Is one or your clients about to split? Here are some common reasons clients decide to fire their SEO agency and actions you can take to prevent it.
The agency-client relationship can be fragile.
This can be especially true of SEO agencies, given the long-term commitment required to see optimal results. A lot can change during that time and, sometimes, a client decides it would be best to part ways.
However, this really doesn’t have to be the case. There are some predictable, avoidable reasons clients decide to split with their agency.
I spent more than seven years working at digital marketing agencies and learned (sometimes the hard way) to sense when clients were unsatisfied. There were some common patterns that played out over time.
The good news? A bit of honesty, clarity, and some positive results can save your agency-client relationship.
Here are five reasons clients choose to fire their SEO agency and some actions you can take to avoid getting fired.
1. “We Can’t Implement Your Recommendations”
SEO is fundamental to increase visibility, but it is harder to achieve this if you don’t control the website. As a result, hefty tomes filled with SEO recommendations can end up gathering dust in the client’s inbox.
With some larger clients, I’ve seen thousands of technical recommendations go unimplemented. The clients’ (quite valid) argument has been that these only have a value as they relate to website improvements. Without seeing the light of day, the recommendations are essentially worthless.
There are numerous reasons why this occurs. If the client isn’t in a position to give the agency direct access to the site, it usually means going through a web development queue every time a change is suggested. Should other recommendations take precedence over yours, you may find that SEO gets lost in the crowd.
How to Avoid This:
- Present a business case for your recommendations. Communicate, in terms everyone can relate to, why it’s good for the client’s business to follow your team’s advice.
- Get to know the hurdles your client faces when implementing SEO updates. Work together to overcome them.
- Set targets for everyone. It takes a team effort to improve a site for SEO, so it’s worth creating a dashboard to track how many changes have been seen through and where the bottlenecks are. This helps to quantify and visualize any issues.
- Build relationships with senior leaders at the client’s business.Sometimes the client requires an organizational change to get SEO bumped up the priority list. Without senior-level approval, that is unlikely to happen.
- Add a caveat in contracts (in some cases). This can state simply that should the agency’s SEO recommendations not be implemented within a reasonable time frame, any agreed performance targets need to be revised.
2. “SEO Isn’t Delivering Like Our Other Channels”
The gift and the curse of SEO can be its long-term effectiveness as a performance channel. In theory, everyone is on board with the fact that SEO takes longer than PPC to bring positive returns.
In practice, it’s easy to grow impatient when you see how SEO stacks up against PPC or even paid social in the immediate short term.
The agreement between agency and client about how long SEO takes to work becomes particularly fraught if things start to trend downwards. Even a slight week-on-week dip in visibility can be cause for concern.
To marketers accustomed to paid search, it can be difficult to shift mindsets and accept that there are rarely instant fixes in SEO. Barring a serious technical problem, in SEO these dips can’t be reversed so readily. They must be put into a wider context and investigated in detail before actions are taken.
How to Avoid This:
- SEO isn’t supposed to deliver like other channels, so the best way to avoid this scenario is to work on developing trust in your approach. Set expectations appropriately at the outset and provide frequent updates.
- Make sure your team identifies any performance changes. If the client notices it first, you can seem either negligent or keen to hide something. If you feel the client may be concerned with what they see, get in touch first to allay any fears.
- Offer to educate your client’s team if they aren’t so familiar with SEO. Clients are usually open to learning more about digital marketing.
- If things simply aren’t turning out like you thought they would, be honest. Performance won’t improve without everyone getting on board with a new approach. That starts with an up-front conversation about what’s gone to plan, what hasn’t, and what you need to do to turn things around. Clients appreciate a bit of integrity more than anything else.
3. “We’re Not Sure What We’re Getting for Our Money”
A lot of SEO work goes on in the background. We spend a huge amount of our time analyzing trends, identifying opportunities, and preparing documents.
We have to put this time in if we want to compile an effective strategy. However, the client rarely sees this. Our processes can be hidden, with only the outputs to show.
Some clients have had a bad experience with an agency, too. I’ve seen plenty of clients approach a new agency with a paid link penalty in tow. It’s understandable that this causes a certain guardedness about SEO agency practices in general.
If we keep our processes out of sight, that skepticism will only increase. From there, the relationship is hard to retain.
How to Avoid This:
- Spend time going through your statement of work with the client. Make sure they understand what each item is, how long it will take, and why you think it’s the best use of their budget. That way, there should be no surprises and they are free to amend things as they see fit.
