How to Navigate Challenging SEO Client Relationship

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How to Navigate Challenging SEO Client Relationship


Sooner or later in your career, it is almost assured that you will have to deal with a challenging SEO client. Whether it is an in-house relationship, consultancy or an office, one is destined to be distressed. Issues will come up and will test your attitude, self-worth and patience.


I will share some tips on how to sail through the stormy waters of dealing with challenging clients, and how to build up a successful relationship.


1.  Show Empathy


Every time a client becomes challenging, I attempt to put myself in their shoes. Customers wield a lot of pressure on those that manage their SEO platforms, but that is not to say that they are immune to pressure exerted on them.


With challenging SEO clients, I make sure that I fully understand their circumstances, hence look for solutions to these questions:


  • How’s real SEO performance vs. the customer’s goal? Whenever the performance is low, can I really tell why? And have I communicated with my client with details as to why that happened and offered an all-round plan for dealing with the poor performance? Customers get disappointed when they can’t get answers from those they have entrusted with search engine optimization for their websites.
  • Is there a larger business problem at play that I am unaware of? In most instances, when customers are distressed about the performance and also become too demanding, there’s usually a bigger issue at play – for example, digital underperformance. Search engine optimization is deemed the one lever that institutions can pull to drive results, therefore, customers really lean of their SEO experts to assist them get out of murky waters.  By asking questions and doing everything possible to understand the dynamics at play about the entire business is the key to projecting that you have a full understanding of the challenges bedeviling your client.
  • Am I innovative enough? I have experienced firsthand customers becoming disappointed because I did not bring big solutions to the table. Customers dig deep into their pockets on social and SEO – and its well within their right to demand value for their money.   


Knowing your customer’s general position can help you to pick out what is making them difficult and frustrated. Understanding your client’s pain points assists you develop a strategy of attack that meets their expectations and reduces frustrations, thus allowing you to focus on the critical aspect of their SEO campaign: doing the job and driving results.


2.  Always Give Context


I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learnt from the first client I landed. He said, “Data is nothing but data. I care less about it. I just need a simplified meaning of what’s in there and what you are doing about it. 


Customers hate insufficient context and the lack of insight in regards to the state of their SEO. Here’s how you can provide context to your stakeholders:


  • As I had cited before, it’s prudent to have an authoritative solution to the question “why.” From my experience, poor customer relationships and the associated churn is a direct result of failing or being unable to explain the “why” behind both bad and good performance. When you fail to provide a deep insight on performance it creates a perception that you lack a clear understanding, thus ruining trust. For example, when you are unable to explain good performance, customers assume that rankings are automatic despite your efforts. On the other hand, inability to explain bad performance is the surest way to send out a perception of incompetency. The ability to explain your results, what they actually mean and the steps you are taking to boost rankings or the corrections you are undertaking to emerge triumphant after a poor performance is a signal that you have a solid plan moving forward and the situation is under control.
  •  Always have documented proof on what you are working on. At a client’s request, you can share it with them without delay. Moreover, it will save you invaluable time spent discussing the to-do list because clients can go through it at their own pleasure and inquire on any clarifications. Alternatively, you should focus more of your meeting time to explicate the results of your work and the strategy forward. An up-to date status document that you can actively share with clients gives them a chance to stay updated on your work. This also shows that you are transparent, thus increasing trust.
  • Understand your customers’ most critical key performance indicator (KPI) and nail it as fast and hard as possible. Personally, I work with lots of lead generation clients who have double goals. While considering that direction actually, then explicating the outcomes, I normally get statements like, “we have insufficient lead volumes” or “The CPA is very high in spite of the increase in leads.” Key Performance Indicators are generally not produced equally, hence it’s advisable to ask your customer to determine which indicator is most crucial to hit. This gives you a clear perception on whether the client’s business focuses on either efficiency or growth. With this information at hand you will be in a position to invent a better and an all-inclusive account strategy. This additional context could bring out the difference between trying out new platforms in order to develop volume or spending a lot of time cutting down biddings and toting up negative words to an account.


Providing context can assist in getting rid of any frustration directed at you. Clients are hungry of information on why things are the way they are. It is this information that informs their present and future decisions. It’s wise to provide any information worth sharing so that you can make it easier for them. Customers will really appreciate the transparency accorded to them, despite the fact that they may be discouraged by the poor performance. As a result, they will be desirous to continue working with you to crack the way forward and find new solutions.


3.  Make it a Business Partnership


The customer relationship that’s most likely prone to fail is one that lacks partnership. For example, there will be situations where a client will want to have his way on the strategy and action plan without involving the SEO team and it often leads to frustrations, misalignments and disagreements on both parties.


On the other hand, I have seen customer relationships that fail because a client is quite inactive. Lack of direction and guidance from a client makes it really difficult to keep SEO aligned with the business goals, strategy and objectives.


Here are some things you can do in your endeavor to create a successful business partnership:


  • Negotiate an equal say in the direction of the SEO program. In any business partnership scenario, the back has to stop with someone in terms of overall direction and strategy – and in my humble opinion, the client should be the final decision maker. Nevertheless, if the SEO invests a great input into the direction and strategy, he will not only own it, but feel more invested in its success.
  • Ensure that everybody involved in the SEO program has respect for the other parties. Blame game is a disrespectful and a non-constructive way which will simply lead to hostility, which will in return reduce the strength of the partnership and harm the results. A tough and honest feedback from customers is a part of the business and it’s absolutely bound to happen. SEO partners and agencies should feel at ease when giving a feedback of their own when sort, while at the same time holding their clients to account. In all cases, the two sides should work towards providing criticism and feedback in a positive, constructive way.




Joining forces with challenging SEO clients is hard, but it should not be disruptive. Understanding a client’s point of view, their level of stress and giving them the info and content they need for their success is the key to cutting any buildup of negative emotions. This is the surest way for both sides to focus on the import of SEO: Finding solutions to digital marketing challenges. 

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