Last updated on: February 15, 2024 at 9:54 pm

SEO Client Discovery Calls: Land Great Clients, Avoid Disasters

client discovery call

Think of a discovery call as the first real date between your SEO agency and a potential client. Sure, you want to charm them, but this is also where you find out if there’s true compatibility. A rushed or ill-prepared discovery call leads to bad SEO marriages – mismatched goals, communication breakdowns, and frustration all around.

Table of Contents

This guide isn’t just a question list to read off of a script. It’s about strategically leading the conversation to uncover true goals, find out any roadblocks, and get a sense if this client is actually a good fit. Ultimately, a great discovery call leads to tailored SEO proposals and sets the stage for successful SEO partnerships. Let’s get started!

Step #1: Prepare Like Your Success Depends on It (Because It Kind Of Does)

Pre-call research is non-negotiable. It saves embarrassment and makes the call productive for everyone involved:

  • Website Deep Dive: Look beyond the obvious! Explore navigation quirks, blog structure, current meta tags, and even backlinks using tools like Ahrefs or Semrush. Note down areas that will definitely need discussion.
  • Social Media Presence: Check if they’re active and how they interact with users. This reveals personality and if brand voice is consistent across platforms.
  • Online Reviews: Positive or negative, their reputation shows areas they struggle with (perhaps bad UX? Slow load times?) that you can address.
  • Competitor Analysis: Identify 2-3 main competitors. Check their strengths and weaknesses compared to your potential client. This leads to actionable call insights.

Step #2: Create a Framework, Not a Rigid Script

A list of well-planned questions is essential, but it’s about getting conversation flow. Aim for these areas, adjusting order and question wording if the discussion naturally progresses that way:

  • Introductions and Agenda: Quick intros. Make sure ALL decision-makers are present from the client’s side. State the purpose of the call and how long you expect it to go.
  • Their Background and Understanding of SEO: Briefly summarize what you found in online research. Then, in THEIR words, get them to articulate what they believe SEO involves. This unveils knowledge gaps (or unrealistic expectations) you’ll need to manage later.
  • Business Goals and KPIs: Go beyond ‘we need more traffic’. Ask about revenue targets, launching new products/services, etc. These are what SEO efforts must support.
  • Previous SEO Experience: Get honest. If they had bad luck before, uncovering pain points helps you build trust as a better provider. If they DIY’d, it offers insight into their knowledge level.
  • Target Audience and Ideal Customer: Understand who they’re reaching, and more importantly, who they SHOULD be targeting to boost conversion rates.

Step #3: Ask Questions That Cut to the Core

This isn’t an interrogation, but you’re probing for what drives this client’s business:

  • “WHY” Questions: After stating a basic want (“We need to sell more widgets”), follow up with, “Why is increasing widget sales a current priority for your company?” Understanding deeper motivations makes SEO strategic instead of mere keyword stuffing.
  • Budget Ranges: Be upfront! Ask “Do you have a specific budget in mind for SEO, or a range you are currently considering?” It saves time later if you’re wildly misaligned. Don’t shy away from educating them on realistic costs of high-quality SEO if a mismatch exists.
  • Project Success Metrics: Ask “How will you measure the success of your SEO investment?” Don’t let vague answers slide (‘improved search rankings’ isn’t business success.). Focus on lead generation, sales numbers, customer conversions tied to specific goals.
  • Pain Point Deep-Dive: Instead of just ‘what challenges do you face’, offer “Can you give me a specific example of a missed opportunity in the last 6 months that better SEO might have fixed?”. Forces them to think in tangible loss vs. wishy-washy wants.
  • Decision-Making Process: Who’s the final shot-caller? Are there various stakeholder approvals needed? Knowing this early guides proposal formats and how you structure follow-up.

Step #4: Actively Listen & Observe

What they don’t say is as important. Note tone and energy throughout the call to uncover additional insights:

  • Hesitation vs. Excitement: Do they perk up when discussing organic growth but glaze over when discussing content creation needs? Helps focus services you pitch later.
  • Focus on Features vs. Outcomes: Feature fixated clients (‘we must rank #1 for this term’) need outcome-based education. Reframe: “Top spots mean little if the traffic doesn’t buy”.
  • Buzzwords and Lingo: Do they overuse generic terms (‘holistic marketing’) without examples? It flags client unfamiliarity with SEO and needing more hands-on guidance.
  • Internal Disagreements: If multiple company reps have conflicting answers, tread carefully. This may mean more education required and slower-moving approvals later.

