Lee Odden

Top 5 Ways SEO Agencies and Clients Piss Each Other Off

Communication is key in business relationships as much as it is in personal relationships. Most of the disappointments that often happen in client/agency relationships have to do with faults in communication. Not being able to empathize with another’s perspective can make things troublesome pretty quickly.

Below are some real and some tongue in cheek considerations for why SEO firm and client relationships can get shaky:

Top 5 Ways SEO Agencies Piss Off Their Clients:

  1. Agency over promises and under delivers
  2. Agency uses tricks and gets client site penalized by search engines
  3. SEO techie insults client side account manager on lack of knowledge about topics such as latent semantic indexing and not knowing the name of the last Google update
  4. SEO agency waits for search marketing performance to fail before assessing and implementing new SEO recommendations
  5. Agency uses client brand name in promotional materials without client permission

Top 5 Ways Clients Piss Off Their SEO Agency:

  1. Client doesn’t pay on time
  2. Client overwrites on-page site optimization or implements a new web design without telling the SEO agency
  3. Client fires the SEO firm without warning, without reason and via email
  4. Client wants to try every trick they’ve read about in 2 year old forum posts or heard about from someone’s cousin’s friend who has an ex-girlfriend working at MSN
  5. Client asks for work outside the scope of the agreement for no additional fees – frequently

What have your experiences been on the client/agency side that need attention?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. On how clients can piss off their SEO agency:

    Client expects results immediately – no patience. Gets frustrated when they don’t see immediate results.

  2. A bit of fault on both sides: Agency doesn’t take time to explain strategy and expected targets/Client doesn’t take time to ask or understand = complete miscommunication on objectives and realistic projections.

  3. Good one David. Setting expectations and then providing strong reinforcement is critical, especially for SEO since it can take varying amounts of time to see results. Unfortunately, I think a lot of companies see SEO as a form of direct response or advertising and associate time frames that are not realistic.

  4. This can be avoided by being very, very clear about setting expectations up front. Besides, you can generate great traffic in the short term with optimized releases, social media and link bait without having to use PPC.

  5. I totally agree with you David. I am actually going through something like that right now. Basically they are asking me to justify myself, ignoring that fact that some of my work just needs time to take hold. At my relatively inexpensive price, I feel they should have more patience.

  6. Avatar Sujan Patel says

    clients: number 6: Clients hire more than one SEO company to do their marketing…we all know how this can turnout.

  7. Avatar Adam Audette says

    How agencies can piss off their clients:

    Offer up hosting/domain reg package w/ SEO/M and then hold the site hostage/take it down/serve shady pages until they get paid.

    I had someone call me about this situation recently. He was wondering what to do… I guess the agency fees were “debated” heavily, and this is what finally happened.

  8. Oooh, Adam that’s a good one. Bad, but a good example. In my opinion, clients should never go with SEO firms that require (as in it’s a deal breaker) hosting of anything.

    There are times when it is convenient for both the client and the agency to host certain content like landing pages, but this MUST be outlined in the agreement and the client MUST have full access regardless of payment status.

    At the same time, the agency and the client agreement has to be crystal clear about objectives, expectations, time frames and consequences. Anything less than that is clearly unprofessional.

  9. Good points Steve. Due diligence is not only necessary on the part of the client evaluating SEO firms, but also appropriate for the agency when considering new clients. This is especially true when you’ve built up a strong brand – you don’t want to bring that effort down by working with someone who does not reflect your ethics or business standards. Same goes for clients as they select agencies.

  10. BTW, yesterday I had a situation worth sharing. A conference call with a very large client who had some of their other vendors in on the call.

    One of the people from the other vendor thought herself pretty smart with SEO and started throwing out questions to show how important she was.

    Things like, “How does the HITS algorithm factor into this strategy?” and, “What affect will the Google Florida update have on the link building tactics?”. I nearly fell off my chair. Old, outdated and irrelevant for the most part, these questions did nothing but confuse our client and waste the time of everyone else on the call.

    One more thing to add to the due diligence column: Get a list of all conf call participants and the reason they are on the call along with permission to mute them if they start to waste everyone’s time. Our consulting fees are not cheap and I hate to see a client’s time wasted like this.

    [end rant]

  11. Avatar Steve Hansen says

    I always enjoy reading your blogs about real life situations. In my opinion there is nothing more

  12. Avatar Steve Hansen says

    In every situation that has potential to spin out of control you need to proceed with caution. I made the mistake on a similar conference call in taking a foolish statement or position and in a nice way educating all parties on the call as to the correct process. Only to find out later that the “know it all without knowing anything person” was a sister to the guy who wrote the checks.

    Moral to the story. Even if you are right, you may end up being wrong and packing your bags.

  13. Avatar Adam Audette says

    “One more thing to add to the due diligence column: Get a list of all conf call participants and the reason they are on the call along with permission to mute them…”

    Hear, hear! This rings so true to me. We’ve all had those occasions in meetings where you just want a mute button. It’s hard to manage, because while it may seem obvious to you when someone’s trying to emphasize her/his own “skillz” rather than focus on the client, the client may have no clue. Always a tightrope to walk in not coming off insulting and a know-it-all and getting into a debate about who knows more.

  14. Wonderful thread…How about when it would take an atomic explosion to impact basic SEO technical attributes for the content managment system the client just spent 850,000 to deploy…

  15. What really snots me from an agency point of view is clients who want amazing results from their “been there done that” brochureware site which hasn’t been updated since 2001.

    Of all my clients, the ones that have successful websites are the ones that take an active interest in their content and web presence. It makes all the difference.

  16. LMAO. Wow. That is so true it is amazing. I think I have been lucky with clients that pretty much admit they know nothing. I was talking to a client yesterday that told me he appreciated that I didn’t make him feel stupid. He said his experiences before were belittling and he made a great point, “Have a heart attack and I can most likely save you, but I know nothing about the Internet.”. Just because my clients are not net junkies doesn’t mean they are not intelligent. We all just specialize in different things.

    I think a lot of these issues can be avoided by explaining things in the beginning and discussing the clients expectations.