This post is actually an internal training document that we’ve modified for the web. It has also been a topic of conversation amongst a few of us within our office, so I thought it would be a good topic for our readers.
Start by asking this question to yourself: If an SEO company REALLY does their job, they will help increase traffic and therefore leads for a company. So if they are doing such a great job, why would an SEO client ever cancel?
I’ve “run the numbers” and have analyzed the length of our SEO contracts over the last few years. On average our SEO contracts lasts between 1 and 2 years.
But what about the clients that don’t make it to the end of year 1? What about the SEO clients that cancel after a few quick months?
If a contract is extended beyond 2 years, it is because we not only provided great results but have established a friendly rapport with the client.
Sure, we have clients that have been with us from the very beginning. We’ve also had clients leave after a few days/weeks. It really depends on a number of factors.
Secondary factors: communication, education, reporting
A lot of SEO’s joke that their clients would rather have in-depth reports than actual results. But many times it is not far from the truth. Clients want to see “evidence” that they are getting what they are paying for, and that makes sense.
Ongoing communication is vital to the success of an SEO contract. Different clients have different expectations:
- some clients don’t want to be bothered, they just want to see results
- some clients want bi-weekly calls with verbal reports of what is going on
- other clients only want reports as proof they are getting what they signed up for
It really just depends. Successful SEO companies will determine what kind of client they are working with before hand and modify their communication strategy depending on the clients needs.
Education is another large factor in the success of an SEO contract. For example, when personalization started becoming a factor in the SERPs we knew it was vital for us to modify our approach because clients were seeing different SERPs on different devices / locations.
Many customers become angry when they don’t get the results the are looking for, but a lot of those scenarios are actually customers that haven’t been given the proper education.
Bonus tip: educate your SEO clients by referring them to specific posts on your blog to support your data.
Client advantage: signing up with a new agency
When a client signs up with a new SEO company, the SEO company will be extremely eager to make a great impression on their new client. At the very least, these aspects of the SEO campaign should be on point:
- the on-page SEO on point
- the site speed is where it needs to be
- a solid backlinking / link earning strategy
- a good content schedule in place
- and everything else in line
With that in mind, SEO companies tend to build up a campaign tolerance after a while. It happens in practically all other industries as well. When an SEO company signs a new client that is transferring from another SEO agency, the SEO agency is raring to go.
The SEO company is out to impress the new client and are most likely going to do a much better job on month 1 than the previous SEO company did on their last month. It isn’t because either SEO company was doing a bad job, it just is what it is.
Extending SEO contracts
Reporting is one of the best ways to extend the length of an SEO contract. There is a lot of waiting in our industry, particularly in the beginning of an SEO contract. As I said before, education, communication and reporting are essential to a lengthy SEO contract. If you are providing good reports, your client will at least see that you are doing the work you are saying you are doing. This is the case a lot of times with new sites with a blank slate for an SEO portfolio.
There are times when things just don’t go your way. Bonns Flowers here in Florida was one of our first clients ever. We did some amazing work for them, helped them do PPC as well as social media. We drastically helped their company bring in new orders every day and had them ranked in multiple cities on the top of the first page. We got a call one day that they sold their company and the new owner would “not be needing our services.” These types of situations are unavoidable and just need to be dealt with as they come.
The best way to help extend the life of an SEO contract is to think ahead. Don’t do the very minimum that it takes to get by. Attack their SEO campaign with fervor, send your clients an unxepected and unscheduled report.
Emphasize good news and great results in your reports. Sometimes great results can be very small details such as:
- a unexpected new keyword you are ranking for that is bringing in new traffic as a result of content marketing
- an earned editorial backlink
- an influencer that has shared your site on content
- a website getting mentioned in a discussion on reddit or another forum
All of the above are signs that things are going in the right direction.
The customer is always right
The author of “Rework” Jason Fried (a book I love) doesn’t beleive in this statement, but I’ve experienced something different over the years. I’ve owned several businesses and have worked for some great bosses as well. Some of my favorite bosses have taught me “the customer is always right.”
I’ve learned never to try to “prove a point” to a client or win an argument. Education is one thing but arguing for arguments sake is just no good. We work in a b2b environment so most of the time we deal with business owners, who are very smart and successful people. They deserve to be treated with respect. Even though they might not know what a LAMP server is, that doesn’t mean they aren’t savvy. It is our job to help them learn as much about SEO and marketing as possible, even if that means they go on to another SEO company in a year or so.
There are other times when certain people do not click with one another. If you see a client and an account manager constantly not getting along, it might be time for someone else to take over. If you find yourself not getting along with a client, ask a coworker, manager or subordinate to take over.
The SEO contract itself
There are so many schools of thought on the actual SEO contract. Sure, we’ve had our SEO contracts drawn up by paralegals and reviewed by our advisory board and in general is pretty “air tight.”
