7 Fixes to Communication Problems with SEO Clients

I am an Account Executive at SEO.com which is a fancy title for project manager. I’m not an expert in anything, but I know about 80% of everything. As I have worked with clients and SEO experts, I have seen many things get lost in translation. This can result in frustration for both parties, misunderstandings, finger pointing, and severed beneficial relationships.

Here are seven points to help bridge the gap:

1. Change your vocabulary

Industry jargon is not client friendly. Learn the concepts behind the acronyms and big words, explain them in terms the client understands. This involves understanding your client, their industry and business model.

2. Put things in context

You: “You need to add a 301 redirect here.”

Client: “Why?”

You: “Cause it’s good for your SEO.”

The answer to every client “Why?” is not, “because it’s good for your SEO.” This means nothing to clients. It sounds more like, “I don’t really know why, but everyone is doing it so I guess we will too.” Clients need to see the big picture. Explain how a change will ultimately affect their bottom line. Once clients can see it all in context, they will be happy to do whatever you suggest.

3. Educate

It’s to your benefit to educate your clients on proper SEO tactics. As you educate them, you are building trust. Your clients want, and need, to know you are the best at what you do. But most clients have control issues. They may believe you are the best, but will still have trouble letting go and allowing you to do your job.

Some SEO professionals believe that because the industry is ultra competitive, we have to keep our most precious SEO secrets to ourselves; otherwise all our clients will quit and do SEO themselves. Not so. Most clients want to partner with someone to do their SEO. They don’t really want to worry about it. But they will if they are not educated about what you are doing. It will take time to build that level of trust. Be patient.

4. Use analogies

The best teachers use analogies to explain difficult concepts. As mentioned above, educate your clients on SEO and use analogies that put things in context.

Explaining SEO to a client without analogies is like telling a Kansas farmer how to program a spaceship in Greek. See how well analogies work?

5. Tell your clients where to go

The fact is they hired you for a reason: to drive the SEO strategy. The client expects you to tell them what to do, because they really don’t know what they are doing. This means if a client comes up with a bad idea, say so, but nicely. Don’t be afraid to push back and fight for suggestions that you know will work. When you do, and they work, clients will trust you and be less inclined to fight back in the future.

6. Be realistic

Don’t try and “BS” anyone. We can all tell when someone doesn’t know what they are talking about. Be upfront and honest about everything. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Then go find it. If a client wants you to meet a ridiculous deadline, tell them it’s impossible and tell them why. They may be angry you can’t do it, but they will be far less angry if you said you could, and then missed the deadline.

7. Fix your reporting

Most SEO reporting is complicated and doesn’t tell the client the big picture. All reports should tell a story. They should all come together to communicate one or more main point. It’s not about the numbers; it’s about the story behind those numbers, how they relate to each other, and what that will mean for the future.

By implementing some of these points you will see a definite improved relationship with your clients.

A quick note to those working with SEO companies: If your SEO company is not doing above mentioned items and you feel frustrated, sometimes all it takes is communication. Tell your SEO firm how you feel and what you need. Most likely they had no idea there was a problem, and they would be happy to fix it.

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17 Comments

  1. says

    Some really good advice here. A lot of problems stem from bad communication. I’d also like to add one more: “Communicate the Value.”

    If you can clearly communicate the value you have already given them, and the progress, they will recognize the good investment in your services.

    • rob bonham says

      True. Many times a client will only see the face value of the service. Some times it takes going the extra mile to provide the greatest value.

      • Suzanne says

        Rob,

        Absolutely, and its our job as SEO’s and project managers to teach them how to see the value in an SEO campaign. We need to show them how it looks and feels so they can recognize it in the future.

  2. George says

    Very well-written post. And you got nice points. That’s the biggest problems with clients, despite their doing. Thanks for sharing your ideas on how to cure this.

  3. Dan Patterson says

    #2 is huge! Unless you can give a good reason to do something it won’t get done. And just be sure while you’re explaining things that you follow rule #1 :)

  4. rob bonham says

    Great info to keep fresh on our minds! If a client is not aware why a change or implementation is necessary, they are far less likely to heed your advice. If the client is educated as to why it will help they feel empowered and realize you have their best interest in mind.

  5. Chris says

    Thanks for the tips, analogies work great. Many clients don’t understand the technical aspect and it really helps then to compare it to something they understand.

  6. Suzanne says

    Alex,

    So very true. I suggest you take the time to teach them. This is vital to developing a long-lasting partnership with clients. Most companies out there are not looking for just a service provider, but a partner in their marketing efforts.

  7. Christopher says

    “All reports should tell a story. They should all come together to communicate one or more main point. It’s not about the numbers; it’s about the story behind those numbers, how they relate to each other, and what that will mean for the future. ”

    This is one my biggest challenges: Reporting just isn’t for the client — it’s for me too. I’ve been trying to pose, to myself, what I think are the important questions, constrained by the goals of the client, and then I try to answer them. I then report the answers I find the client, but so far, it’s been time consuming, and I’ve yet to find an efficient way to this. It’s clear however that any SEO campaign needs goals and a way to meet those goals. Then reporting comes down to 1) this is where we are 2) this is what we’ve done to get where we are 3) and this is the next step, and all in terms the client can understand.

    • Suzanne says

      Christopher,

      Efficiency usually equals standardization. And most of the time, this can work. However, there are many times when I need to do some customization of my own in the effort to be more relevant to the client. Reporting correctly is a necessary evil, and vital to communicating client wins properly. Keep at it!

      Moral of the story: do what you have to do to keep the client satisfied with your work!

  8. Keri Morgret says

    I think the context and examples are really helpful for clients.
    Instead of just saying “anchor text matters”, ask the client “what do you think is one of the top results for the query ‘click here’?” and show them how the download page for Adobe Reader ranks so highly.

  9. Dustin says

    This is a great post thanks for all of the advice, you have really highlighted the key points for communicating with SEO clients. I think that it is extremely important to manage the expectations of your clients and provide them with clear and accurate examples of the work that you are hired perform. SEO Clients believe that SEO is an overnight task and expect to see results immediately. Although it can be very time consuming to inform them of this misconception it is important to do so. With all the tips you have provided the process is able to be more efficient and beneficial to both the client and SEO expert.

    Thanks again for the great post!
    -Dustin

  10. Gay Aida says

    I can totally relate to this post.

    I have clients that you must explain why we should do this and that. And some even says can we do this because the other blogger or our competitor is doing this.

    Great posts! will share this to my team! Keep it up!

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