The SEO Client That Shouldn’t have Got Away

We all want those big, high paying clients that have great growth goals for the future. They are few and far between. Seems like most businesses are struggling when it comes to marketing and many have little or no budget when push comes to shove.

So I get a request from my web design friend one day asking if he can call me. He is just way too polite; asking if he can call me. I said yes, which I would always do anyway cause I like talking to him but mostly because when he wants to talk via any other method than chat or text it usually means he has a potential SEO client for me.

He says that the client is an E-comm store and has a very large and very outdated website and that they are looking for a web redesign and SEO as well.  I have managed an E-comm site of my own so I am familiar with some of the unique characteristics of E-comm in terms if the proper approach for SEO.

E-comm sites have a large number of pages in most cases and they also have a lot of duplicate content from the many variations of the same products so they have to be treated in a specific way to get the full benefit from any work applied to them.

We met with the client and when it came time to talk about my role in this project I told them very frankly that in most cases I do a free analysis of a prospective client site but that the one exception is when it comes to E-comm site due to the issues previously stated.  I quoted them $2000 for the analysis and held my breath after the meeting.  Usually when Brian and I go to a meeting together we will discuss the odds of the client taking us on when we are driving home. Despite having a very high closing rate as a team I felt our odds were quite low in this case. Not because we did not present our case well but because 1) we were asking the client to switch to a totally different CMS ( Opencart to WordPress )  and 2) I was demanding a fairly substantial payment just to do an audit.

Brian Rutherford web designer
Brian Rutherford web designer

It’s not that the price to do an audit of this sort is not without justification, it’s more a matter of how to educate the client on this matter. It’s tough for people with limited or no knowledge of what we do to justify these type of expenses.

So we waited……but not for long. I dropped Brian off and by the time I got home 20 minutes later they had called and accepted our offer.

Sometimes you just can’t tell where you are in these situations I guess.

So I went to work on the project.

The first thing I did was determine who the top competitor in their niche was. Once I had established that I looked at how they stacked up against them and began to compile my list of changes and suggestions for improving their situation.

One of the best ways to find out where someone stands in the great hierarchy of the web is to compare them to someone bigger. There are tools that can tell us what keywords the competitor is ranking for and this can save a ton of time getting a set of targets to aim for.

I began to compile this list in a shareable Google Doc so that the client could log in and view the data anytime and also make noted and contributions along the way. This data would also act as a sort of “ to do” list later on just in case they were wanting to hire me on as their ongoing SEO dude!

Once I had a decent amount of data I did an over-the-shoulder video walking the client through my findings. I like to do things this way because I find it is a shorter method that the written word and it also helps the client understand what the data means. It builds trust with the client!

They didn’t say much after the first video and so I just keep digging into the situation more and compiling as I went along.

Brian and I had agreed to 3 meetings with the client in various stages to go over our progress with the website and the SEO. The first meeting was mostly Brian going over the rough draft and showing them some of the functions of the back end in terms of how they would do offer fulfillment and such. I was mostly window dressing at this stage.

Toward the end of the meeting though, I was asked to clarify a couple things that I had shared in the over the shoulder video and so I agreed to clarify. I must admit I felt a sense of tension that I could not put my finger on and I wasn’t sure if it was directed at me or not. I didn’t let it phase me and so I said to the owner ( really nice woman ) “ if you don’t understand what I am about to tell you then don’t just nod your head and pretend it makes sense, tell me what you don’t understand and I will keep explaining it until it is clear.

I guess I nailed the explanation on the first try because she seemed very satisfied with the answer and so the meeting broke down into small talk as we walked toward the door. A funny thing happened at this point. The owner ( Debbie) told me that there was one staff member that she had excluded from the meeting for conflict reasons. Apparently, they had an “in-house” SEO staffer  and they didn’t invite him because ever since I had done the first of the over the shoulder videos explaining what their SEO picture looked like, there had been an awakening, of sorts, that had not previously taken place with the old SEO guy and so his work was now shrouded in doubt.

It was then that Debbie said “ I think that I am going to have to fire this guy…..Now that I understand better what the mane of the SEO game is I feel like his value is questionable. I said that it was never my intention to be the reason anyone lost their job and that If there was a way we could work together I would be all for it as long as it was understood that I made the final decisions and that there would have to be some contractual clauses to outlining some ground rules. ( Truthfully, I didn’t really want to be someone else SEO teacher since the info that I have acquired over the years was hard come by. However, I said, “ you have to do what is right for your business” “ If that means letting someone go because they are not adding value then that is what you have to do.

