How to Work When Nothing Seems to Work

Admit it, we’ve all had them – clients who are resistant to change – at least changes made for the sake of improving search engine visibility. Resistance to change can mean a lot of things in an online enterprise, because opposing forces can run on parallel paths and resonate from different business divisions.

All the same, you have a job to do and/or a contract to fulfill, so “the best” in the SEO business usually find a way to get the job done, even if it means firing yourself or the client. Of course, those are extreme measures for radical circumstances. There are many other ways to get a stalled program back on track. First, consider some of the symptoms that indicate a program has gone off the track.

Eminence Front

Yes, it’s a “put on,” whether it is passive or aggressive resistance you are experiencing. Resistant clients may act passive to your counsel – putting off meetings with you or acting as if they are open to your guidance – but never actually implementing any of your recommendations.

More aggressive clients will be quite direct, making it clear they will not act on your recommendations because they do not believe that making the changes is worth the time and money.

While either type of situation can be a very frustrating experience, it’s important to not assume any one person is to blame. Often, the strategic guidance you have provided is at least part of the problem.

While it often appears that other forces are working against you, consider how to get to the bottom of what’s really going on in your client’s online business so that you can help even the most challenging client embrace change. All too often, it’s just a matter of trust.

Help Me Help You

It’s not enough to contemplate the reasons why a program has jumped off the track. You should also ask about who, how, and what is required to remedy the situation. Rather than asking unintentially accusatory questions, such as:

I sense you are hesitant to move forward with this plan, can I ask why? You hired me to make recommendations, why can’t we get these items implemented? What do you want me to do now?

Consider asking open-ended questions that can spark a candid conversation:

How can we address this issue together? What do you feel is holding this project back? Who do we need to bring into this conversation?

It is critically important to be completely transparent about your intentions to discuss the issue without leveling blame or pointing fingers. This is particularly important if you’re addressing the issue for the first time. After all, the best way to rebuild trust is to show your appreciation.

Give Me the Cure

SEO and consultancy have always gone hand-in-hand. You are the specialist that’s been brought in to cure specific business concerns, so it’s easy to assume that ineffective programs are the result of an irrational or difficult client. But there are usually a perfectly reasonable explanations why barriers to success have been thrown in your path. There are many things you can do to help foster agreement and support for implementing your recommendations. In general, it’s critically important to try to:

  • Ask open-ended questions about why recommendations have not been implemented
  • Show that you appreciate your direct contact’s contributions and support of the program
  • Accept that the errors will be made and mistakes can always be corrected
  • Be entirely open and responsive to feedback from the client; own you are part of the problem
  • Agree to determine the path and timeline for a clear way forward

Try not to:

  • Put all of the blame on one person or one department; don’t interpret unresponsiveness as dispassionate and uncaring
  • Hide your reasons for addressing the matter; be explicit about what things need be done when, how, and why
  • Force the client into accepting a single solution; intimidation doesn’t build trust

In Summary

SEO, like any business relationship, requires strategic thinking on many different levels. Flexibility is critical when it comes to serving challenging customers, although our first response to resistance is usually rigidity and pushback – it’s only human. Once we move past these initial reactions, it’s important to determine whether it’s time to really listen to the client, or change the way you communicate with internal and external team members.

It’s kind of like being a coach for a high-performing player that does not want your help. The best strategic thinkers understand how to communicate with different types of clients. If someone does not want to hear what you have to say, then you need to figure out a way to regain their respect for your advice. It’s one of the only ways your client will make an effort to support your recommendations, and invest in implementing your recommendations. And that’s the way SEO works, when it works.

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