8 Difficult SEO Client Expectations (And How to Deal with Them)

8 Difficult SEO Client Expectations (And How to Deal with Them)

As an SEO agency or contractor, you know the importance of getting clients and delivering results. Your very business is built around SEO client acquisition, satisfaction, and retention. But like any other business and field, digital marketing professionals deal with difficult clients.

It’s not always their fault. Sometimes, they just don’t know any better. And it’s part of your job to inform them about SEO. You don’t need to tell them everything, but you need to explain enough, so they can control their expectations and still trust you. Here are common difficult SEO client expectations and how to deal with them.

SEO agency talking to a client

1. Getting instant results

Some businesses think that hiring an SEO agency or contractor will automatically mean that they will climb through the Google Search Engine Results Page. If they throw money to SEO professionals, they will immediately get more website traffic, leads, and ultimately, sales. But SEO is a long-term game. It requires consistency, patience, and appropriate strategies. This is something you should communicate to your clients.

  • Teach your clients SEO principles and strategies. You can do this by directly talking to them, leading them to a digital marketing blog, or even organizing workshops. When they understand enough about content creation and optimization, link building, and other core SEO fields, they can tone down their expectations.
  • Set realistic expectations from the beginning. It’s important to create a killer SEO pitch, but don’t oversell it. From the beginning or in the onboarding process, tell your clients about the competitiveness of their industry and the need for consistent improvements to see results.
  • Use key performance indicators. With the help of KPIs, you will have measurable milestones that you can show to your SEO clients. Establish the KPIs you will be tracking. And make sure that these indicators align well with your clients’ goals and timelines.

2. Making content viral overnight

Whenever you are on any social media platform, you will see all these brands, influencers, and commoners going viral because of their content. Many SEO clients think that they can recreate this virality by simply hiring SEO professionals. But virality has so many factors involved, including ones that are unpredictable and out of your control. Tell your SEO clients that virality is not always a good realistic goal.

  • Emphasize content quality. Inform your clients that building their brand identity, sharing high-quality and relevant content, and engaging with their audience are better priorities than trying to go viral. When you do all these things right, they can do more for their business than one piece of viral content.
  • Set goals that don’t focus on virality. While discussing and planning content with your SEO clients, establish objectives that will lead to brand awareness, improved website traffic, and other metrics for gradual growth. This will keep them from expecting viral content. And this can also help them appreciate the slow buildup of their business’s digital footprint with your SEO services.
  • Distribute content and beat virality. Virality is the exception and not the norm. There are more consistent and predictable ways to improve your clients’ SEO situation. Use different distribution, promotion, and technical channels to increase your clients’ content reach. Content syndication, email marketing, influencer outreach, and social media marketing are some of the channels you should look at.

3. Expecting a surge in traffic immediately

This difficult SEO client expectation is related to the first two. Some SEO clients just think hiring digital marketing professionals is a cheat code for increasing website traffic immediately. And as the professionals who actually know that SEO is an ongoing and long-term game, you and your team should correct and control your clients’ expectations.

  • Open your clients’ eyes to the realities of SEO. To avoid unrealistic client expectations, tell them immediately that SEO is a long-term game that involves active optimization, content creation, link building, and constant monitoring to see if the efforts are fruitful. If you can communicate this properly, you are not just controlling expectations, you are also positioning yourself as an expert in the SEO field – and that’s a win-win.
  • Focus on the long game. Emphasize to your SEO clients that consistent and sustainable growth in their digital footprint is better than a one-off surge in traffic or one piece of content going viral. Do your magic here by presenting a comprehensive strategy, combining multiple aspects of SEO, such as on-page, off-page, and technical.
  • Provide transparency with analytics and reports. Many clients may raise doubts if you say you can’t give them instant success. Your comprehensive plan will help control these doubts. Other things that will are analytics and reports. Don’t keep your clients in the dark. Use analytics tools to measure key performance indicators and create reports, so clients can see the consistent progress and their money’s worth.