Step #5: Showcase Expertise & Address Objections

The latter part of the call is for YOU to shine. Don’t turn it into a monologue, keep it conversational, but prove you’re the authority they need:

  • Case Studies and Mini-Audits: Tailor a few brief examples related to their industry. Highlight results like you might achieve for them. OR offer a 1-2 point top issue from your pre-call research, with suggested improvement paths to build credibility immediately.
  • Proactively Handle Objections: Been burned by SEO agencies before? Bring it up: “Many businesses had negative experiences. Here’s how we work differently…” Budget tight? Emphasize ROI from SEO.
  • Explain Your Process: Not an in-depth pitch, but a high-level of how you structure campaigns, reports, etc. This instills confidence and avoids mismatched expectations later on.

Step #6: Closing the Call Like a Pro

The goal is to walk away with enough info to create a tailored proposal AND an understanding of what happens next.

  • Summarize Key Takeaways: Briefly re-iterate the client’s main goals and biggest challenges. This shows you actively listened and verifies correct understanding.
  • Realistic Timelines: Be honest about when to expect initial proposal drafts. Avoid overpromising to make a sale and then later under-delivering!
  • Follow-Up Format: Explain whether you’ll follow up via email with a summarized proposal or schedule another call to review your recommended path forward. This clarity manages expectations.
  • Questions for Them: Flip the script! “Do you have any questions for me before we conclude? This surfaces lingering uncertainty before you walk off the call.
  • Gratitude and Anticipation: Don’t get cheesy, but genuinely thank them for their time. “I’m truly excited by the potential…” conveys professionalism without coming off desperate.

Step #7: Crucial Post-Call Follow-Up

Within 24 hours of a stellar discovery call, you need follow-up actions:

  • Internal Debrief: Even with notes, discuss with your team. Fresh perspectives ensure nothing was missed, brainstorm strong proposal themes.
  • Proposal Start: Don’t write it entirely from scratch. Have existing outlines and case studies you modify per client for efficiency.
  • Thank You Email: Short and sweet! Restate main goal, timeline for full proposal, and contact info if new questions arise in the meantime.

A Note About “Bad Fit” Clients

Not everyone should be your customer. Recognize the signs in a discovery call that the relationship is likely to fail:

  • Price Obsession: If ONLY focused on being the cheapest agency, they prioritize short-term cost over long-term goals. Politely walk away unless you want to be in endless haggling matches.
  • Unrealistic ROI Expectations: “If you don’t get us #1 Google spot in months you’re fired…” SEO takes time. Manage expectations or refuse them as a client to protect your agency’s reputation.
  • Micro-Control Mania: Some clients ‘know better’ about SEO than you, despite needing your help. Set boundaries from the start, otherwise you’ll be micromanaged to death. “That’s a great thought, we typically see success implementing it this way…” firmly guides while respecting their input.

Additional Discovery Call Tips

  • Virtual “Handshake”: Video calls beat audio-only. Facial expressions add an invaluable layer of understanding.
  • Record and Take Notes: Ask permission first, but this lets you analyze conversations post-call. Focus fully on your client, not scribbling!
  • Timekeeping : Show up on time, honor the scheduled call length. Going way over makes you seem disorganized, cutting calls short appears rude.

Step #8: From Good Calls to Winning Proposals

A client may love you on the call, but a weak proposal blows it. Think strategically, focusing on THEIR value, not just a service list:

  • Executive Summary: Don’t bury the good stuff! A brief high-level overview restates the client’s main goal, pain point, and your core strategy to address it all. Busy decision-makers appreciate this first, then dig into details as desired.
  • Tailored Services: Avoid generic packages. Based on the call, suggest bespoke options (more in-depth for complex sites, or leaner for focused local SEO). Shows it isn’t mass-produced.
  • Data-Driven Insights: Weave those pre-call research nuggets throughout! “Your top keyword ‘X’ currently offers limited opportunity. However, competitor vulnerabilities ‘Y’ and rising keyword trend ‘Z’ indicate strong potential in a slightly adjusted strategy…”
  • Quantifiable Results: Tie in expected ROI. If they want more leads, “Our average client in your industry has a 15% conversion rate from site to qualified lead”. This grounds proposals in tangibles.
  • Clear Timeline & Deliverables: Break down a larger campaign into clear steps and reporting cadence. “Month 1: On-Page Optimization | Month 2: Technical SEO Fixes and Content Creation…” Avoid murky language!
  • Showcase Testimonials: Especially ones tailored to services the proposal proposes, and clients in a similar industry. Builds trust when considering making an investment.

