A little Respect

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This is a post by Barrie Moran: a digital native and a top technical SEO I admire in many ways.

“I’m about to give you all of my money. And all I’m askin’ in return, honey Is to give me my profits”

Lyrics from the famous Aretha Franklin song, the song will resonate with everyone, but so do the lyrics.

Yes Mr/Mrs client, I do want to work with you, and I do appreciate that you want to make a return on your investment and yes I do know you have choice in the marketplace, but please, respect me, respect my team and believe me when I say we know what we are doing!

NB: This needs a massive caveat. This does not apply to every client / agency relationship. There are some amazing relationships, long lasting relationships. This applies to some client / agency relationships and unfortunately like most things, people talk more about their bad experiences.
“A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9 and 15 people about their experience -White House Office of Consumer Affairs”

It is an all too familiar story;

 

There was a great post last year from Willie Reynolds, “How Google Makes Liars out of Good Guys in SEO”. Basically, Google has made so many changes in the last 18 months that all the solid advice the majority of SEO, Digital Marketing, Internet Marketing, Content Marketing, Growth Hackers (that’s a different post BTW) give is true, accurate, correct, but in some verticals, niches are not working or not appearing to be enough!

This massive amount of fluctuations as demonstrated by the Mozcast project highlights the volatility of the marketplace we all operate in:
mozcast

Another good post recently was the Confessions Of A $100/Month SEO Client.

My personal advice would be that if anyone is investing that level into their online marketing strategy, stay away, don’t touch a client who wants to invest that type of money, they will just be trouble for you!

Back to the point of this post:

Some, not all, but a number of companies treat their agencies like ****! If you disagree please feel free to leave a comment or give me abuse on Twitter.

But, IMHO, from various sources, it’s true. Most agencies make themselves vulnerable including in their pitch:

  • “We work with you not for you”
  • “An extension of your marketing team”
  • “We immerse ourselves in your company and your team”
  • “We do all the hard work to make you look good”
  • “We help you achieve your goals”

This can invariably lead to.

  • Clients dangling carrots in front of agencies.
  • Treating the agency and the staff at the agency like ****.
  • Having no respect for the agency because they are just an agency and can be fired at any time.
  • Making unrealistic demands against budgets and time.
  • Putting unacceptable demands on the agency and the staff.

And a personal favourite:
Demanding a piece of work to be delivered at a certain time only for the agency to receive an auto responder informing them you are out of the office for the next however long!

I know there are a few “bigger” agencies and personalities who happily boast about firing clients, but, for the majority of agencies out there in this tough market and because of competition, changes and economic climate that is not an option for most.

There needs to be a better relationship between client and agency, and IMHO. Most clients who are looking to engage a SEO / Digital marketing agency because of the experience and expertise they bring to the project to help the company achieve their goals, need to show a little more respect and the more the better.

geek

Shock Horror!

“One hundred people were asked who likes failure and no one put their hand up”
infinite-troy

You are not only buying the knowledge of success, you are buying the expertise that limits failure on your campaigns to maximise your return on your investment. They know what works, and more importantly, if they don’t, they have the bad ass skills to find out.

IMHO, you owe them a little respect for even bringing this to the table, never mind what comes next.

A lack of respect can kill a relationship before it starts and before it has the chance to blossom into something awesome.

Yes they are Geeks (most of them), but please do not be condescending. Show a little respect and listen to the excellent advice they are offering and the fact they want the relationship to start off on a positive, enthusiastic manner.

Once bitten twice shy. A wise man once told me never cut your nose off to spite your face, so in the early days people take some crap, but the same wise man also told me never burn your bridges, and that’s the advice that should be given to clients. Sometimes, you don’t know what you have till it’s gone.

It’s like any relationship. If you destroy the relationship with the agency because you have not listened, been condescending or bullied, and treated staff like garbage then you will soon come to realise how frickin awesome that agency really was and if you try to go back to them after you fired them, well personally I think your chances are slim to none.

One of the worst things you can do is bully the team at the agency. There are many forms of bullying and typically calls, emails, texts, tweets, DM’s, IM’s, Skype, are all forms used to communicate with you, but seriously, just because you forgot something, because someone internal in your organisation had a brain fart, doesn’t mean you can hit them up at 9:00pm at night and either:

  • Expect an immediate answer
  • Demand something before 9:00am

brain

One of the other issues commonly encountered is more psychological bullying. Be honest and forthright; if there are issues, identify and address them. Then they can be fixed and you can move forward together.

