|SEO||– 27 min read|
What Promises CAN You Make As An SEO Agency?
It’s tempting, at least when you first start out, to oversell yourself and your team to win a new client.
“Anything you want, we can make it happen!”
“We know things other SEOs haven’t got a clue about!”
“Sure, that’s a totally realistic target!”
However, most of us find out the hard way that nothing is more damaging to the relationship between an SEO agency and its clients than broken promises. All you end up with is a burnt-out team, an angry client, and potential long-term damage to your reputation.
But how, then, do you charm prospective clients if you can’t promise them anything? Answer: you make promises you can keep.
- Common Problems In SEO Agency-Client Relationships
- Pressure And Burnout In Digital Marketing
- Examples Of Empty SEO Promises
15 Promises You CAN Make To Your SEO Clients
Why Reputable SEO Firms Don’t Guarantee Results
It’s understandable. If you’re a business owner investing in services designed to promote your products or services, you want to be sure it’s worth it. Cue the endless stream of low-quality SEO providers answering this search query to trap these perfectly innocent entrepreneurs in a web of empty promises.
Don’t be one of those guys. You’re not only making yourself look bad but every SEO agency who has then got to step in after you to repair that client’s trust in the process as well.
All SEOs—the ones worth their salt, at least—know that the algorithm is both temperamental and mysterious. Google made 4,500 changes to its algorithms in 2020 alone, most of which were neither announced nor disclosed. No SEO can look you in the eye and promise you they’re aware of every single one of these changes.
We make informed decisions about technical SEO, content, and link-building based on the indications Google has given us and our overall understanding of search engines. However, SEO rarely looks the same at the beginning of any given year as it does at the end.
And it’s not just the search engines that can impact your client’s ability to rank for their target keywords. It’s their competitors. The SERP is different for every. single. keyword. It’s filled with different pages, from different websites, all of which have different SEO agencies working on them, different domain authorities (DAs), and backlink profiles and history with Google. You’re playing an entirely new game with every keyword you choose to target.
The fact is, we simply do not know enough to make promises to our SEO clients. As a general rule, aim to under-promise and over-deliver.
Common Problems In SEO Agency-Client Relationships
Let’s break down some of the major reasons people leave their SEO provider and how this can be remedied by not making unrealistic guarantees.
- Dissatisfaction with business results
The number one priority for clients—the reason they even thought about hiring an SEO agency in the first place—is to increase their revenue by reaching more of their end users. If that isn’t happening, you can forget about them getting excited over ranking #1 for something like the “top ten most important kitchen tools.”
Of course, you can’t promise them a certain amount of revenue, either. So, what’s the solution?
Well, first of all, you don’t hinge your entire campaign on the “top ten most important kitchen tools.” You concentrate on building overall topic authority and optimising for high-value commercial keywords.
That’s also exactly what you promise them: a high-impact campaign designed based on an understanding of content marketing funnels, designed to target users at every stage and guide them towards a conversion. That’s all you can promise, and the natural outcome of this campaign should be an increase in revenue.
- Customer service
Now, every client has different wants and needs when it comes to communication. Some just want to see the monthly report, have a catch-up call, and be done with it. They’re busy people, who can blame them?
Others expect to be much more involved in the process. Again, this kind of anxiety is totally normal. They’re putting a lot of money into SEO services—something they might not necessarily understand—and want to know it’s not being wasted. It’s not uncommon for a client to message or email every few days or to insist on weekly calls.
It can be difficult if you have a particularly eager client because you can end up spending just as much time explaining the project to them as you do actually working on it. But not responding to clients is a no-no—even if it’s to say: “Hey [client], just want to acknowledge your message, but I’m a bit tied up at the moment. How about we schedule some time tomorrow to go over your concerns?”
This is another area where it is useful to manage expectations early in the project. There’s no point assuring clients you’ll have time for a two-hour weekly call and constant responsiveness if you’re likely to have to cancel due to working on deliverables.
Ideally, explain how communication works at your agency as early as the discovery stage. Better yet, have an assigned account manager for the project who can take charge of their questions. Be organised about communications, and you’ll be able to make promises you can keep.
- Uncertainty about the services being provided
SEO isn’t something that’s well-understood outside of the digital marketing world. Many business owners hire SEO agencies because it’s “the thing to do” or because they understand that SEO is necessary for maximising the potential of their website.
They might not, however, understand the inner workings of an SEO project or why certain things—like link-building or UX—benefit them at all. It can easily lead to conflict when they are asked to pay for something they don’t see the value of.
Half of being an SEO is being an educator. It is your responsibility to explain in plain English (or whatever language you’re doing business in) what you’re doing and why it matters.
You might have made a lofty promise at the beginning of the project that you would get your client ranking in the top three positions on SERPs for “kitchenware”, and you fully intend to deliver on this promise. You believe it’s possible with the SEO strategy you and your team have devised. But the client is lost.
