Why I regularly tell clients to stop their SEO campaign with us

By Aaron Rudman-Hawkins
February 2, 2020
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In the past 6 months I have told 5 of our clients to stop their SEO campaign and suggested we part ways – for a short time at least.

Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it?

At first glance it does, and you might be wondering why I’d do that? Surely you can’t keep growing an agency if you are telling your clients to stop/pause their SEO? You may be thinking.

The thing is, SEO can only work if both sides are 100% bought into it and in a position to execute the plan/strategy.

Over the years we’ve started working with all sorts of businesses, from one-man-band start-ups to Corporate companies with hundreds of employees and everyone in between.

All of these companies are joining us and are super-excited about what we can do for them. However, only once you get into a campaign do you start to see potential bumps in the road.

This is where Evergreen are VERY different

I know from experience; most SEO agencies would let hell freeze over before they would tell a client the timing isn’t right and to stop/pause – because a client equals money in the bank.

Generally, these clients are on retainers and an SEO agency will do their best to service a customer but ultimately, “the client chooses to work with our SEO agency and so we’ll do what we can to keep that client”.

That approach is entirely the agency looking after their interests first and putting their client second to keeping them on a retainer and the money rolling in.

A couple of examples we’ve seen recently;

Once the SEO agency audit the website it may become apparent that the client’s website isn’t going to cut it, it’s not fast enough, it’s not capable of scaling up its content marketing, it doesn’t have the flexibility needed to effectively optimise and long-story-short, they need a new website.

Another example. A client may be very early in their business strategy and although they want to focus on SEO, they simply aren’t ready to and instead need to focus on defining their brand identity and core product (owing to the SEO research now gleaned from the campaign).

Now, most SEO agencies when confronted with the above scenarios will potentially relay to their client the need for a new website or the need for a strong brand identity but they will still press ahead with their SEO even though they know its impact will be minimal and really, honestly, the business isn’t at the point where SEO is the right fit.

But of course, they won’t tell the client that as it’d mean one less retainer revenue coming in next month if they said that?!

And therein is the problem! SEO agencies look after their own interests first.

What typically happens in this scenario

The SEO agency rake in the cash over the first 3-6 months, the client is confused, they are getting nowhere but aren’t being told the cold hard facts that SEO right now is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and in fact the focus of their business should be elsewhere.

A few months down the line, the relationship sours, the client calls time on their SEO campaign, convinced “SEO doesn’t work”.

The SEO agency are gutted to lose the client but knew it was coming and will quickly be onto the next business – regardless of whether they are ready/suited or not.

The client has wasted several thousand pounds and is no further forward. What they needed all those months ago and still do, is some proper marketing advice that isn’t biased to the SEO agency.

Why am I telling you this?

Because in January I advised another 2 of our SEO clients to stop working with us (bringing the total in the past 6 months to 5 businesses) – I advised both to stop/pause for very different reasons and I’ll explain each below.

The first business I told to stop their SEO campaign is a very well-known name across Oxfordshire – If I mentioned their company, I’m certain a good number of you in Oxfordshire reading this would have heard of them.

They’ve been a client for about 9 months and during that time, their internal team has seen lots of change. Our primary contact has changed on more than one occasion at the company and we’ve noticed in the past 3-4 months that communication has been almost non-existent despite our very best efforts.

Our team have been doing a huge amount of work, but our reports and recommendations have been piling up with little communication and nothing being implemented. The team have chased and on more than one occasion and I have even intervened to find out what is going on (I know the owner on a 1-2-1 basis).

My emails were always met with apologies for the delays, but the situation remained the same. As we approached the end of 2019, I informed the client that we needed to press on as the lack of work on their side was hampering progress and I set a deadline of year-end for implementations to be made.

Nothing materialised and so early January I pulled the plug on the campaign. I stopped their Direct Debit to our account; I halted that working relationship.

Not because of any problem with the relationship, not because of the work, but purely because the client wasn’t playing their part and so common-sense dictates that it makes no sense for our team to continue to work on their account or for that matter for the client to pay us to do the work, if nothing is being acted upon.

It’s an odd situation and I know very few (if any) SEO agencies would willingly call time on a client account when they are happily paying their invoices every month.