4. Dominating competitive keywords

Here’s another unrealistic client expectation – they think their business will suddenly dominate the most competitive keywords in their industry and location if they hire an SEO agency. They expect you to beat all these businesses that have been doing SEO for years, some of which even have in-house SEO teams. To avoid and control this unrealistic client expectation, here are some things you can do:

  • Prioritize content quality and user experience. SEO is both for search engines and users. If you have high-quality content, search engines will favor it over others. And if you have content that addresses the user’s needs and wants, encourages engagement, and provides value, users will favor you too. And here’s the best part – search engines notice it too when users like your content. Communicate this to your clients. When you respect search engines and users with white hat techniques, they can help lift you up the SERPs.
  • Conduct keyword research. How do you plan on optimizing your content if you don’t have the keywords? Look for a variety of keywords, from the most competitive to the least competitive. Usually, short keywords are super-competitive and long-tail keywords are not. You can argue to your SEO clients that you can target the long-tail keywords first for quick SEO wins and target the short ones for the long term.
  • Make a link building plan. Your clients’ competitors are probably doing link building, especially when they are very serious with their SEO campaigns. This can mean that they have built very strong backlinks from diverse sources, and many of these may have been built around competitive keywords. Present a solid link building plan to your SEO clients, and then tell them that acquiring authoritative and high-value links take time.

5. Ranking for very specific keywords

Many clients, even those without no prior SEO know-how, have specific keywords in mind they want to target. But as the SEO professionals, you may find that these keywords are either super-competitive or irrelevant. This can lead to some misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations between you and your SEO clients.

  • Focus on relevant keywords. First, you need to educate your SEO clients that the keywords they should consider targeting are at the very least relevant. There is no point in optimizing and trying to rank for irrelevant keywords. Do comprehensive keyword research. And then present your findings to your SEO clients. Tell them that targeting only relevant keywords is more productive because these keywords lead to the right audience.
  • Explain the importance of user intent. SEO is not just about chasing keywords and rankings. It’s also about understanding user intent and search intent. If you can optimize your keywords and content to address the needs of users and their queries, your clients’ websites are more likely to rank – and on relevant keywords.
  • Emphasize the importance of ranking trends. Ranking for very specific keywords, even those that are relevant and desirable, can be difficult because of algorithm changes, competition, and user intent. But you can emphasize to your SEO clients that obsessing over daily and weekly changes in rankings is futile and monitoring ranking trends over time is a better approach.

6. Wanting guarantees for ranking

We’ve all seen it before – difficult SEO clients who demand specific rankings for specific keywords within a specific timeframe. Some even expect you to promise them to rise to the first page of search results. Again, you can’t really blame some of these clients because they don’t know any better. They just want their money’s worth, some ROI for the money they will be paying you. It’s your responsibility to bring them to the reality that SEO just doesn’t work that way.

  • Educate clients about SEO complexity and unpredictability. When businesses want guaranteed results like being on the first page of search results, chances are, they have come across agencies with false promises and black hat strategies. It’s your duty to veer your SEO clients in the right direction. Tell them about the complex, ever-changing, and unpredictable journey that is SEO.
  • Set realistic expectations with measurable results. These SEO clients may not believe you when you say you can’t fully guarantee specific results. After all, they have seen agencies saying otherwise. You can clearly outline realistic SEO goals, such as increasing organic traffic, improving online visibility, and enhancing user experience. This way, they will be able to see and track measurable improvements.
  • Double down on transparency. So, how do you see and track these measurable improvements? You do it with analytics. Track progress on your chosen key performance indicators and make insights and reports around them. You should also maintain an honest and professional communication channel with your SEO clients, so they don’t have a doubt in their minds about your capabilities. Many SEO professionals actually lose clients because they are not communicating well with them.