Don’t have a meeting and act all nice because you don’t have the balls to say what you feel. Then after the meeting send a series of ill-considered communications in whatever format. All you are going to do is start to burn bridges and alienate those at the agency who are trying their best to work with you to achieve the fantastic strategy that you agreed to.

goal

Goal posts move, they get that.
They live in a world where Google for example updates its algorithm on average twice a day.
But don’t hit them with a brush, because things change at your end.

Why are they an agency?

Well, mainly because they are smart and they love what they do. They get a big thrill out of continually testing themselves, striving to be the best, learning, sharing knowledge and achieving kick ass results for all their clients.

But!

They are a business. They have people’s salaries to pay and overheads to meet. Typically they get paid by the hour, and they know how much they need to make to keep the lights on, keep people employed and continue achieving.

So if you pay for 20 hours, don’t expect to get 40! Don’t expect the team to be at your beck and call holding your hand all the time; you are not paying for unlimited access and time. They would be glad (I think) to give you extra time but you need to pay for it.

Just because you are a big brand, why should they give your account management and project reporting free of charge? Why should these be inclusive? Why should 6 hours spent in the month on telephone calls answering your questions and giving you advice be expected and not be billable time?

Again, a little respect, that they are an agency, filled with amazing people, but they are also, like you a business, they need to make some profit and they have other clients as well as you who pay them for their respective time and success allocation.

Be prepared to pay for the time. Time costs them money and the money you invest in time gets you success. If they feel they are being “used” why would they try extra hard to achieve awesomeness for you?

They are an agency, they employ the people who work on your project, you do not employ their staff. They are not employees of you; therefore please don’t treat your agency like one.

They cannot give you 100% of their time as they are not your employee and they have other clients to service.

Simply a little understanding and respect:
Yes they love working with you, they love working on your project, but please do not take advantage of that.

are you listening

When they offer advice or critique on your site, architecture, code, calls to action, social media, e-mail marketing etc.

They are not being critical for the sake of it.

They want you to achieve your strategic goals.

You don’t have to use them to fix what they find and what they share with you, but, please fix it. It’s not a sales ploy to get you to spend more money.
They have identified inefficiencies with your current programme and in order to achieve those goals they discussed you must address it, it really is as simple as that.

Friends and Family:
Don’t you just love them? But the agency doesn’t want to hear what your friends and family think about what they are doing. Your new employee who is eager to impress wants to critique the agency, but please don’t bother sharing that with them.
iclickart_cartoon_illustration_vector_1_family_156846

You know the spam e-mail offering you best practice seos from long time practice for $100? Don’t bother sharing that with them please!
So listen, they love you, they love to work with you, their team loves working with you on your projects, but, please, please, show a little respect for them, and they will return that tenfold!
Don’t, and the project will only end in one way.

email
A little Respect by

Barrie Moran is a digital native, a technical SEO. You can find him on his blog or on Twitter.

16 thoughts on “A little Respect

  1. Love this post Barrie, so much truth in it.

    “Why should 6 hours spent in the month on telephone calls answering your questions” – this one hit home to me… big issue we face at the moment here because I mean we bill differently to many other agencies in that we are looking more often than not at output delivered (links) and to keep costs low we have built only minimal amounts of admin time into the cost of each link because we don’t profess to be a full service agency. You ask for what you need, you pay us, we do it and send you a report. Sure, we care a great deal about customer service (checking customer service stats this afternoon on Helpscout and just over 68% of client update related emails get resolved within 1-3 hours) so we never just leave people but it is certainly important to consider these peripheral elements to delivering SEO or a related service.

    I personally have found that hard because I will happily talk to clients and non-clients probably all day long but I’ve been trying to discipline myself that in actual fact a phone call isn’t just a chat, they can and will disrupt your day so treating them as billable hours (and ensuring your clients know this) is important.

    We have started tentatively attempting to gauge the level of hand-holding a client is going to require and giving pricing options relative to the amount of time we think it is going to take to deliver around that.

    I’d even go so far as to describe it (perhaps we will in the future) as a value added service which they can purchase as an add-on at the sales stage. Other companies offer different levels of support package, why shouldn’t SEO companies?

    I guess it comes down to the fact that in a lot of cases SEOs are setup to be just that – being a business often comes second which can actually be a bad thing. Which brings me around to this http://andrewdumont.me/developers-businesspeople-dead-weight which is one of my favourite posts this year… definitely solidified my belief that being a businessperson is important and shouldn’t just be associated with this idea of “greed” or that somehow you aren’t as important as a frontliner like an SEO or dev.

    Anyway, enough of my ranting, here’s some light relief > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjveAVM6JKE

    • Thanks for the comment James.

