The relationship between a business and its SEO consulting firm is a delicate balance of give and take.
In order for an SEO strategy to deliver the best results, the SEO consultant must give accurate and useful recommendations, and the client must take that guidance and implement those recommendations.
This is a team effort where the consultant solves problems and mentors the client, and the client then learns and implements.
Seems fairly straightforward, but it’s not always so.
You have no doubt experienced this in your business. A project can have great energy at the outset. But as time passes, progress can be delayed and momentum stalled for a variety of reasons.
Here’s the good news: We’ve observed that there are five common roadblocks affecting SEO consulting projects that can absolutely be surpassed — once you know how to identify and push through them. Many potential failure points can be addressed even before the project starts, for maximum results.
In this article, I’ll list five common issues that threaten an SEO consulting project’s success AND how you can overcome them:
- Misaligned expectations
- Time constraints
- Budget constraints
- Lack of SEO knowledge
- Website back-end and architectural issues
1. Misaligned Expectations
Misaligned expectations are a huge reason why consultants fail with their SEO projects.
This situation leads to scope-creep and client-satisfaction issues. It often disrespects the SEO team, and sometimes disregards the client’s desires for extra services.
Some clients — especially those that are already knowledgeable about SEO — may want to retain unyielding control of their SEO project. This is understandable when you’re a company that had an SEO team and strategy in place already. Issues arise, however, when that in-house team thinks they are better than they are and the consultant is ignored.
Generally, our favorite consulting scenario involves working closely with the client’s in-house SEO team.
But sometimes conflicting efforts or opinions between the consultant and the client’s SEO team lead to mishaps. A large amount of time may be lost due to drawn-out discussion or inaction. Eventually, the project may see little success. And even worse, with two cooks in the kitchen, sometimes neither can get things done.
At the end of the day, both the SEO consultant and the client want results.
The challenge for the SEO consultant is to create a list of recommendations that will have the greatest effect while aligning with the client’s expectations.
Challenges on the client’s side may be that they have no power over the IT implementation team, or their influence is weak. But once they see and evangelize results within their organization, client teams will be more receptive to future recommendations.
The SEO consultant can sometimes help their client contact make progress within their organization.
Example: A national auto service chain we consulted for had a site speed issue, but their IT department didn’t think it was a priority. IT’s lack of cooperation was hindering the project. We finally included their IT team in a conference call, where we demonstrated how much faster competitor sites were compared to their own. Soon after, our speed recommendations were implemented and that project roadblock was cleared.
Solution: Ultimately, the best way to avoid misaligned expectations is to speak candidly about each party’s role in and ideas for the SEO project. Do this up front, followed by often. Keep focus on the KPIs for the project.
Clients should be sure to communicate their major pain points and goals. And they should celebrate wins.
Meanwhile, consulting firms need to create strategies that address these pain points. Remember, an SEO consultant becomes an important part of the client’s digital marketing team.
Taking unilateral action can alienate you. Instead, create a partnership between yourself and the rest of the team, so you are working together to achieve the business’s goals.
2. Time Constraints
Clients want the biggest bang for their buck. As such, they often don’t want to spend their staff resources to follow recommendations that appear minor or insignificant. Makes sense to me — focus on what drives the most traffic first.
For instance, clients often discount the value of editing meta tags — a page by page task that can seem time-consuming and trivial. And time consuming it is, but certainly not trivial.
Those who do see the value usually have seen positive results from optimizing titles and meta descriptions in the past. We have never seen it hurt, and almost always see solid improvement. What is especially helpful is if the client’s team understands how SEO really works at an advanced level.
Providing recommendations to a client with time constraints is difficult because, as with the budget barrier, everything must be justified in terms of the resources they are spending on the task.
Solution: Clients can request conversations, instruction and deliverables that show how SEO proves its value in terms of time commitment.
On the SEO consulting firm side, here are a few ways to justify value:
- Make the recommendation and its explanation thorough. This gives a sense of confidence to the client that the work follows the best SEO practices.
- Perhaps propose a proof-of-concept test that will prove the recommendations are valid.
- Reference Google, Bing or other expert resources that align with the recommendations.
- Have confidence in what you say and the client will, too.
- Provide a comprehensive training class that shows the consulting agency’s expertise and teaches a proven methodology.
3. Budget Constraints
No one likes spending money on what they believe is useless. And let’s face it, any project that takes months to see substantial results requires a leap of faith. You just must be a believer that SEO will eventually pay off.
A microscopic focus on the ROI of every individual recommended task, however, can disrupt an SEO project. By scrutinizing the cost and return on investment of each individual task that the consultant recommends, some business clients miss the big picture.
SEO often requires that many tasks reach completion for the needle to move, and often an individual task is little more than a piece in the puzzle.