- Stick to your project plan. If there are any deviations from this, discuss them with your client and confirm the changes in writing.
- Use a shared project management tool like Basecamp or Teamwork. This provides visibility into your team’s daily tasks and helps to assign items to the client, too.
4. “You Haven’t Delivered on Your Promises”
This one stereotypically befalls the salespeople who promise incremental, oftentimes stratospheric, improvements in performance — up and to the right to infinity. This can help get the sale, but then it’s the SEO account team that has to make good on the promise of triple-digit growth.
However, this isn’t the exclusive domain of the over-eager salesperson.
We can all get a little carried away just through the desire to please a new client.
This can leave us with performance targets that loom large on the horizon once the honeymoon period is over.
Additionally, this applies to the account team you provide for the client. I’ve seen agencies put forward an account team in a pitch document, then deliver an entirely different set of people once the ink dries on the contract. This makes the client feel like they are being taken advantage of from day one.
How to Avoid This:
- Make it clear what exactly is being promised to a client. Performance projections, for example, can be viewed as legally binding. Clients can feel that they are buying that traffic by signing with your agency. Your methodology for calculating a forecast (if you do decide to supply one) and all caveats to this must be provided in a transparent manner.
- As an agency, it is essential to have a clear code of conduct, both internally and in your interactions with clients. Make this explicit in your initial written agreements with a client so they feel assured that you’ll stick to your word.
- Let your client meet their account team during the pitch phase. Often, an agency will send their best salespeople to try and seal the deal, but all the clients I’ve met really want to meet the people who will be working on their account.
5. “We Feel Like We Can Take It From Here”
“What will your SEO agency provide after month three?” Many clients have been asking this question of their agencies lately.
The perception is that the heavy lifting of technical SEO and on-site implementations will be done within this period. After that, surely it’s just about occasional maintenance and some reporting, right?
This can lead some clients to feel like, after they’ve received the initial audits and strategy documents, they’ve got all they need from an SEO agency. Basically, they think they can “take it from here.”
We know they’re wrong (obviously). But the onus is on us to make the case.
An SEO specialist can add to any conversation that relates to a client’s website. This is as valid in month 12 of the contract as it is in month one – perhaps even more so.
Our efforts have a cumulative effect. SEO practices provide more value through their application over time. This applies to our technical SEO work, content marketing, and digital PR.
The full impact of our work is lost if the relationship is severed after just a few months.
How to Avoid This:
- Provide case studies that show the positive effect your SEO team has on a client’s business over time. This should demonstrate that you need at least six months to make a real difference.
- When preparing a service-level agreement, make reference to specific time frames. Clients may feel that they are getting everything up front, but some of our work only really kicks into action in month four or later.
- A lot of clients have good reasons for believing they can take up the mantle from their agency. Perhaps they have hired an in-house SEO specialist, for example. In this case, offer to transition your activities over to their team and make sure the client is in the best possible shape for success.
These tools will help your business grow, generate leads, develop customer loyalty, and make more money – all while keeping your clients and teams happy.
Working with hundreds of clients and projects on a daily basis, digital agencies and SEO professionals with a lot of projects spend an enormous amount of time estimating, developing strategies, analyzing, and reporting.
Simultaneously, the business has to grow, generate leads, and develop customer loyalty. And, of course, make more money.
How in the world can you make all of these things happen while making your clients and teams happy at the same time?
Certainly, there are many ways for agencies and SEO pros to increase their revenue and customer loyalty regardless of whether it’s generated through new technologies or via enhanced internal processes.
Working close with agencies, though, we’ve identified five of the most common pain points they are struggling with:
- Finding solutions on how to personalize and enhance relationships with their clients,
- Finding new ways to generate leads.
- Building better value proposition.
- Accelerating strategy execution.
- Creating more accurate forecasting.
Automation, new widgets, and tools are often the cure for the problems.
Below is a collection of tools and options that can help with reaching these objectives to the best satisfaction of all parties involved.
1. Generate More Qualified Leads Using Lead Generator Widget
Lead generator is a great tool that helps attract qualified leads using instant SEO audit as an attraction.
It’s a widget (or a webform, if you will) installed on your website that provides your potential clients with a detailed report on how well their webpage is optimized for a certain search query.
In exchange, you are getting their contact information along with their report ending up with a “hot” lead and a list of their problems at hand to start the conversation going.
There are some widgets on the market to choose from.
