As SEO professionals, we’re expected to have a solid understanding of our trade and to be able to communicate our knowledge clearly and professionally with our clients. But I think our expectations should be set a bit higher, similar to the fiduciary responsibility that certain financial professionals are held to. This would go a long way in further improving an already amazing industry, helping us to build greater trust while better serving our clients.
Marketing requires us to constantly evaluate risk vs. reward, and that’s especially true when it comes to search engine optimization because algorithms are constantly changing. Some of the tactics that would have been acceptable just a few years ago could get a website penalized today.
But it goes beyond algorithms changing.
I’m a proponent of white-hat SEO because it creates a sustainable foundation for success, rather than the churn-and-burn approach that is required with black-hat SEO. But every now and then, clients will insist on tactics that will eventually hurt them. In some cases, this may be because they have little to lose and much to gain; in other cases, it may be because they are simply misinformed. Either way, it’s our job as professionals to never intentionally put our clients at risk through our actions, as well as help educate them so that they don’t do something stupid on their own.
Much like the medical profession and their Hippocratic Oath, our first obligation as SEO professionals is to do no harm to our clients’ websites.
I was recently speaking with a potential client who was unhappy with the results from the SEO company he was working with. It didn’t take long to figure out why. When I asked what they had done for his campaign, he couldn’t answer — because they told him their techniques were proprietary.
Every truly experienced, professional SEO practitioner knows that there is no such thing as “proprietary SEO techniques” because the days of tricking the search engines are dead and gone. Modern SEO consists mostly of three components:
There are no secrets, silver bullets or magic spells, and anyone who claims otherwise is simply a con artist.
We are performing work for clients that will have a long-lasting impact on their website, so it’s their right to know exactly what we’re doing on their behalf.
Now, some people will say, “But Jeremy, if I tell them exactly what I’m doing, they might try to do it themselves!” If you fear that, then you’re simply not providing enough value in the relationship.
Clients come to us for several reasons. One is that we can see and understand things that our clients can’t. Another reason is our ability to get certain things done.
Look, I want my clients to know exactly what goes into a proper SEO campaign because once they do, they realize that they don’t have the time to do it themselves — especially when you consider that it’s not enough to simply check a box. Tasks like content development and link building require a lot of work and have to be executed with a high level of quality. Most clients are already too busy running their own business to write content or send link outreach emails, and that’s exactly why they come to us.
Speaking of transparency…
About a year ago, a small web design agency here in Tampa closed down with little notice, and because of a mutual contact, the former owner reached out to me to help migrate their clients to their own servers.
In doing so, I stumbled upon a huge problem that I often see in our industry, and that is digital marketing agencies and web designers setting up digital assets under their own accounts rather than their clients’. Such assets include, but are not limited to:
This poses a huge risk for our clients. Had this particular web designer gone out of business and simply disappeared, like many do, then his clients — dozens of small businesses — would have been forced to start their digital brands over from scratch. Some may have even been forced out of business as a result. This is a completely unacceptable practice.
Any accounts you set up for your client should be set up in their name, and they should always have full access. You can then add additional users for your team or simply log in with their credentials.
One of the hallmarks of a true professional is knowing when something is outside of their expertise. When you encounter this scenario, it’s important to set ego aside and seek the assistance of a more qualified specialist.
No one is above this — in fact, I often see some of the brightest minds in our industry asking for advice from other experts who possess a different specialization.
The fact of the matter is that many of the most proficient SEO practitioners typically focus on a particular aspect of search, like Alan Bleiweiss does with forensic audits, or like Cindy Krum does with mobile SEO. By its nature, specialization in one area means weakness in other areas — and that’s OK because there are plenty of top-notch professionals in our industry we can lean on for their specific knowledge.
Obviously, that means added costs for our client in these cases, but it’s our job to convince them of the necessity in order to produce the best results possible with the least risk possible.