp of SEO and web design because they have their own MySpace page or YouTube profile. They then make this 'relative' your main port-of-call when discussing the clients needs!



  5. Great post! I couldn't have said it better. I can say I have worked and still work with each kind of these clients. I would have to agree the #1 are my favorite types of clients and they generally see the best results!

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