6 Ways to Handle It When A Client Changes Your Copywriting

Talk about frustrating.

You thought what you wrote showcased your best work ever. You expertly followed your client’s content marketing strategy. You chose good keyphrases.

You did everything right.

When you finished writing your SEO copywriting masterpiece, you could almost hear the harp music softly playing and feel the warm sunshine on your face. Your copy didn’t just sound good. It sung.

A week later, you see what the client actually uploaded. All of your tricky turn-of-phrases were gone. Your Title was changed from a compelling statement to a list of keyphrases. And your headline…you can’t even look at what they did to your headline.

You aren’t just mad.  You’re hurt. How could they destroy your copywriting baby like that?

Rule #1 of working with clients. They will change your writing, no matter how good you thought it was.

You’ve got to get over it.

At the same time, sometimes, clients make really bad copywriting decisions. Maybe it’s because the legal department got involved and sliced half of the copy. Or maybe, your client passed your copy along to five different people — and all of them had their own idea of how the content should read.

Should you cry? Rant? Keep your mouth shut? The challenge is — if you say nothing and the copy flops, the client may think the poorly-performing content is your fault. So you have to say something…but you have to do it the right way.

Here’s how to handle it.

– Leave your ego at the door.

Sure, it’s easy to get miffed when a client tweaks your SEO copywriting genius. But take a big step back before you send that nastygram. Did the changes mess with anything important (like the keyphrase usage.) Is the tone and feel consistent? Does the edited copy stick out like a sore thumb?

If there’s no real damage to your conversion strategy, keyphrase strategy or Title, it’s probably not a big deal (except, of course, to you.)

–  Check-in with the client. 

It’s tempting to write your client a “WTF did you DO?” email. Very tempting. Don’t do it.

And don’t send any email until you are calm, cool and collected.

Once it’s safe to ping your client, try an approach like, “I noticed that you changed the Title. Can you help me understand why?” After all, there may have been a good reason your client did what she did (no matter how much their changes make you die a little inside.) If there wasn’t a good reason, and your client is shooting herself in the SEO (and/or copywriting) foot, it’s time to…

 – …Put your education hat on. 

Educating the client helps them make more informed decisions — and can often help them see the “SEO copywriting light.”

If your client added a bunch of nonsense paragraphs because their SEO told them to, point out exactly how the new copy could hinder conversions. If your Title was totally tweaked, help your client understand how Titles need to be keyphrase-rich, yes – but also compelling and clear.

Don’t forget to add links to articles and blog posts that echo your sentiments. That way, the client sees that multiple experts feel the same way you do — and it adds credence to your position.

If you’re not feeling 100% confident about educating your client, know that SEO Copywriting Certification students can get writing feedback and ask questions about client situations. Sometimes, it’s nice to have an expert in your back pocket.

 – Offer a compromise.

Can you see areas you could improve? Depending on the scope of work, it’s sometimes worthwhile to tweak the copy one more time, and merge the client’s changes with your original text. Sometimes, a little copy-massaging can go a long way — and the client will (hopefully) see the difference between their edits and your shining final product.  Or, if nothing else, you’ve made the page just a little bit better.

 – Try testing.

If a client is sold on their 1,000-word sales page — and your version is 200 words — see if the client is open to copy testing. An A/B split test will provide irrefutable data about what really works (rather than what she thinks will work.)

Be warned that you may find that your client was right, and you were wrong. That’s OK. It will be a kick in the ego, but it’s OK. It’s better to be wrong than (inadvertently) cost the client cash.

 – Let it go.

At the end of the day, your client is the “decider” – not you.  If you’ve emailed your thoughts, backed them up with evidence and discussed the SEO ramifications – there’s not much else you can do.

Give it some time and see if you can revisit some options at a later date (like A/B testing, or tweaking the copy.) A few months of so-so results may help the client be more open to your expert advice – and you can finally start showing them what good SEO copywriting can do.

18 replies
  1. Heather says:

    Giving it an hour before you respond is smart – very smart. It’s so easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and fire off something…regrettable. An hour gives you a chance to step back, reassess, and deal with everything – calmly. :)

    Thanks so much for your tip!

  2. Kathleen says:

    What a great post! I had a client some time ago who knew very little about writing for the web, though she had published many books. I wrote excellent copy for her and explained countless times the importance of the decisions I made as well as how different writing for the web is (from print/books).

    She constantly rewrote everything I did, ruining all my work. She just didn’t get it. I couldn’t take it any more and just dropped her. She still hasn’t launched her site. Every time it is ready to go, she fires her web designer and starts over again.

