Five signs your new SEO client may suck

by James Duthie September 30th, 2010 

angry wolf

Winning new business is critical to the growth and prosperity of any organization. Some companies even obsess about it (at the expense of their existing clients). But let's be clear - not all clients are created equal. Indeed, some can be have incredibly negative effects on your business, eating up resources and profitability at the same time. Saying no to a prospective client isn't easy, but in some cases is the best form of action. With that in mind, I've put together a list of five circumstances that suggest your prospective client could well suck!

1. When everything is super urgent!

You know the type. They're the client that think they're your immediate number one priority, despite the fact they haven't paid you a dollar. Everything needs to be done yesterday. Which tends to be a sign of internal chaos/crisis. What's more, their urgency hints at the fact that they see SEO as the quick fix to their problems. And as we all know, SEO certainly isn't a quick fix. Steer clear of urgent guy!

2. When you're played off against a snake oil salesman

You've submitted your quote. But the client is now asking why your prices are so high when compared to this other guy that guarantees page one rankings within 2 weeks... for a couple of hundred bucks. At which point you should cut your losses and walk away. You'll never win this one! Cheapskate guy simply doesn't value the service you're offering. Let him learn the hard way that you get what you pay for.

3. When their business just plain sucks

Some people's business ideas just suck. Or their execution is poor. In short, they have no chance of success. Which means you have no real chance of success either. Because even if you get traffic to the site, it won't convert. Which means the client will inevitably run out of money, point the finger at you or cut the SEO program off. Either way, you lose. Ignore bad idea guy and work with someone that you can share real success with.

4. When they pull a Houdini

Everyone gets busy, especially at work. But if your prospective client is constantly pulling a disappearing act, the warning bells should be ringing. If you find it hard to get in contact with a new client at the start of the relationship, what do you think it's going to be like working with them in an ongoing capacity? Incredibly frustrating! Particularly when you're trying to get their approval for something. If Houdini guy wants better search rankings, let him use his magic tricks...

5. When your business ethics clash

Some people are squeaky clean. Others will do anything for a buck. Personally I'm a squeaky clean kinda guy. So it's best that I don't team up with dodgy operators, because my conscious doesn't allow me to implement tactics which I believe are fundamentally wrong or unethical. Black hats and white hats rarely see eye-to-eye. Which means you won't work well together. If you're at one end of the ethics spectrum, it's probably best you avoid teaming up with those at the other.

What are your warning signs?

So that's my top 5 warning signs that your SEO prospect may suck. What criteria do you use to screen and filter new clients? If you think I've missed something, chime in via the comments below.

James Duthie

I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.

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19 Responses to “Five signs your new SEO client may suck”

  1. Anna says:

    Another warning sign: When they try and piggy-back a friend's project onto their own. They begin asking you for advice about their friend's site, or other projects of their own, but you aren't getting paid to take on several sites, only one. It becomes the free school of SEO at that point.

  2. Mara says:

    Thank you for this article. We should all learn to stop wasting our energy on some clients. I wish I read this a few years ago when I was a beginner. It would save my time and money.

  3. Zarah says:

    I love your post! I particularly love the Houdini thing – i just hope we will not have a client like that. And you know what sucks the greatest if the client pulls a Houdini stunt when payment time… :-)

    But hey, i love all my client… Houdini or not!
    .-= Zarah recently posted: Hire a VA Now! =-.

  4. Roman says:

    I think of the signs is that when they want to pay only at the end of the work when they see all of results. We had a lot of clients, who wouldn't stick around to actually see the long term results from organic SEO and wouldn't pay for work completed. These days we only work with businesses who have long term goals in mind and after we explained to them clearly what organic SEO is and what risks are associated with it.
    .-= Roman recently posted: Ignite Toronto 4 2010 Videos =-.

  5. Ha! These are great. Let's add to that:

    When your client wants to pay you less than you charge, because "after this, I have six other great ideas for web sites that I'll need your services for"…


    "We don't like too much text on our pages"


    "I just want to be found for my name"
    .-= Alan Bleiweiss recently posted: Blueglass Florida 2AM Pizza – Plus Save 15 Percent =-.

  6. Zac says:

    The client that insists that you work with their current web developer that is their mothers, cousins, sisters, brothers, special friend… who "knows a little bit about SEO" so it should be good.

  7. Brian H. says:

    This is a really good article. However, I noticed that "conscience" is spelled "conscious" in the fifth paragraph. :)

    I have another type to discuss here: the one that E-Mails you more than 20 E-Mails in an hour full of questions about SEO, corrections for SEO already performed on the site, and their own recommendations for implementing SEO when such recommendations are at least 5 years old and are in no way current. And they still end up stopping the service. And I do mean all of that in one…single…client. XO

  8. #6 When the client becomes paper intensive, weekly reports, monthly reports, and worse backgrounders on everything in writing. By the time you get done do your term papers there is no time to pick up the phone and call anyone for anything except to order more paper and cartridges for your printer.

  9. Sandra says:

    One that wants you to work for commission based on increased sales. And insists that their product/service/business model is better than anyone else and you should take their word for it…. right?

    And I'm with everyone else – people whose son/daughter/nephew/random family member knows a bit about this stuff……

  10. […] Five signs your new SEO client may suck, Search Engine People […]

  11. Steve says:

    James, I agree with all your points.

    George, your #6 should be added as well. You're so busy making out reports that you don't have any time to spend on the actual SEO work.

    Thanks for the interesting post!
    .-= Steve recently posted: Google Comparison Ads – My Opinion =-.

  12. Eve Demange says:

    Here, I am a web copywriter and I totally agree with your sign #1. I add that very often, you can tell from the 1st words of the 1st conversation by phone :
    "This project is SOOOO URGENT. We neeeeed you to work on this right now. It's ONLY A FEW THINGS and it woooon't take long at all, you'll see."

    Well, it ALWAYS takes some time when you start a project if you want to understand and do it well. What you'll see is that if you take this client, within a week you will be overwhelmed by little-projects-few-things that will suck all energy out of you and bring very-few-money-too. And your company will finish like an old rotten and wrinkled apple…

  13. James Duthie says:

    Thanks everyone for chiming in. Definitely a lot of worthwhile additions here. I'm pretty sure we could make a top 10 list now!

  14. […] James Duthie on October 4, 2010 Late last week I published a post over at Search Engine People about SEO clients that suck. In particular, I identified five behaviours that may indicate a new […]

  15. Dean G says:

    All these apply to seo…but actually a lot of them apply to any kind of freelance work. I've experienced most of them. Number 3 is my favourite – both you and can get sucked in by the client's enthusiasm for their project and never take the time to sit down and think 'this is not going to work because it is a dreadful business that no one is going to use'.

    I've also worked for the number 5's and find it uncomfortable to promote products or services that are veering on being a scam.

  16. […] on October 15, 2010 A couple of weeks back I wrote a post outlining five signs that a prospective SEO client may suck. It proved to be pretty damn popular. But I did feel a little guilty about taking the sledge hammer […]

  17. Susan says:

    How about, not getting paid on time? That's a big warning sign and a pain in the side!
    .-= Susan recently posted: Seo Toaster CMS Product =-.

  18. Apart from those mentioned above, I find two types of clients from whom you should just run:

    1)One who always brag about half-cooked seo knowledge and argue with you over each and every aspect even keyword research

    2)Those who want guaranteed rankings which as we all know seo profession can never guarantee.