Don’t Let Your Best SEO Ideas Die in Your Client’s Inbox

Disclaimer 1: This post is written from the agency SEO perspective, but if you replace “client” with “boss” or “CEO”, it should be pretty applicable.

Disclaimer 2: This is true for all of my posts, but please know these opinions are entirely my own.

You know the feeling…

Great idea. Great rationale. Great mojo. But your client says no. Or even worse, you hear nothing back at all.

How can you convince your client to say yes? How can you get things done when you’re not in charge?

No matter who takes over the @POTUS Twitter feed come November 1, this is a reality you’ll have to continue facing. But there’s hope. You could be stricken by this hardship far less.

Learn from my mistakes; I’ve made quite a few. Good luck and Godspeed. We’re all counting on you.

Your Ideas Aren’t Good Enough

It’s true. They aren’t. But before you turn on me, know that I’m in the same boat.

And you know who else is? Google.

I’m not talking about Google Plus or even Google Wave. I’m talking about Google’s best idea. As in… Google.

a bear giving another a back rub
source

It all started with a back rub in 1997

Did you know for its first year and change, Google wasn’t called “Google”? Originating from a dissertation project at Stanford, Larry Page and Sergey Brin first called it BackRub. This curious name was given because the PageRank algorithm was all about incoming links, which meant once a page was discovered, it would then need to go backward somehow to find all of the links pointing to it.

Larry Paige and Sergey Brin looking happyHere’s Larry and Sergey. Let me tell you why they’re so happy in this story.

As soon as BackRub evolved from a research project to a promising business idea, their goal wasn’t to make Google, it was to sell it. After meeting with Yahoo and AltaVista and having no luck in licensing BackRub, they met some like-minded, bright, Silicon-Valley geeks at Excite, a search engine gaining popularity at the time 2.

These guys were on board. They were floored by the difference in the quality of results produced by the two search engines. They were ready to pull the trigger and after some negotiation, $750,000 was all it would take for Excite to become Google. To put it in perspective, in Q2 2016 Google websites alone generated over 15 billion dollars. That’s billion with a ‘b’.

They just needed to convince one more person, George Bell. Taylor Swift looking shockedExcite’s investors were worried about a bunch of young, entrepreneurial kids running the show, so they basically handpicked George right from an MBA textbook to supervise them. Larry and Sergey showed the side-by-side comparisons between BackRub and Excite and as you might expect, he too was amazed.

George: “Wow! Oh my gosh! Are you serious?!?!?”

Larry Paige and Sergey Brin looking confused

Larry and Sergey: “Soooooo…. That’s a good thing, right? Are you saying we have a deal?”

Taylor Swift is not impressed

George: “Ummm… No. I’m afraid not.”

You see, George was actually worried that Google was too good. Let me repeat that. It was too good.

He thought people would find what they wanted so quickly that they would never hang around long enough to click on an ad. In fact, he admitted to wanting Excite to be about 80 percent as good as other engines so their users’ “stickiness” was greater.Larry Paige and Sergey Brin dumbfounded

I like to picture them with this look at this moment in time.

Larry and Sergey: “Seriously??”

Now you’re probably wondering a couple things:

  • How does this story apply to you?
  • Why did I use Taylor Swift to represent Excite?

Well, I can’t answer the second question. I mean, it’s Taylor Swift. I regret nothing.

As for the story, I think we can all recognize it was for the best that Excite passed on a chance to purchase Larry and Sergey’s search engine back in ’97. But had success been dependent upon them making the sale, they failed.

As great as it was, their idea alone was not persuasive enough. So what did they do wrong?

They didn’t know their audience.

Stop Treating People the Same

biggest lies children are told

As children, we are lied to all the time because it’s REALLY effective. When you’re a kid, you’ll believe anything. But one lie that genuinely bugs me is to treat everyone the same. Not only is it ineffective, it’s lazy.

Think about it. It’s easier for me not to get to know you, to understand your motivations, pet peeves, anxieties, and just treat you like everyone else.

