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Setting Realistic Expectations For SEO Clients March 20, 2011

As more businesses are becoming conscious about the importance of ranking for particular keywords to generate sales or additional revenues, setting realistic expectations for clients is important.

It’s often easier for link building and SEO agencies to work with clients that already have experience building links and understand the importance of on-page optimization, as opposed to working with clients that are new to SEO. Setting realistic expectations for your clients and properly informing them when selling SEO services will not only help build trust, but define the terms and conditions of the business relationship on the first call.

Below are some common questions that many link building and search engine optimization agencies are faced with when working with new clients. As some SEO professionals take the approach of telling potential clients what they’re looking to hear, taking the position of educating and informing prospects by setting realistic expectations early on is key.

“We’re looking to rank number one for the term XYZ. How long will that take?”

Ranking “number one” is a function of how competitive the keyword market is, how many links are currently targeting the keyword, the amount and quality of content promoting the keyword on the site, and how much work you’re looking to put in to enable the potential of ranking competitively for the term.

Link building and SEO agencies making claims of their abilities to rank “number one” for clients is simply a sales tactic. It’s possible, but should never be guaranteed. While the strategy works, asking prospects why they are looking to rank for the term “XYZ” is equally important. Potential clients that are new to SEO may not understand that ranking for “XYZ” may be unrealistic to the way their offer is being presented; geographic location, sales capacity, and most important, budget.

When potential clients are focused on “how long will that keyword take to rank”, be careful. Recent algorithm changes, the likelihood of competition becoming more aggressive, and not continuing link building efforts after ranking has been achieved are important items that should be disclosed to prospects.

“We are a start-up company and just put a new website up. Can rank us for the term XYZ?”

The short answer to that question will always be affirmative. However, learning more about the company and the infrastructure of their website is critical. Was the site coded in HTML or any of the other various CMS’s?

This can be a great segue into learning more about how the site is currently being optimized. There may be additional consulting and on-page optimization opportunities which should be addressed prior to link building.

Most clients new to SEO will understand and appreciate how content strategies and on-page optimization will help rank for desired keywords in conjunction with link building. Clients that do not wish to publish fresh, targeted, and compelling content on old, outdated, and poorly designed websites (visual / code) may become problematic if suggestions for improvement are not disclosed prior to link building.

“We’ve done link building in the past and didn’t see results. Can we try a one-time package?”

There’s nothing wrong with taking the à la carte approach to link building as some clients may be focused on promoting a small set of keywords with corresponding URL’s. Many US agencies require contracts or long term working agreements in order to “show results to clients”. From a predictable cash flow perspective, the requirement holds ground.

Explaining to potential clients that one-time link building packages are a “waste of money” or may “hurt your site” over the long term is a common scare tactic used to influence the client into working with the agency long term.

Every client has different needs when it comes to SEO and link building services. Some clients have websites that require regularity when building links (internal / external) in order to remain competitive from a search engine perspective.

Link building over a longer period of time may be recommended to achieve results in competitive niches. That same client may wish to engage another agency in “one-time” or transactional business to focus strengthening a particular area of their website. It’s not uncommon for higher-end prospects to utilize multiple service providers.

There’s nothing wrong with shutting the door on transactional link building from a business perspective, but informing potential clients that it’s “worthless” or may “permanently damage” the site is wrong.

Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.

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