By Itamar Gero
Agency-client relationships can be delicate and complex. This is particularly true for SEO campaigns, which require long standing commitment to realize results. Many things can happen along the way, and the risk of losing a client is an ever-present threat.
Regardless of how good the service is, sometimes a client will simply decide it’s best to part ways. The decision can either stem from a slow and visible decline, or can jump from out of nowhere. The problem with that is the high cost of client acquisition, which is far greater than retaining the people who are already under your contract. So, it stands to reason to pay greater attention to your current client base and make sure they’re happy.
To avoid client departure or mitigate the situation as much as possible, you have to understand why SEO clients decide to split with their agencies to begin with, and take proactive measures to prevent those motivations from ever truly materializing.
Let’s look at some of the predictable factors that drive clients away, and in turn, the actionable ways to address them.
Pitfall #1: Lack of Communication
Lack of communication can be the root of many evils business-wise. But more acutely, it can destroy your relationship with clients. The campaign may be going well and you may be seeing results that are aligned with the expectations, but without effective communication, you won’t be able to maintain client satisfaction.
Ineffective communication can result from:
- Inconsistency, in which you provide updates at irregular and unpredictable intervals.
- Infrequency, in which you go long periods without interacting with your clients.
- Non-proactivity, in which you communicate only to address an existing issue or when prompted.
- Inefficiency, in which you leave out details, use the wrong mediums, or are unable to make the right points, which can all compromise the compelling power of your message.
There’s no single solution for communication problems. But you can avoid the common pitfalls by setting up and sticking to a regular schedule, being transparent and proactive, and communicating efficiently.
Be as consistent and thorough as possible, and make your clients feel that they play an active, hands-on role in the SEO process.
Pitfall #2: Unmet Expectations
Failure to meet client expectations can be the result of either one of two:
- Short-term letdowns, such as a delay on reporting or content execution.
- Large-scale failure to deliver the projected results of a year-long campaign.
Either one can fracture your partnership with a client. Small failures that compound over time can easily escalate to a breaking point, in which the client starts to lose trust. As we know all too well, lost trust is difficult to recover.
It’s sometimes the case that the inability to meet performance targets is due to performance failure, but oftentimes, clients feel like they were “let down” simply because the agency over-promised.
This typically falls in the hands of over-eager salespeople who promise meteoric increase in ranking performance. Although this can help close the sale, it’s the SEOs that have to make good on the promise. And in cases that they fail, clients take this as their cue to cut ties with your agency.
It’s all about perspective – the better the expectations, the happier the clients. The first and most important approach is to communicate better. Go the extra mile and leave out no detail to make sure your client knows upfront how long the campaign will take and what it’s capable of accomplishing.
For example, performance forecasts can be regarded as legally binding. Make sure that your methodology for calculating projections, if you provide one, are presented in a transparent, comprehensive manner, and in a way that your clients understand. This avoids the formation of any unreasonable, unrealistic expectations, and provides the opportunity to correct any existing ones.
Second, remember that it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver, than to over-promise and not follow through. Promise less than what you think you can achieve, and then execute more. It gives you wiggle room if things go wrong, and impresses your clients if things go right.
Pitfall #3: No Meaningful Results
Results are the lifeblood of any SEO agency. Clients sign up with you because they expect measurable and positive return on investment – results that improve their bottom line. If they get less than what they’re paying for, it makes sense that they’ll find another agency that can deliver the positive results due their investment.
Lack of results can stem from two potential problems. First, as an agency, something is wrong or lacking in your SEO approach. Second, and more commonly, you’re unable to show the campaign’s performance in a format that’s understandable and meaningful to your clients.
This is where things go wrong: instead of providing solutions, agencies bombard clients with data and complicate the entire process. Showing your worth as an agency requires more than just sending tons of reports that your client will probably not look at or understand. It’s about showing them data that matters to their business, and that somewhat proves they’re getting return on their investment.
There are two ways you can show your clients that you’re on the right track:
- Does your client have access to the right tools? The right SEO dashboard will help your clients track your progress more accurately and gain a better understanding of the results you’ve accomplished over time.
- Focus on the bottom-line value and figures. So you brought in 3,000 new visitors for your client this month; what does that translate to, investment-wise? Show your clients dollar values or data that make sense to them.
Pitfall #4: Doubt of Results
This problem is tied with the previous issue. Majority of SEO work happens in the background, from trend analysis to identification of opportunities to preparation of documents.
However, the client isn’t privy to any of this, and only sees the outputs we show them. If you continue to keep your processes out of sight, skeptic clients will become even more skeptic.
Two things: transparency and communication. Spend time explaining how long each aspect of the campaign will take and why you believe it’s the best use of their budget. This leaves no room for surprises and your client is free to make changes as they see fit.
And if you have a project plan – which you should – stick to it. If there are any changes and deviations, discuss them with your clients and put it in writing.
Pitfall #5: Distrust of Knowledge and Expertise
Sometimes, it all comes down to expertise – or lack of it. If your agency comes across unknowledgeable or fails to drive a campaign’s progress consistently, it’s all too likely that clients start losing trust in your ability to perform and seek a “more capable” agency.
The absence of reputation, unfamiliarity with the industry, and the use of obsolete strategies – these are some of the biggest factors that will drive your clients out of contract.
Here are three measures to overcome these potential obstacles:
- Improve your reputation by engaging with influencers and being active on social media.
- Offer the latest strategies tied with the latest digital marketing trends, and constantly come up with ways to improve the campaign. Your clients will see your commitment, your proactivity, and your awareness of industry practices.
- Create a culture of continuous improvement within your team. Make sure each member is informed of the processes and up-to-date with latest news in the industry.
Even though some clients are challenging to work with or are naturally inclined to leave, most cases of client departure and relationship pitfalls are preventable. Even some unpredictable developments can be mitigated if you’re equipped with the right approach to address them.
In such cases, you and your team must seize the initiative to do whatever it takes to keep your clients on board – and in return, keep your agency running profitably.