Treat everyone differently, especially your client. So how do you do this? First you have to get to know them. But how do you do that?

You could stalk them:

  • Talk to people you work with who know them best.
  • Check out where they’ve worked and what they’ve done on LinkedIn.
  • Park across the street from their house.

No. Just get to know them. Be a human. Ask them how they think things are going, what they’re worried or excited about, and what’s most important to them. You may be surprised how often they’ll tell you.

Remove “from an SEO perspective” from your vocabulary

If: Your client is focused on “multi-channel” or cares more about where their money is going.
Then: STOP calling it an “SEO” recommendation.

Clients often focus their attention to where their budget is being spent. Makes sense, right? So if SEO consists of 8% of their marketing spend, you may get about 8% of their attention. 3from an SEO perspective

I love this website called from an SEO perspective. It calls us out for using that phrase every other sentence and the damage that follows it. Instead of it being a good business decision or a smart marketing move, it’s merely from an SEO perspective. For many clients, you are lessening the power of your recommendation, especially if it benefits other traffic channels 4. Plus, if your role is in SEO, isn’t that already implied? Do they think it’s coming from an astrological perspective?

Show its full value. Even bring in other channel experts to help stress its multi-channel impact.

Bring some clients in early

If: Your client likes to be part of the solution and get their hands dirty.
Then: Bring them in early. Workshop it. Give them options with pros and cons.

Some clients want things buttoned up before it gets to them, but others prefer to roll up their sleeves and help bring solutions to life.

I thought your idea to use my idea was a great idea
source

Whether it’s driven by their love of collaboration and problem solving or their tendency to micromanage, these clients are much more likely to sign off and be an advocate for something if their fingerprints are on it.

Now I should also say it’s important to understand these tips are in an “if, then” format. Make sure the “if” is there. Bringing some clients in early to workshop a question could be problematic.

Don’t be afraid to use the ‘C’ word

If: Your client frequently checks to see what their competitors are doing 5.
Then: Let them know which brands have already implemented it.

With this type of client, you don’t often have to pry to learn whose taillights they’re chasing. When you’re going over reporting, they may ask – “how does that compare to so-and-so? What are THEY doing about it?”

I’ve never been a big gamer but I used to play StarCraft back in the day. It’s actually sad how bad I was after playing it so much.

Anyway, if you’ve played it, you may relate to the torment this map brings. You only have visibility to where you are or where you’ve been, so when you start out it’s just a tiny bubble. At least for me, I knew someone somewhere else was building faster, planning smarter and it would all be over for me soon. I still remember the cheat code to this day: “black sheep wall”.

StarCraft black sheep wall

It’s glorious. You can spy on everyone, know what they’re doing and where they’re headed. I’ve never been a client or a business owner, but this is the best way I can understand that level of paranoia.

Be the black sheep wall for your clients.

If you have a client like this, let them know which competitors have already done it. And if none have, talk instead about the unique opportunity to jump out in front of the competition. Either way can be a successful approach.

Follow the money influencer

If: Your client relies heavily on the opinions of a single person or select few.
Then: Get influencer buy-in first. Have them help convince your client.

Who has the ear of your client? I’m talking Frank Underwood to the President, season-one level of influence.

klout score influencer tell me more meme
source

I don’t know how many clients I’ve had with a sister-in-law who does SEO in her basement or an IT guy worried you’re gunning for his job who has significant influence over a key decision maker in a multi-million dollar company.

Breakdown walls and build relationships with these people. Help them understand how you can be complimentary to each other. Get them to sell your ideas for you, even if it makes it seem more like their ideas.

Show them the cost of doing nothing at all

If: Your client is very performance-driven and hates falling behind.
Then: Show them the cost of inactivity, what they lose by doing nothing at all.

We talk about ROI all of the time, but for clients who constantly look to maximize performance, sometimes it’s better to show them the cost of doing nothing at all. Unlike “opportunity cost” where you’re looking at the cost of choosing option A over option B, the cost of inactivity is what you lose by doing nothing instead of moving forward with your recommendation.

