Lee Odden

What Makes an Ideal SEO Client?


Believe it or not, there are a few things we do to avoid new project inquiries. But truth be told, I love talking to people about SEO. It’s really interesting to me, learning about the kinds of situations companies are in, their marketing goals and how they’re going about growing their business (or business unit) online. Search marketing is like solving puzzles in a way, except with the SEO industry, the picture on the puzzle changes every so often. 🙂

There are all kinds of companies that we get to talk to ranging from large corporations with official buyers of search marketing services to virtual ecommerce companies and also businesses that have been doing search marketing in-house or with another consultant for a few years and need to take it to the next level. With as many different companies there are even more different perspectives about search marketing.

Recently I spoke with two companies back to back and the difference was night and day.

Caller one sounded like a savvy marketer and had been referred by the web dev company for another client of ours. Referrals are usually the best situations. The caller had a new site that had been launched 2 weeks ago with 1600 pages of content (articles, how to’s etc) including an online store. Sounded interesting, even though it would have been better for us to be involved during development, not after the fact and it seemed like an awful lot of content to go live with on a brand new web site. Except it wasn’t a brand new web site. Not really.

It was another web site for the same company which still maintained the old version of the site on a different url. Two different domain names, two different web sites with very similar, but not exactly, duplicate content. Seemed a bit odd to me, so I asked, “Why not replace the old site with the new site under the same domain?” The answer was something about an advantage to having more than one web site competing for search results. Sigh.

The caller went on to espouse these advantages and seemed pretty sold on the idea regardless of my explanation about duplicate content, disadvantages of starting from scratch with a new site, the extra maintenance, etc. I was not up for a debate considering Google’s longstanding guidelines, “Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.” and decided to state no interest or availability, good luck and finally, goodbye.

Another call was already waiting when I put down the phone and it was for a 2 year old ecommerce site. The company also had a brick and mortar presence and was doing very well with PPC. They wanted to expand their market reach by focusing additional attention on natural search.

This company had tech savvy internal marketing resources but simply didn’t have the time to work on site optimization and link building. They needed to outsource natural search and goals were both specific and clear: increase sales via search channels.

The caller was open to ideas about making the site crawlable, adding content – maybe even a blog, improving usability for conversions, pursuing links on an ongoing basis and work with web analytics for ongoing usability, conversion and SEO recommendations.

While this was a small company, their allocated budget for natural search met our minimums and combined with the perspective and goals of the business owner, may likely turn into a working relationship.

What was the difference in these two situations? In the first scenario, the caller felt they had search all figured out and that over confidence combined with the apparent desire to take shortcuts simply didn’t resonate with our philosophy of doing search marketing. Most importantly though, nothing can be more frustrating for both parties when a company hires a SEO consultant for their expertise and then wants to debate every recommendation.

After having hundreds of conversations with potential SEO clients, there are certain signals you can pick up on (besides budget and intentions) pretty quickly that give an indication whether it would be a good fit or not. Something I learned from the very smart Bryan Eisenberg of Future Now was, if you can’t hit a home run with it, it’s not worth taking on. That perspective has paid off for us over and over again.

I’m curious if any Online Marketing Blog readers that happen to provide search marketing services would share any signals that make or break it when talking with perspective clients? What indications make you decide quickly it’s not a good situation? What signals tell you that it’s a great fit and might be an ideal SEO client?

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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. In my short time I have experienced so many amazingly different levels of client understanding when it comes to SEO.

    All of which have led me to believe there is no “typical SEO client” only good, average and very bad ones.

    Possibly the funniest question I have been asked was “if I buy AAPlumberUK.com as a domain name, will I go ahead of the competition, like in the Yellow Pages” – this guy was being serious and completely misunderstood SEO (this being said I cant fix water leaks!) Ultimately this guy was trying to understand the process – I prefer this.

    I work with several understanding SEO clients with an excellent grasp of my task and give plenty of support to my ideas – I think this is key.

    All in all I find a highly inquisitive potential client ultimately more rewarding than one who is totally uninterested in the concept but know they need to do it.

    In a nutshell my perfect SEO client:

    Interested in SEO, understands the long term power of search, Has too much time to do SEO themselves but will help with ideas when necessary.

  2. Avatar David Wallace says

    Interesting. I just authored a post a couple of days ago on a very similar subject – “How To Detect Problematic Customers Before They Become Paying Customers.”

    I look for the following scenarios:

    They want a free education
    They waste your most precious commodity – time
    They have a business plan doomed for failure
    They want a special deal or discount
    Their goals are unrealistic

  3. Oli, we are on the same page. Perhaps I’m spoiled, but with so many companies aware of our services, we really need to gravitate towards those organizations that are 1) Already sold on SEO as a marketing channel 2) Smart and easy to work with

    David, those are great points – worthy of a poll I think 🙂 I will be sure to check out your post!

