More Ways Not to Work With an SEO/SEM Firm

My previous column presented SEO (define)and search engine marketing (SEM) firms statements about dealing with unrealistic expectations from clients and prospects.

The column engendered some new email submissions from more of my colleagues. So without further ado, here are some more observations on sure-fire ways not to work with an SEO/SEM firm.

We don’t want leads, just buyers!

“No SEM firm controls what type of person visits your Web site, be it a person who is window shopping [browsing], comparison shopping, or buying,” said one SEM firm staffer. “We help bring people to your site, hopefully qualified leads and buyers.”

Frankly, I was a bit surprised by this. It’s the offline equivalent of putting a big, mean security guard in front of the only entrance to your physical store. Customers are only admitted if they sign an agreement to purchase X amount of products. How popular do think that store will be?

“We do not control who clicks on a link to your site,” he continued. “I’ve heard complaints about people who double-click a Google ad, and clients want us to prevent double-clicking so they do not have to pay for the ad twice.”

PPC means pay per click. Not pay for sale.

“Pay-per-click advertising means that you [the client] pay a specified bid amount, that you agreed to pay, each time a person clicks on your ad,” said one search engine advertising professional. “Click fraud aside, of course.”

This has always been one of my pet peeves. If a prospect wants to pay only when work results in a closed sale, I politely and firmly tell them I don’t want their business. Search engine marketers can control many things, such as how ad copy is written and bid pricing (per client approval). We don’t control how people respond to an ad or a landing page.

You aren’t a big-brand Web site.

“I can’t count the number of times a client says to me, ‘Well, Microsoft does it,'” one SEO staffer wrote. “Guess what? You are not Microsoft. You are not a software developer. You do not sell software. You only have a 50-page site… and you don’t sell any products.

“Let’s be real,” she continues. “IBM has a multimillion-dollar budget to spend on search ads and optimization. Clients and prospects should not expect that degree of search advertising and maintenance with a more limited budget. And [for crying out loud], your site sells women’s clothing. I’m not going to create IBM-looking landing pages and ads for an online women’s lingerie boutique.”

Search professionals certainly understand if clients like the look and feel of an ad or a landing page. We understand if you like a font/typeface style or special effect on a graphic image. What we find frustrating is when clients want exceptional results with limited content and budgets.

Don’t complete a fraction of our recommended changes then demand to know why your positioning and search engine traffic haven’t improved.

An SEO colleague presented a big-brand retailer with a impressive, detailed report with recommendations and explanations. He prioritized the suggested modifications, beginning with the HTML title tags. The only item his client was willing to modify was the meta-tag description and keywords.

What followed was an angry email from his client, who wanted to know why his site wasn’t number one in Google, even though Google rarely uses meta-tag content to determine relevancy.

A search engine advertising colleague told me of a client who made slight ad-copy modifications: he changed “a” to “the” and expected miraculous CTRs (define).

In another situation, the client changed ad copy, as well as landing page design and copy. Yet that client didn’t modify the bid price to see if even a $0.05 bid price increase would deliver more qualified traffic. The ad was buried on page 7 or 8 of search engine results.

We don’t control the crawl cycle, algorithm, or policies of any search engine. Continually demanding we justify our recommendations only lengthens the process.

“Quite frankly,” said a colleague, “we send the same email to our clients over and over again. These emails contain either links to the search engines policies and guidelines, or actual screen shots. We actually have email templates for this so we can use our time more effectively.”

Many SEO/SEM firms have fixed prices in their contractual agreements. Others charge an hourly rate with a “not to exceed” clause. “If we have to explain things over and over again ad nauseam, clients should pay for our time,” my colleague continued. “Or at least admit that they are not reading our documentation.”

Let us be the search experts; that’s why you contacted us.

How many times has a client claimed she understood SEO and advertising? Yet as consulting commences, it becomes clear she has misconceptions about search.

Begin with an overview so the SEO/SEM firm and the client have a common vocabulary. Don’t budge on this premise. I’ve heard too many horror stories.

One SEM colleague told me of a huge site analysis his firm did for a major brand. The analysis contained specific recommendations, with explanations for each one. After sending the analysis to the client, he set up a meeting to go over any questions or concerns.

Well, no one read the analysis except one Web developer. Kudos to my colleague, who maintained his composure on the conference call. I’ll be the bad guy for him.

Don’t make us jump to the specific recommendations if you don’t have a basic understanding of search. When you do, you always ask, “Why?” We told you why when we gave you an overview of the optimization and advertising processes. Read our reports, email messages, and so forth before we have a meeting. Our time is just as valuable as yours.

We respect your expertise on your products and services. We respect your work experience and knowledge about your client base. Respect our knowledge, education, and experience in search.


Thanks to all my colleagues who contributed quotations and experiences. Who knows. Maybe I’ll revisit this topic again at a later date. New client experiences will surely evolve along with the search industry.

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