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March 25, 2010


Qualifying Your SEO Clients: The Intangibles

by Anthony Verre

Yes or No Questions to Qualifying Your SEO Clients

David Harry wrote a really phenomenal post on Search Engine Journal that dealt with how to qualify your SEO Clients. (If you haven’t read this post, I would suggest it’s pre-requisite reading before this post) The gist:

Or as I like to say, 80% of your grief will come from clients worth 20% of your revenues. Anyone that has been in business for any length of time will have seen this. Not only can these ‘bad’ clients be emotionally taxing, they are also a drain on the resources of your company.

It is important from time to time to assess the clients…this is why it is a good reason to pre-qualify clients. Then you will hopefully never end up in this situation.

I thought I’d write a continuation piece discussing some intangibles when qualifying your SEO clients.

Two Important Intangibles For Qualification

David’s post did a tremendous job at looking at and evaluating tangible factors and data for qualifying potential SEO clients. And yet, there are some intangibles that can only be measured from experience and gut-feel. Those would be trust and seriousness.

Even if all the data and budgets line up, if you have a client that doesn’t/won’t trust your expertise, none of that matters. If you have client that isn’t really serious about search, performing well and capitalizing on the potential revenue streams available with a strategic SEO and SEM game plan, again, no amount of serendipitous data aligning will matter.

Energy Vampire Clients

Trust: Avoiding the Energy Vampire

Even if it all looks perfect on paper, it rarely ends up perfect. There are going to be snags, hiccups, and just plain ole’ misfires. The data is rarely perfect and sound out of the gate. It a guesstimate of what the data tools are telling us in the beginning, without some analytics in support, how people search for what you do.  So that means tweaks to everything. With tweaks comes change. Change a client may not always be comfortable with, but will serve them best in the long run.

If you’ve got a client that won’t listen to the data or you, then you’ve got a tough, and most likely untenable, situation. They may know their business and the products/services, but they pay you to understand how that translates to online consumers.

If they don’t trust you to shape the site, and by extension, the brand, then you spend all your time convincing them to pursue menial changes (because that’s all they trust anyone to do) that don’t amount to anything. Small battles all the time frustrate everyone and everyone’s nerves get frayed.

It boils down to an order-taking situation. Those relationships don’t last and become “energy vampires”.

Serious SEO Clients

Seriousness: Getting on Board

How serious is the client about search marketing and online marketing strategy? This takes time to evaluate, and it’s difficult to gauge from the first few conversations, primarily because everyone is excited about the prospect of doing great things.

Then the excitement wears off after a few months. And their true colors show. They’re “just fine” with the results. No need for expanding the architecture, or creating content to focus on what the data says people are on your site for. Everything is as it should be. They spent a good deal of money on a new site design and architecture, see some results, and are happy to just be there.

Things I’ve Recognized Over the Years

Here’s a few things I’ve seen over the years that, 9 times out of 10, will let you know you don’t have a serious client dedicated to building the best results possible.

  1. The “I just need a site so we can be where everyone else is” mantra
  2. Flinch anytime you mention the words “proposal” or “estimate”
  3. Back-peddle on every great idea with excuses about “needing approval from higher up” or the “not in this year’s marketing budget”

I would take all of these as a cues that one should walk. They just want the bare minimum and aren’t concerned with the possible results or revenue streams. It’s not somebody you can build a partnership with. It’s not someone who wants to share some risk with you.

The Objective: Building Partnerships, Creating Dialog

These two intangibles, if they’re present, in combination with David’s post, bring us impossibly close to a creating lasting, sound client relationships. And, after all, isn’t that what any of us wants? A client who trusts you, a client is serious about search and wants to harness it for all its worth?

If you’re sitting across the table with someone you can’t see this happening with, then they aren’t the right client for you.

  1. Mar 26 2010

    I had a guy over the weekend who said almost the same thing you mentioned above: “I only want a page that shows my name and phone number. I don’t need anything else.” I also had a customer who after I had created a site, when I proposed that we now market it said, “I don’t need to market it. Google with find it and it will show up.” After 5 months he still doesn’t rank for any of his precious terms. Now he blames me for not showing up on the internet.

    Thanks for the column. Its good advice.

  2. Mar 26 2010

    Of course the ‘energy vampire’ you refer to in this blog is out there, and can suck a lot of resources out of you and your company, but at least these people are getting involved.

    Surely the biggest ‘energy vampires’ are the clients that pay their monthly bills but don’t want to write a blog, don’t tell you about the newsworthy developments going on in their companies, or don’t reply to your phone calls.

    Maybe these guys should be the first to go?

  3. Mar 29 2010


    Thanks for the kind words. I hope this post helps a little. Hindsight is always a 20-20 ordeal, and I think the next time around, you’ll pick up those “warning signals”. 🙂


    You make a great point. Which is the more difficult situation: the “energy vampire” that creates small, meaningless battles or the one that sits like a lump. Honestly, I think both cases fall under the “Not Serious About Search” category.

    I still have hope for lumps, kind of. But, I’ve had a fair share of those too. I would suggest this post, TIME TO FIRE YOUR CLIENTS? ( It all depends on your tolerance level and are they turning you upside-down on your profit? That is, do you pour more resources in than you get out?

  4. Apr 5 2010

    Good article – What are your thoughts on how to identify those “energy vampires” before they’ve signed your contract?

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