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"we're Not Paying" Until Our Rankings Improve...


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#1 heroforhire

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 11:53 AM

Today I got this email from a client

"....We just received our ranking report, and I must say, it is a real disappointment. Comparing to last month, our site has dropped on Google and AOL by 2-5 positions. You said something about Google updating their index, and that you need to do some research about our site to see what can be done and to "analyze" the situation. That doesn't explain AOL, though. To me that sounds like more money and time.

I just received your invoice for the work you've done on the new sections [...] I have decided that we're not going to pay that invoice and I am considering asking you to refund the payments we made in August also...."


This one shook me up! It's not the $$, it's the attitude.

Ok... first off, I'm totally white-hat. Second of all - my recommendations for more content and changes that would affect the "look" of this site have all gone uncompleted. And yes, I tried to tell them that AOL uses google data. I have 8 years of SEO experience with a very good track record, and my contract says "no guarantees..etc.etc." but I'm too small to be spending time in court or meeting with attorneys.

I starting wondering how other SEOs deal with this in the real-world, and perhaps even a bit about how you do billing.

Thanks all....

#2 Jill

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 11:54 AM

What does your contract say about payments and guarantees, etc?

It's going to come down to that.

#3 heroforhire

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 12:04 PM

Well, not really a contract question. My agreement covers it, but I'm thinking Karma here. How can I build the relationship better? How can I talk to technophobes about this?

People want something concrete, something visible for their money. That's understandible. But when I start trying to explain something about the Google index, page rank, keyword work, copywriting, ...etc... I get these blank stares that say... "snake oil."

Yes, I Know I can do all kinds of contracts agreements, etc. but I'm really wanting to know about real-world issue here. Think phone call with the client. Or first meeting. What's the best way to explain this to people who have difficulty working zippers (sorry).

I am losing my shirt doing SEO these days and need to figure out a stable model for billing, reporting, etc. I am starting to wonder if many of the SEOs chatting in the forums have a day job! I have clients now at #1 in Google, MSN, and Yahoo at the same time that are hesitant to pay me.

#4 Randy

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 12:14 PM

QUOTE
People want something concrete, something visible for their money.


Rankings will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be Concrete. If your clients don't know that going into any deal, you need to do a better job of educating them before they sign on.

As to what to say if you decide to call, I would start out with "Well, since AOL contracts to use Google data, it makes complete sense that a Google update would also affect AOL rankings.

It's a good thing your client isn't one of mine back in the day. lol.gif I would have waited until the payment date had passed and sent them Certified Mail (so that I have a signature of receipt) explaining that I considered them in default of the contract for non-payment and that they should expect nothing further from me until their account was up to date.
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#5 Jill

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 12:22 PM

QUOTE
Rankings will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be Concrete.


THat's a good point. Have you been able to increase their traffic at all that you could show them?

Unfortunately, this type of situation comes down to the expectations you set out in the first place. You may have thought you told them that it would take time, but it obviously didn't sink in.

This is fairly common, and now you simply have to go into your spiel again how it takes time and why, and approximately when you expect things to get better.

But if they haven't implemented your recommendations, then you have a good out right there. You just tell them that what you recommended was necessary to get the high rankings, and since they didn't do it, they didn't get them. But since you made the recommendations in the first place, they still need to pay you for the information.

Then give them the option as to whether they are ready to now go and make those recommendations.

You may also need to revisit your recommendations to see if you'll need to compromise on some things. What was their reason for not implementing them? Were you asking them to do something that would make their site worse for their human visitors at the expense of the engines? If so, then of course they were right in not implementing them.

If the changes were going to make their site better for the humans as well as the engines, then you need to impress this upon them, citing why you want then to do this, why it's better for their target audience, and all that jazz.

If they're still unwilling, then I'd say to simply settle up, ask them to pay what they owe for the work you've done so far, and end the contract now.
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#6 heroforhire

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 12:26 PM

I'm just always dealing with people who are web illiterate. So when I start talking to them about Google's ranking methods and why I can't guarantee things (in very, very basic terms) some of them wouldn't suprise me by saying "what's Google?"

Not really, but I feel as if many think they're getting the snake oil speech. So, when I can beg them to sign on, they are still highly doubtful and are looking for quick proof to be sure they're not wasting their money. I am having lots of trouble getting past that "riptide" in the relationship.

I need to find clients who will ride with me through the rough spots and look at things over longer term, but I've yet to accomplish this smoothly.

