Your client is wrong. Now what?

Sometimes, it’s not so fun to be right.

Recently, Search Engine Watch ran a great post called, “How to Help SEO Customers Who Aren’t Always Right”.  If you’ve been working as an SEO consultant or SEO copywriter, you’ve come across this issue. Your client insists that you should do things one way. You know that it’s not a good idea. And suddenly, you’re faced with a dilemma – how can you burst your client’s SEO bubble and still keep the gig?

I’ve had clients insist on keyphrase density percentages, specific word counts (1,000 words for a product page…really? REALLY?) and poorly-designed site structures. A few people insisted that they were right because they “read about it in a forum” or “learned about it in a class.” Still others believed that they could somehow game Google with their sneakiness.  I still hear folks saying things like, “I just had this great idea. What if the text was the same color as the background”

It’s so tempting to say, “Hello, 1995 is calling and they want their SEO technique back.”

I don’t, though. I restrain myself from making snarky comments (which is always a challenge for me.) But I do address the issue. If you’re facing a similar challenge, here are some tips on how to handle it:

  • Treat your client like you would treat your partner or spouse. Would you tell your partner, “Not only are you wrong, but you are so incredibly wrong that I’m questioning your intelligence?” Sure, you may think it. You may mutter it to yourself. But (hopefully) you don’t say it.  Instead of popping off, take a deep breath and keep your mouth shut.
  • Let your client explain their strategy without interrupting I know. It’s really hard to keep quiet while your client waxes poetic about a 7.3% keyphrase density. Just let them talk. If you start interrupting them with “Yes, but,” and pointing out all the ways that they’re wrong, your client won’t feel heard and she’ll go on the defensive.
  • Listen for the real reason behind the stupid strategy. It could be something like, “We don’t want to change our code, and this strategy means that we don’t have to.” Or, “it’s going to cost a lot to do it your way. This way is cheaper.” Giving your client an opportunity to “talk it out” helps you figure out what to say next.
  • Acknowledge their real concern.  Saying something like, “I hear that you’re worried about the cost…” goes a long, long way. It helps the client feel “heard” – and it puts you and your client on the same page. Then, follow up your acknowledgement by…
  • ….showing your concern and providing a solution. This is when you can share how their strategy isn’t workable (but in a nice, friendly way.) You could say something such as, “I’m concerned about the keyphrase density percentage, as many sites lost their search rankings because of content like that – and it typically doesn’t convert well. I know that driving traffic is important to you. Here’s what we could do instead…”
  • Spend some time educating your client. If your client was set on a certain strategy, it will take some time before they’ll see the light. Take some time to explain Panda, best practices and solid strategies. Then, back up what you’re saying with articles and case studies. That way, the client understands why you’re suggesting an alternative and can learn more about your solution.

What should you do if your client insists on their suspect SEO strategy after you’ve tried to talk them out of it? You may want to walk away from the gig. Or, if the strategy isn’t too bad, you could still work the gig and do your best. The way you deal with it will depend on the client and the situation.  It’s never an easy decision to make – especially when you know that your options are “walk away” or “I’ll never be able to include this work in my client portfolio…”

What situations have you faced where the client’s SEO strategy was completely off base? What did you do?

Want to read more? There’s a similar discussion in the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group! Join the conversation (and the group, too!).