Proposal Presentation

When possible, don’t just email a PDF. Schedule a presentation (even quick virtual ones) to:

  • Gauge Reactions: Watch your client’s face as they read specific parts. It offers immediate insight into any budget anxieties or areas needing further explanation.
  • Proactively Address Objections: “Some clients worry about SEO taking too long… Here’s how we accelerate gains even as foundation work goes on…” Don’t let unanswered doubts fester till your client ghosts you.
  • Manage Expectations: Clearly lay out roles and responsibilities – both yours AND theirs. SEO isn’t magic; if collaboration breaks down, results will too.

Additional Proposal Enhancements

  • About Us Section: Keep it minimal! They liked you enough to get this far. Use your ‘About’ to briefly reiterate values and niche alignment with their company.
  • Investment Options: A few tiered levels (Good, Better, Best) anchor price comparisons instead of open-ended bidding. Makes the most appealing one seem ‘just right’.
  • Visual Appeal: Simple branding goes a long way. Don’t get carried away with design over content, but visually bland documents fail to stand out. Canva and similar tools make this easy.

Step #9: The Dreaded Follow-Up (And How To Survive It)

So, you sent the dream proposal… and it’s met with radio silence. Don’t despair, this is normal! Here’s how to follow up effectively:

  • The Timeline Trick: Be clear in your proposal what to expect. “I’ll reach out next week to answer any questions and discuss our next steps.” It takes away that ‘Do I bother them?’ fear for your client.
  • Multiple Contact Avenues: Don’t just repeat that original email thread. Try a call, even a brief LinkedIn message for top decision-makers. Varying platforms increases chances of your message hitting their radar.
  • Objection Pre-Empting: In your follow-up, address common hesitation, “Typically clients wonder when to expect initial results, here’s how we manage that…” removes need for the client to even bring it up.
  • Focus on THEIR Questions: Frame your follow-up email not as “Did you sign yet?” but “Do you have any additional questions? I want to ensure you have all the information needed to make a confident decision.”
  • Don’t Fall into Discount Traps: Their delay is NOT your failure. Offering immediate price slashing weakens your position. “Is budget the primary concern? Here’s how we can adjust service scope… ” leads to more productive conversations.

When It’s Time to Walk Away

Sometimes it’s obvious they aren’t serious. Recognize these warning signs, cutting your losses early:

  • Endless “Maybe Later” Answers: A clear ‘no’ is more respectful than being strung along. Don’t waste your agency’s time on perpetual non-starters.
  • Ghosting You Entirely: If multiple polite and varied follow-ups are met with silence, accept the deal is dead. It’s rude on their part, but not worth chasing leads who clearly have zero interest.
  • “Your Competitor Offered Cheaper…” Bargain Hunters: It’s fine to defend value-based rates, but walk away if they ONLY prioritize low price with zero quality concerns. These almost inevitably turn into problem clients.

Additional Considerations

  • Internal Follow-Up Analysis: If good-fit proposals keep fizzling out, it’s a sign something in YOUR process needs review. Are prices off-base for your market? Perhaps clients need another education touchpoint before closing?
  • “Keep Warm” Outreach: Even if it’s not the right time, stay on their radar! Send valuable insights you find about their industry. This ensures you stay top of mind if their situation changes.

Scenario #1: The “We Need to Think About It” Stall

The discovery call went great, your proposal rocks, then…. vague promises of getting back to you that last weeks…or even months! Here’s how to keep momentum:

  • Uncovering the Root Cause: Instead of blindly chasing them down, strategize first. Did the key decision-maker change? Were budget cuts announced since your call? A targeted question is more disarming than generic reminders.
  • Offering Value-Adds: “While you consider the proposal, I came across this new trend about (relevant to their industry)…Thought you might find it insightful.” Positions you as partner, not just a desperate vendor.
  • The Timeline Push: Gently set a new deadline. “Would checking back next Friday still work with your decision process, or are you on a tighter timeline?” Sometimes open-endedness causes procrastination.

