This is our sixth year operating in the market. Incidentally, a lot of people still doubt that we really exist. Recently it’s happened more and more often. We keep getting emails with comments such as: “Do you really exist or not?” Yes, we do. Here’s the livestream camera in our office.
Moving on, that’s not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to draw a conclusion from 5 full years of experience and describe all the problems we have faced. All of these problems are focused on building traffic from natural SERPs’. You can call it anything you like, SEO, SEM – that’s what we’re going to talk about.
- Customers will focus on different tasks. Actually, when it comes to ordering search engine marketing, everyone has something different in mind. Some people want to grow their traffic from search engines, some want to generate sales leads from search engines and others want to get into Google’s top-10 using just 10 keywords. As a matter of fact, it isn’t a big deal. The real deal is to identify the real task needed, not the one they claim to need, and it would be great to identify it before signing a contract.
- Pricing. It’s difficult working in a situation where you make a commercial offer of $1500 (with the proviso that this could be increased, depending on the results) and get the following response, “What? I have six offers here from $150 to $750.” Wherein, each of these business proposals has completely different workloads and goals, but all of them are vague and formless “SEO services” from the customer’s point of view. Customers don’t want to acknowledge that quality and reliability of results are expensive, they just want to walk around without understanding SEO.
- Customers are not interested in a website’s background. Is a site new? Was it penalised? Has it been abandoned? Did it switch topics? Have search engines assigned it to the wrong region? It doesn’t matter! You are expected to provide fast results, whatever the background is.
- When offered the choice between fast’n’risky results and long-term but reliable ones, an average user would rather choose the first option.
- Very often a customer will trust either some “friends”, “partners”, full-time marketers – even neighbours and lovers. Here’s a concrete example from a Skype conference with a current and, large, customer. Our side is represented by an account manager and a project manager, their side is represented by a DM (decision maker) and a marketer. During our one-hour presentation and discussion of a strategy for the next month we took 45 minutes to explain – please, don’t laugh – why we were not going to put their site in web catalogues. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Open your eyes, it’s 2015! Everything is going to change – Yellowstone will erupt, a meteorite will fall, or we will all just drown in a global flood – but there will always be marketers who regard SEO as a mad race to web catalogues.
- Customers like to point the finger at competitors, look they do something, let’s do the same thing. It doesn’t matter whether or not it gives the desired results, whether it is a “white” or “black” hat practice. Their competitors do that, right?
- Blind faith in a ‘holy grail’. All of a sudden, some customers will start blindly believing in this or that ranking factor. It may be some user behaviour metric (bounce rate or session duration), number of indexed pages or some CY (topical citation index – analogue of Google PR, the algorithm of Yandex search engine, which is the most popular search engine in Russia). Blind faith in any particular one of a lot of factors is a dead end. We try hearing them out while doing the things our way – in the end we’ll be responsible for the results. It’s much worse when a customer keeps insisting and wastes our time having to give them explanations. The worst option is when you spend several days on giving clear explanations, and then a customer says: “I got it, but, anyway, let’s work some on CY, huh?”
- This is a fish that is caught many times with the same bait: “We are developing a site, and then we want you to promote and optimise it. How much will it cost?” It’s hard to evaluate the potential workload without knowing what a finished site will be. Sites must be developed according to a plan for further promotion, if you bet on getting traffic from natural SERPs. It’s the axiom to follow.
- Here’s a further problem. However, it’s becoming less and less topical year by year (customers also study), asking for projects which have nothing to do with attracting search engine traffic. Somebody wants us to set up a site’s backups, somebody else needs a logo designed, somebody even asks to recode the whole mockup. Previously, we’ve been trying to meet these customers halfway (“customer orientation”). Nowadays – never again! It takes too much time, the work is not appreciated by anyone. If something concerns user behaviour, then we’ll do it by ourselves, if it doesn’t – we refuse.
- Some customers take the following position: “I pay you with money, do what you want to do, I only care about the results.” This doesn’t work! We have to gain an insight into each customer’s business, products and services in order to make everything work. When we start working with a new customer we always warn them, our copywriters will exhaust you with a lot of queries. If you’d rather not suffer that, put us in contact with your experts.
- Until recently, one of our main problems was rectifying a high number of bought backlinks. Unfortunately, buying low-quality backlinks on exchange systems became a normal business practice. You try to explain that, in fact, it became ‘bad practice’ several years ago, and there is a great chance you will get a Penguin penalty by doing this – sometimes you face a customer’s complete misunderstanding of the situation.
- The other problem is when the main person you deal with is not the decision maker. It occurs, but less and less frequently in our practice. Projects are significantly slowed down, when each suggested action, each text, each PR-post on a third-party platform is processed by a manager, who has no real power to approve it. All these negotiations can kill the whole process off. Speed, in completing, tasks matters. The quantity of published content matters – all these things influence the final results.
- Lastly and most importantly. It’s not a customers’ problem, it’s always an agency’s problem. It’s all our problem if we constantly fight-fight-fight but can’t win. It’s a lack of communication between an agency and a customer. It’s really hard for me to discuss and admit it – lack of communication is the basis for all following problems. We also have this problem. What is much worse is that communications are never enough. Ideally, a web agency, which is responsible for driving search engines traffic, should be completely integrated, become part of the structure of customer’s business. It’s almost impossible to solve this problem, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to do so.