But this is the Evergreen difference

The money is secondary to the relationship and what we deliver for that client. I know if the client doesn’t work with us and implement what we’re advising then they won’t get the results. We insist our clients work with us, it must be a 50/50 partnership and when it isn’t, it won’t work, and we’ll walk away.

So this client won’t be getting any further invoices from us, they won’t be getting any further reports from us right now but they have had a very nice email from me, confirming the door is very much still open when their business is in a better place to be able to work with us and act upon our expert research, analysis and recommendations.

I’ve put the client’s needs and situation before our agency’s. Yes, it means we lose a retainer this month and next but in the grand scheme of things, we’ve done right by that client and that means more than anything else.

Let me tell you about the second business I advised to stop/pause their SEO campaign in January

A relatively new start-up business with big plans. This company joined us around October last year. They came into our offices with a fantastic business plan and they knew SEO was key to bringing this to life (and they are right). The team and I were excited to delve into this industry and quickly got to work.

Lots of phone calls, emails, meetings and we collectively felt like great progress was being made. However, the more research we did, the greater the understanding of the business opportunity before them, the more we realised what needed to happen for the SEO to be most effective.

This came to a head in early January with the conclusion being among other things, a new website would be required and more importantly a complete change in how the brand was positioning its core offering.

We had a couple of further meetings and both our team and the client really put our heads together to try and work out what could be done on the SEO front in the here and now while other factors were at play.

I took a few days to really think about it and eventually called the client directly and had a very honest conversation, culminating in my recommendation we put the SEO campaign on hold for a few months so they can pivot the business, launch their new website and really focus on some key business decisions. Once this is done, revert and we’ll be in a much better place to press ahead with the SEO work.

The client was reluctant and even said, “but we’re only halfway through our initial contract with you, we have 3 months left on our existing agreement”.

I knew it was in their best interest not to keep them paying for SEO when it wouldn’t have the greatest impact on their business and so said I was happy to forgo the terms of our contract and forgo the remaining months. They were shocked that I was prepared to effectively forgo several thousand pounds in contracted income.

Again, for me, it’s about what is best for the client and their business over the money to our agency as I think long-term and about our brand credibility.

I know our SEO work won’t be half as effective now for this client as it will be once their business has addressed the issues identified through our research and so I’d rather let them go for now, and have them return when the time is right.  

I’m sure in time, it’ll become another great case study for our agency and they’ll become brand advocates like so many of our existing SEO clients, because we’ve done right by them.

Two very different scenarios, but the same outcome

So, there you have it, two businesses where I have willingly called time as it’s been in the clients’ best interests.

No business likes to lose a client, every account we lose is one to replace and so makes our new-customer acquisition that much harder as we need more new businesses joining us to ensure our agency grows and we can push on.

But, I firmly believe the credibility and longevity of any business is in doing right by the client and so I’ll sacrifice a client and income today for the long-term benefits of being recognised and acknowledged as one of the few SEO agencies that genuinely do right by our clients – whatever their circumstances.

From the first day any business starts working with us, we’ll be completely open, honest and transparent with what we think is best for them and if that means saying no and pointing them in another direction, we’ll gladly do that.

I’ll give you one last fantastic example of how this works so well and why doing right by people, comes full circle often.

In 2018, a one-man-band approached me to help him with SEO for his start-up. He had financial backing, so the money needed wasn’t an issue but from the first phone call and learning what he wanted to do, I knew he was nowhere near being ready for SEO.

I told him straight he wasn’t ready for us, but I would gladly make some introductions to people more suited to what he needed now.

Several emails later, I had introduced him to our web development partner, a branding specialist and a social media expert. He went away and got the business re-branded to be more in line with his target market. He had a new (fantastic) website built. He got some early traction via social media.

This chap had kept me in the loop with occasional emails over the next 8-9 months and I thought nothing of it, then a good 10 months after our first (and only) phone call, he phoned me back and said, “now I’m ready to do SEO”.

We started working together the following month and the trust, respect and understanding was already there from day one.

It’s for reasons like this that The Evergreen Agency is the fastest growing SEO agency around, it’s the reason why we have only 5* reviews across every review site we use and it’s why when I reached out to our clients to ask for video testimonials very recently, they all said yes.

Here is what a handful had to say about working with Evergreen.

If you want to talk to us about working with us and getting the type of SEO service you’ve only ever dreamed of then get in touch.