SE Ranking offers this option within their top plans. It looks very sleek and can be customized to reflect your unique brand styling.
The popped-out form:
Here is how easily (as simple as 1-2-3) you can customize and install the webform and start generating leads today:
Step 1: Select the widget type and install it: choose the form, the color, the budget, the text and where you want to place it on a site.
Step 2: Add a small piece of the HTML code to your website pages.
Step 3: Get alerts on new leads and convert them into your potential clients.
2. Build Trust & Personalize a Client-Agency Relationship
White Label is quite a popular option in SEO platforms as it is aimed at presenting your SEO services as your own technology. Not all of the SEO platforms offer White Label as part of the subscription. So, look for services like SE Ranking that has this option within their pricing plans.
The value of White Label in building trust and credibility with your clients is indisputable. With minimum development work, you can use your domain or subdomain to provide personalized SEO services to your clients. Let’s look inside the system to see how it works, using SE Ranking as an illustration.
By employing White Label option, you can customize the system to reflect your own interface and login page, change the header and footer of your own domain and adapt the look of email templates to fit your agency styling.
The reports you’ll be sending to your clients will look like they’ve been generated via your own SEO technology. Moreover, all your SEO reports can be sent via your own SMTP server.
It is easy to add and manage users with custom access to other SEO features like rank tracking, backlink monitoring, website audit, etc. There is never a hint of connection between your agency and SE Ranking and since the platform is cloud-based, there are no hosting or maintenance issues.
3. Use Marketing Plan to Speed up Estimation & Enhance Accuracy
Regardless of how many times you’ve provided the estimation and developed a strategy for your clients, more often than not it takes an arm and a leg to create a document that’s both impressive and accurate.
What if you could automate this process and come up with a personalized plan built based on the best practices in the field – with the simple click of a mouse?
Tools like Marketing Plan from SE Ranking do just that.
Automating the estimation and preliminary strategy within the initial stages of your sales cycle effectively cuts the time it takes to execute while ensuring accuracy.
Also, the beauty of it is in how easily you can customize the plan, add your points, get a complete list of tasks, and disperse these tasks among your team members. It’s like a mini project management tool at your fingertips with an SEO twist.
4. Develop Ambassadors Using Top-Notch Reporting
Beautiful, detailed and comprehensive reports are the base of making your customers happy and thus, loyal. It’s also the most painful part for agencies since reports take so much time to develop.
Using reporting tools in an SEO platform makes this tedious task so much easier.
For example, the Report Builder from SE Ranking helps create professional reports and impress even the most demanding clients. You can add a personalized look to your reports by adding your logo and contact info in the header.
Additionally, make them easily accessible with the option to download them in different formats: .pdf, .xls, .html, .csv. You can send and get reports automatically to selected e-mails on a regular basis.
The tool works in a manual, automatic, or scheduled mode. A nice touch is the Drag and Drop. These modules help make your SEO reports look comprehensive and elegant.
5. Budgeting Is a Science – Treat It Accordingly
Forecasting and the estimation of your SEO potential is a crucial puzzle piece for generating greater revenue while simultaneously making your clients happy.
You can still use Excel files and guess how much return on investment you might get from your SEO efforts. Or, you can use tools such as SEO Potential from SE Ranking to forecast and justify your budgeting.
This feature uses a sophisticated formula to predict the results of your SEO investments.
For example, by using this tool, you can easily predict how many clicks your client can get based on their search rankings. Alternatively, assess the expected traffic volume, quantity of clients and traffic cost via Google AdWords. You can then generate the reports and export them into different formats to present them in detail to your clients.
In the modern business environment, making more money is not just about increasing your rates or advertising budget. It’s also about value proposition, business processes, and technologies. These are the factors that really affect the bottom of the funnel in the long run, as well as the overall health and business efficiency of your organization.
Using platforms such as SE Ranking, which offers basically everything that you need to successfully operate your digital agency or provide freelance services, might help eliminate unnecessary clutter and complexity while helping you grow a prosperous business and long-term client relationships in the tough field of digital marketing.
Entrepreneur magazine contributor, Mike Templeman, shares his thoughts on the SEO snake oil being solicited by top agencies and advertisers alike. SEO takes time and like Mike references, there is no “overnight” fix or silver bullet that can take you to the top.
Don’t get burned by a snake oil salesperson when it comes to your company’s SEO needs.Do you know what snake oil is? It’s a term used to describe any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit. If you read this Wikipedia article on the topic, you’ll see that real oil from snakes used to be prescribed as a cure for everything from small cuts on up to arthritis and skin diseases.
