If there is money to be made, why am I not making it?
As the CEO of a digital marketing agency, I have seen my fair share of all sorts of clients. While I am happy to say that we have usually managed to find a common language, sometimes it took quite a bit of effort.
Not wishing to label anyone, but after a while, you learn to recognize certain archetypes.
As you can imagine, some clients can be more difficult to work with than others. But in the end, every client will respond well to honesty; uninflated, realistic promises; transparent reporting and a genuine commitment to helping their business prosper.
You can keep yourself on track by remembering that, ultimately, your job is not to make your client happy, it’s to make them successful. And that is the only way how your business will thrive in this competitive market. Otherwise, you are killing your own business (hence the Suicide Squad reference).
Let me explain what I mean.
When you are negotiating with someone who is running their own business, you cannot tread too lightly. They are passionate about it, protective of it, sometimes cautious to the verge of paranoia, and you cannot blame them for that.
Take me as an example. I am a (genuinely) nice guy, and I am also a business owner. I am all for fun & games, but if you try to play around with my business – I am going to give you the business!
It’s not because we are all too touchy-feely, it’s because we profoundly care about our work. And if I am doing business with you, I want you to care about my company as well, and I need you to show it.
Just take it personal. I want you to perceive my business as yours and I want you to love it, care about it, and send late night texts with a bunch XOs and good night wishes before I close the shop for the day.
That’s a personal perspective. However, statistically, public trust in businesses has hit a new low. According to Edelman, more than 50% of people don’t trust businesses at all. Furthermore, as much as 43% respondents think that the CEO is the least credible source of information in a company.
But I’m still writing this article tho!
As a CEO of Four Dots, and now Dibz, and with more than 180 currently active clients under my belt… Well, let’s just say that I know a thing or two when it comes to running the SEO business.
In fact, I am also a regular lecturer at the Digital Communication Institute, and sort of a public speaker for entrepreneurs and digital marketers (a little self-promotion never killed nobody).
So, here is me, doing what I do best at the WWVrsac convention for entrepreneurs and freelancers.
However, I also had my fair share of tough times, bad clients, bad results… The point is that you have to learn from those experiences and never make the same mistake twice.
What did I learn? I learned that caring about someone else’s business isn’t enough. When it comes to business development, you have to outline your weak spots, tend to them, fix them, and make sure that they happen as rarely as humanly possible.
While I cannot teach you how to run a pawn shop (and I really don’t know what is going to come through that door), I can definitely teach you how to make money in the SEO industry by introducing you to some problems that came through my doors.
Being honest with your clients is essential, but there is much more to communication than simple truthfulness. You need to be able to listen, ask the right questions and respond in exactly as much detail as needed. Most common communication-related SEO mistakes include:
Not understanding the client’s demands – Not everyone is interested in rankings or traffic. Take the time to learn exactly what it is that your client is after. Naturally, should you find a reason for them to change their focus, don’t be too shy to mention it.
Not using language they’ll understand – People in our industry are often accused of using shady methods. While this is mostly the fault of blackhat and unethical ‘experts’, even the most reputable and by-the-book SEOs can unwittingly contribute to this reputation, simply by using jargon that seems deliberately obtuse to the client.
While we are used to some terms, they might sound like a devious sales pitch to someone not familiar with the subject. It might take a while before you know a client well enough to learn exactly how to talk to them, but in the meantime, make sure there are no ambiguities or omissions in your presentation.
Slacking off with reporting – Clients, especially ones with stronger proclivities towards micromanagement, need to know how their campaign is progressing. Transparent and regular reporting is not only appreciated by clients, it also prevents potential issues and makes it easier to justify the costs. So keep them updated regularly.
Just like the El Diablo, you will have to learn that a lot of us wont care about your personal issues and capabilities, and the only thing that is expected from you is to contribute to your team. So scratch the drama and always deliver in a fashion that is expected.
Goals & Metrics
If you know how to talk to your clients, you should be able to skate through this stage of your cooperation, but it doesn’t hurt to have a road-map. As corny as it may sound, being precise is the only general guideline you need. Some of the more specific ones are:
Promises – Sure, you need a good pitch to attract clients, but for your, their and God’s sake, remember that attracting them is not the end of your journey together. The next step is invariably you delivering on your promises, so plan ahead for it.
In other words, don’t make us all look like scammers just because you are optimistic enough (to ignore other, seedier possibilities) to promise page one rankings in a couple of weeks.
Goals – Mistakes in initial setup can derail your entire campaign and make every success you achieve irrelevant. Focusing on the wrong keywords, mismatched targeting, developing an inappropriate brand voice, and generally, setting unrealistic or unimportant goals will have you going in the wrong direction right from the very start.