For example, budget-wary business owners might incorrectly believe that:
- Editing meta tags, rewording main navigation links and other detail tasks are too time-consuming and unnecessary for SEO strategy.
- Their content is fine as is, which is really very seldom the case.
- Their main problem is not having enough backlinks to their site.
Since SEO success or failure results from a combination of efforts over time, it can be complicated to quantify (although some have tried to measure KPIs for SEO).
While SEO consultants understand SEO as a long-term game, client teams may not. They’re often more concerned with their monthly investment and how that translates to immediate results.
Solution: Budget-conscious clients almost always want recommendations to be justified in terms of ROI. On the client side, it’s important to remember that data analytics aren’t yet able to completely track customer journeys across the wide range of digital marketing touch points available.
SEO consultants, on the other hand, can help clients to feel more comfortable by presenting a clear, concise project plan. The consultant should be able to explain the value of each step of the SEO strategy — even when the costs and results cannot be precisely tied together.
4. Lack of SEO Knowledge
Many clients don’t understand the art and science of SEO — after all, it’s not their only job.
They know they have a problem with their website and want more online visibility. And they’ve hired an expert to fix these problems.
However, a client should never feel “in the dark” about what the consultant is doing on their behalf.
The expert consultant should be willing and able to explain complicated topics in an easy-to-understand manner. You, as a client, should be comfortable that you can ask questions and receive clear answers that increase your knowledge of SEO. The consultant should be able to cite credible sources like Google and Bing to give more weight to their recommendations. And if the SEO consultant refrains from using unfamiliar industry jargon to explain processes, even better!
Lack of SEO knowledge can often be at the core of other common roadblocks, such as the time and budget constraints I talked about earlier.
Solution: Besides finding an SEO consultant who is able to provide the kind of Q&A described above, clients could also become familiar with at least the basics of search engine optimization. This will help them ask the right questions and see the value of the recommendations — and help prevent the marketing consulting project from failing.
For our own SEO consulting clients, we provide formal SEO training. Each new client gets a seat in the Bruce Clay SEO Training course at the start of their project. We’ve found that providing training is one of the best and fastest ways to get a client up to speed on how SEO works and why we recommend the things we do.
5. Website Back-End and Architectural Issues
Terrible content management systems don’t discriminate.
We’ve seen some of the world’s largest brands have a content management system (CMS) that is either outdated, broken or cumbersome to use. This is a problem because SEO implementation often requires flexibility to make proper changes.
In addition, sometimes the way a site is structured or designed does not allow the SEO consultant’s recommendations to be fully implemented — and sometimes they cannot be implemented at all.
For example, sites using the Magento CMS often experience structural issues when organizing product categories. As a result, the CMS often creates duplicate content — two identical categories with links pointing to both pages. In the end, these pages compete for rankings and confuse the search engine and user experience.
What happens in cases like these is that the client usually won’t be receptive to the SEO consulting firm’s (our) recommendations because they simply can’t implement them with the current CMS in place. Understandably, the client may even get annoyed when the SEO consultant repeats the same instructions. The client often believes that there’s nothing that they can do about it.
As a result, the SEO consulting firm ends up backlogging important but not implemented SEO tasks. To-do lists for the client switch to smaller, more actionable changes that may not make as big of an impact but which reduce the friction of the project.
Solution: Discussions about the client’s CMS and potential implications to the project’s success should occur before the outset of the project. Both parties should be fully aware of what can and cannot be accomplished with their SEO consulting project within the limitations of the existing CMS.
Sometimes, the full scope of the limitation is not known until after the project begins. However, the proposed solutions should be on the table so that the client knows in advance that they may have to upgrade their CMS to fully realize SEO success.
Both the client and the SEO consulting firm want the project to succeed. So it’s in everyone’s best interests to work as a team and see results.
Unfortunately, misaligned expectations, time and budget constraints, lack of SEO knowledge and back-end limitations may slow the project’s forward movement. An experienced consultant can often identify the roadblock and steer the project back on course.
Example: One of our clients, a beauty-products retail site, came to us with a small budget. We took them on as a client because we saw opportunity for them to expand their market. However, right away we had a scope-creep issue. They had big plans, moved fast, and wanted us to be involved in every move they made. For about two months, our analysts were working double what the contract paid for. In month three, we nailed down a project plan for the next 90 days that included goals and deliverables. Regularly we show the client this rolling 90-day plan so they know what to expect. Now, if they throw in a new request, we ask what part of next month’s project plan they’d like to table to make room.
If your SEO project seems to have stalled, you may be experiencing one of the five common roadblocks I’ve outlined for why consultants fail. Whether you represent the consulting service or the client, I hope these observations will help you to turn things around.