#7 heroforhire

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 12:29 PM

Good response.... they wouldn't implement my changes because they'd paid "big bucks" to have their site redesigned by an ad agency. It was aesthetically nice (like a brochure) but simply couldn't be well optimized. When I suggested we build some good textual content and "site map it" into Google, they resisted as google searchers would skip their pretty home page.

#8 Cosita

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 12:38 PM

I'm not a SEO expert but I do provide a service where clients expect tangible results so I decided to chime in.

In a thread, Jill mentioned that she does not take on clients who are only interested in rankings. Her methodology makes sense. She nor anyone can guarantee a client that they will be number one on Google. Now I understand that is not what you did. But that is probably what the client heard.

Perhaps rethinking your pitch would be helpful. If you find that clients are asking for refunds, then they may not be educated well from the beginning. And if they don't get it when you explain it to them there are two things to consider. The first is that your explanation might be confusing. Second, the client is just interested in rankings and is not the type of customer you want.

#9 Leann_Pass

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 12:38 PM

QUOTE
"....We just received our ranking report, and I must say, it is a real disappointment. Comparing to last month, our site has dropped on Google and AOL by 2-5 positions. You said something about Google updating their index, and that you need to do some research about our site to see what can be done and to "analyze" the situation. That doesn't explain AOL, though. To me that sounds like more money and time..."
(emphasis is mine)

I make it clear to all my clients that fluctuations in rankings (up a few/down a few) is quite normal and should be expected. I'm not sure why you told the client you would need to "see what can be done" - I really think you set off an alarm there.

QUOTE
Second of all - my recommendations for more content and changes that would affect the "look" of this site have all gone uncompleted.


I never ever make "recommendations" for content. If more content is required to do the job right, I make it clear, VERY CLEAR, that it is a REQUIREMENT- and I do that upfront - before I ever agree to take on the client. Then it's also in the "client responsibilites" of the contract. That may sound harsh, but really it isn't.

QUOTE
but I'm really wanting to know about real-world issue here. Think phone call with the client. Or first meeting. What's the best way to explain this to people who have difficulty working zippers (sorry).


My advice -
1) Educate the client up front and all along the way.
2) Don't fool with people who have difficulties working zippers.

QUOTE
I have clients now at #1 in Google, MSN, and Yahoo at the same time that are hesitant to pay me.


This really makes me wonder. Why do you suppose these clients are hesitant to pay you? Are you taking on clients that you don't click with? Are you promising more than you actually deliver (rankings aside)? Are the #1 rankings for keywords that don't perform? Do you say something or give off the vibe that you aren't worth it? I don't get it, but something is amiss when clients with #1 rankings don't want to pay.


Leann

#10 Randy

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 12:59 PM

You may need to think about what you're saying in your initial discussions prior to taking on a client heretohire.

Somehow or the other you need to get them to understand and search engine rankings are only one means to the goal they're looking for. You'll see this theme repeated over and over around here. At the end of the day, ranking for ranking's sake means very, very little.

Who cares of a site ranks #1 for some obscure phrase that two people per year search for? What does it matter if a site ranks for what could be a very profitable phrase if the site cannot deliver what people searching for this phrase are looking for?

What matters?

For e-commerce sites all that matters is Sales. Or as I like to put it to cover e-comm and pretty much every other site out there Conversions.

Is the site getting more people to do whatever it is the site was created to encourage people to do in the first place? Are more people buying? Are more people signing up for their newsletter or ezine? Are more people making use of the information the site is offering for free?

Change your metrics. Measure what counts. Make sure your clients understand that rankings are nothing more than a means to an end. And only one means to that end.

#11 SearchRank

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 01:08 PM

QUOTE(heroforhire @ Nov 18 2005, 09:04 AM)
I am losing my shirt doing SEO these days and need to figure out a stable model for billing, reporting, etc.  I am starting to wonder if many of the SEOs chatting in the forums have a day job!  I have clients now at #1 in Google, MSN, and Yahoo at the same time that are hesitant to pay me.

Do you get paid before you either deliver or complete the work? We do.

Unless it is a really, really large project that has considerable set up costs, we collect all initial costs up front before any work is ever started and as for any campaign maintenance, we either bill monthly to credit card or invoice quarterly... in advance.

If you are delivering work before you are paid, maybe you should rethink that method?

#12 Leann_Pass

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 02:15 PM

Reading back through what all you have written, I really really feel you are missing out on soooooooo much in your initial conversations with these people.

