Your client is wrong. Now what?

Sometimes, it’s not so fun to be right.

Recently, Search Engine Watch ran a great post called, “How to Help SEO Customers Who Aren’t Always Right”.  If you’ve been working as an SEO consultant or SEO copywriter, you’ve come across this issue. Your client insists that you should do things one way. You know that it’s not a good idea. And suddenly, you’re faced with a dilemma – how can you burst your client’s SEO bubble and still keep the gig?

I’ve had clients insist on keyphrase density percentages, specific word counts (1,000 words for a product page…really? REALLY?) and poorly-designed site structures. A few people insisted that they were right because they “read about it in a forum” or “learned about it in a class.” Still others believed that they could somehow game Google with their sneakiness.  I still hear folks saying things like, “I just had this great idea. What if the text was the same color as the background”

It’s so tempting to say, “Hello, 1995 is calling and they want their SEO technique back.”

I don’t, though. I restrain myself from making snarky comments (which is always a challenge for me.) But I do address the issue. If you’re facing a similar challenge, here are some tips on how to handle it:

  • Treat your client like you would treat your partner or spouse. Would you tell your partner, “Not only are you wrong, but you are so incredibly wrong that I’m questioning your intelligence?” Sure, you may think it. You may mutter it to yourself. But (hopefully) you don’t say it.  Instead of popping off, take a deep breath and keep your mouth shut.
  • Let your client explain their strategy without interrupting I know. It’s really hard to keep quiet while your client waxes poetic about a 7.3% keyphrase density. Just let them talk. If you start interrupting them with “Yes, but,” and pointing out all the ways that they’re wrong, your client won’t feel heard and she’ll go on the defensive.
  • Listen for the real reason behind the stupid strategy. It could be something like, “We don’t want to change our code, and this strategy means that we don’t have to.” Or, “it’s going to cost a lot to do it your way. This way is cheaper.” Giving your client an opportunity to “talk it out” helps you figure out what to say next.
  • Acknowledge their real concern.  Saying something like, “I hear that you’re worried about the cost…” goes a long, long way. It helps the client feel “heard” – and it puts you and your client on the same page. Then, follow up your acknowledgement by…
  • ….showing your concern and providing a solution. This is when you can share how their strategy isn’t workable (but in a nice, friendly way.) You could say something such as, “I’m concerned about the keyphrase density percentage, as many sites lost their search rankings because of content like that – and it typically doesn’t convert well. I know that driving traffic is important to you. Here’s what we could do instead…”
  • Spend some time educating your client. If your client was set on a certain strategy, it will take some time before they’ll see the light. Take some time to explain Panda, best practices and solid strategies. Then, back up what you’re saying with articles and case studies. That way, the client understands why you’re suggesting an alternative and can learn more about your solution.

What should you do if your client insists on their suspect SEO strategy after you’ve tried to talk them out of it? You may want to walk away from the gig. Or, if the strategy isn’t too bad, you could still work the gig and do your best. The way you deal with it will depend on the client and the situation.  It’s never an easy decision to make – especially when you know that your options are “walk away” or “I’ll never be able to include this work in my client portfolio…”

What situations have you faced where the client’s SEO strategy was completely off base? What did you do?

Want to read more? There’s a similar discussion in the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group! Join the conversation (and the group, too!).

7 replies
  1. Bas
    Bas says:

    I strongly believe that an online professional who doesn’t disagree with their clients is in fact not a professional at all :)

    Educating clients and getting their strategies straightend out is, IMHO, one of the most important things in our field of work.

    And if they just don’t want to listen? Predict the outcome of their vision, do as they tell you and slap em in the face when you turn out to be right :)

    Reply
  2. Clare Green
    Clare Green says:

    I seem to do nothing but burst the bubble of clients. New clients in particular feel a responsibility to educate themselves on SEO and while I appreciate and sympathise, it really can do a lot more harm than good.

    I’ve done various websites where the Client has eventually overruled (often at the 11th hour) and it’s either walk away unpaid from all the work I have done or allow it to go ahead.

    It’s such a shame and sometimes I feel almost like I’m trying to justify my own existence to a Client, when they have originally come to me for my help and experience.

    Most of the time, Clients are happy to receive your advice and work with you to come up with an ultimate outcome they are delighted with, but just occasionally, it makes you feel like screaming!

    Reply
  3. Nick Stamoulis
    Nick Stamoulis says:

    I’ve found that education from the very beginning is important. By teaching clients and potential clients how my business operates via newsletters and blog posts they understand that we are a white hat firm and there are certain strategies we won’t recommend. If they do have a suggestion that I don’t agree with, they usually understand that I know best and side with me once I state my case.

    Reply
  4. Heather
    Heather says:

    Great comments, Nick! I’m glad that your clients realize that you know best. :) It’s always a tad frustrating when it’s the other way around, and you wonder, “If you know what you want to do, and won’t listen to what I say, um, why did you hire me..?”

    Reply

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