What is the cost of inactivity?

cost of doing nothing in marketing, cost of inactivity

Ultimately if you can show these clients how they’re losing money by not moving forward, they’ll give it strong consideration.

Downplay its newness

If: Your client is apprehensive about trying new things.
Then: Show them parallels to tactics they’ve already approved.

sisters then and now
source

Some clients are more risk averse than others. If they are worried about trying new things, show them how it’s just a new spin on an old tactic.

Working in the pharmaceutical industry, I’ve (rightfully) had a fair share of conservative clients. Even the idea of something seemingly simple to me can be pretty unsettling to them. But after doing research and presenting the similarities our recommendation has to other tried-and-true tactics, it can be much less intimidating.

Demonstrate the value you provide

If: Your client doesn’t see the value of SEO or the current campaign.
Then: Beef up your reporting, level-set on expectations and remind them why they chose you.

demonstrate value Always Sunny

Trying to sell a client on a recommendation when they don’t trust you as an expert, or worse yet, they don’t even believe in SEO, can be a nightmare.

Crawl, walk, then run.

Reestablish expectations with your client. Show them the value you provide and get them on board with the overall service before convincing them to move forward with your idea.

Those tips were specific to the client-type. The next few are one-size-fits-all.

approved for all clients

Lead with WHY

I think by this time nearly everyone’s seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk about on starting with why. If you haven’t, stop right now and go watch it.

Don’t lead with the output; lead with the outcome.

Control the environment

Your environment can dictate a lot. In most cases, being there in person is your best bet but that’s not always possible. Try not to tack on a big recommendation to the end of an already jam-packed status call. Make time for it to show its importance. Put together a few slides to guide the conversation. Give them scotch beforehand. You know, the usual.

Connect relevance with value

Value answers “Why do it?” Adding in relevance answers “Why YOU should do it NOW?” Help your client understand why this recommendation is particularly beneficial to their situation right now.

Is it something you’re seeing in reporting? Was there a recent Google algo update that makes this even timelier? Does seasonality lend itself to maintenance-heavy periods to gear up for the big sales spikes? Just make it relevant.

Use their words

A university in the Netherlands conducted a social experiment to test the consequences of behavioral mimicry. A waitress served half of her customers by literally repeating all of their orders back to them. With the other half, she treated them normally with responses like, “Coming right up!”.

At the end of the night, she received significantly larger tips when she mimicked her customers.

I’m not saying to repeat everything your clients say right back to them, but there’s something powerful about incorporating words they tend to use into your dialogue with them. Think of it as keyword research for your clients. Plus, it forces you to become a better listener.

Leverage A/B tests

A/B tests are great for two things:

  1. when there is uncertainty
  2. when there is discord

If you can’t convince them to move forward, depending on the recommendation, A/B testing it can be a really effective fallback.

Let it go

Admittedly, I have a hard time with this one, but it’s definitely important. Don’t lose the forest for the trees. Yes, keep pushing – keep bringing it up at opportune times, but realize when it’s time to let it go. Otherwise, you might jeopardize your ability to sell in your next idea.

Bleed passion

This video never gets old. This won’t come as a surprise but 99% of the time your client will not care about SEO as much as you do. And if they do, one of you might be in the wrong career.

You set the tone. You have to really care. If you act like you could take it or leave it, your client’s probably going to leave it.

Genuine enthusiasm goes a long way.

I originally shared this at SEMPO Cities KC 2015. Here’s the presentation.

Have other ideas? Share in the comments below.


  1. Sorry to remind you of this; it was wrong of me.

  2. Also created from Stanford students, Excite had launched a couple years earlier in 1995 and had already made two other key acquisitions before engaging with Larry and Sergey.

  3. This assumes 100% of your client’s job is marketing, which is often not the case.

  4. page load time improvements, interlinking optimization, content updates, etc.

  5. Get your mind out of the gutter. This isn’t Jim Jeffries stand-up

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