But what if someone wants to cancel their SEO contract anyway?
Should you force them to stay even though they might not be happy?
This is a touchy subject. You might think of me as a weak business man by saying this, but if someone wants to leave we aren’t going to force them to stay or send them to collections. We earn our business through referrals. More often than not, even the clients that leave for one reason or anther will refer other people to us months or even years down the road.
For mega-sized SEO companies that charge flat rats for 10 keywords that might work well for them. We are a boutique SEO company and make our living the honest way.
I know of a lot of SEO companies that send their accounts to collections or fight with them tooth and nail over a few months of an SEO contract.
If someone wants to cancel a contract because they aren’t happy, is it really great for your company or morale to keep someone on?
On the contrary, the competition is unimpressive to say the least. A capable web scraper can easily dig up a few hundred SEO contracts just sitting out there on the open web.
Take this query:
filetype:pdf “SEO contract”
It will return hundreds of SEO contract PDFs from actual companies. It is full of SEO companies out there still doing directory submissions, forum profile creation, blog comments and article spamming.
For every quality SEO agency out there that actually cares about their clients, there are 5 agencies (I use that term loosely) that simply spam the crap out of their clients website and hope for the best.
Owning up to a mistake
If you are an SEO that has been in the game for a while, then you have battled with getting results particularly in tough industries.
We’ve had our share of hurdles and challenges in the past. If your SEO client is really not seeing the results they thought they were going to see, then you really need to make some changes if you want to keep them on board. One strategy that we like to take on (that doesn’t necessarily make us a ton of money) is giving a free month or more.
Giving away a full month of services for free is a huge trust builder in my opinion. If it does work out we usually ask for our clients to extend once the free month is complete, only if they are satisfied of course. 9/10 times this “works” and our clients are happy.
Another way to work with business owners when you are having a hard time delivering on results is to supplement with another service. This could mean helping manage their social media, upping their content management, graphic design or even giving them a PPC voucher.
SEO companies all struggle with showing results at different times. If it were that easy, there would be an SEO company on every corner and services would max out at $19.99 / month.
The companies that are still standing after 5, 10, or 20 years are the ones that are honest and open about what is going on, and the ones that aren’t afraid to wave the white flag.
Turning Referring away business
All companies have a certain niche or audience they service. There are many different types of SEO companies:
- some charge a flat rate of $xx.xx / month for very basic SEO services
- other SEO companies only service dentists, or auto dealers
- there are other SEO companies that only work with companies between certain annual revenues such as $1mm – $5mm
It really just depends what your mission statement is.
Straying from your vision is probably one of the biggest reasons I’ve seen contracts fail in the past.
Example: An SEO company that only works with small businesses has a Fortune 500 company approach them with franchise locations and 100’s of employees. They see this as a large payday, and use this contract as a spring board to scale up their company. Within a few weeks, phone calls get missed, details are overlooked, and everyone is swamped with work.
Quite often, our company turns away business that just doesn’t fit into our vision or overall groove. It is tempting at times to take on some of these deals, but just isn’t worth it in the long run.
It is really important to have a good referral source setup to refer clients that don’t fit into your vision. All SEO companies should have referrals setup for:
- web hosting
- graphic design / print design
- web development
Ideally a good referral source will have a good relationship with your company and won’t try to poach your clients when you aren’t looking.
For instance, we have a really close relationship with a print designer here in Delray Beach. We refer clients every month to them, and they send clients to us as well. They know that we know that they good work and want this relationship to continue, so it works out really well.
Why isn’t it working for me?
If you’ve been consulting/have been in business for a year or more and just keep losing clients, it might be time to reevaluate your structure.
Do you really love doing SEO, or would you rather be doing software development, website design, or network administration?
I’ve run into a lot of SEO’s with great intentions that broke into the industry from another industry for one reason or another. I know a lot of successful SEO’s and agencies that have started with a background in web development, network administration, or even copywriting.
If you just can’t seem to keep a client, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the proposal I am sending out professional, spell checked, and grammatically correct? (have you split tested your proposals?)
- Is your website up to date and professionally designed?
- Are you staying in touch with your SEO clients?
- Do you return all phone calls and emails within 24 hours?
- Are you sending reports and following up with them?
- Do you have a capable support staff able to provide professional SEO services?
- Are you just meeting the requirements of your contract, or are you exceeding expectations?
- If your competitor pitched your SEO client right now, what would their evaluation be?
My take on the SEO industry: its fine if you are in it for the money, but you better love what you are doing.
I love SEO and inbound marketing. If it wasn’t my job, I would do it anyway. Are you able to say the same thing?
If it just isn’t working out it could be for a number of different reasons. My advice if it isn’t working out is to take a holistic look at your last 12 months. Figure out what the commonalities are between the clients that you’ve kept and the ones that have canceled.