Something sucky happened last month.
I had a client experience that – without trying to get overly melodramatic on you – hurt my heart.
I was nearing the end of a 3 ½-hour working session consultation that was designed to leave this client with guidance, training, and a blueprint to follow for the next 6 months. As we wrapped up, the client became very agitated when we did a final review of her goals.
I had commented that her monthly traffic goals were reasonable and attainable, but would require a lot of effort, execution and sweat equity, and commitment to testing and tweaking along to way to get to where she needed to be. I warned her not to get too hung up on these exact figures and numbers within her very specific 2-3 month time frame.
This client acted horrified and she abruptly ended the session with this:
“If you can’t guarantee me the results I want, then this was a waste of my time. I want my money back.”
Boom lowered. Knife in the gut.
Guarantee. It’s funny how one little innocent word carries so much connotation and danger.
Is There Ever a Guarantee with Any Marketing Tactic?
Listen, forget that I’m a consultant.
I’m a human being – of COURSE I can understand the reasoning behind wanting assurance that something you’re going to try, and invest money and precious time into, is going to deliver you the value and results you’re looking for.
The thing is this:
SEO is not a tactic that brings quick results. Or guaranteed results.
Maybe it used to be, but no longer.
Because SEO requires many layers before you’re successful. First, the on-page foundational layer, then committing to other online and offline marketing activities that bring you off-page layers, then committing to ongoing maintenance, testing, tweaking, and production along the way until you’ve got layer of beautiful layer adding up and you’re cranking and heading in the right direction. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. And keep adding layers.
Let me back up as I know you’re yelling at me about accepting a client who I didn’t discuss expectations with first.
If I had any inclination that this client expected a guaranteed result within a specific time frame, I would’ve run for the hills. Three reasons I never saw this coming:
- She approached me with a need that I can guarantee to deliver on: “SEO guidance and direction.”
- This was a one-time consultation and I had no guarantee from her that she would execute the plan we put into place.
- The very minuscule fact that our signed contract clearly stated I never make guarantees.
Marketing Professionals and Guarantees
I will never make guarantees with SEO, traffic, results, leads or profits. And I can see how that sounds unfair (see above). But let me put it to you this way:
Copywriters face this. Copywriting clients shell out good money for great copy, but it doesn’t guarantee clients or results. How could it? There are too many other variables involved. Great copy is an important step, but just one step. Consider this: How are you driving traffic to your website to even read that great copy? And are you driving enough traffic? Are you getting in front of the right people with your other online and offline marketing efforts? Is your sales funnel flawed or broken anywhere that prevents final conversion and outreach? Is your pricing expensive and thus a complex sale and a better funnel is required and did you account for that? How successful is your content marketing? Without great copy, you’re sunk, but that still doesn’t make it enough to guarantee results.
Website designers face this. When clients pay upwards of $5000+ for a new site, some automatically expect this shiny new site will automatically reel them in the clients with the “build it and they will come” perception. Um, no. You need to drive traffic and awareness to that site in a multitude of ways (SEO is just one of those ways, by the way). You need great copy, design elements and calls to action. You need a funnel and content marketing. You have to know your target inside and out and pursue different ways to get in front of them besides just having your site. And you have to work a plan, consistently. A new website alone is not a guarantee, and I don’t know any web designers that guarantee lead and profits upon handing over the keys to a new site. It’s the start, sure. But not the end all be all.
Personal trainers and nutritionists face this. I had to throw this one in as you know I’m always comparing SEO to working out and eating healthy. Imagine going to a professional who does an intensive consultation to put together a customized nutrition, exercise and fitness plan for a customer to follow for 3-6 months. This personal trainer could NEVER guarantee to the customer that they will lose 20 pounds exactly within a specific amount of days or months because they don’t know what variables might come into play, and even that their customer would follow the plan. Sure, they could estimate based on following an ideal plan. But although the trainer is confident in the plan, and their expertise, they can’t make guarantees as that borders on unethical.
I could go on and on.
Back to the Story
Back to my story and the outcome with this client.
I stand by my deliverables, which were clearly outlined in the contract.
I did however do a partial refund, because I was taught a very valuable lesson about the power of communication and managing expectations. My intent was never to mislead this client, but somehow it happened all the same and I take responsibility. And I try very hard to be an ethical consultant and separate myself from the sketchy SEO people out there scamming honest people.
Really, I should’ve known better. I’m no spring chicken. I’ve been a freelancer/consultant going on 7 years now. I am the first to tell people if SEO isn’t for them. And that I may be too expensive right now and they should spend their money elsewhere. And then I direct them to the multiple awesome free guides out there.
But I guess no matter what level you’re at – newbie, mid, or senior – you’re going to come across a situations that maybe you should’ve, but didn’t, see coming.
While I’m afraid this saga isn’t quite over, I know one thing for dang sure. This is going as an H1 on my website homepage: “if you are desperate for results, a sure thing, a guarantee, then SEO, and my consulting services, are not for you. If you’re looking for a partner who will provide you a kick-ass SEO strategy, a shortcut from point A to B bypassing ineffective tactics and wasting time, enlightenment and education into the many layers of SEO, and a blueprint to follow, then yes, let’s talk.”
Ok I won’t really put that on my website but I should.
Bottom line: SEO is tougher than it used to be and it takes time. But if you can make up the investment into SEO with one, two, or three clients, then hell yes it’s worth it.
The work I do with clients is the foundation to what it takes. Without foundational SEO, you’re sunk from the start. But foundational does not equate to “End All Be All.”
Y’all, I really had to swallow my pride to write this. I also tried to put this out of my mind for a few weeks, telling myself, “I don’t want to dwell on negative energy.”
But I changed my mind.
This is really something I need to address.
Because just the other day I got this inquiry from a third party designer whose client “wants to know if we can get her ranking high in online searches pretty quickly to take advantage of her busy season” which was occurring in the next two months.
I immediately got on the phone and basically told her “maybe, and her desired results may be reasonable and attainable, but there are no guarantees and she needs to know that.” Am I saying it’s not worth trying? Hell no. But I’m saying there is no guarantee.
On-page SEO might not be enough.
Let me say it again another way.
Without on-page SEO, you won’t get far. But on-page is just the start, it’s NOT the end all be all. It might and it might not bring you results as it’s only 50% of the ranking equation.
To some of you, you probably think like I sound like a big Debbie Downer right now. I apologize for that.
To others, this won’t deter you. If you truly think you are deserving of ranking for a family of keywords because you provide an awesome service or product that delivers value to a specific set of people, this should fuel the fire of grit, determination, and collective nods from like-minded souls. You have to be a long distance runner and throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks.
Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
Am I right or am I right?
(Hint: I’m right.)
And by the way? SEO is still worth it. And it’s not dead.
Resources/food for thought/fodder for dinner table conversation:
- The One Thing Which Will Guarantee You Marketing Results
- Why The Best SEO Firms Don’t Offer Guaranteed Results
- Why Reputable SEO Firms Don’t Promise Guaranteed Search Engine Rankings
- What if I Can’t Guarantee a Result?
- Do you need an SEO?
Leave a comment below – thank you, merci gracias!
SEO Essentials Mini-Course
Refresh your SEO skills with this 5-day SEO fundamentals mini-course. You'll learn the key pieces of knowledge marketers must have to master the complex world of SEO.
Latest posts by Jenny Munn (see all)
- How Long Does SEO Take to Show Results? (Updated for 2023) - August 9, 2023
- SEO Health Check: 8 Steps To a Quick & Dirty Effective SEO Competitive Audit - July 13, 2023
- The Impact of AI on SEO - June 2, 2023