And a recent study came out touting that companies will be spending $65 Billion on SEO this year.
Now, as the title to this article would imply, I believe that the SEO industry, and the digital marketing industry in general is full of snake oil salespeople. Individuals who knowingly are selling a product that either will not work for the buyer or that they know is of inferior quality.
Let me explain. I run a marketing agency. I have to hear dozens of horror stories every week about wasted budgets, sites damaged beyond repair, digital campaigns that produce zero results and everything else business owners and marketers are terrified of. These stories are the grownup versions of the campfire stories we told each other as children. Except now, they end in the loss of millions of dollars. Terrifying, I know.
Now, I mentioned that I run an agency, as such you’d think that we’d have a pretty good grasp on marketing. But you wouldn’t guess that if you looked at my spam folder. I receive hundreds, yes hundreds of unsolicited emails every day from marketers promising to take my brand to the #1 spot in Google (total lie). Or to bring me thousands of visitors in a matter of weeks (liar liar pants on fire). They tell me that my site is breaking numerous rules set forth by the search engines and if I don’t fix them my company will die a fiery death (oh really?).
Related: Here’s What Really Matters for SEO in 2016
These are the Exhibit A’s in the snake oil industry of digital marketing and SEO.
To see the Exhibit B’s you’ll need to reach out to an agency of your choice and ask to speak with their sales team. Odds are you’ll end up talking with someone that will guarantee that your wildest dreams will be fulfilled by focusing on SEO. Or maybe they’re a social media agency. If that’s the case, their silver bullet will undoubtedly be social media. Either way, they’ve got the tonic that will cure your website’s disease. And if you act now, you’ll be guaranteed results!
Look, as someone who has worked in SEO and every other digital medium for the last decade or so, I can tell you that there are no silver bullets and that nothing is guaranteed. I also know that SEO doesn’t work for some companies. Just like PPC isn’t for everyone, nor is social media. After all, billboards and commercials don’t work for every industry, so why would digital marketing be any different?
But let’s examine what makes a lot of SEO services snake oil and give you the information you’ll need to protect yourself.
Why is it snake oil?
Snake oil originated in the medical industry. It was used as a cure for ailments. It was easy for salespeople to pull the wool over they’re buyers’ eyes because back in the day, no one really knew what the heck was going on with their bodies. Medical information wasn’t as readily available. And since medical conditions are by nature quite scary, the sufferers were ready to believe anything that was thrown their way.
Well, guess what? The Internet is the new medical industry when it comes to snake oil. You see, the Internet is still not that old. It’s really only become prolific over the last 20 years or so. With that being the case, most people don’t understand the ins and outs of it. Yes, like a medical condition, they can tell when something is wrong. But they’re not really quite sure what the cause of the issue is. Enter the snake oil salespeople.
Whenever there are uninformed customers, there will always be predatory groups looking to take advantage of that situation. And with a 65 Billion dollar industry up for grabs, the streets are running wet with snake oil right now.
Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Consultant
What I’ve seen.
While some snake oils can be rather harmless, when it comes to your digital marketing snake oil is anything but. For instance, I wrote an article a few years back about a large company that was removed from the Google search results due to their digital marketing activities. They had some sloppy marketing being done and it ended up making them disappear from the search results. Harmless, right? Wrong. You see, this company relied heavily on their search results for new leads to their call center. This call center was staffed by dozens of people. These people had families, mortgages, and relied on that income.
Well, when the phones just stop ringing one morning, it’s going to be very hard for a company to keep employing an entire sales floor. And while the company did their best to avoid the inevitable, they eventually had to face the facts and they ended up laying off the entire department.
So this one company that unfortunately trusted a snake oil salesperson, ended up having to lay off almost 50 people at a time when the economy wasn’t doing so well. I’m sure there was a lot of financial pain felt by these families.
So, yes, snake oil SEO can be extremely dangerous in today’s digital economy.
How do business owners avoid getting burned?
This is probably the most important part of this article. As I mentioned earlier, the reason these groups are able to prey on consumers is because of the lack of information. To this end, you need to gird yourself with knowledge. Do research on the topic you’ll be discussing with your potential agency partners. Have talking points and specific questions that you’d like answered. By doing this, you’ll be able to avoid the bottom-of-the-barrel snake oil salespeople that can’t even face mild scrutiny.
