Seo agency

5 Reasons Clients Fire Their SEO Agency (And How To Easily Avoid Them)

The agency-client relationship can be fragile.

This can be especially true for SEO agencies, given the long-term commitment required to achieve optimal results. A lot can change during this time, and sometimes a client decides it would be best to part ways.

However, that really doesn’t have to be the case. There are predictable and avoidable reasons why clients decide to walk away from their agency.

I spent over seven years working in digital marketing agencies and learned (sometimes the hard way) to sense when customers were dissatisfied. There were common patterns that unfolded over time.

The good news? A little honesty, clarity and some positive results can save your agency-client relationship.

Here are five reasons clients choose to fire their SEO agency and some steps you can take to avoid being fired.

1. “We cannot implement your recommendations”

SEO is fundamental to increasing visibility, but it’s harder to achieve if you don’t control the website. As a result, big tomes filled with SEO recommendations can end up gathering dust in the customer’s inbox.

With some larger clients, I’ve seen thousands of technical recommendations not implemented. The (quite valid) argument from customers is that these are only of value insofar as they relate to website improvements. Without seeing the light of day, recommendations are essentially worthless.

There are many reasons why this happens. If the client is unable to give the agency direct access to the site, it usually means going through a web development queue whenever a change is suggested. If other recommendations take precedence over yours, you may find that SEO gets lost in the crowd.

How to avoid this:

  • Present a business case for your recommendations. Communicate, in terms everyone can relate to, why it’s good for the client’s business to follow your team’s advice.
  • Get to know the obstacles your client faces when implementing SEO updates. Work together to overcome them.
  • Set goals for everyone. It takes a team effort to improve a site for SEO, so it’s worth creating a dashboard to track how many changes have been observed and where the bottlenecks are. This helps quantify and visualize any issues.
  • Build relationships with senior executives of the client’s company. Sometimes the client needs an organizational change to push SEO up the priority list. Without senior management approval, this is unlikely to happen.
  • Add a caveat in contracts (in some cases). It may simply indicate that if the agency’s SEO recommendations are not implemented within a reasonable timeframe, all agreed-upon performance targets should be revised.

2. “SEO doesn’t work like our other channels”

SEO’s gift and curse may be its long-term effectiveness as a performance channel. In theory, everyone agrees that SEO takes longer than PPC to deliver positive returns.

In practice, it’s easy to get impatient when you see how SEO compares to PPC or even paid social media in the immediate short term.

The agreement between the agency and the client on the duration of the SEO work becomes particularly difficult if things start to go down. Even a slight dip in week-over-week visibility can be cause for concern.

For marketers accustomed to paid search, it can be difficult to shift mindsets and accept that there are rarely instant fixes in SEO. Unless there is a serious technical problem, in SEO, these declines cannot be reversed so easily. They must be placed in a broader context and studied in detail before taking action.

How to avoid this:

  • SEO isn’t meant to work like other channels, so the best way to avoid this scenario is to work on building trust in your approach. Set expectations appropriately upfront and provide frequent updates.
  • Make sure your team identifies any changes in performance. If the customer notices it first, you may seem careless or eager to hide something. If you think the customer may be concerned about what they see, contact them first to allay their fears.
  • Offer to educate your client’s team if they are not so familiar with SEO. Customers are generally open to learning more about digital marketing.
  • If things just don’t go your way, be honest. Performance won’t improve unless everyone takes a new approach. It starts with a candid conversation about what went to plan, what didn’t, and what you need to do to change things. Customers value a little integrity more than anything else.

3. “We don’t know exactly what we’re getting for our money”

A lot of SEO work is done in the background. We spend a lot of our time analyzing trends, identifying opportunities and preparing documents.

SEO work

We must devote this time if we want to develop an effective strategy. However, the customer rarely sees this. Our processes can be hidden, with only the outputs to show.

Some clients have also had a bad experience with an agency. I’ve seen many clients approach a new agency with an added paid link penalty. It is understandable that this causes some caution on the practices of SEO agencies in general.

If we keep our processes out of sight, this skepticism will only increase. From there, the relationship is difficult to maintain.

How to avoid this:

  • Spend time going through your statement of work with the client. Make sure they understand what each item is, how long it will take, and why you think it’s the best use of their budget. This way there should be no surprises and they are free to tweak things as they see fit.
  • Stick to your project plan. If there are any deviations from this, discuss them with your client and confirm the changes in writing.
  • Use a shared project management tool like Basecamp or Teamwork. This provides visibility into your team’s day-to-day tasks and also helps in assigning items to the client.

4. “You didn’t keep your promises”

This one stereotypically arrives at vendors who promise incremental, often stratospheric, performance improvements – up to infinity. That can help get the sale, but then it’s the SEO account team that has to deliver on the promise of triple-digit growth.

SEO predictions

However, this is not the exclusive domain of the overzealous seller.

We can all get carried away with the simple desire to please a new customer.

This can leave us with performance goals looming on the horizon once the honeymoon period is over.

Additionally, this applies to the account team you provide to the client. I’ve seen agencies pitch an account team in one pitch document, then deliver an entirely different set of people once the ink has dried on the contract. This makes the customer feel taken advantage of from day one.

How to avoid this:

  • Clearly explain what is promised to a client. Performance projections, for example, can be considered legally binding. Clients can feel they are buying this traffic by signing up with your agency. Your methodology for calculating a forecast (if you choose to provide one) and any caveats should be provided transparently.
  • As an agency, it is essential to have a clear code of conduct, both internally and in your interactions with clients. Explain this in your initial written agreements with a client so that they are assured that you will keep your word.
  • Let your client meet their account team during the introduction phase. Often an agency will send their top salespeople to try and close the deal, but every client I’ve met really want to meet the people who will work on their account.

5. “We feel like we can take it from here”

“What will your SEO agency provide after the third month?” Many clients have recently asked their agencies this question.

The perception is that the heavy lifting of technical SEO and on-premises implementations will be done during this time. After that, surely it’s just occasional maintenance and reporting, right?

This can lead some clients to feel that after receiving the initial audits and strategy documents, they have everything they need from an SEO agency. Basically, they think they can “take over from here”.

We know they are wrong (obviously). But it is up to us to plead the case.

An SEO specialist can contribute to any conversation relating to a client’s website. This is as valid in month 12 of the contract as in month one – maybe even longer.

Our efforts have a cumulative effect. SEO practices provide more value through their application over time. This applies to our technical SEO work, content marketing and digital PR.

The full impact of our work is lost if the relationship breaks down after only a few months.

How to avoid this:

  • Provide case studies that show the positive effect your SEO team has had on a client’s business over time. This should demonstrate that you need at least six months to make a real difference.
  • When preparing a service level agreement, reference specific timelines. Clients may feel like they’re getting everything up front, but some of our work doesn’t really kick in until month four or later.
  • Many clients have good reason to believe that they can take up the torch of their agency. Maybe they hired an in-house SEO specialist, for example. In this case, offer to hand over your business to their team and make sure the client is in the best possible shape to be successful.

Image credits

Featured Image: Pixabay

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