Scenario #2: Fixated on Immediate Results

SEO is a long game, yet some clients only expect ‘instant magic’. Managing those expectations is crucial:

  • Honesty, NOT Hype: Avoid promising ‘First Page Google in a week’ to land the sale. Set clear early milestones – technical fixes, initial keyword research, a content roadmap for gradual and long-term success.
  • Mini-Case Studies: Show “quick wins” alongside more in-depth results timelines. “While larger search ranking shifts take time, clients typically see an almost immediate 30% reduction in bounce rate once we address these urgent UX issues….”. Shows early signs of progress while managing larger goals honestly.
  • Competitor Insights: Explain the ‘Why’ behind their competitors’ current rankings. Underlines the investment of work & time needed not just by you, but anyone offering legitimate SEO success.

Scenario #3: “Your Costs Are Higher Than I Expected” Objection

Don’t flinch! This is a chance to defend value-based pricing, not apologize for your hard work.

  • Break Down the Numbers: Don’t just list services, highlight hours involved. Clients often underestimate the labor for quality keyword research, content creation, link building, etc. Make that time investment tangible.
  • ROI as the Anchor: Frame pricing in terms of return on investment. “You’d need to sell an additional $X worth of product monthly to cover SEO costs. Based on typical conversion rates, we expect an additional $(triple $X) in sales.”
  • “Starter Package” Option: IF it makes sense, present one with significantly scaled-back services. Emphasize it’s for short-term testing; success here acts as your foot in the door for wider-scope work later.

Bonus Tip: Your Mindset Matters

Confidence in your services makes ALL the difference in your client interactions. Instead of fearing hesitation, look at it as opportunity to prove WHY you’re worth the investment.

Scenario #4: The “My Cousin’s Nephew Does This Cheaper” Moment

You hear these comparisons (usually to lowball freelancers, students, or “gurus” that overpromise and underdeliver). Let’s turn this into a chance to position your agency as the expert:

  • Don’t Trash-Talk the Competition: Focus on YOUR agency’s value. “Sometimes lower prices mean cutting corners – rushed keyword choices, mass-produced content. That can actively harm your results, even if rankings may see a brief rise.”
  • Highlight Track Record: Showcase case studies showing sustainable wins. “Short-term, ‘cheap’ tactics may yield temporary bumps, but we emphasize consistency. Check out what we achieved for this client that has remained steady for several years…”
  • Hidden Costs in “Cheap”: Remind clients that low-cost services often bring hidden frustrations. “With less experienced solo contractors, you might lose time on constant clarification, project delays, or the need to pay someone else to fix poorly done work later on.”
  • Package Differentiation: Instead of matching penny to penny, consider tiered packages. Your highest tier showcases superior service, more hand-holding (ideal for time-strapped clients) and access to more experienced strategists. Suddenly, you’re not directly compared to an inexperienced bargain offer.

Scenario #5: When Client Knowledge Actually BECOMES the Barrier

Some clients “dabbled” in SEO themselves, or once heard that one webinar… it gives them a dangerous veneer of false confidence. Here’s how to win them over:

  • Respect + Reorientation: Don’t be dismissive! “It’s fantastic you’re proactive! However, Google algorithms evolve. Here’s what’s changed since (X tactic they bring up) was widespread…”
  • Data-Driven Guidance: Their gut feelings meet YOUR concrete metrics. “I agree that targeting (the client’s idea) makes sense at first glance, but tools like SEMrush reveal low search volume in this niche. Instead, let’s pursue these related terms for a much higher success probability.”
  • The Risk Factor: Frame it as protection of their investment. “Outdated tactics risk Google penalties. We stay ahead of best practice, so you avoid sudden traffic loss while competitors get ahead.”

Additional Techniques to Consider:

  • Trial Periods: Short-term focused projects ease in clients unsure about long-term commitments. This is less financially ideal, but can be powerful proof of the expertise you bring.
  • Guarantees (Cautiously Used): Avoid guaranteeing specific rankings, but perhaps an increase in site traffic or qualified leads by X% after a set timeframe can instill confidence.
  • The Long-Game Mentality: Some clients simply won’t budge – it’s their loss! Be firm but friendly, leaving the door open if they realize low-ball providers offer nothing truly lasting.

