5 SEO Client Types to Avoid at All Costs


Is your prospect all business in the front and a party in the back?

Why am I reprinting this post? I just got off the phone with a “Taylor Swift” prospect and thought, “Yup, this is one client to stay far, far away from.” If you find yourself hiring the wrong clients (and paying in blood, sweat and lost income,) you’ll want to read this post. 

Do you instantly hit the “ignore” button when you see a certain client’s name come up on caller ID?

Do you write “please shoot me” notes during client calls?

Choosing the wrong clients is a slow, sure path to insanity. Fortunately, these folks throw up some pretty obvious red flags during the sales process. The key to business success is noticing those red flags in the moment — and not deluding yourself into thinking you can “fix” the client (yeah, right!)

Here are five common SEO client types to avoid at all costs:

– The “Taylor Swift” client

“All of my past SEO providers did me wrong, and I want to tell the world!”

If a prospect is outlining her grievances about every SEO firm she’s worked with — and this is your first phone call — you may want to steer clear. It’s true that people can make bad SEO-provider decisions. And it’s true that there are bad SEO companies out there, and you may need to repair some legitimate damage. At the same time, you’ll want to proceed with caution when you notice that blinking neon chip on her shoulder. Especially if the prospect is ranting about her SEO exes instead of discussing the project.

With a “Taylor Swift” client, the real problem may not be “bad” SEO companies. Instead, the client may have some … issues. Just know you will never be her SEO knight in shining armor. No matter how well you perform, you too will “do her wrong” eventually – and she’ll add your story to the mix.

Do you really want to get involved with that hot mess?

– The mullet master

“I know a lot about SEO. I need doorway pages and article spinning.”

Does your prospect’s site scream 1999? Are they talking to you about doorway pages, keyphrase density and submitting to article directories? Your client could be so stuck in the SEO past that educating them will be a full-time job.

Assuming they listen to you.

Justin Timberlake may be able to bring sexy back, but you won’t be able to bring keyphrase density back. In a perfect world, you’re able to educate your prospect — and she actually listens to you and takes your advice. Unfortunately, many SEO prospects who are stuck in the past stay that way. They like it there. And they’ll keep calling providers until they reach someone who says, “Article directories? I love it! Yes, I can help!”

The “Yeah … but” prospect

“Yeah … but are you really sure that will work? My mother’s uncle’s cousin said I should try something else.”

Feeling like you’re talking to a brick wall? Do you have tiny bald patches from ripping out your hair? You’re talking to the “Yeah … but” prospect.  This person will shoot down any idea you have, even if they are the one who called you for help.

Unfortunately, this prospect is so pessimistic that making a decision is impossible. You’ll send proposal after proposal, but none of them will be right. Follow-up calls won’t help. Client education won’t help. This prospect is stuck in a deep hole of indecision, and there’s no way to dig them out. Nor will you probably ever sign a gig with them. Walking away is the safest thing you can do for your sanity (and your bottom line.)

– The “Wimpy” client

“I don’t pay deposits. I’ll pay you the entire invoice when the job is complete.”

This is the client who would gladly pay you Tuesday for SEO work you do today.  When asked about paying a retainer, their flat answer is “no.” Maybe it’s because they’ve been “burned by a bad SEO provider” (see my earlier point above.) Perhaps it’s not “how accounts payable does things.” That puts you in an uncomfortable situation. If you want the gig, you have to trust that the client will pay you. And pay you on time.

Your response to this type of client should be something along the lines of “No freakin’ way.” Paying a deposit is a standard practice that shouldn’t freak out a possible client. If it does freak them out, that’s a huge red flag. Essentially, the client is asking you to extend them credit and take on all the risk. If things like paying rent and eating are important to you, always get a deposit up front.

The “shiny objects” client

“I need help with my SEO copywri … Look! A squirrel!”

One day, your prospect is pumped about Pinterest. The next, she’s talking about adding new blog content. The following week, she’s changed her strategy entirely and feels it’s time for a redesign. In the meantime, you find yourself sending multiple proposals and spending hours chatting about your prospect’s “cool idea.”

On the positive side, these prospects are extremely excited about the SEO and marketing opportunities. On the negative side, they often want to implement them all. Right now. And then change their minds.

Shiny-objects clients are notoriously difficult to help. Sometimes, you can pin them down and get them to sign a contract. Just be prepared for lots of forwarded emails promising to “submit your site to 1,000 directories” or “help your guest posts get more exposure.” If something new catches their eye, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

What other SEO client types would you add to the list?

Photo thanks to Jennifer Boyer. Love the mullet pic!



24 replies
  1. Josh Gates says:

    OMG the ‘Yeah…but’ one is my FAVE! I run into this one the most. Commonly hear stuff like “but my neighbor’s kid in college says this” or “my friend’s kid will do it for free!”

  2. J says:

    haha, this is too funny and so true.I have just started out doing SEO freelancing so they are good tips. Thank you!

  3. Koen says:

    Great list, the last one made me laugh the most 🙂 But what about the ‘I want to be #1 on these keywords next week – client?

  4. Harold Compton says:

    The client that wants negotiate pricing when you tell them what it will cost. They are always coming back with “Well, Joe’s SEO will do it for less”. Just tell them to call Joe and hang up.

  5. Steve Kaplan says:

    LOL good stuff Heather! I’ve never heard people classify prospective clients this way. It’s a good guide for people just starting out or even bigger companies with alot of clients because these types of clients will always be present in the market place.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      You’re right…they will *always* be present. In fact, I spoke to a Taylor Swift client the other day. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

  6. Dave Sharpe says:

    Not sure how to label this one, but avoid the client who doesn’t control the financial decisions. I recently put together a proposal for a non-profit with a national audience. The proposal was forwarded to a donor who was interested in funding SEO for the org. The donor objected to the expense, and recommended his friend who only does *local* SEO, and uses foreign outsourcers to do the work. I expect to hear the org channeling Taylor Swift in about 6 months.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Dave, I feel your pain. In a perfect world, we’re able to present our proposal to the decision-maker. Otherwise, it’s too easy to skim down to the bottom, read the price and deem it as “too expensive,” (whatever that means!).

      Hmm, but this client needs a name. What about the “Hot Potato” client? The person who takes the proposal and immediately gives it to someone else to review? Not perfect, I know…I’m open to suggestions! 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Bonnie Parrish-Kell says:

        That’s another painful lesson I’ve had, too. To top it off, they used a good portion of the strategy/tactics that I outlined tho they used another service provider. So I sent a bill for consulting services (detailing *everything* they did as per specific sections in my proposal). To my shock they paid it! I don’t do proposals anymore because of instances like this.

        • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:


          I am AMAZED the prospect paid your consulting bill! I guess some good came out of the situation — but, ugh, what a learning experience. I don’t write strategy proposals anymore, either..

  7. Bonnie Parrish-Kell says:

    My response to the “I know someone cheaper” prospect is along the lines of “I certainly respect your budgetary concerns. Because our viewpoints are different (price vs. value), I am not the right person for your project. Thank you for calling and I wish you all the best.” Often they call back a few months wanting me to “fix” the problems. ::sigh::


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