      Yes, indeed, I was thinking for it for us too. Why can lawyers bill for meetings and calls and literally ANY time spent on your case and others shouldn’t?
      We are just expected to explain everything because some clients don’t understand it, do you ask your painter what brush and what strokes he uses exactly to gain an effect?

      Thanks again for the video too.

    • Hi James.

      Thanks for reading and appreciate your comments.

      It’s a really difficult situation. A lot of agencies don’t bill for the time, some don’t even track it. There is a fine balance between amazing customer service going above and beyond and a business cost analysis, lost time, sunk costs and ultimately hurt.

      Even when you have put in all these extra hours, go above and beyond, something small can end the relationship and those amazing staff in the agency don’t understand why.

      Once bit twice shy.

      Your right, if other businesses and industries can have SLA’s and pricing for various “packages” it’s a model which works. Those who really value your input will be willing to pay for it. First and foremost we should be a business who delivers a service, not a service provider who happens to be a business.

      A friend told me a story how he always put up his prices year on year religiously, by twice the inflationary level that London Transport put on their ticket prices. People paid it, because they appreciated the value he brought to the table.

      Booked-marked the post will enjoy that one later, thanks for the link and the smile with the video ;)

  2. We deal with this so often, if I didn’t have a partner who made me laugh through it all I would be crying. We have the track record, we have the history, we have credentials, we almost always do a site review, so they know our work then they hire us and I would say 30-40% of the time we deal with just these issues.

    At which point, we sit there head-desk-head-desk-head-desk…. why did you hire us? Oh right because you thought we were awesome til you what?

    These quotes are so awesome because they are so true … !! I will try not to quote the whole article ;)


    “You are not only buying the knowledge of success, you are buying the expertise that limits failure on your campaigns to maximise your return on your investment. They know what works, and more importantly, if they don’t, they have the bad ass skills to find out

    IMHO, you owe them a little respect for even bringing this to the table, never mind what comes next.”

    Yes ! Yes ! Yes ! I spent many hours of my day not doing other things just so I can make sure I have not missed some fine point of the algorithm, some marketing technique someone else had discovered, some golder nugget that will help out client be 1/1000th more successful. And when I don’t know I will find out for you, usually before you go home for the day. Yet… we still deal with this…


    “When they offer advice or critique on your site, architecture, code, calls to action, social media, e-mail marketing etc.

    They are not being critical for the sake of it.

    They want you to achieve your strategic goals.

    You don’t have to use them to fix what they find and what they share with you, but, please fix it. It’s not a sales ploy to get you to spend more money.
    They have identified inefficiencies with your current programme and in order to achieve those goals they discussed you must address it, it really is as simple as that.”

    Oh my gosh yes!! and yes!! and yes!! How many times do I have to tell someone that the money they just spent on building something, hiring someone, doing something without asking one of us if it was a good idea, that it wasn’t, but I constantly have to remind clients like this I don’t make the rules, I don’t make the environment, I am just the one who can guide you through it so you don’t blindly fall off the cliff into the razor sharp rocks below.

    I don’t tell you these things because I want to crush your dreams, I tell you because I know what I am talking about and the person who did this before me did things incorrectly or the system has inefficiencies, all of which will hurt you, perhaps ruin you. I am trying to protect your cash register, not criticize your decisions.


    “One of the other issues commonly encountered is more psychological bullying. Be honest and forthright; if there are issues, identify and address them. Then they can be fixed and you can move forward together.

    Don’t have a meeting and act all nice because you don’t have the balls to say what you feel. Then after the meeting send a series of ill-considered communications in whatever format. All you are going to do is start to burn bridges and alienate those at the agency who are trying their best to work with you to achieve the fantastic strategy that you agreed to”

    how many times has that happened – usually just one malcontent on the team, but still you are just trying to help them accomplish whatever you are trying to accomplish for them, you are on their side, you are on the same page and then…. you get the ” ill-considered communications in whatever format”


    “Well, mainly because they are smart and they love what they do. They get a big thrill out of continually testing themselves, striving to be the best, learning, sharing knowledge and achieving kick ass results for all their clients”

    Yes and yes this is why we still do it, why we get each other through these times with laughter and why we are so grateful for the clients who do give us the respect and consideration we have worked so hard to earn.

    No one would do this job, not well, if they didn’t love it. The glazed eyes looks when you try to explain what you do, all the parties where you spend your time explaining to people about their websites instead of talking about the latest whatever, the nights you stay up trying to figure out why your client’s site just took a nosedive from nothing you did, but something they didn’t tell you… the list goes on.. you do it because you love it and you do it because you want to help sites do better…. so please yes … a little respect :)

    • Thanks a lot for your comment Kristine.

