7 Tips for Managing Customer Expectations in SEO

managing customer expectations

I have been thinking a lot about customer expectations lately.

SEO is a tricky game when it comes to delivering great service.

There are hardly any guarantees in our industry. It’s damn easy to overpromise, even unknowingly. And to top that up, most clients have only a remote idea about what we’re really doing.

Couple that with those constant changes in SEO, Google updates, clients sites going AWOL for whatever reason, link building tactics becoming devalued by the day (OK, I might be going a little too far here but I am sure you know what I am talking about) and you certainly don’t end up with a great environment for building client – vendor relationship.

Yet, SEO is primarily a service. Working with clients is pretty much unavoidable. And it is in managing their expectations where lies the secret in building great SEO agencies.

Few Tips for Managing Customer Expectations in SEO

  • Explain The Process And Outcomes

SEO, at least in my view is about understanding your clients business goals and translating them to this particular channel with an aim to help to achieve such goals. This often means increasing the revenue generated by the website but it may also mean improving the brand awareness for instance (in fact, I am an opponent of understanding SEO as one of the branding channels, not sales ones. That’s something for another post though).

Yet for many clients SEO is a quite a mysterious procedure that is supposed to bring them an increased revenue pretty much from day one. Needless to say, this one thing alone can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and potentially unfulfilled expectations.

That’s why it is crucial not only to explain the entire process you will undertake but also list and clearly explain the outcomes you intend to deliver. Most importantly, you need to do it in a language that your client will understand.

  • Set Realistic Timelines

SEO campaigns can take a lot of time to bear fruit, we all know that. However, most clients will expect results much quicker. It’s quite understandable if you think of it, they want to see a return on their investment relatively fast.

As a result, it can be quite tempting to promise results quicker than they would normally appear only to win the project (we all starve for more work, don’t we?). In reality though such approach will only hurt your brand as you will find yourself constantly fighting off disappointed customers.

  • Be Open About What Can And Cannot Be Done

Saying no to clients is a quite difficult thing to do. No client wants to hear it. Similarly, no one wants to say no to a client in fear of not getting the work. As a result we often try to juggle this, overpromise here, underpromise there. It should balance itself out anyway, right?

The problem is that clients will remember those small promises you made and forgot before you even finished saying them. They will take you up on them. They will expect this to be done, even though you don’t remember saying it. They will get angry when they don’t get it.

  • Listen To What They Are Saying

A most common thing when selling any kind of services is to assume that you know everything. In fact, many SEOs will assume that they know their clients business better than them! Nothing is further from the truth. In reality, your job is to listen why the client is looking for an SEO (and it might not be the reason you think it is).

  • Report Regularly But Don’t Just Send A Bunch Of Numbers

A regular reporting and communication is crucial for maintaining a healthy client – vendor relationship. However, one of the problems we SEOs face is the fact that most of our work is based on numbers. Numbers that mean nothing to clients. Not only that, they may actually be misleading to them. Therefore it is crucial that you explain everything in a language your clients understands.

And, let’s be honest, most of the time they don’t care how many links you have built for them but how close to reaching their business goals you have taken their business to.

  • Communicate Regularly

Similarly, not only report regularly but in constant contact with your customers. This is especially important when new Google updates become imminent to prepare the ground to what might be coming. This is not only a good practice but a great way to show your dedication to the client.

  • Document Everything

Lastly, make it a habit to document every single communication you have with a client. Not only archive all emails but send minutes to clients for sign off after every meeting but also a phone call. This way you will avoid the dreaded “I don’t remember agreeing to this” situation.


SEO is a tricky game when it comes to working with clients. With very little certainty it is hard to first convince customers to hire you and secondly, manage their expectations in a way that will result in repeat business for you.

Your Turn

How do you manage your customers expectations? Do you have any other tips than what I mentioned in the article that you could share with us?

Creative commons image by Quimby / Flickr

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