I meet a surprising number of prospective clients who confess to having thoroughly disliked their previous SEO agency.

Many of them have simply run into the charlatans our sector unfortunately attracts, but I have encountered quite a few companies which have had decent optimisation work done on their behalf.

So why have they left their former SEO agency and why are they so angry? I’ve been giving this some thought and I wanted to share with you the top five reasons I think some fairly talented agencies are losing valuable clients.

You grind them down with jargon

Your clients are not SEO experts. If they were, they would not be your clients; they’d be doing it themselves. Dropping endless jargon and abbreviations into your conversations with them won’t impress your clients with your masterful understanding of the industry.

Instead, if they don’t understand the terminology, it will bore them, frustrate them, anger them and blind them to the good work you’re doing.

And don’t forget that terms which are everyday in our sector – SEM, SEO, SERPs – are not necessarily obvious to them.

You don’t show them measurable results

You might know that you’ve managed to move your client’s website to a much higher position for a key phrase, but do they?

Even if their revenues are increasing because of your work, if you don’t regularly show them the specific positive impact you are having on their business, you risk them deciding to move on.

When clients don’t understand the work that you do, it’s imperative you spell out the benefits you’re achieving for them.

Simple graphs and charts, and accessible statistics help prove your value. It can also help whoever hired you justify the expense to their bosses. A client who clearly understands the value you add is a client who will stick around.

You’re not good with people

We’re in an industry that attracts very technologically-minded people and these are not always the greatest when it comes to diplomacy and client-management skills.

It doesn’t matter how great a job you’re doing for a business, if you aren’t any good at managing your working relationship then you risk alienating your client. Many SEO agencies have an abundance of techies, all taking care of the admin and client management alongside their SEO work.

If that sounds like you, then consider whether or not you’re giving your customers the positive care and attention they need in order to feel good about the business relationship. If you aren’t, consider hiring a client management executive to take care of the relationship while you take care of the customer’s online marketing.

They can’t reach you when they want to

Many SEO agencies have started out in someone’s shed and then grown. If you’re a bit of a one-man band just now and are trying to grow your agency, then you can’t afford to lose clients.

Business don’t always want to be emailing, they want to pick up a phone and speak to a person, even if all that person can do is take a message.

Without office staff to answer the phone and maintain regular contact with your clients, you risk your customers becoming exasperated, deciding you’re unreliable and moving on.

If you are have only recently set up your business, and you simply don’t have the capability to employ someone to answer phones, why not consider a remote office service or a virtual PA?

You didn’t manage their expectations

This is another area where decent customer relationship managers are worth their weight in gold.

If your clients have unrealistic expectations about what you’re going to achieve, how quickly and for what budget, then you will never be able to satisfy them.

Really, it’s better to lay out your realistic ambitions for them from the start and let them walk away then, than to invest mountains of time and effort into their campaign only to have them dump you three months in.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about how quickly SEO agencies can produce dramatic changes – peddled mostly by the snake oil salesmen our sector is plagued with.

Educate your clients from the start and make sure they are realistic about what their websites can achieve.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 28 September, 2010 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is CEO at SEO and content marketing agency BlueGlass, he can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

104 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (16)

Save or Cancel
Andy Headington

Andy Headington, CEO at Adido Limited

Point 5 is the most important one on this list IMO. Far too often SEO agencies promise the earth and deliver very little. Sometimes client expectations can be VERY high when it comes to seeing results from SEO efforts so managing this is one of the hardest things. If you can get your clients onside, then it makes everyones lives alot easier!

almost 8 years ago

Adam Tudor

Adam Tudor, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at The Black Hole

I agree about point 5, unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who drive customers expectations (in particular to SEO) up far too high in order to win the sale.  This has a detrimental effect on the industry as a whole, and can affect a client's view's on SEO.

almost 8 years ago


Pauline Randall

Great article and I couldn't agree more. I think you're spot on with the jargon - happens in too many businesses and it's as though people think they will be more highly thought of it they use lots of complicated stuff - in some cases you may as well switch to Klingon for the amount of good it does. It's also lazy - not taking the time to make sure that your client understands what you are going to do.

And as for the snake oil, I've been speaking with someone whose SEO/web design agency built their site and missed out adding any useful keywords and descriptions. Looks like they optimised for a phrase that was easy for them to work with but was unlikely for any potential customers to search for. Gives everyone a bad name.

almost 8 years ago


Jamie Dickinson

Good article, thanks. I agree that point 5 is most relevant. It is important when first meeting your new client to explain SEO, the benefit of good SEO and even more importantly the limitations of it. Too many people see SEO as the be and end all of online marketing. SEO is a side product that will develop from well written and relevant content targeted at your audience.  It's all well and good getting to the top of Google, but what happens then? 

almost 8 years ago

Uday Radia

Uday Radia, Director at CloudNine PR

A good summary which is probably food for thought for any agency - not just SEO. I'm sure PR agencies (my industry) would probably point to the same reasons for why clients typically decide to switch to another supplier.

almost 8 years ago


Salesguy 101

Tell your clients - clearly - what you can do for them. It should be obvious that you use figures to quantify your claims. Make sure your clients understand what you are offering them. Use their own language. People tend to interpret what you state the way they want to. Make sure this actually coincides with what you are telling them. Loopholes in understanding/interpreting are a big issue.

almost 8 years ago



Excellent points. That's exactly why clients tend to leave. But nobody can beat point no.5. If a client is expecting something extraordinary, its better to to tell them to not to get their hopes so high.

almost 8 years ago


Jo Turnbull

I particularly agree with point 2.