      That’s very true – it often comes to feeling like clients don’t understand we genuinely value our careers and we try our best. Those that do and those times they express it are to be valued. :)

      We should make a ‘t-shirt’ ‘Respect your SEO’ :)

    • Hey Kristine.

      Thanks for reading and your awesome comments are really appreciated.

      I was concerned when writing this post that it could be taken the wrong way, but, I felt it was one that needed to be aired.

      Everything you highlight and your responses is bang on the money.

      Some people might “fall” into online / internet marketing, but the real people, the real SEO’s , those who walk and talk in a certain way, normally powered by caffeine deeply care.

      They care about themselves, their careers, about their clients sites, they pour heart and soul over rankings reports, analytics data, webmaster tools, hangouts and more to be the best and achieve the best.

      Some of us probably care a little too much!

      A little respect goes a long way!

      @ Krystian t-shirts is a great idea, or how about a flashmob hangout all singing the song ;)

  3. I don’t know that I understand who this is written for.

    For the most part we have the opportunity to control the nature of our client relationships through the way we communicate. Of course there are some people who are hard to deal with, but that’s life. Demanding respect seems to me unlikely to come across as endearing.

    God knows I haven’t always followed that advice myself though!

    It seems to me that energy would be better spent controlling the things within our control than bemoaning the small injustices and challenging relationships we encounter.

    I do always like your writing though, even if we are not wholly aligned on the issues!

    • Hi Iain.

      Thanks for reading mate and all comments appreciated.

      For me the target market for this post was really, SEO’s Managers and owners of agencies.

      I will be honest, when I wrote the post I wasn’t sure how it would be received and know it could be taken the wrong way.

      Client relationship management is indeed an art, and apologies if it came across as demanding respect.

      Like anything in life, we as human beings tend to talk more about the negative than the positive, seems to be an inherent human trait.

      I think our industry more than most (IMHO) has suffered with client’s being burnt because of snake oil salesman. To that degree it can be hard when new relationships start for the client to trust the new agency. Many stumbling blocks can arise.

      Your right, difficult clients or relationships are not unique to the SEO industry and yes we do have the opportunity to try and mould those relationships from the outset. Again an art from which is difficult, I think further exacerbated by the current economic climate, and a fear to lose clients.

      Our industry is built on people who care deeply about it and who have built up knowledge and experience second to none, this should be appreciated, recognised and indeed respected. I have heard many horror stories from many agencies about the “nightmare” client, but as I say, two sides, there are many “nightmare” agencies!

      If we were all aligned on every topic and all agreed the world would be a boring place, and I would disagree with everyone just for fun ;)

  4. @Barrie, your previous comment sums up everything perfectly about our industry – “some of us probably care a little too much”..

    And this great post sums up perfectly the collective, rising spirit of an industry meeting the challenge (head-on) of increasing client demands & expectations vs search evolution..

    Today, Rand Fishkin shared an awesome infographic http://www.seotraininglondon.org/what-do-the-public-understand-about-search/ that shows what is understood by the public about our industry and underlines the need (for those of us that give a damn) to understand the common client mind-set, especially those 60% who “didn’t know the correct meaning of the term SEO”.

    I’m with you on every point mentioned and your sentiment reminds of the term “Master / Slave Mentality”. Whereas, to really help clients achieve the success they crave, there needs to be a “Master / Master” mentality aka win / win.

    Unfortunately, I think the “rogue” section of our industry (rip-off merchants) has done much damage to how we’re all perceived (those who probably don’t care at all), as has the myriad of “Easy SEO in 5 Steps to World Domination” e-books, “guru’s” and headline-grabbing journalists.

    One way to stop (or at least lessen) the way clients treat us is to pre-qualify and spot those that are simply a bad fit. Doing this can be alien to us, as we’re more than happy to problem-solve or analyse a site or spend time over the phone helping potential clients out.

    But if we’re going survive in this (currently turbulent) industry, it’s a skill we’re going to have to become good at, at least to maintain our sanity!

    PS please put my name down for an “SEO” T-shirt – love the idea and I’d proudly wear it everywhere I go ;)

    • Hey Tony.

      Awesome comment thanks!

      It is indeed a turbulent time, and the strong will survive. The good will survive! The win/win is indeed the utopia we all aim for and achievable in most circumstances.

