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!
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“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.” would be the greatest H1 I’ve ever seen on a site. Do it!
Thanks, Mickey! I knew that if anyone would support me with creative and proper usage of H1s it would be you. 🙂
Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing, it’s good to hear about the challenges and situations other self-employeds face. There’s no way you could have seen this coming — just learn from it. And don’t let it get you down — chin up!
Thanks, Don. I think going through these experiences is a right of passage for freelancers. 🙂
No, it’s not fun to do one’s best and get still get slammed. But what separates the pro’s from everyone else is that they keep doing their best anyway. Anyway, Jenny, at least we got an insightful teaching moment out of it.
When holy heck breaks out in a business situation, it’s often because someone in authority was made to look bad. Perhaps the miscommunication about expectations wasn’t so much between you and your client, but between her and her boss. Independent providers never get the whole insider story. We can only be thankful we’re not on staff there.
Here would have been my witty reply: “I know a stockbroker who GUARANTEES a high return, all the time, no matter what. Do you want his contact info so you can move your life savings to his firm?” (Well, maybe I’m not witty enough to have thought of it on the spot.)
Haha Tom, I’m not witty enough to think on my feet but maybe with my improv classes I’ll get there. 🙂 So appreciate your support. And yes, who knows what may have been happening on her end.
I’ll keep on keeping on!
that’s a funny story jenny. you should have offered to guarantee the results for an extra $300. or at least tell her the truth – yes, if you do everything i just told you to do over the last 3 1/2 hours, and you do it consistently over the next 3 months, yes I guarantee your SEO results will magically improve.
Jim, you are too funny. Oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine the reaction if I told her a guarantee would be an extra charge. I’ll have to try that next time. 🙂
Jenny, I can totally relate to your story & I think to some degree, it’s our industry guaranteeing results they can never deliver … so people assume everything online comes with guarantee. I too have lived this nightmare with my directory & blog post package for home professionals. I created or edited key directories like Google local business, and pushed weekly blog posts that had SEO done for target keywords.
I delivered everything I committed and recommended SEO changes to the website, which had about 30 skinny pages with less than 100 words/pg. I’ll never forget the day Neil called to yell at me because he wasn’t on page 1 of google search results that day. I tried to explain how there are many parts to the puzzle, and I didn’t control them all. Rather than the gory details, we mutually agreed that our relationship wasn’t working.
With similar expectations from others, I ultimately withdrew the package & decided to focus on higher-end builders & remodelers who are willing to invest in a complete marketing package.
Tina – you are so right. With our industry we have our work cut out for us. I’m guessing that SEO just used to be SO much easier, but modern SEO requires a lot of work and investment before you ever see a return.
And totally true – the clients who understand the investment are the best to have. Thanks for your support and hope you’ve been well!
This was a great read, Jenny. No SEO consultant can guarantee results especially if they are expecting first page results. Rising up in the rankings isn’t an overnight task unless you’re in a non-competitive market. I’ve been at it for 4+ years on my own website, and I’m still not #1.
Yes, SEO has gotten a lot harder. As you know, rankings differ by region and device (tablet, mobile phone, computer). Surely, they couldn’t expect to be at the top in just a few months. Were they following your advice? You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink the water. Weight Watchers doesn’t work if you don’t follow the plan. Even if you do, everybody’s results are different.
They want instant results, tell them to shell out thousands or millions of dollars on PPC.
Thanks, Tom! I can always count on you. And personalization certainly has made it all the more difficult.
I like the Weight Watchers analogy. You should write a blog post on that! 🙂
That’s not a bad idea 😉
Love it. It’s been a while since I was a freelance digital marketing designer, but I remember running into this problem with a client. I offered a discount as you did when I reached the point where I couldn’t reasonably explain that my provided website design with included SEO would not guarantee a direct revenue increase. They were just too numbers-driven to realize the long-term returns, and they were unwilling to acknowledge the larger marketing plan that I was recommending. They didn’t see the value in that and were stuck on search results placement and a shiny new design. Oh well.They were looking for an immediate return that a well-funded marketing plan would have had a difficult time realizing. That business folded like a cheap card table a year later and they moved onto another venture. I was not contacted for that one, which is long gone as well.
Drew – thanks for your comment! I appreciate you sharing your story and commiserating with me. 🙂 I’m sure every freelancer who has been in the game long enough has a similar story. I think more than ever reinforcing that we are just one piece of the puzzle, and it takes a LOT of pieces for the puzzle to come together. Without the foundational basics we provide they’ll never have a chance to get in the game, but these individual tactics all need to add up and don’t work on a one-off basis any longer. And they take time! This is hard for small businesses who are too rooted in old school ways of running a business.