Difficult SEO Clients

There’s no such thing as the perfect SEO (define) client. If SEO professionals and their clients agreed on everything, no one would learn anything. Even so, I often feel as if I’m spinning my wheels when dealing with certain groups of people.

This week, I’m presenting the three types of clients I find most challenging and the reasons they’re so challenging. Perhaps many readers have encountered the same situations and found better solutions.

Web Developers and Other IT Staff

The group I find most challenging to work with is Web developers and other IT staff. I’m a Web developer. I certainly don’t enjoy it when a total stranger criticizes the sites I create, whether that person is an expert in her field or not. I know what it’s like to be in a position of having to defend a design or programming decision. Nonetheless, I had to get over site criticism a long time ago when I began studying user-centered design (UCD).

With Web pages, the bottom line is site visitors will ultimately determine whether the Web interface is effective. Web developers tend to assume their target audience has the same thought process developers have. They don’t — trust me.

That said, I often get to the point where I have to say something unpleasant. I know the following will come off as arrogant. Nonetheless, I say it anyway (I’m doing this for my SEM (define)/SEO colleagues as well):

“If you knew how to effectively optimize your Web site, then why am I sitting in this room talking with you right now?”

Dead silence and stunned expressions are the usual the reactions. And it really doesn’t matter whether I say it personally or not. The fact is if any SEO professional is in the room trying to assist Web developers in creating, building, and maintaining a search-friendly Web site, then the powers that be in a company clearly feel their employees need assistance in this area.

It’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s hard to accept constructive (not mean-spirited) criticism about a Web site that took months or years to create. Believe me, I know. However, Web developers and other IT staff need to put their egos in check and accept the assistance of a well-qualified SEO professional. We’re there to help. We’re not always going to agree on everything, and we know it’s not realistic to expect clients to be able to implement all our recommendations. We’ll still present you with the SEO strategies that work best for your type of Web site.

Journalists and PR Professionals

I chuckled a bit as I typed this heading because I’ve been at war with journalists and PR professionals for years. I should clarify. PR means public relations in this context, not PageRank. (Oops! I said PageRank in my office. Broke my own rule. Now I have to squirt myself with a squirt gun.) In fact, two of them rattled my cage enough to inspire a ClickZ column about online publicity a few years ago. The content is still applicable to current SEO practices:

  • Implement SEM 101 and take small steps. Use the users’ language, even if it only means inserting one keyword at a time.
  • Learn about your CMS (CMS). Unique titles and headlines might be more effective.
  • Link to and from press releases and articles. Cross-linking is critical for successful optimization.
  • Encourage visitors to take the desired call to action. You don’t want visitors to read your articles then leave the site.

Using the users’ language is simple. A catchy headline (or secondary headline) can utilize keywords. And if the headline doesn’t contain keywords? The HTML title tag and the opening paragraph can. SEO has a lot more flexibility than one might expect.

The concept’s basic, so why don’t journalists and PR professionals seem to grasp it? Perhaps their writing is so successful offline they’re afraid of adapting to online, search-friendly copywriting. Perhaps deadlines are so tight they don’t have time for effective keyword research. I’m sure there are a number of reasons I have problems working with many journalists and PR professionals.

The one thing I do know is search engines aren’t about to change the way they work for journalists. If this group wants their articles to appear in both news and organic search results, they’ll have to adapt more to online searcher behavior.

Decision Makers

A decision maker is basically the person who yeas or nays the SEO budget.

Not all decision makers are difficult to work for, of course, but there’s one type that is: those with horribly preconceived notions about SEO. No SEO professional can wave a magic wand and instantaneously get qualified search engine traffic to a Web site.

Trust me, not matter how hard we try to reeducate decision makers about the fundamental concepts of SEO, they don’t care. They want the instantaneous, magic cure.

Like my colleague Mike Grehan, I learned to move on. Some prospects aren’t worth the time and effort.


My humble apologies if I seem as if I’m whining. Regardless, maybe you’ll see some of your own characteristics in this column. I had a wakeup call when I saw my own behavior in response to constructive criticism from well-meaning user-centered designers. My response was akin to a Zen enlightenment experience.

Have you found some types of clients more challenging than others? How did you deal with a specific problem area? This might be a great topic for discussion.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Meet Shari at Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

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