A couple of questions and suggestions:
(all emphasis is mine)

QUOTE
I'm just always dealing with people who are web illiterate. So when I start talking to them about Google's ranking methods and why I can't guarantee things (in very, very basic terms) some of them wouldn't suprise me by saying "what's Google?"


Where do your clients come from? Do they come to you or do you go out and find them? If you are finding them, then how are you going about that?

QUOTE
Not really, but I feel as if many think they're getting the snake oil speech. So, when I can beg them to sign on, they are still highly doubtful and are looking for quick proof to be sure they're not wasting their money. I am having lots of trouble getting past that "riptide" in the relationship


Do you start right in with Google and algos and such? That may well sound like snake oil to someone who is clueless. I know everyone has their own way, their own approach - but I'll tell you mine, in case it might help.

Now, most of my clients DO have a clue about SEO when they call me (sometimes misguided but at least a clue). However, I sometimes have people who contact for web design but don't know anything about the web - they are really clueless.

If I can see that the purpose of their site is to sell a product or service (or any circumstance where an audience is necessary for success), at some point I simply ask them if they have a plan for bringing visitors to their site. The usual response is total dumbfounded silence followed by something like "um, what do you mean?"

I don't start in with words like search engines or Google. I go about it by asking them questions and expanding on their answers. By asking them questions you can get a good idea of "where" they are and you can converse with them based on their level of understanding. More often than not, there are multiple conversations and there is never ever a "speech" involved.

It's really just like everything else, you have to know your audience to be effective.

Also, TRUST is an important factor you are missing. You say "when I can beg them to sign on, they are still highly doubtful". I don't think it's wise to sign on anyone who is "highly doubtful". If they are not 100% comfortable with you and the services you offer, you (and them) are better off to leave it alone.

Sorry so long winded,
Leann

#13 Jill

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 02:54 PM

Yep, what Leann said!

This is all about managing expectations, and you seem to be doing a really poor job with that.

If your clients aren't informed before you sign them on that they will DEFINITELY have to change some stuff on their pages, then you're going to have this happen every time.

With this particular client, it may be too late and you may simply wish to cut your losses. It doesn't sound like you could have done much for them yet, did you?

#14 SanDiegoMedia

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 05:23 PM

QUOTE(heroforhire @ Nov 18 2005, 01:26 PM)
I'm just always dealing with people who are web illiterate.  So when I start talking to them about Google's ranking methods and why I can't guarantee things (in very, very basic terms) some of them wouldn't suprise me by saying "what's Google?"

Not really, but I feel as if many think they're getting the snake oil speech.  So, when I can beg them to sign on, they are still highly doubtful and are looking for quick proof to be sure they're not wasting their money.  I am having lots of trouble getting past that "riptide" in the relationship. 

I need to find clients who will ride with me through the rough spots and look at things over longer term, but I've yet to accomplish this smoothly.
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I work for an ad agency, and am the only SEO here. It's very difficult to convince big brands that they do NOT need to worry about effecting the user experience. Becuase without SEO, you won't have any users to get the experience.

#15 heroforhire

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 05:55 PM

Leann, Randy, Jill, Cosita and anyone I missed.

Thank you for the comments. Some responses:

First, yes, I am a successful SEO. I have done much for many clients who were open and responsive to recommendations. I have pages of positive testimonials from SEO clients - but these were the ONES THAT GOT IT.... and out of 100, that is probably 10... not enough to make a living on.


QUOTE
Reading back through what all you have written, I really really feel you are missing out on soooooooo much in your initial conversations with these people.


Hmmmm. Possibly. I can't teach them everything in a sitting. The only clients I've succeded with are those who are technically or marketing inclined. I mean formal training of one type or another + some experience. Trouble is, they are the exception.... I do presentations on search at the University / Chamber of Commerce that are standing room only sometimes. I have a good presentation style and get kudos from those attending. Many will call me afterwards wanting some work. I quote them my rate and never hear from them again.

QUOTE
Do you start right in with Google and algos and such? That may well sound like snake oil to someone who is clueless. I know everyone has their own way, their own approach - but I'll tell you mine, in case it might help.


The question they ask is how do we rate high on Google? In my response, I explain content, various title tags, quality inbound links, etc., and soon the subject of Google Algo comes up. I always, always try to downplay the technical side of this. My conversation is always about conversions and return on investment.

QUOTE
I don't think it's wise to sign on anyone who is "highly doubtful". If they are not 100% comfortable with you and the services you offer, you (and them) are better off to leave it alone.


