After running a link agency for the past few years, I can safely say that some clients are easy to work with and some are nightmares. I can also say that the ones who are easy and fun to work with are the ones that truly bring out my passion for the work that we do, and as I see with my own employees, being receptive to listening to someone else's perspective is something that I highly value.
It doesn't matter if a client's niche is exciting or if their site is so amazing that I want to spend hours on it every week. A client who is willing to view our arrangement as a give and take relationship is the client for me.
Here are 15 pieces of advice that will help you build a better relationship with your SEO provider.
1. Be Honest About What You've Done in the Past
This is probably the most critical piece of advice. Lots of clients have done some shady things that they might not have fully understood were being done, and many have known exactly what was being done and just chose to ignore the repercussions.
Be honest about what was done. It's rare to find someone who hasn't done some sketchy marketing at some point. We're not judging.
If you bought networked links and spammed the heck out of forums for three years, just admit it. Don't swear that those links were the result of a competitor trying to harm you. Lying just wastes everyone's time and energy.
Good clients will explain what they have done so their provider can find out how to fix it or counteract it faster, if needed.
2. Don't Immediately Blame Links When Something Goes Wrong
Don't immediately blame links if your SEO service provider has built one for you and you've just messed up your robots.txt file. Also, if your SEO provider has built some great links and your site skyrockets to the top of the rankings, generating lots of new traffic and conversions, don't try and insist that it had nothing to do with their work.
3. No Surprise URL Changes
Don't change URLs without 301ing them or telling your SEO provider about it. If you've provided some targets to work with and they are suddenly 404ing, that's embarrassing. Webmasters start to get cranky when you have to go back and request a change.
4. Share Access to Webmaster Tools and Analytics
If your SEO provider can't see what's happening, it's much harder to do a good job. Sure, we can bug you for this info, but it's much easier if we can dig in and not have to wait for you to come back from your weeklong vacation so we can get the data we need.
5. Answer Questions
I can promise you that I have never once asked a client a question simply because I was being nosey. If I ask whether you've just changed 100 URLs, to go back to harping on that one, it's because it affects my work.
If I do have access to your analytics and ask if you've done anything on-site that could account for the sudden drop in traffic to a specific page, again, it's not just because I have nothing better to do than ask irrelevant questions.
6. Listen to Our Advice on Risk
Not to be funny here, but if someone who doesn't mind buying links tells you that your link buying plan is just too risky, you really, really should listen. If we stand to make more money off building more links for you but we say we shouldn't do it, it's because we really believe that you're playing with fire.
7. Don't Employ Multiple Teams or People to do the Exact Same Thing
If you do this and both (or all 10) of us wind up getting links on the same site, don't complain about it and try and make some of us go back to the webmaster and get them removed.
8. Don't Share Someone Else's Confidential Information
If you send your provider something that is clearly marked as being "for your eyes only", all your provider will think is that one day you'll be sending their confidential information to someone else.
9. Be Clear About What You Want
Don't start out asking for one service and then run your provider all around until you finally admit that what you actually want is something totally different.
I've written up loads of consulting proposals for clients who asked for one specific service. Then, after spending loads of time on it, the clients admitted that they really just wanted me to go buy a bunch of links for them. If you want paid links, then say so.
10. Ask Why a Service Costs What it Does
We'd rather explain pricing to you now than receive a complaint about it later. The more you know about what we do, the better.
11. Don’t Ask About Price Matching
Don't give us pricing information that you've pulled off the site of some offshore SEO firm that no one's ever heard of and expect a provider to meet that price. If you do and your SEO provider says OK, be very nervous.
12. Be Fair About Client Examples
Don't freak out if your provider can't give you the example you want when you're trying to decide if they are the right fit. Sometimes there are iron-clad nondisclosure agreements in place.
However, please be receptive to ways that your provider can prove its worth without violating client confidentiality.
If that's a deal breaker, that's fine – and honestly it might be one for me if I were in your shoes. But if your provider can't give you client examples but can work for you and refund the cost if you're not satisfied, either accept that offer or move on and try to refrain from sending rude emails about a lack of professionalism.
13. Any Good Link Builder Knows About More Than Just Building Links
If you're asked to promote your new content socially to give it more attention, take that advice. Don't just think that because you can't immediately tie social to links, it means the advice is worthless.
If you're told to do a few things to speed up your homepage load time since it keeps timing out, listen. Link building is much easier when a site's worth linking to, you know.
14. Don't Focus on What Your Competitors Are Doing
Don't continually point out what your competitor is doing that violates Google's guidelines and ask why we don't just mimic them.
For one thing, your site is not the same as their site. For another thing, if you build a profile based on someone else, you're contributing to a footprint, and that's not a good thing.
Would you want them copying you? No.
15. Don't Try to Get Something for Free
I doubt you'd be able to find a decent SEO who doesn't end up giving away way too much for free. Many of us are actually nice people who are willing to share what we know and help people.
But there is a limit.
If you want to pay for an audit, then get a quote and pay for one. Don't try and weasel out pieces of an audit for free each month.
If you're paying for a service, stick to the scope of your contract. Asking a question here and there is OK, but if you want someone to spend 2 hours on the phone walking you through how to do something, expect to pay for that time.
It's critical that you're honest and willing to listen to your SEO provider.
You know how a lawyer wants to know the truth so they can best defend someone? While I realize that's a bit of an outlandish comparison, I'm still going to make it.
If you're paying us for our expertise, then accept that relationship and realize that most us do really want to do a great job for you. The more we know, the better we can perform.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!