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Stop! Before You Fire Anyone, Try These Proven Tips for Handling Difficult SEO Clients

We’ve all been there at some point or another in our SEO careers. Struggling with those oh-so-very-special clients who wreak havoc on your sanity and make you want to rip your hair out. Problem clients can come in multiple challenging varieties, from the I’ll-hire-you-then-tell-you-how-to-do-your-job micromanagers to the I-want-results-NOW-and-don’t-understand-why-SEO-takes-time types of the client world. They don’t just demoralize you, but can suck the energy and passion from the entire SEO team.

Difficult clients are unavoidable, no matter which industry you’re in. Even if you are in a position to be able to fire them, that isn’t the optimal solution, apart from the rare extreme case. The good news is you do have the power to improve the relationship — and it doesn’t involve praying for aliens to come abduct them.

Usually, the problems all boil down to just two issues: a lack of trust creating fear and uncertainty and a lack of understanding that may give rise to misaligned expectations and anger. Take back the control in your relationship by performing an extreme relationship makeover with these proven tips:

When the Problems Stem From a Lack of Trust

Often a lack of trust — either in you or SEO in general — can lead to clients being abrasive and lashing out or micromanaging. If you sense distrust or a lack of confidence in the proposed strategy, dig deeper and ask questions to understand why. Have they been burned by SEOs in the past? Is the guarantee-less nature of SEO making them very nervous? Are they worried you may not have their best interests at heart? Here, it’s clear that fear is sullying your relationship.

By seeking to understand the root of their fear, you can work to build a more effective rapport.

Top Tips for Building Trust:

Clearly understand their overall business goals — even the non-SEO ones. This will allow you to not only better optimize your SEO strategy but also more effectively showcase it to them. While explaining your strategies and tactics, tie each one back to how it can help with their goals, providing specifics of why it will help with that particular goal. For example, if they are actively working on improving conversion rate, be sure to reinforce that the work you’re doing to optimize site speed can have a positive impact on conversion rates as well, so that project will provide additional help to SEO.

Find “references” for your strategies. When talking about a particular strategy, share examples of how something similar has worked for you in the past; this can be reassuring to the client. Remind them that past efforts of yours have yielded the desired results and help them recall the thought and care that you put into creating the strategy for them.

Promptly notify the client in the event of any problems occurring and always include potential solutions. If anything goes wrong, pick up the phone or send out an email immediately to alert them. In this communication, be sure you share with them a potential solution and your next steps on how you’re going to fix the problem. This goes a long way in building trust and also reassures clients that you have their back. It gets them focused on correcting the problem rather than trying to place blame.

Strive to develop a personal rapport with the client. Early on, ask them about their weekend, their kids, their hobbies and interests and find some common ground. Demonstrate sincere interest in these special concerns on an ongoing basis. Creating a personal equation even on a small level can help build a stronger foundation for your relationship.

When the Problems Stem From a Lack of Understanding

This is usually the most common problem among SEO clients today. This problem is dangerous because a lack of understanding and false expectations can also cause clients to quickly lose trust, thus doubling the problems at hand.

Often clients have either little to no understanding of SEO or fall into the trap of knowing just enough to be dangerous. Common symptoms are unrealistic expectations, leading to anger and frustration or constant suggestions of what to do and how to do it.

This lack of understanding can also mean that SEOs don’t get the resources they need to work effectively, which can slow results, thus further exacerbating the situation. Here, the onus is on you to be patient and caring and make SEO fun for them. After all, you love SEO so much, why not help them fall in love with it too?

Top Tips for Eliminating the Unknowns and Aligning Expectations:

Ask how they were envisioning the progress of the project. Understanding their perspective will allow you to find the disconnects between expectation and reality so you can clarify matters. Do allow them to save face, by agreeing either that it should work that way or that you can understand their thought process since these misconceptions are quite prevalent.

Explain and break down the KPIs. Often clients can focus on the wrong goals such as rankings or other vanity metrics. Go over the different KPIs and why they’re important, so you can share SEO leading indicator metrics such as traffic or site visibility and also explain how you can influence order volume outside of rankings, such as via strong referral traffic from outreach efforts.

Use creative analogies to effectively explain the complicated. When trying to explain why you’re suggesting something or want to clarify a more complex concept, it’s very effective to throw in an analogy or two. Not only does it make the concept more relatable and clear uncertainties, but it also saves the client from having to ask multiple times. Plus, analogies can be really fun to come up with. For example, for clients who are confused by the fact that a single outreach effort wasn’t enough to move them up in the rankings immediately, you could try comparing it to a workout. You had one great kickboxing class but that isn’t enough to help drop 10 pounds. You’ll need to do more of these kickboxing classes regularly — over a period of time — to see any effect.

Share information in little chunks. As opposed to sending a large book or resource on SEO, send them an occasional related article or digestible chunk of information. This is extra helpful if the article ties back to something you were recommending or talking about at a meeting with them.

Do you have other tips or advice for dealing with difficult clients? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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