Clients that speak to experts

One problem that I’ve faced a few times over the years is a client that you build a site for and then later on the client speaks to someone that claims to be an expert in web design / SEO / marketing / whatever and the expert tells them that the site is no good.

As an example, a month ago we finished a site for a small business. At the time we said to the client that the design of the site wasn’t very good for SEO (the site was designed by a graphic artist who did all the mock-ups and then said they couldn’t actually build the site for the client, and so we were called in to build the site based on the design by the graphic artist). There were lots of problems that I won’t go into (limited text that wasn’t optimised for keywords, graphical text because it absolutely had to be in a particular font, etc). Before we started we explained that we can’t guarantee how search engines will rank the site as we have no control over the search engines (this is in our contract) and that on-page SEO is only one part of the equation and that off-page SEO would need to be done to help in the rankings (link-building, etc) and that this was up to the client to do as we don’t perform that service. We also tried to explain that time is a big factor and she shouldn’t expect results immediately.

The client accepted all of this and signed the contract but now, just one month after the site going live, she’s not happy with the results because the orders aren’t flooding in, and someone she spoke to says the site isn’t optimised for search engines. The client now wants to know “is the site search engine optimised or isn’t it?”

We’ve countered by agreeing that the site could be optimised better but that we went with the design and text that she provided because she insisted, and also pointed out that she hasn’t done anything herself to get back-links, nor to advertise her site in any way. We tried to explain that SEO isn’t an exact science, that it’s impossible for everyone to be number one in the rankings, that there is no magic bullet.

I was just wondering how other people handle clients that get advice from “experts”? It’s like the client is saying “I spoke to someone else that said something different to what you said, and so I’m throwing it back at you to prove that what you said is correct”. I don’t want to rubbish the expert, because I’m sure that they really are quite good at what they do, but of course they don’t know the history behind the project. And things are never black and white, there is no one correct way of doing things, every one has their opinion on what works, etc.


Rather than trying to figure out how to solve this from a negative approach let’s reverse it… Say you were called by your friend who just had a new site that wasn’t ranking well. Upon close inspection you noticed limited copy, few back links and no marketing… you would of course tell your friend that the site wasn’t well optimized internally or externally. You’ve just become the “expert” you’re facing now.

The solution to this is of course to embrace the expert (when you agree) and point out the path to success. If they are dead wrong it’s a much different case and potentially a difficult one depending on how your client knows the expert, but as that’s not the case here, use the expert as an advocate to show what you’ve done, how you are optimized and where the improvement opportunities are. If you aren’t the SEO gurus, explain it… show that you built a site that works for them to take on and push out; if you offer this, pitch… if you spin things into a good position you’ve now got their expert helping validate why they need you to do more.

Thanks for your thoughts, Ted.

As it has turned out the client seems to be very happy to make some changes to the website which we suggested to make the site more search engine friendly. Hopefully this will help to improve things.

I guess this is a lesson for me to be a little more forceful when I’m asked to make a site that I know isn’t very search engine friendly. Instead of just building what the client wants I will point out areas that I think will impact on SEO.

I like it when clients talk to experts. I tell them that this is a complex topic, and that there are many ways to do things successfully. If they collaborate with true experts, it will only help me to do my job well and I welcome any useful input.

That said, not every ‘expert’ is an expert, and not everyone agrees on how things should be done. So, it’s never simple.

Overwhelm them with the size of your meaty experience by giving them a whole bunch of scenarios. Of course, us, the real professionals map out (if only mentally) the many development paths. There are reasons to do this and that. Explain these to the client, what the advantages are and what the disadvantages are. You can even say that the expert is right if you were developing a website in 2001 but the latest advice is such and such. Give real examples of work you have done, what worked for them and what didn’t. Real experts have experience and can quickly quack-slap a fake.

Just adding to the above, the lesson isn’t really to be more forceful in regards to simply ignoring the clients request for the benefit of SEO. What you need to-do is invest the time and energy into educating your client as you produce the work explaining what you’re going to-do and why it’s beneficial to their visitors. The most important part of being a web professional is doing what is in the best interests of the people who will end up using that service (the end-user) as without those people, their website is effectively a ghost town and will have failed in it’s aims. Sometimes clients are a bit stubborn and only want sites to be perfect as “they” see it, though in this case it doesn’t seem to be the issue, the issue is that they rightly got a second opinion and found out exactly what you mean’t by it not being SEO friendly. The problem here is that you didn’t educate the client and they effectively signed off on the product without knowing what was actually going on (ignorance can be quite an issue when the results aren’t what they expected). In your particular case it seems like a clear breakdown in communication where the client didn’t understand what SEO was or what being SEO friendly meant, therefore they just nodded in agreement to whatever you said (to avoid feeling dumb) and of course the inevitable result was you produced exactly what they asked for when they didn’t know what they wanted (really). In the future it may pay to perhaps produce some documents or a pack which explains everything you offer and what it will do (or be more specific as to what work you’re undertaking and / or why their request is not a good idea) to help ensure they can make the decision that’s best for them (as it seems like they got caught in a state of perpetual confusion). :slight_smile:

One note, I always find when I warn people of problems with an approach they will often say it OK, but then when it doesn’t work right they hold the developer accountable. That’s why if there is an inherent problem with the design, I’ll make sure that its fixed before it built.