Scenario #6: “How Long Will This Take?” – Managing Time Sensitivity

The desire for rapid results is one thing, but some clients genuinely have time pressures due to upcoming product launches, sales initiatives, etc. It’s about making these expectations realistic:

  • “Quick Wins” + Long Game: Always frame SEO as a multi-stage approach. Discuss how initial technical fixes, content optimization, etc., create foundational improvements while strategic, higher-competition work unfolds in parallel. This offers an ‘early sign of life’ even when deeper goals may need months.
  • Phased Reporting: Don’t overwhelm with jargon-heavy monthly reports. Offer short updates showing small incremental gains. A simple line graph showing an upward trend in keyword rankings, increased organic referral traffic, etc., makes otherwise invisible progress tangible.
  • Milestone Celebration: Don’t just communicate when things go wrong! Highlighting significant progress points – breaking into the first Google page, or when your efforts helped surpass a seasonal sales goal – reinforces ongoing value even if full “domination” of all desired keywords remains in progress.

Scenario #7: Locked into Long Contracts – Flexibility Concerns

Large upfront commitments cause fear. Consider alternatives that minimize risks while keeping steady service focus:

  • Quarterly Check-Ins: While some ongoing work is mandatory, offer a formal point at the end of each quarter where campaigns can be assessed, budgets reconsidered, and service goals re-evaluated. This builds trust, demonstrating responsiveness instead of just being contractually bound.
  • Project-Based “Boosts”: Consider adding an addendum clause about ‘booster’ phases. A new product launches? Focus a dedicated short-term SEO campaign around its target audience, supporting other ongoing site efforts. This allows scaling services seamlessly.
  • Transparent Exit Clauses: It makes you look stronger, not weaker. “Should your financial situation drastically change, we offer a 30-day termination, ensuring that a past business investment with us doesn’t turn into a hardship.” Few will abuse this, valuing the honesty.

Scenario #8: “We Expect Constant Back-And-Forth” – The Client Who Wants Control

They fear agencies that go dark for months, delivering a surprise at the end that misses the mark. Here’s how to strike the ideal collaboration balance:

  • The Collaboration Agreement: This shouldn’t just be about payment terms. Set a schedule upfront – when to expect initial drafts, strategy calls, progress updates… even if rough at first, this structure creates less panic and micromanagement tendencies.
  • Define Client Responsibilities: You need their timely content approvals, access to analytics, etc. Be explicit – if that falls behind, project delays aren’t solely your agency’s fault. Setting this right off the bat makes for smoother work later.
  • Internal Agency Processes: If sudden client demands derail your work constantly, it’s a problem your side needs to solve. Tools like Asana or similar can track task status, reducing reliance on email chaos and improving overall organization.

Scenario #9: “But We MUST Optimize for THIS Term” – When Insistence Trumps Data

Sometimes, clients cling to a term they have emotional investment in, regardless of search volume or competition. Here’s how to balance their business sense with your expertise:

  • “Why” Uncovered: What’s the core belief behind their term choice? A past PPC success? The CEO’s gut feeling? Uncovering the reasoning allows for tailored explanations instead of blanket ‘data says no’.
  • Competitor Leverage: Research who IS ranking for that term. “Competitor X holds the spot due to domain authority and backlink strategy we’ll need to outmatch for success, which requires this long-term investment…” Makes it less personal and more strategic.
  • Alternative Angles: Rarely is it all or nothing. Show “nearby” opportunities – long-tail variations, semantically related searches WITH volume. “While focusing only on [high desire term] is risky, optimizing for these similar ones gets your foot in the door…”
  • A/B Testing (if resources allow): If all else fails, sometimes ‘proof’ is best. “I hear you. Let’s run a limited-scope campaign targeting the main term alongside these alternatives. Data after three months will clearly illuminate where to focus future spending.”

Scenario #10: The Internal Politics Barrier

Larger companies come with multiple decision-makers. Marketing gets you, but a higher-up derails everything based on personal whim. This needs navigation finesse:

  • The Ally Game: Is there someone internally on your side? Schedule strategic touchpoints to “check in” so when you present results to everyone, they’re already primed with the positives.
  • Quantify EVERYTHING: Vague wins won’t convince naysayers. Tie SEO back to business goals THEY care about. If the CMO is sales-driven, emphasize new leads via traffic analysis, rather than geeking out about rankings alone.
  • Speak Their Language: Leave SEO lingo aside. Frame outcomes through language specific to their industry and role. Don’t sound like just another vendor, but a strategic partner invested in their core needs.