Well, sure, it's one thing to skip a client here and there, but I am trying to make a living, and many folks in my area that have the marketing budgets to spend are also the ones who are clueless. That goes back to my comment where I wonder if many SEOs on the forums have "day jobs" (grin...)

QUOTE
I never ever make "recommendations" for content. If more content is required to do the job right, I make it clear, VERY CLEAR, that it is a REQUIREMENT- and I do that upfront - before I ever agree to take on the client. Then it's also in the "client responsibilites" of the contract. That may sound harsh, but really it isn't.


Wow, I don't know how you get away with that. Not only do I have to recommend content, it seems that I have to nearly write it. There is so much laziness. Asking them to start a blog, or improve their product descriptions is like asking them to mow their lawn with tweezers. "Can't you use our brochure?" almost brings me to tears these days.

QUOTE
Do you get paid before you either deliver or complete the work? We do.


I do ask for a downpayment. Here's a good time to say I charge by the hour. Does that make sense for SEO? each client is so different, I can see no way to do otherwise...but what are you guys doing?

QUOTE
Unfortunately, this type of situation comes down to the expectations you set out in the first place. You may have thought you told them that it would take time, but it obviously didn't sink in.


I definitely agree with that. Two thumbs up. But I am an excellent teacher and tell everyone that this is a slow process. I think the issue is that they wait so long to find SEO that their "bosses" (?) are putting pressure on them to make money from their fancy website. VERY often my clients have already used the "web designer's" SEO services with no effect and I'm the second attempt. That contributes to the initial skepticism.

QUOTE
You may also need to revisit your recommendations to see if you'll need to compromise on some things. What was their reason for not implementing them? Were you asking them to do something that would make their site worse for their human visitors at the expense of the engines? If so, then of course they were right in not implementing them. If the changes were going to make their site better for the humans as well as the engines, then you need to impress this upon them, citing why you want then to do this, why it's better for their target audience, and all that jazz.


They're reasons were simply not wanting to do much to the website they just worked so hard on. And it seems like these days 4/5 of my client inquiries are for "existing" sites. Half want me to work THROUGH their web designer. This adds so much friction and overhead that it's just not worth it.

QUOTE
Who cares of a site ranks #1 for some obscure phrase that two people per year search for? What does it matter if a site ranks for what could be a very profitable phrase if the site cannot deliver what people searching for this phrase are looking for?


Oh my goodness you hit a nerve there. Yes, I tell them about the "guaranteed SEO services" and how they guarantee #1 rankings for "polka dotted pug dog bracelets" and I try to explain how volume + competition + customer intent and all of that play in. What's awful is that many of them hold up these shiny reports on the polka-dot thing with pride!!!! Yes, we have one of those for sale, and yes, we rate #1!!! whoo wee!! To THEM the keyword ranking seems straight up terrific, but of course to customers it makes no sense. I created a "KEI-like" spreadsheet that I use to help explain it. No, I don't teach them KEI, and no, I don't think KEI is very good, but there is something about showing cause/effect that helps.

QUOTE
Where do your clients come from? Do they come to you or do you go out and find them? If you are finding them, then how are you going about that?


Mostly via my website, and much word of mouth. I do no marketing at all. My site (I prefer to remain anonymous here because frankly, I'm embarassed at all of this, and don't want my clients to sense my "dispair") has PR6 and rates highly for important keywords in my area... so it does the work.

~

Ah... tired... It's Friday...

QUOTE
Is the site getting more people to do whatever it is the site was created to encourage people to do in the first place? Are more people buying? Are more people signing up for their newsletter or ezine? Are more people making use of the information the site is offering for free?


THANK GOD for Google Analytics. I'm hooking all of my problematic clients up to the "executive overview" and writing a success funnel for them to watch. Free, they'll pay for.

[QUOTE]With this particular client, it may be too late and you may simply wish to cut your losses. It doesn't sound like you could have done much for them yet, did you?[/QUOTE ]

Oh yeah.. I did. That's the bummer. I'm walking away with 10 unpaid hours of research. With two small children, rent, etc... that's not easy. And it was really good research also!

Me, I will drink a beer and think about this whole SEO thing a little more. I LOVE DOING IT, and I'm good at it. I just need to pay my bills!!

Again, thanks all.

[sound of can opening]
<edit>Fixed the ten quote limit. Now only one is broken smile.gif</edit>

Edited by projectphp, 14 February 2006 - 11:10 PM.





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