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March 5, 2010


The SEO Blame Game: Who’s Really to Blame?

by Anthony Verre

Dealing With the SEO Blame Game

At one time or another, every SEO and SEM has been here. Maybe, you’re even here right now. Wondering aloud, “WTH? They ignored our advice completely and blame us for the bad results!” Trust me, you’re not alone. As I’ve said before, some people just have to fail miserably before they figure it out.

This doesn’t happen very often, but on the off-chance you find yourself here, in this place, I’m hoping that this will help mollify the situation.

And, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll provide you with an example.

Who’s Really at Fault?

The situation: your client is going through a site redesign working exclusively with you. The site, based on your recommendations, should have a new site architecture. You construct a new site architecture with a new taxonomy based on the new focus of the site. After several lengthy, time-consuming conversations with your client, explaining your decisions and getting verbal buy-in, then it comes time to sign off and move forward with the project.

The Problem: the sitemap and taxonomy the client sends back to you, don’t contain a single thing you’ve advised them on. In fact, it’s looking a lot like the old site that had problems getting SERP position to begin with (mainly because of the poor structure and lack of focus).  You spend one more meeting explaining, nicely, just why you believe what they’ve sent you is a bad idea. They don’t budge. They like what they have and think it’s great.

The Resolution: normally it goes only one way; you do whatever it is they want you to do. (I know that seems silly, but a paying client is a paying client, and they have a voice too).  That, or you fire them or they fire you (and nobody wants that, really).

An Alternate Solution

It’s simple. The “Not Accountable” clause. You (the client) ignored sound consult and advice from a professional, and I (the professional) can no longer be held accountable for the results of the website. In any other profession, this standard is good as gold (i.e. doctors, lawyers, government, etc) so why should it not be good enough for our profession of SEM/SEO?

It doesn’t have to be a micro-font clause interlaced between NDA (non-disclosure-agreement) and privacy language. Not at all. It could simply be the above statement:

Sample “Not Accountable Statement”

You (_client company_) ignored sound consult and advice from a professional, and I (_your company_) can no longer be held accountable for the results of the website.

You have willfully chosen to ignore the following pieces of consult provided by (_your company_):




As such, we feel this would be detrimental to the progress that can be achieved to your website (_client URL_), and hereby cannot be held accountable for the results and/or ROI (return on investment) for the client.

We (_your company_) will optimize (_client URL_) to the best of our ability using all best practices to achieve the most optimal result.

You slide this across the table BEFORE you begin work on the project (don’t get caught in that trap) and waa-laah, everyone is happy again. They get their site, you optimize and get paid. Done and done.

In The Best of All Possible Worlds

As Dr. Pangloss said in Candide, it was just meant to happen that way. Fate will have its way. That’s true here too. Do I necessarily think that Not Accountable clause would actually work? Not really. It could lend itself to the client seeing that they should be heeding your advice and renewing the trust. But, I think it’s more likely to offend and skewer the relationship to a place that it can’t be recovered.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to correct a situation like this. I’d love to tell you that the clause will fix it, but it won’t. Perhaps, in the best of all possible worlds, we’d have connected and understood the delicate line between BRAND and KEYWORD PHRASES. So the real solution is to communication. And if that fails, then walk away from the table, because no conversation or clause will rectify that disconnect.

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  1. Mar 5 2010

    Well, you’re not wrong. I have had numerous run-ins with clients who simply think they know the industry better than the people they’re hiring to promote their website.

    You know that old saying if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile? I think it applies pretty well to this. For example, if my client thinks I am using the wrong keywords via PPC to drive relevant traffic, I usually negotiate with them to at least run a small test. I let that test run for a while and after the client see’s the results, they most always give me the ball and let me run with it.

    If you can open their eyes to one thing, it’s a lot easier to get them to be open for other issues.

    • Mar 5 2010

      I think that approach is absolutely correct. Baby steps. And will definitely help earn that trust.

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