Additional ‘Red Flag’ Clients to Consider

Not all clients are worth winning. Proactively filter these during discovery calls if possible:

  • “Trend Chasers”: Clients demanding instant ‘viral TikTok’ moments are unreliable. SEO doesn’t align with overnight fads and can get your agency scrambling to fulfill unreasonable expectations.
  • The “One Trick Pony”: Clients obsessed with a single technique (backlinks ONLY, etc.) have limited understanding of holistic SEO best practices. Your efforts end up hamstrung.
  • The Guru Hunters: Clients constantly hopping between agencies or freelancers are searching for magical fixes that simply don’t exist. They end up disappointed and blame it on you, not their lack of commitment.

Recognizing situations that signal a potentially difficult client relationship is a crucial skill for any SEO agency. Having those antennae upfront could make the difference between a fruitful partnership and an exhausting uphill battle. Let’s look at some examples I’ve experienced firsthand:

Case #1: The “SEO Savior” Obsession

During the discovery call, the client is hyper-focused on past failures with other providers. They paint a picture of being chronically wronged by incompetent agencies, emphasizing unrealistic results they were promised in the past.

  • Why it’s a red flag: This often speaks to a lack of realistic expectations about both timelines and achievable outcomes. Such clients may become disillusioned quickly, even when your actions are data-driven and methodical. Additionally, this negativity sets the tone for a relationship more likely to be defined by accusations rather than collaboration.
  • Spotting cues: Listen for excessive use of words like “scammed,” “tricked,” or any variations hinting at previous bad experiences. They may fixate on the question “How can you guarantee success when others failed?”
  • How to mitigate: Manage expectations proactively throughout the onboarding process. Transparency and consistent progress updates are essential. It’s also wise to set firm project-scope boundaries early to avoid the dreaded scope creep.

Case #2: The Black Box Budget Client

The conversation is light on budget discussion. When pressed, the client remains evasive, with excuses like “We just want the best solution, money isn’t an issue.” Or conversely, they have a very small amount and expect outsized overnight results.

  • Why it’s a red flag: Lack of upfront discussion or willingness to tie resources realistically to objectives indicates a mismatch between the client’s aspirations and real-world limitations. With an unlimited budget, you might have more of a fighting chance. But most scenarios need clear expectations regarding investment vs. potential results.
  • Spotting cues: Discomfort discussing finances, or phrases like “Just send your proposal and we’ll go from there” without clarifying what budget they are working within.
  • How to mitigate: Be assertive yet realistic about costs during the discovery call. Frame proposals around various potential tiers to gauge what truly fits within their means. Educate them on investment being proportionate to the level of desired outcomes.

Case #3: “We Know What We’re Doing” Syndrome

This client has a surface-level understanding of SEO and throws technical terms around confidently. They question your every recommendation, prioritize obscure ‘insider’ tactics, and micromanage your team into the ground.

  • Why it’s a red flag: Overconfidence on the client’s part can lead to disagreements, constant questioning of your expertise, and delayed execution of a cohesive strategy. SEO’s ever-changing nature means even seasoned pros must always stay in learning mode.
  • Spotting cues: Extensive use of buzzwords or fixation on outdated techniques. A dismissive attitude regarding insights gained from your pre-call research, emphasizing that they “know more” about their own website’s structure than you possibly could.
  • How to mitigate: Set clear communication channels and establish yourself as the authority. Offer case studies and demonstrate past successes relevant to their industry. Emphasize teamwork and data-driven approaches as vital for sustained SEO success.

Case #4: The Unclear Decision-Maker

The discovery call may feature several company representatives…all talking a good game with varying ideas of what success ‘looks like’. Yet, it becomes confusing who holds the final authority for sign-offs.

  • Why it’s a red flag: Projects flounder without a single, decisive “lead” for your contact point. Campaign progress slows if approvals require committee voting or hierarchical bottlenecks. Worse, a lack of unified direction may cause your agency to get mixed messages, doing and redoing work to appease conflicting voices.
  • Spotting cues: During the call, pay attention to how participants interact with each other. Does one person defer to another’s judgment more than others? Is there any indication of internal struggle between departments that becomes apparent as you discuss priorities?
  • How to mitigate: Proactively ask, with a friendly attitude, “Would someone be the designated primary project contact responsible for communicating with our team?”. If this remains vague, suggest the possibility of regularly scheduled touchpoints with relevant decision-makers for streamlining your process.