“Why are we wasting time writing content for other websites? What’s the point of all these blogs about frying pans? Shouldn’t we be sticking ‘kitchenware’ on every page?”
There’s a more-than-tacky tendency for SEOs to laugh at this kind of thing. But your clients don’t know any better. You’d probably ask daft questions about their industry as well if you were in their shoes.
Making a promise is one thing. Clarifying, on a running basis, how the work you’re doing contributes to the fulfillment of this promise is another, arguably far more important, thing.
Pressure And Burnout In Digital Marketing
Digital marketing is an extremely high-risk industry for employee burnout, and a lot of it has to do with the ever-increasing pressure of unattainable KPIs and a lack of consistent goalposts.
According to a global qualitative study conducted by TBWA Worldwide earlier this year, people working in the creative sector are significantly more at risk of burnout than the general workforce, while separate research found that burnout rates in marketing average between 71% to a whopping 87.3%.
SEO is inherently competitive—you are literally competing with millions of other pages for first-page rankings over and over again. Creating quality content is also getting harder and harder each year as search engines become more sophisticated in the hopes of providing better results for their users.
All of this can easily lead to a pressure-cooker environment in the office—be it an actual office or a virtual one. The last thing your employees need is a set of unrealistic targets to meet and an angry client wondering what’s taking so long.
Besides the apparent mental health risks involved in creating this kind of work culture, burnout is corrosive to creativity. If you want your staff to be happy, healthy, and to produce great work for your clients, don’t make unrealistic guarantees.
Examples Of Empty SEO Promises
Once again, unless you are literally Google's algorithm given human form, this is impossible. It's often a promise that SEOs make on their websites or in discovery calls to entice clients, but there are more than a few holes in this "logic".
First of all, first page rankings… for what? As we've said, the competitive landscape for every single keyword is different. What if their target keyword is "women's shoes"? If you're an SEO promising first-page positions on SERPs, how do you plan on outranking the likes of ASOS, House of Fraser, Schuh, and Debenhams?
Throwing out such an ambitious promise is also a red flag, as it signals an SEO that is all about proving how impressive they are rather than one interested in delivering value for their clients' websites. In our experience, SEOs like this have a high client turnover and use big and often temporary short-term gains to attract new business rather than focusing on retaining the clients they have with consistent growth. Don't be that SEO.
Anything with a short timeline is a hard no.
The only way to guarantee increases of a certain amount within a limited timeframe is to attempt to manipulate the algorithm with black hat tactics like link-buying and bots. These are completely outside of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines—the law, as far as SEO is concerned—and are likely to land your clients with a hefty penalty once Google gets wise to what you’re doing. And make no mistake: it will.
Google’s methods for identifying and penalising black and grey hat SEO tactics designed to artificially inflate the value of content that does not actually provide that value are becoming more and more sophisticated with every passing year.
It might look great as a heading on your website, but it’s dangerous for the people you’re supposedly trying to help: your clients. Even if it doesn’t land them with a potentially costly manual penalty, the algorithms will naturally devalue their content and push them further down the rankings when they realise their traffic is not and has never been genuine.
Wow, really?! Pretty amazing that you’ve cracked a code the best SEOs in the world are still plugging away at after all these years. If only everyone were as smart as you.
In all seriousness, SEO “hacks” are for, well… hacks.
SEO isn’t a set of levers you pull, or buttons you hit in the right order, and Bob’s your uncle. It’s a process. SEO about making sure websites are built from the ground-up to perform their best, have high-value content on them and are connected to Google’s great network of domains and pages through links. The only “hack” is creating quality.
There might be a few nifty tricks you can pull out of the bag, but there is no such thing as a system that is guaranteed to get a website ranking #1. If someone promises this, they are either lying, or they have one hell of an ego on them.
Typically, what an SEO means when they say this is: “This is a figure from a previous project we worked on, and we’re promising you the exact same thing, even though you’re a completely different website!”
SEO is, by nature, bespoke. No two websites are the same. They have unique foundations, target users, priority keywords, objectives, backlink profiles and more. You can’t run every website through an identical process and expect the same results each time. You have to build an SEO strategy based on each website’s needs.
If this promise comes out during a discovery call, or when browsing an SEO agency’s website, it’s a sign that they’re not interested in getting to know their clients’ businesses. They’re going to give each one the cookie cutter treatment, without a second thought for them or their customers.
There’s that timeline problem again.
It’s true that when it comes to conversions, there are relatively quick fixes that can be implemented that have a significant impact. These usually involve improving user experience (UX) and optimising your website’s UX design to guide a user through to a conversion.
However, conversion rate optimisation is an ongoing process. You learn from your users: which pages they click on or how many times they come back to your website before finally committing to that sale or free trial.
Much like SEO, CRO is not a one-time task on the to-do list. It’s something you work on continually to provide the best on-site experience for your users, which is all Google is looking for.
How To Set Realistic Targets
Fair question. After all, you’re an SEO, not a fortune teller.