It was at this point that I figured the question of whether I was going to be hired on as the SEO guy for the company was pretty much settled.

So I went back to work on the audit.

I kept producing videos and to my surprise a few days later I got a call from the accounting department of their company telling me my final installment for the audit was ready for pick-up.  I was even surer now that I was a shoe-in for the job. Our agreement was that the final installment was to be paid after all the data was in. I didn’t argue the point since its money and I like money now better than later. That’s kind of a company motto of mine.

1) It’s better to have money than to not have it

2) It’s better to have it sooner than later

3) It’s better to have more of it than less of it.

I like those rules and This deal fit #2 so I picked up the check quite swiftly.

Our final meeting was just me, the owner and a few of the main company staff. It was time to discuss the budget. I started off asking what the company goals were. I feel that this is critical to ask even though it could be construed as a bit intrusive. I always qualify this question with a reason. “ It’s important for me to have some insight into this because it helps me decide what level of financial commitment is going to be necessary to reach those objectives. They basically said that the sky was the limit. They had the online store and 5 retail locations currently and they planned to expand to 5 more retail locations in the calendar year and then into the other provinces after that. So I said “ basically there is no boundary until you say WHEN! “  They concurred.

I wanted to brace them for the price point I was thinking of so I framed the situation by saying this.  “ It would not be out of the question for this company to be paying $30,000 a month for digital marketing….SOMEDAY!!!!! “  Emphasis on someday! However, we have to start somewhere and so to come up with a number that is fitting for your current status and need for short to mid-term growth I said that $4500 a month would be a good rating point.   I pointed out that they got about 14,000 visitors to their site a month but that their main competitor got almost 100,000. I said “ I am not telling you this to rub your nose in it so you can feel needier of my services, but to demonstrate the potential that is available to the site owner who can rank well enough to attract those visitors. If they are getting that many then obviously there is a lot of money being “ left on the table here “

The company owner felt a bit put out by the price. I asked very frankly, why? With big goals comes a big price!  ( I didn’t say that I just thought it to myself.) What I did ask was this. “ Didn’t you say the SEO guy you employed here was full time by the hour? Before I could even ask how much that was costing a month she could see where I was going with this line of reasoning and came to her own conclusion. They were paying the in-house guy $3500 a month for lackluster results the likes of which got him fired even after just seeing my evaluation. Surely I could not be worth less than he was, logically? 

After that Debbie seemed settled with the price and so we agreed on a handshake that we would go ahead and I handed her the agreement and filled in the monthly price.

A few days went by and I did not hear from them. I never like to appear needy, so I just let it be and went on about my daily business. After 2 weeks went by I knew something was up. I still just continued to wait. A few days later I got the email. “ We all agreed that the budget is too high and we are not really keen on the direction either “ We will be shopping this around and will let you know our decision soon.  I know what that translated into. It means goodbye!

I could be upset because I felt so sure that this was a pretty solid situation. But I have learned not to get too attached to anything that hasn’t seen money change hands yet. Nothing is sure until then and even then people can change their mind.

I decided that I would be philosophical about this one and just chalk it up to reinforcing what I already knew. People changed their minds and we don’t always know why that is.

My concern for me is that I was out a fair amount of potential money.  My concern for this company is that they have set their sail into a minefield! ( See this client story to see what I mean )The SEO world is full of the unqualified, the part-time, the hobbyist, the web designer who” also does SEO” and a whole host of other fools and nitwits. There are some really good people out there too but it is very hard to know one from the other when you have no experience by which to make those evaluations. This company would have been far better of at least doing a trial with me and observe the results because I had at least earned a certain amount of trust with them. They were privy to many hours of video overviews of mine. I had shown them evidence of ranking I had achieved for other clients. I had owned and ranked an E-comm site in another very difficult niche. ( precious metals) I even had the testimonial of the web designer they hired to do the website. I have ranked Brian for #1 for just about every trophy keyword in his niche!

Tom Gustar
Tom Gustar trying to look philosophical. LOL

I just don’t get it. Seems very shortsighted to me. I hope they choose carefully before they hire someone else. And if they do it shouldn’t be based on price. It should never be based on price. It should be based on value. Always!

This begs the question….if you don’t understand what it is someone does…then how do you know when the price is too high or too low.  Tough to do isn’t it?

Oh well. I hope for their sake they choose wisely or at least get lucky in their choice of an SEO company. It won’t be an easy choice.

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