      We are an industry which has been blighted by the myriad of “get page 1 quick guru’s” , it is my hope, that these charlatans are now being found out and will disappear.

      I say that with some reservation though as that info graphic you dropped does not bode well, it seems the understanding of our maturing industry is not maturing in the wider sense.

      Trust is essential and respect and trust go hand in hand.

      I think those who want to “buy” SEO and see it as a tactic where they can spend $100 a month are as bad as the snake oil salesmen who peddle that garbage. (IMHO)

      Give your $100 to Google on PPC and don’t think about organic.

      Qualifying clients before engaging with them is probably the most sensible solution to this type of situation, but, it’s amazing how people can change and I think the additional problem we have is most SEO’s love a challenge and it can be hard to walk away from those situation you know can be potentially problematic or troublesome because you want to prove to yourself, more than most, than you can make it work.

      Probably my own worst enemy.

      Note to self, accept less challenges, qualify perspective clients more ;)

  5. Some clients will question what they get for their money but then happily ship out 3 / 4 figure sums to Yell without batting an eyelid even though you inform them it brought a trickle of visitors to their website.

    I haven’t quite figured out why that it is, guessing it’s just because there is no physical product with SEO or an ability to see something instantly.

    • Thanks Jonathan.

      I think Yell have done a great job over the years of convincing people they are the place to be seen.

      The migration from their traditional book to online was clever, but, they IMHO are partly to blame for the snake oil salesmen analogy.

      Promising people SEO, traffic, selling banners and a whole other variety of “visibility” not as traditional advertising, which is is, but, as SEO.

      It’s similar to a current companies TV advert where you can build a site yourself for $99 that is fully SEO’d, as though it is is single thing you turn on.

      I think working in partnership with clients and building mutual trust and respect, creating some clearly defined goals and performance indicators can help put some tangibility where previously it may not have been possible.

      Key point as you mention is an education process, that organic results, brand awareness, likes, followers, links etc do not happen instantly. It takes time to do it right, or incur the wrath of a black and white animal of some kind ;)

    • Jonathon / Barrie, don’t get me started on big directory book & telecommunications companies..

      Two prime examples of corporate’s that have jumped on the “SEO” bandwagon to increase their revenue via a customer base that (unfortunately) follows (and buys) everything they suggest.

      Hey, I even heard postal companies now providing website “packages” with “full SEO” included!

      Why do clients use them? Their mindset is often “well, it is (insert company name here) so they must know everything about SEO, as they are a national company and I’ve used (insert service here) for many years now..and the person I speak to is always very nice..”

      I’ve helped quite a few clients pull out of £3k – £4k per annum deals with these types. My approach is “why pay £ to the middle man when your own website can outrank them”..

      And those TV adverts (I call them “website tonight” companies) that promise everything for £9.99 pm…

      Big TV and online marketing budgets play a key roll in these types of firms advertising their services to a national audience.

      As “search” evolves, I believe there will be another period of time where many websites will not be found online (probably starting now) and those offering poor quality services will be found out, sadly once £££ has changed hands. This will be especially true for national directory or telecoms companies who’s core values do not include hiring the best online marketing pro’s to really help businesses out.

      Education really is key, but to what cost to the individual SEO’er or agency? Unless money changes hands, either model will eventually go out of business due to cash-flow issues. And banks don’t accept ‘good, sincere, kick-ass advice’ as a replacement to mortgage payments.. so we have to get damn good at separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak!

      Time will tell, but I’m hugely encouraged with how our industry is maturing. With Google’s vision of knowledge graph, coupled with a truly “semantic” web, the future is exciting :)

      Great thread and looking forward to reading more insightful comments.

  6. Hi Barrie

    Great post mate, you’ve really hit the nail on the head with this one.

    I think we have all been there with clients, I’m not saying they are all like this, but many of them are looking for that premium service at budget prices.

    What amazes me is that they are happy to spend 2k on a newspaper spread that isn’t even measurable!

    Just another day in agency life!

    • Hey Matthew.

      Thanks buddy, appreciate that!

      ROI is a key factor, and your right, some of the “marketing” spend which goes unattributed and the “pressure” put on SEO sometimes amazes me, form all sizes of organisations.

      The agency life keeps us all on our toes and we love it, but that’s what separates the good agencies from the bad, and the agencies who will be around in 3,5,10, 15 years time.

      The reason for the caveat was indeed just that. This is the minority of relationships, but one which causes the most stress, and we could all do with a little less stress in our lives.

      I think clients have the right to expect premium service, but, I think they also have to respect time against budget.

      It’s all about managing expectations and continuing to deliver knock out results.

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