How To Manage The Expectations Of Your SEO Clients

How To Manage The Expectations Of Your SEO ClientsAre your clients hounding you to find out when your SEO strategies are going to start working for them?

Do you find it challenging to keep client expectations under control?

It's no secret that SEO takes time, but your clients may not know that and aren't necessarily going to see it that way unless you take the time to explain how things work to them.

According to Joshua Steimle:

Many SEO firms will tell you that it takes 4 to 6 months to start seeing results. That's generally accurate, but bear in mind this is when you start seeing results, and SEO results grow over time. Whatever results you're getting at 6 months should be considerably less than what you're getting at 12 months. At some point, you may see your results taper off, and then it may be a matter of maintaining rather than growing them. (Forbes)

That's great, but how do you explain that to your clients?

How do you manage their expectations and keep them realistic?

Let's take a closer look.

The 4 Steps To Managing Client Expectations

There are essentially four steps you can take to manage the expectations of your SEO clients.

They boil down to:

  1. Communicate: you have to explain your processes, share what you expect the outcomes will be, what you can and cannot do for your client, understand what your client's objectives are, and generally keep in touch with them throughout the entire process. Communication is the linchpin to your operation.
  2. Set realistic timelines: again, us SEOs know that optimization campaigns take time. You have to remember that your customers are probably going to expect to see good things happen sooner than you are. But don't be tempted to promise what you can't deliver; don't bend your time-frame. You have to establish a realistic timeline with them, and help them to understand why optimization can take a while.
  3. Report: you need to send regular reports to your clients. This is an important step to maintaining a proper business-to-business relationship. As an SEO, you may be used to looking at certain numbers to measure your effectiveness, but keep in mind that these metrics can be confusing and even misleading to your clients who aren't necessarily educated in your ways. So make your reports easy to understand, and help your customers see how you are helping them move towards their business goals.
  4. Document: remember to track all of your communication with your clients. It's tedious work, but if you don't do it, arguments could start over who said what, and whatever arbitrary terms were not met in an agreement. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where an expectation goes unmet or unaddressed because something was missed, so make sure to take detailed notes on each of your customers.

How SEO Used To Look

Part of the challenge in setting up proper clients expectations comes with how SEO used to look.

Seven to eight years ago, it was still the "Wild West of SEO"; throw up some content, do some link building, make sure the link structure on the site is good, optimize, and you'd get those rankings you'd been vying for.

In other words, you could easily prove the value of SEO to your clients.

Of course, there is still value to SEO today; it's just that an SEO's role is a little more involved than it used to be!

There are so many more factors that have an impact on search rankings today than there were in the past.

Rand Fishkin had this to say about modern SEO audits:

The audit isn't going to look at which pages do you have on the site and what keywords do you want to match up and which ones do we need to fix, or just link structure or even things like schema. Well, let's look at the content and the user experience and the branding and the PR, and we'll check out your accessibility and speed and keyword targeting. We'll do some competitive analysis, etc. Dozes of things that we're going to potentially look at because all of them can impact SEO. (Moz)

Fishkin then goes on to say that you have to figure out exactly which items you can tackle (all of which probably need some fixing), which can be contingent on budget, approval, personnel resources, and so on.

Today's SEO

It's clear that today's SEO is really more than just SEO, as it extends into PR, branding, and more.

The value of SEO is still immense; it's just that the process is far more involved than it ever was in the past!

If expectations are not properly set, your clients may be poised to give up prematurely. Unfortunately, they won't see much of a return on an investment on a campaign that is cut short.

So if you want your clients to stay with you – because you know the value that you can bring them – then you need to lay it all out on the table.

Of course, this does not mean handing them the encyclopedia of SEO, defining each term, and showing them what all of the numbers mean.

No, you have to be far more strategic than that.

Like we talked about earlier, you have to show them in your SEO timeline.

Fishkin suggests that you tell them what your audit process looks like, what you're going to be fixing, and what kind of content pieces you're going to be producing.

Then, the expectation isn't arbitrary, like "we thought we were going to see a 386% increase in leads!"

You can come to them with, "these are the content investments we've made, and this is how they're performing, and here's what we're going to do next."

It's a bit of a different mindset, but if you can wrap your mind around it, you're sure to please more of your customers who will then stick around long enough to see results.

Final Thoughts

Remember to set the right expectations out of the gate with your client proposal.

You may not have control over what your clients think, but you do have control over what you say, so you have to make sure that what you're saying is in-line with the results you can produce for them.

SEO is always changing, but you can still do amazing work for your clients. Help them to understand the value proposition at hand.

Image: Richard Lewis

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