Ask the Experts: How do I Manage Client Expectations…
Q: How do I best communicate to the owner that – especially in the begining – my work will take time and after that it will take time to get serious results?
I have been “The SEO person” at a university for the past 5 years where I increased traffic 1000% and enrollments about 50% each term. Now I’m on my own as a professional SEO and I’m concerned about my new client’s expectations.
I am to present a Phase One marketing plan soon, and if he approves I plan to begin implementation of some SEO and SEM.
He is expecting online sales revenue to increase almost immediately and in lock step with any increases in traffic. I hope this occurs but due to many issues with the site, combined with time it takes to perform and execute a professional SEO project, these increases may not occur any time soon, and may not be of the magnitude they are wanting.
A: This certainly is a difficult situation!
Our “managing expectations” spiel for prospective clients goes something like this: SEO requires patience. Ranks can’t be guaranteed. Your ability to sell your product depends on things like competition, the effectiveness of your website, the market itself, and oh, the quality of your product.
Of course, these are the things that should be communicated prior to entering the client/SEO relationship. If you wait too long to have this discussion (as you’re probably well aware) they may come off sounding like excuses.
We may not have any iron-clad solutions, but here are some suggestions:
First of all, we noticed a red flag in your question. You wrote:
“I increased traffic 1000% and enrollments about 50% each term.”
This is amazing – but it’s a heck of a statement to make. To be honest, even if we could boast similar stats, we would be very careful about saying it in this way to a prospective client. In our book we caution people not to take credit for successes because in a lot of ways, SEOs are not fully responsible for success. There are just too many factors out there that we don’t have control over. So this might be why your client is expecting you to bring about miraculous sales in record time. Just something to think about for the next customer you’re trying to land.
Since your client is set on hitting a particular sales number, there’s probably not much you can do to change his outlook. But you can make sure that your marketing plan is clear about what you can and cannot do for him. Here are ideas for doing that:
- Make sure you’re documenting ALL the “uglies” – anything and everything that detracts from your client’s brand. Bad looking listings in the SERPs, old or broken URLs out there, outdated directory listings.
- Make sure you’re documenting all the “missed opportunities” that you uncover in the logs – of course this will depend on the business itself, but it might include an unusually high number of visits to the 404 page, or a lack of referrals from a particular source, or even something like “No visitors arrived at our site by searching for our top priority keyword X”.
- If applicable, show in numbers why existing targeted keywords should be phased out and replaced with a more effective set.
For all these uglies, missed opportunities, and missed targets – as well as the robot barriers and usability issues you’re researching – set up a list of realistic expectations for the next X months. Something like “Removal of all broken URLs from search engine listings” or “X% increase in referrals from widget-related sites.”
Then, for all the expected improvements, you can document how this will help your client’s sales. For example, “Will increase targeted visitors,” or “Will encourage visitors to find the products page,” or even “Will improve customer satisfaction.” – you get the idea.
So, think of it as a three column list. Column one: Improvements needed. Column two: realistic expectations for improvement in X months. Column three: How this will improve sales. And be brief or he’ll never read it.
In our opinion, you really can’t guarantee that you’ll improve sales by X percent, but you can guarantee that you’ll knock off a large list of well-thought-out activities for encouraging more sales. If he can’t agree that this is a realistic plan, then you can either end the relationship or keep your fingers crossed, keep doing a good job, and hope the numbers go where you want.
By the way, if you’re looking for more insight on this topic, Jill Whalen talks a lot about realistic SEO expectations on her site, www.highrankings.com.