  4. Agreed – avoiding bad clients is as important as getting good ones.
    It’s got to the stage of instinct now with some of them, and some just come across with a very aggressive/demanding/wideboy manner but various pointers include:
    “We’re really aware of SEO and we’ve already done this this and this so you won’t need to do that at all”

    “We need top 5 results in three months time or it’s all off”
    (Usually with a brand new site)

    “We know exactly what keywords we want, there’s no need to research them”

    Suggestions that we’re much more expensive than the guy who promised him top ranking in Google within 2 months.

    “We need to know exactly how much it’ll cost and a get quotation to us by tomorrow morning” (I usually put the phone down on that one)

    “We have a new site on finance…” (sound of phone being thrown through window)

  5. Well, pretty much the same as you have shown in the post:
    – attempting to control what you do
    – telling you what to do
    – having unrealistic expectations (both in terms of effort and time it takes for a project and results)

    Of course, there are other things that clients in all industries share, such as just being annoying and such.

    Cre8asite has a thread about hiring and firing the right clients. And also there’s this article on 11 clients you need to fire.

    P.S. The shaking-hands.jpg img in this post doesn’t load for me.

  6. While I also feel it’s so much more rewarding to work with clients who are ‘already sold’ on SEO, I also see my role as a sort of evangelist of SEO. Sometimes it pays off big-time if you take the time to explain to a client. I have ended up with some very lucrative contracts that way, and in the bargain, the client feels endebted to me for taking the time to persuade them. 🙂

  7. It’s a business decision really. Spend time with people that want to debate SEO or with those that value and respect your expertise.

    It would be different (and was when we were starting out) if there weren’t a lot of inquiries for our services, but that is not the case.

  8. Hey Yuri, that image thing is being looked at, thanks.

  9. Avatar Randy Duermyer says

    Good post, Lee and an interesting topic.

    Bill Marshall’s comment:

    “We know exactly what keywords we want, there’s no need to research them”

    Reminds me of a client I’m dealing with right now. I’d done some non-SEM work for them in the past and I was glad they came to me now that they are revamping their existing site and building two others simultaneously.

    First they asked what needed to be done for SEO on their sites, starting with their corporate site. I gave them a list of tasks required for the initial phase – including keyword research and competitive ranknig analysis. They feel they are market movers in their industry, so the response I got was that keyword research probably isn’t necessary – let’s just use the terms they think they want to be identified with – mostly proprietary names and terms they’ve coined that no one’s ever heard of yet. After that, I got “We’ve done a lot of market research and feel we know our competition well enough that we don’t need competitive analysis”. My argument that competitive analysis for my purposes wasn’t the same as the research they did fell on deaf ears.

    They wanted a proposal for the intiial phase of the SEO work on the corporate site. I gave it to them at the lowest price I felt I could afford to charge based on our past relationship. Then they come back and say they now want to optimize all 3 sites at once, so it will be a few weeks until they’re “ready”.

    I’m now beginning to think I should run – despite our past business relationship – as this is beginning to look like the project from hell that will be micro managed from day 1 – if it ever gets off the ground at all.

  10. On a different topic. What is the “shaking-hands.jpg” tag under your pic supposed to be 🙂

  11. Hey Anthony, shaking hands image has finally been fixed. 🙂

  12. As We all know internet marketing is one of the most growing business on the web. Search engine optimization is the most powerful and proven method to bring quality traffic to website. However the negative part of SEO is that, it takes a long before showing any results. SEO needs patience, time and attention and for this committed and skilled manpower is a must.

  13. In my point of view I think clients who do annoys us just needed a certain degree of clarifications and explanations on what to do with their websites. Because if they are the ones who comes to you for a search engine marketing services I’m pretty sure that they considered you capable of handling their websites. You need to explain their concerns as well as yours in optimizing the site and at the end settle things out satisfied. After all we, optimizers, needs clients as well..

  14. Yes, Eric, but there’s a limit on how much educating you can do. If the client bulks at your reasoning, it may be more effective to go to the next one, then to waste time on the one, who isn’t ready to accept how the things roll.

  15. Avatar SEO Positive says

    when I speak to a prospect client I sometimes find that they are fishing around for the cheapest quote rather than the best SEO work that they can get for their money. For example a client told me the other day that for the keyphrase “mortgage broker” they were quoted by a certain SEO company

  16. Avatar DesignerzNext says

    Nice One… Thanks!

  17. Thanks!

  18. Avatar DesignerzNext says


  19. Avatar DesignerzNext says

    Nice One… Thanks!


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