Related: The Top 4 Reasons SEO Is Dead
Once you’ve weeded those ones out, you’ll want to really do your research on the agencies that have made the first cut. Check the background of the founders, look for third party reviews. Ask them for case studies, testimonials, and references. Do not look at a slick sales deck and assume that because they can put together a decent PowerPoint that they can provide you with proper marketing services. I’ve seen hundreds of dreams crushed on the expectations set by a nice sales presentation. Any group you don’t feel 100 percent comfortable with should be cut after this.
Now that you’ve made it to your third round of choices, you’ll want to watch what they produce for you very closely. Don’t accept an agency that does not give you full visibility into what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how often I see shoddy work being done, and the business owner would have been able to identify that work as being shoddy, but because they weren’t aware it was being done, they had no way of stopping it.
Because of this you’ll want to make sure that the group you’re working with is willing to show you everything they’re doing and will actually take the time to explain and train you on what they’re doing. After all, an informed client is the best kind of client.
And if you follow these steps, you’ll be assured that you’ve probably weeded out all of the snake oil salespeople and you’ll be working with a reputable agency. Now, this doesn’t guarantee that you will get great results. As I mentioned above, sometimes SEO isn’t a solution for all industries and sometimes marketing campaigns don’t result in massive successes. But those are the chances you should be willing to take. If you know you’re working with the right group that does things the right way, then you’re in it together. And the engagement should feel like a partnership, rather then a vendor relationship.
So, as you’re out there trying to spend your marketing dollars wisely, watch for those shady characters that are touting the magical properties of their services. Odds are, there’s a lot of snake oil in their pitch.
Structuring campaigns based on personas is can effective, but what happens when you have keyword overlap that dilutes your messaging?
Keywords and search queries can mean different things to different people. That’s where intent comes in. You might, for example, have one keyword that serves multiple personas.
So the work that you need to do to qualify those leads in a PPC environment typically happens at the ad creative and landing page level, not necessarily with the PPC campaign structure.
My agency recently inherited a PPC account that was building campaigns based on personas, and the strategy didn’t prove itself. (By the way, if you’re interested in the cabinet of curiosities we discovered when we got into the account, check out my column from last month.)
Using this account as a case study, I’ll share with you some important lessons on understanding keywords, what to do when they serve more than one audience type in PPC and what results you can see when you reorganize based on the moneymakers.
The Situation: Misguided Campaign Structure
The business in question runs on licensing and continuing education for a particular industry. So the company wanted to target two distinct personas based on those two different groups.
The previous PPC account managers had separated the campaign structure based on audience personas: continuing education seekers and new licensees.
That sounds okay at the outset, except the keywords that were in the continuing education campaign were some of the same keywords that were in the new licenses campaign — and frankly, any of them could cater to either audience.
Here’s an example of how it was structured:
Continuing Education Campaign
dog walking continuing ed
dog walking renewals
dog walking licensing
New Licenses Campaign
dog walking licenses
dog walking courses
dog walking license tests
For the continuing education ads, searchers landed on a page that catered to that side of the business, and for the new license ads, they landed on a page with info specific to that.
But the thing is, it was a crap shoot. Any new licensee or a person seeking continuing education could come in via “dog walking courses,” for example.
So in the off chance they did convert on a particular landing page, in my opinion, it was pure luck.
The Fix: Follow The Money
When we dug into the account, we rolled up our sleeves; we had work to do. And we did what we always do: Follow the keywords that are making the business money.
The client was at first hesitant and wanted to continue the way they had been: campaigns based on personas. (We did get past that.)
Once we restructured the campaigns with the keywords that drove traffic and conversions, we refocused the ad creative and the landing pages (our messaging strategy catered to both possible personas), and let those do the work of qualifying the personas:
The Results: 123% Lift In Revenue
With a little love, the account experienced a huge lift in conversion rates, transactions and revenue for the client year over year. We suspect this will only get better, as we are still testing our strategy and adjusting it as we go.
From the report, we see:
- A 39-percent lift in conversion rates.
- An 84-percent lift in transactions.
- A 123-percent lift in revenue coming from PPC.
The moral of the story is this: PPC managers and online advertisers need to do the work to understand the intent behind the keywords, and then work that insight into various steps in the funnel.
That starts with ensuring the account structure is sound, following the keywords that are showing the most ROI, and then using marketing insights to make the ad messaging and landing pages guide the audience down the path to conversion.