“SEO? Oh, we’re set. We’ve got links in the footer.”

At some point in our careers every SEO has heard a client make an outrageous statement likes this gem from Ian Lurie. Anyone who has worked at an agency knows, when working with clients there are always bound to be miscommunications, differences in opinions and moments where you just simply can’t stand one another.

However, don’t despair! There’s plenty you can do to begin a relationship with an SEO client on the right foot, read these tips below to learn how.

Dispel myths about SEO

SEO is a complex art form with thousands of intricacies that I don’t expect clients to begin to understand. However, there are a few SEO folklores that if not dismissed can hurt a client’s understanding of the SEO process. We’ve all heard them: “SEO is all about changing the Title Tags,” “PageRank is the most important metric”, “This XML sitemap will boost my rankings,” etc.

To an experienced SEO these statements sound ridiculous but to the client, whose limited knowledge on the subject usually comes from outdated articles and sales pitches, these myths seem entirely plausible. Be sure to clearly and calmly explain to the client why these myths are untrue so they will have a reasonable expectation of the SEO work to be performed.

Tip: Create basic-level educational materials to hand out to all new clients. These can include a glossary of SEO terms, a white paper on the Panda update or process documents for basic SEO tasks, such as updating Title Tags.

Set realistic milestones

Many times a client focuses solely on rankings as a measure of performance, and can become frustrated when they don’t see results for months. It’s important to properly manage expectations upfront so there’s not tension three months down the road.

Break overall goals for the campaign into milestones, with both short wins and long-term goals. While you should never promise rankings, give the client a general idea of the type of progress they will be able to see after one month, 90 days or 6 months. Most times these won’t be related to rankings but can be focused around achievements such as improving the technical health of a site, or progress with link building. Once these milestones have been established, set clearly defined metrics by which you can measure your progress so both you and the client are on the same page.

Tip: In the past we have prepared a scatter plot of SEO capabilities, which plots each SEO task based upon the degree of impact and the level of effort to complete. This helps visually illustrate that larger tasks, like link building and content creation, may take more work but will have a larger payout in the end.

Set expectations for involvement with work

It’s amazing how many clients think SEO’s hold a magic button to better Google rankings. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase, “Just get us to number one by next week, ok?” or “Don’t worry, we’ll just take the guys at Google out to dinner.” Well, I’d have a lot more money than I make doing SEO!

My point is that many times clients don’t understand the amount of effort that it takes to obtain good rankings. To them SEO is something an agency runs off and works on for six months then comes back with great results. They don’t realize how involved they will have to be; that most likely they will have to create new content, alter the structure and development of their site and maybe even start up and maintain social profiles. Make the client aware that they will be involved in the SEO work from the start.

Tip: Put together a slide deck with examples of sites that are performing well for their desired keywords. Illustrate the depth of content, strong information architecture and robust back link profiles to show clients the amount of work it will take to effectively compete in the space.

Communicate consistently and demonstrate value

I’ve never met an SEO who only worked nine to five. For many of us, SEO is a 24/7 job. There are many long nights filled with hours of grueling link building, and never-ending days spent buried up to our necks in 100,000s of lines of Excel data. Sometimes, we may get so bogged down in our work that we forget to communicate our progress to the client. While we are aware of the amount of work we’re completing, to many clients no communication means little is getting done.

Be sure to set aside time to speak with your clients on a regular basis. Whether it’s over the phone, or in person, a continuous check-in will allow you to communicate your progress, talk about the challenges you’re facing and show the client the value of the services you are providing.

Tip: Prepare a weekly status report. Use Excel to organize tasks you are working on for the week. Assign “owners” to each task, indicating who’s responsible for completing each task. You can estimate hours, or use color-coding to indicate short-term versus on-going projects. For maximum effectiveness, deliver the report via video each week.

Establish a scope of work

I’m not kidding when I say that I once had a client call and ask how to set up e-mail on his iPhone, or that another client wanted me to ask out attractive women via his Facebook, as part of my “social media” duties. Clients may not understand the difference between social media or SEO, or e-mail marketing and web design. Oftentimes they just see everything as being on “the Internet”. If you don’t establish your company’s capabilities upfront you will find yourself inundated with requests that have nothing to do with your branch of digital marketing, simply because the client didn’t realize it wasn’t something you offered.

As a people pleaser I like to go over and above for my clients. When they make outrageous requests I sometimes think, “It won’t take that long, I’ll do it just this once,” but that is dangerous road to go down. Even the politest client will take advantage of you if they think they can get away with it. When you complete work that is out of scope, even if it’s just the once, you set a precedent and clients will forever use the line, “Well, you did it last time.” Be polite but set firm boundaries on the type of work you will and will not do as part of your services.

Tip: If a client makes a request that is out of scope notify them as soon as possible. Pass along the name of a partner agency who can complete the request, or estimate the amount of extra time needed to complete this task and set a price. If the client agrees to pay extra for the work, add an addendum to the original contract that both parties sign before any work is begun.