Setting SEO Expectations and Commitments with Clients

Today, there is growing dissatisfaction among business owners with SEO consultants and are questioning the effectiveness of SEO and if they should actually allocate a budget for hiring someone who can manage their SEO campaigns.

While there is some truth to the fact that a lot of SEO providers don’t really know what they are talking about and employ tricks to merely game search engines, I believe many legitimate SEOs fail to clearly set expectations and commitments with clients.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become very popular today because of the constantly growing number of people who find information, products and services through search engines.  As a result, more and more companies try to get their service offers across by being visible to their potential customers at the moment it is needed. This has created a greater demand for SEO service providers who work with clients to get their websites visible on a search engine, and by visible the ultimate goal is to get a website ranked number 1 for words or phrases that a potential customer may be using; to educate himself and or make a purchase decision.

Here are some points that both the SEO provider and client should be aware about and agree upon.

1. Top Rankings are not Guaranteed

This may sound appalling to the business owner who engages someone for SEO services, but the truth is no one can actually guarantee top rankings on search engines like Google, unless they own it. I remember a conference I attended some time ago that Bruce Clay spoke at.. he talked about how his clients want guarantees on rankings and he simply replies rather smugly, “buy me Google.”

Good SEOs are constantly up to date with what works and how search engines works, especially Google which constantly tweaks its ranking algorithm, as often as 500 times in a year, or so they say. I want to underscore the “so they say” part because no one really knows what Google does, they keep everything secret and for good reason. Spammers that learn how to rank well on Google will only abuse this knowledge.

The bottom line is, how to rank well is a mystery. SEO is not an accepted science with known rules. SEO providers try to keep updated constantly because what may work today may not work tomorrow, and they do more than just surfing the web and reading posts online but I won’t get into that now.

The practice of SEO is the application of current knowledge of the SEO provider to improve a website’s chances for ranking well for its target keywords and at the end of the day a business owner engages an SEO provider not for guaranteed rankings but for the legitimate process that a provider is able to show, that has yielded good results for other clients through a span of several years and numerous algorithm adjustments.

2. SEO is about Process and not just Results

It is important for the client to understand that SEO is a process to achieve a result, and results are not instant. In fact, the metrics you use to gauge results of the management of that SEO process can sometimes be erratic. What is important is long term consistency that helps build legitimacy and authority.

The business owner must realize that they hire a provider for an SEO management process that makes sense to them, that as revealed by past results of using that process, can lead to better rankings. Just stick to the plan.

3. Adapting to Google’s Changes Quickly

Regardless of what other people may say, I don’t really do much to optimize for rankings on all search engines, just Google. This is where most of the traffic comes from. Of all projects, websites and analytics data I have access to, among the top search engines, Google delivers up to 70% of organic search traffic. So I don’t really bother with Bing or Yahoo.

That said, Google does not only make several constant tweaks, they roll out major updates that is disastrous for many websites, even the ones that the update did not intend to target.

When Google rolls out with an update, and if rankings take a dive, the SEO provider must know how to quickly react and adjust strategy to arrest any drop, maintain current rank or even regain the rank.

Again, this is why no one can guarantee rankings; because the SEO game is a game where rules are not all clearly known and are subject to change as Google deems necessary.

4. Trust

The business owner has to trust the SEO provider. Most of my successful projects were a result of having control of every aspect. Some projects had delayed results because there were too many people to coordinate with and get approval from, or the website owner had to consider other opinions before making a decision.

5. A Mutually Proactive Relationship

Some business owners may leave an SEO person to his own devices… actually there needs to be close coordination between both. Apart from being able to correspond constantly especially in trying to measure results of actions, the SEO provider needs to understand and know what is going on with the business and see how these things may have an impact on the SEO process. I believe for an SEO provider to help the business, he should understand the business and how it works.

6. A Marketing Plan

SEO is not merely link building or slapping on a few articles on some free blog sites.. it is marketing.

Some small business owners with brick and mortar stories, and several online business owners know little about marketing and may not have a sound marketing plan in place, in fact many think that link building is all that is needed. On a side note, this is why a lot of online entrepreneurs that turn to freelancers on sites like ODesk for writing or link building, end up closing up shop. They were made to believe that was all they need to do, by all these info-products and SEO / online marketing gurus.. inevitably their venture fails and they conclude that online marketing or SEO is not effective, when what was really lacking was a solid marketing plan.

There is a need for the SEO provider to connect and coordinate with the business’ marketing person, or directly with the business owner to ensure that whatever they do online is consistent with a decided marketing strategy.  If a client does not have a marketing in place and expects link building to be all that is needed, then the SEO provider needs to develop a marketing strategy for them. There are generally two types of successful SEO consultants, those with a programming and web development background and those with a marketing background. I belong to the latter, 15 years of traditional marketing has helped me develop sound yet cost efficient strategies to help clients achieve their ranking goals.

Anyone can build links and deliver results; short term results that get wiped out when Google does something to get rid of low quality low authority website. What is actually required to succeed is having a good online presence and a diverse marketing mix that would involve traditional marketing channels.

So what expectations should be set and agreed upon? What helps a client decide on a provider?

The answer, the SEO provider’s experience and methods of managing the SEO process, a verifiable successfully strategy that has delivered favorable results, prevailing over numerous search engine updates and changes, not by simply building links but by marketing the business’ brand unique service offerings on the offline and online space that both permeate to and support the other.

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