    She was such a sweet person and I hated to drop her, but I could only take so much. Guess I need to practice that “leave your ego at the door” thing, huh?

    • Heather says:

      LOL, oh, I understand. I really do.

      Sometimes, you just have to fire a client – especially in your situation. After all, if they aren’t listening, they’re changing everything you do and costing you time (plus, probably adding a few grey hairs,) it just isn’t worth it.

      That’s hard. I’ve been there. And it’s twice as hard when the client is really nice, isn’t it?

      Thanks for your post! :)

  3. Rahman Mehraby says:

    Very informative post! I’ve never come across such a situation, but I must admit that it could happen to anyone.

    Sometimes, I don’t know if this strategy works or not, but in other careers I’ve got powerful responses:

    Establish your concrete-based position as an expert to prevent any such situations. If it didn’t work, listen to this valuable post!

    • Heather says:

      How wonderful that you’ve never come across this situation. That’s a very GOOD thing!

      What’s sad is when clients try to second-guess experts. I’ve had situations where I’ve shown articles that I wrote back in 2003 (to show that I’ve been in the game for awhile) and case studies – heck, I’ve even brought in other top consultants – and yet the client still says, “Well, what’s so wrong with buying a bunch of links” (and then buy them anyway, even after I explained the ramifications.) :) Sometimes, you can’t help clients like that no matter how much you try. Although they say that they want to outsource, at the end of the day, they really want to control it in-house. They just may not know it yet.

      Thanks for your post!

  4. Damian Doman says:

    Point No. 3 – educating the clients – is essential. They often think that after reading an SEO guide, they have knowledge wide enough to correct us, or they feel that their preferences are more important for the success than SEO. Although they appretiate our knowledge, they often choose to change the text according to what they think is right.

    However, it’s our task to educate them because only then they are able to understand what we do and what we do it for. Of course, there will always be some suggestions but with a good dialogue you can reach a satisfying compromise.

    • Heather says:

      So true. Clients should be educated…but at the same time, remember why they hired their experts. It’s the same as when I talk to my doctor. I may have reviewed my symptoms and condition before I walked through the door. But I expect her to be the expert and have better answers than what I can read in a book. :)

      Do I love sharing information when a client says, “I read this…what do you think?” Heck yeah! Do I get frustrated when a client says, “I read a blog post, and let’s do it like this from now on.” Heck yeah! Reaching a compromise, where the client feels (and is in) control – and is educated about the different SEO ramifications – is a happy balance.

  5. Allison says:

    I have learned that it takes 4 times as much time and energy to oppose or fight a client than it takes to try out what the client wants. Even after recommending against the requested changes – and providing valid reasons – some clients need to SEE their ideas, be able to compare, and then know that they have the final say.

    The important thing here is to get paid for your time – minimizing any resentment. Monitoring scope creep is something that I am getting better at identifying and handling, but that has come with experience.

    • Heather says:

      You’re right – the scope creep does come with experience. If you’re constantly tweaking the copy to meet the client’s ever-changing needs – and you’re not paid ’til the copy is finished, resentment will set in. Oh yes. It will. :)

      And often times, the “fight” isn’t worth it…sometimes it’s best to change the copy, say your peace, and encourage the client to test the results…

      Thanks for your post!

  6. Beth Hrusch says:

    Remember- the customer is always right, even when they are not! We always hash out expectations beforehand. If the client chooses to make changes afterward, that is their prerogative. As a writer, you should try not to be offended when approved content is changed. There could be many reasons for that. After all, if a client doesn’t like your work, they would not approve it for upload in the first place. What happens after you’ve written it is the client’s business. They will live with the SEO consequences.

    • Heather says:

      True, and I completely agree with you. However, “living with the SEO consequences” sometimes (and thankfully, not always) means the client blames the copywriter when “This SEO stuff doesn’t work” That’s why the CYA documentation is so important. If the client chooses to make the changes after hearing the pros and cons of that decision – cool. Like you said, it’s totally their prerogative, and the changes could have been made for a multitude of reasons. As long as the client understands that the copywriter is no longer responsible for the outcome once the copy tweaking starts, it’s all good. :)

  7. Akarui Cha says:

    The client is always right and I still dont know what must I do with them, if they dont want to just stay in a moment to listen what a good copywriting i give to them. Maybe keep calm and stay is a good way for me. But, if they need me for educate them, how to made a good copy, I will give it with free,

    Btw, thanks so much for your post. Its help me,

  8. Chris Pederson says:

    You brought up a great point about how the client is the decider at the end of the day. I’d like to work with someone that understand that aspect of copywriting. They might have something in mind but it needs to match what I want.


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