It is very important to have clear results to show the client their return on investment.  They need to know they are getting value for their money and that your work is essential for the increased performance of their website.

almost 8 years ago

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

Oh worse.

Way worse than this is the complaint that many SEO agencies charge them a lot and do very little.  Not all agencies, of course. But quite a few of them, and some of them big names in the industry.

Kevin here says: show them measurable results. I say: charge them on results.

almost 8 years ago



On the flip side of the coin for point five, there are also non-responsive clients.  SEO requires client buy-in to achieve good results, so even if you layout the most comprehensive expectation management plan, if they continually ignore basic requests for information, site changes (when dealing with third party web developers) or even requests for conference calls, there is very little that can be done to avoid looking like you've under delivered.

almost 8 years ago


Ambergreen Staff, ambergreen staff at ambergreen Internet Marketing

Whilst many people are talking about point number five, we’re going to look at the first three points which all boil down to one thing: Communication. Of course Clients do not like to be patronised by agencies using jargon or treating each client in the same way with the same formula. No business is the same, and until other agencies realise this they will not give clients the bespoke, tailored service that is needed. It is easy to avoid the first three issues by considering how communications between the agency and the client is conducted. Our solution is to give each client a dedicated account handler who can translate the techie jargon, understand the internal politics of the company with a client focused approach that understands all the needs and challenges that are specific to the client and be in day-today contact. This is, of course, more costly than having a one-person-does-all approach, but it will add so much to the feedback that the client receives and the opportunity for a long lasting working relationship. The larger the client, the more departments and people who will need to be involved and on board with any marketing or PR plan and the more important it is that an account manager exists to understand the layers of the business, after all, search does not work in a vacuum.

almost 8 years ago


Horst Joepen, CEO at Searchmetrics

Great post. I think the second reason - ‘don’t show them measurable results’ - is extremely relevant. Many SEOs do great work but sometimes fail because the client isn’t able to appreciate the value they’ve provided. I regularly talk to SEO agencies about their challenges and one of the things that comes up time and again are the difficulties of measuring progress and reporting it to clients in an easy to understand way. It’s easy to waste countless hours using a variety of separate tools to generate data and then playing with spreadsheets to come up with a neat way to present it to clients. But most SEOs rightly see that as time they could have spent doing ‘billable work’ and making a real difference for clients. On the flip side marketing departments/clients need their agencies to provide them with clear reports they can present to their boards in order to justify spend on SEO.

almost 8 years ago


Deep Ripples Bill

Best ways of doing business apply across the spectrum. SEO definitely no exception. If it was only about being good at SEO, there'd be a lot more competition.

almost 8 years ago

Jayne Reddyhoff

Jayne Reddyhoff, Director at Zanzi Digital

I am delighted to see this as it suggests I will continue to get more work from customers who are not happy with their current supplier!

In the past six months three of our new clients transferred to us from another supplier. They all said something along the lines of "I couldn't understand my previous supplier/I wasn't sure what they achieved for me"

Regular communication is at the heart of a successful and long term relationship - communication about your customers' business and in your customers' language.

almost 8 years ago


Dr. Murray Ambler-Shattock, Business IT Consultant

Excellent article. Top quality SEO speaks for itself in performance terms. The client simply needs information in plain English that confirms they have made a sound business decision that will provide positive and beneficial returns on their investment of both money and time for their business and Brand. 

almost 8 years ago

Naval Kumar

Naval Kumar, Founder & CEO - ABSEM Limited at http://www.absem.com/

I think the biggest problem is, SEO Services are now being sold as a commodity and with a one shoe fits all cookie cutter approach. Although we are an Agency ourselves, we need to partner with some of the smaller players in order to increase bandwidth at this time. I won't name names, but in our opinion the smaller firms we liked we sent them an email asking basic questions on their deliverables which we work with in order to make the service more bespoke in order to retain clients (we have a 100% retention rate) and the response we got from these was "At this time we can't offer you the bespoke services you are looking for, besides our client roster is full." 

Questions we asked:

  • What kind of reporting do you provide
  • Will you work with the keywords we provide (apparently these guys offer a money back guarantee if ranks not achieved in 6 months which we know is a big question mark to begin with)
  • What onsite optimization would you offer?
These were some very basic questions which eventually led to their response above.  Point being, everyone wants to be on Google's first page but the problem is if you go with a more renowned agency they will cost you a lot and if you go with the cookie cutter ones they will have all of the issues you have outlined in the articles and more (although yes I agree some of the bigger agencies would also be in the same boat). Great article though, thanks for sharing.

over 7 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.