7. Ignoring technical issues

Many SEO clients are so caught up in content creation and keyword optimization to the point where they ignore other aspects of SEO. Explain to your clients that SEO has different fronts, such as on-page, off-page, and technical, with technical being a commonly ignored front. Completely ignoring technical SEO may prevent SEO campaigns from becoming successful. Without technical SEO, you are not unleashing your clients’ full potential.

  • Educate about the importance of technical SEO. There are aspects of a website that can hinder it from soaring in search rankings. That is the easiest and most convincing way to tell your clients about the importance of technicals. Tell them about crawling and indexing, website structure, site speed, and mobile-friendliness, as these are some of the easiest technical aspects to understand.
  • Conduct a comprehensive website audit. Again, SEO clients may not believe you and may want to push through content creation and keyword optimization only. Show them proof. Conduct a website audit with the most powerful analytical tools, like Ahrefs, Moz, SEMrush, and even Google Search Console. Present your findings and insights to your clients. Highlight the technical issues and explain their negative impacts.
  • Develop a detailed technical SEO strategy. Use your website audit findings and insights to create a comprehensive technical SEO plan. Prioritize the most critical issues, such as those affecting crawling and indexing, website usability, and user experience. And then you can move on to optimizations, like those that involve mobile-friendliness and website and page speed.

8. Getting penalties fixed quickly

Not all SEO clients are completely oblivious to SEO. Some of them have had SEO campaigns before, possibly with other SEO agencies and contractors. Unfortunately, some of these campaigns may involve practices that are not completely considered white hat, resulting in penalties. And then they will ask you to fix these penalties quickly – a difficult and unrealistic SEO client expectation.

  • Educate them on penalties and recovery times. Algorithm penalties are penalties that occur because of algorithm changes and updates. For example, if a website has built a spammy backlink profile, an algorithm update that penalizes websites with such backlink profiles can send their website to the bottom of search results. And then there are manual penalties – penalties that are manually imposed by search engines’ teams for violating some guidelines. Some of the most common manual penalties involve keyword stuffing and unnatural link building. It can take a while to recover from these penalties.
  • Conduct a website audit and come up with a plan. Conduct a comprehensive audit to identify potential causes of the penalties. Usually, the penalties come from backlink quality, on-page optimization, and technicals. With the use of data and insights, come up with a plan to fix them and present the plan to your SEO clients. Usually, the plans involve removing harmful backlinks, improving content and user experience, and fixing technical SEO issues.
  • Make sure to focus on sustainable SEO practices. If you try to game Google’s system, or any search engine for that matter, it’s only a matter of time for them to catch up and penalize you. It’s best to practice only ethical and white hat techniques. Sure, even these techniques are not completely immune to penalties, but they are much more sustainable. Don’t risk your reputation for a quick buck from SEO clients. Do SEO the right way.

Deal with difficult and unrealistic SEO client expectations

Some SEO clients have difficult and unrealistic expectations, and it’s not always their fault. They simply don’t know any better about SEO. That’s why they are approaching you for their SEO campaigns in the first place.

It’s your duty to put them on the right track. Communicate well with your SEO clients, educate them, show them data and metrics, and guide them along their SEO journey. This doesn’t just help control their expectations. It also builds trust between you and your SEO clients.


  • Andrew David Scherer

    My name is Andrew David Scherer and I've been involved in digital marketing since 2006.. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about marketing your local clients online, I'm always happy to help and share what I know. I've built local businesses from 0 to 6 figures in sales. Leased, sold, and rented a handful of them. And I've had hundreds of them as clients. Marketer's Center gives digital marketing consultants the ability to easily scale their local marketing agencies in a way that isn't labor-intensive and still very profitable. If you want to get my "6 Month SEO Plan" please request a free reseller dashboard account here. You'll also be able to download a price list for all of the services we offer. You can connect with me via Facebook in our Local Marketing Freethinkers group, or via Twitter and Linkedin.

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