Metrics – Directly related to the goals you set, breakthroughs one client would cherish might be inconsequential to another. For instance, if someone hires you to improve their sales, you can’t only look at the traffic improvements you’ve made, and pretend they’re enough to ensure an increase in revenue.
Keeping a close and constant watch over relevant metrics and focusing on them when reporting to your client can make or break your business, so don’t take it lightly.
Tactics From an Age Gone by
Every industry grows more nuanced and complex as time goes by, but SEO has an unforgiving pace when it comes to the rate at which major changes are introduced. Staying informed on all the minute innovations is quite demanding, but getting at least a general idea of what methods to stay away from is terribly simple.
If you feel like you brought a knife to a gunfight, just browse through this short list of blackhat, manipulative, or outdated practices:
Quantity over quality – While there used to be a time when any link would help your rankings, for a while now, they can do just as much damage. If you want to stick to the old analogy of links to your site actually being votes, just modify it with the understanding that Google has gotten pretty good at assessing the voters. Going ‘round and getting links from spammy directories, bookmark sites, forum signatures, blog comments, and other cursed treasure troves is only liable to get you swept away by the dark undercurrents of the Everflux.
Mastering of puppets – The sweet thrill of successfully manipulating search engines might seem enticing to some, but it usually ends in disillusionment, demoralization, and if you’re really unlucky, de-indexation. While one may hope there will come a time when this doesn’t need to be repeated any more, reemerging cases of these ‘tactics’ being employed force us to repeat: keyword stuffing, cloaking, buying links, scraping content and reusing it, submitting pieces to article directories, abusing networks, insisting on using the same anchors over and over, etc. will get you nothing but a penalty, dissatisfied clients and a bad reputation.
Dis-Content – Sure, it’s’ common knowledge that content is king, but so was Louis XVI, and we all know how he was treated. Making sure that your content is engaging, attractive, accurate, informative and timely will open many doors for you, just keep that in mind when you start looking into how demanding it can be to create it.
Getting in Your Own Way
When a lot of your work is based on probing search engines for clues on how they operate, you are often forced to rely on trial and error. In such a dynamic environment, it can become difficult to keep track of all threads. Tying up one loose end can leave you so blindsided that, while fixing one problem, you create a number of others. Most commonly, this includes:
Setup – If you are setting up a website from scratch and have a choice of hosting provider, it is imperative to find a reliable one that offers packages which can be scaled to your needs as you grow. If you choose shared hosting, you should also make sure to check out your neighborhood, i.e. other sites on the server.
Disregarding the basics – You can get into a lot of trouble by failing to optimize your URLs, get a security encryption, ensure that your site is easily crawlable, your meta tags are in order, your site is mobile friendly and that it loads as fast as possible, so keep an eye out for these details.
Keyword cannibalization – It might be true that sometimes we are our own greatest enemy, but keywords should be kept out of this conflict. In other words, make sure that you are not competing with yourself for keywords, also paying attention to ones which are the focus of your PPC campaign (if you have one).
When searching for opportunities and valuable resources, you should start at home. Every client you work with will come with a range of assets, it’s your job to identify, modify and use them.
Broken links – Meaning both links on your website (outgoing or internal) and those from other sites leading to yours. Fixing broken links on your website is very straightforward and should be performed regularly, if you want to stay presentable to both users and crawlers. On the other hand, while contacting people to fix the links leading to you is a bit more demanding, it can be a nice boost to your link portfolio.
Social media – Not leveraging social networks is almost inexcusable, especially if your client already has decent engagement on a particular platform. Don’t spread yourself too thin, focus on one or two communities that make the most sense, and try to build genuine relationships within them.
Content – If your client has a blog on their site, you should make sure that the content is optimized and then start promoting it. If they have an informative whitepaper, don’t just let it sit there gathering e-dust. Their beautiful images could stand to be seen by more people, right? You get the idea: when you can, build on what you have, not around it.
Local search – Naturally, this only applies to some businesses, but if your client has an address, they should also have a listing in Google Places. Optimizing for local search can bring your clients a significant edge over competitors, so make sure to at least consider it.
You can’t hope to completely avoid making mistakes, but as long as you stay clear of the major stumbling blocks, recovery is usually possible. However, even though it won’t bury you, ignoring some of the opportunities or risks involved with each individual project can lead to both you and your client missing out on revenue and exposure.
There is one other common problem that could be lowering your earning potential, that hasn’t been mentioned before, so I’ll just add it here as something of a bonus.
I’m talking about wasting time on processes which can be automated, optimized, or skipped. If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again, investing just a little time into finding a way to do it faster can have huge returns in the long run. How do you do this? You read about how other people are doing it, try different approaches, and when someone offers you a free trial of a link prospecting tool that does the work for you, you don’t hesitate to give it a go of course.
So come and get it!