You need to make some promises to your clients, or else you won’t have any. Who are they going to go to: the one telling them nothing is certain, or the one guaranteeing them a first-page ranking in a month?
It’s not our intention to riddle you with anxiety about how every promise you make to your prospective clients is destined to fail. We’re here to provide solutions.
Here are a few ways you can set achievable, yet exciting, targets in your SEO discovery sessions. Spoiler alert: the key is preparation.
Check Out The Competition
The top-ranking results that aren’t household names barely crack the second page of search results, and have built thousands of backlinks to their homepage—which still isn’t enough to compete even with category pages on more established sites. Unless your client is someone like Harrods or M&S, the likelihood of you being able to out-rank sites like John Lewis for this term is slim.
That doesn’t mean, however, that all is lost. Harts of Stur, a kitchenware supplier that is on the third page for its main keyword, ranks for 51,000 other keywords—including several product pages ranking in the first position and gets around 189K in organic monthly traffic.
All this to say, not every keyword is going to be as competitive as another. By analysing the competition, you can get the beginnings of a strategy going in your head, allowing you to make more informed projections, even before the SEO audit is done.
The Audit Is Your Friend
The SEO audit is where projects really begin. They enable you to gain a real understanding of the challenges facing each client and the opportunities each part of the project presents.
It’s this understanding that gives you the power to make realistic and accurate judgments about potential results.
There’s still no point in putting a limited timeframe on things to look impressive. This only puts increased pressure on you and your team to deliver and sets an expectation for the client that you might not be able to live up to no matter what you do because of factors outside your control.
To perform a comprehensive site audit quickly and efficiently you can use the Serpstat Site Audit tool. In the reports, you will get the data on the most common SEO-related issues that hinder your website's performance in search results as well as the recommendation for fixing them and the dynamics of your domain health:
Be An Educator
Thanks to a number of self-styled SEO gurus making ludicrous and unachievable promises, many clients come into an SEO project with an expectation of things being done quickly. Like it or not, it’s part of your job to dispel this myth.
Of course, some changes can reap fairly rapid rewards. If a client is particularly antsy to see results, perhaps because of a negative experience with a previous SEO provider who never delivered, it can be helpful to prioritise a couple of high-impact updates just to evidence the value and potential of what you’re doing.
However, generally speaking, the best SEO projects take around three months to get off the ground because they are built from the ground up. It takes time to get the technical aspects in full working order—particularly if they were in less-than-ideal shape beforehand—to create a complete strategy for both on- and off-site content and then to get this content written, proofed, edited, and uploaded.
Your target can only be realistically achievable if you put in the effort to make it so. For this, your clients might have to be patient, and it’s your job to reassure them and keep them informed throughout these first couple of months.
15 Promises You CAN Make To Your SEO Clients
Being a good fisherman isn’t about predicting exactly how many fish you will catch but about understanding your targets and trusting your experience.
SEO is the same. It’s not an exact science, so don’t make exact guarantees.
The key to making predictions and promises to your SEO clients is to focus on factors within your control, such as your deliverables, your processes, your team’s experience, and your level of communication.
A fisherman can’t guarantee 300 fish by 2 pm, so don’t guarantee your clients a 300% increase in traffic in two weeks. At the end of the day, some fish just aren’t going to bite, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Focus on what you can do.
- “We will conduct a complete technical audit of your site and troubleshoot, then optimise anything that is lacking.”
- “We will produce a data-led content strategy that uses keyword research, competitor analysis and an understanding of marketing funnels and UX optimisation to reach and engage your target audience.”
- “We will brainstorm creative off-site content ideas to grow your website’s backlink profile, which will significantly improve your chances of ranking for key terms.”
- “The cost of our SEO services will be clearly and transparently outlined in our SEO agreement with you.”
- “We will never attempt to upsell you services that we don’t believe will bring genuine value to your website.”
- “If there is anything in the project that you’re unsure about, we will discuss your concerns with you to either help you understand its value or to re-orient the strategy towards something you feel is a higher priority.”
- “You will have a weekly 30-minute call with a dedicated account manager as well as the monthly report.”
- “We will also ask for your sign-off on all deliverable work.”
- “Outside of this, please allow 24 hours to respond to any queries, as our team spends the majority of their time on deliverables.”
- “All of our work is informed by many years of SEO experience, and we always keep an eye on algorithm updates to stay ahead of any changes where possible.”
- “We track the progress of the team members’ individual contributions to the project to make sure everything is running as efficiently as possible.”
- “Our team receives ongoing training to make sure we are not implementing any out of date SEO practices.”
- “We will fix the most critical errors identified in the SEO audit as a first priority.”
- “We aim to see results within three months and will consider re-orienting the strategy if that’s not working.”
- “If you wish to see results more quickly, we can prioritise a couple of high-impact changes in the short-term, but the biggest impacts will be felt when the entire project is underway.”
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