Case #5: The “Can You Copy a Competitor” Request

They saw one SEO tactic working for a competitor and assume direct plagiarism will yield the same results for them. It shows a shallow understanding of the unique interplay of factors making any SEO campaign successful.

  • Why it’s a red flag: Focus on replicating others often signals a lack of own brand identity. Additionally, it may involve ethically grey areas – outright copying of content, or shady link-building techniques that get penalized.
  • Spotting cues: Phrases like “But Company X uses this exact strategy…” or heavy emphasis on replicating the design and keyword choices of others without clear reasoning for relevance to their particular target audience or goals.
  • How to mitigate: Steer the conversation toward understanding what the client ADMIRED about the competitor’s work. You can dissect these observations to offer actionable steps while staying original and ethical within SEO best practices. Highlight specific differences between their business model and the competitor – this showcases your analytical acumen.

Case #6: “But my CEO’s nephew wants us to…” Syndrome

A random internal family, social connection, or even a distant acquaintance suddenly offers SEO solutions and management within the client’s company. While usually well-intended, they lack experience and can become an undue influence if their role isn’t properly defined.

  • Why it’s a red flag: If nepotism is prioritized over experience, your proven strategy suffers interference. Your reports have an additional audience you lack a relationship with, often less receptive to the nuances of data-driven recommendations.
  • Spotting cues: Seemingly offhand mentions of a person within the company with “web design knowledge” or a casual dismissal of the need for an external provider due to the belief that someone can handle it in-house.
  • How to mitigate: Position your offering as expertise filling gaps left by general IT/web knowledge. You are a specialist. If this remains a struggle, it’s a valid reason to walk away before the project even starts, saving you the headache of managing internal politics outside your paygrade!

Finding Your Ideal SEO Client: Characteristics of a Successful Partnership

Beyond budgets and project scope, these intangible traits help create those long-term collaborations every agency seeks:

  • Open to Learning: The best clients aren’t SEO know-it-alls but understand they’ve hired experts for a reason. They ask questions, engage with your explanations, and embrace change based on industry shifts you track.
  • Clear Internal Communication: Your main point of contact has actual decision-making power (or a direct line to whoever does). Projects won’t stall from a bottleneck of approvals, with your team caught in the middle.
  • Mutual Respect: A good client doesn’t see you as an interchangeable ‘vendor’ but an extension of their success. You feel seen as the skilled professional you are, not merely a hired laborer open to demeaning requests and unrealistic deadlines.
  • Realistic Timelines: Even those needing urgent work understand that some aspects of SEO take time. You’re partners in the long game, where consistent growth outweighs short-term, volatile trends.
  • Data-Driven Approach: Great clients value insights gleaned from tracking tools. They see the value of comprehensive reporting and aren’t just fixated on vanity metrics.
  • Willingness to Invest: Your time is money. Those who recognize this fact are upfront about budgets, and comfortable scaling those budgets when your agency demonstrates success worth greater expenditure.

Attracting the Right Kind of Clients

Your agency reputation speaks volumes. Here’s how to signal you attract this ideal type:

  • Specialization: Don’t be all things to all businesses. Niche expertise shows dedication to solving specific industry challenges, drawing exactly who needs your solutions.
  • Client Testimonials and Case Studies: Success stories with quantifiable results (not vanity metrics) demonstrate your ability to positively impact business goals, weeding out those looking only for the cheapest deal.
  • Your Own Content: Maintaining an informed blog, active social presence, or contributing insightful posts on platforms like LinkedIn highlights your industry expertise and helps ideal clients self-select into working with you.

A Final Note

It’s tempting, particularly for newer agencies, to prioritize saying ‘yes’ to everyone. But the cost in time, morale, and even reputation can become an unbearable burden. This guide provides tools to spot mismatches early, giving you the confidence to pursue ONLY the types of clients that foster success for both the client and your agency. Your ideal project partners ARE out there – now you have a strategic, no-nonsense way to find them!


jay kang

An entrepreneur and SEO expert, is the driving force behind innovative platforms like, and more. Committed to empowering marketers, Jay continues to make a positive impact in the digital marketing space.

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