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When SEO Takes the Blame

Written by and published

When I started out in the SEO world, I took on a lot of responsibility – not just in regards to rankings, but also whether or not clients were seeing an increase in sales.

When I worked with really small businesses, high rankings almost always resulted in increased revenue for them.

But as I started working with larger businesses, I found that even when I did my job really well, some clients still didn’t see increased revenue.

Someone will blame you at some point

Some businesses hire great consultants and agencies, and they get great traffic and conversions – but they don’t get an increase sales.

Sometimes failure is a good thing, because it provides you with data that you can use in the future. I know others agree with this concept as well.

However, a reputable consultant or agency wants people to trust the services they provide, and they don’t want a complaint online (or elsewhere). So when you are blamed, then what?

None of us are perfect, but I have found some common issues at play when clients blame us for lack of sales. Let’s look at two examples of what SEO couldn’t fix – and the key to keeping your reputation intact when clients place the blame on you.

Client A

Client A, a local attorney: Increased traffic by 87%, page 1 rankings for 8 practice areas, #1 in local and 50-60 contact forms filled out monthly.

After six months of seeing no increase in business, the attorney started putting pressure on us. When we inquired about the contact forms, we got no response from the client. He said we should just keep working.

Meanwhile, I and a co-worker had recommended this attorney to different friends. These friends called multiple times, and no one answered the phone or called them back. One used the content form three times and got no response. Hmmmm.

In the end, we discovered the office contacted the leads from the contact forms when they “had time.” #FAIL

Client B

Client B, who sells an expensive product: New website, increased traffic by 250%, rankings were sick, #1 in local, 30 lead forms monthly, 600-700 monthly calls on tracked number and 600 views monthly for “contact and directions”

Sales were very low, and we were questioned about our skills.

Client B’s salespeople were trained to use a CRM for walk-ins, emails, phone calls, leads, etc. However, it was only being used about 100 times monthly when the receptionist reported she checked in an average of 500 people monthly.

Reviews from Google Local, Yelp and a few others showed people complaining about a lack of service, rude behavior or no returned calls.

It wasn’t that we weren’t doing our jobs – the salespeople weren’t doing theirs. The data from the phone tracking, CRM and reviews backed us up.

Measuring is more important for you than your client

In both examples, measurement saved our butts.

Sometimes your clients need to look internally when they are not converting. With the right data to back you up, you can sit down with a client and delicately discuss the possibility that the lack of sales is perhaps an internal problem.

Now, this isn’t always a fun conversation to have, and there are times when no matter what a business hears or sees, it’s easier to blame a consultant or agency. But your data can back you when it comes to an in-person meeting, negative reviews or (God forbid) a possible lawsuit.

Before you start marketing in any way for your clients, you should have various ways to measure the effectiveness of your marketing strategies. When planning strategies, always plan forms of measurement too.

If you have the right data in hand, it’s proof that you have done your job.

Ranking isn’t everything

I put a lot of effort into helping clients understand how to market effectively – and that includes a conversation about rankings.

Ranking can bring people in, but it doesn’t sell for a business. You have to have the right website, content and information in place for the website visitor to increase the odds that they buy on-site, use a contact/lead form or pick up the phone.

When you, as a marketing service provider, work for more than just rankings, you are essentially backing up the quality of your work.

It’s good to explain to clients that ranking isn’t everything from the beginning. Fill them in on marketing strategies that really work, like targeting audiences and doing competitive research, and make sure they support them in-house.

Conversions aren’t just sales

There are many types of conversions, and they each can offer a different kind of measurement for you and the client.

Sometimes it’s enough to bring a visitor in from a certain location, or to get them to move on to a sales page, use a content form or pick up the phone.

In regards to social, we can’t always measure a direct conversion, but the data provides us with enough information to show influence. Tracking URLs from social is a great way to show that social is converting in one way or another.

Measurement is your best friend

For consultants and agencies, measurement is the best friend you can have. It will stand by you, back you up and it will prove that you have done your job.

Invest in the tools you need to measure your work, and make sure you put into place everything you will need to prove that your strategies did their job.

14 Responses to “When SEO Takes the Blame”

  1. GREAT post Melissa. I had a similar situation with my last company where a high profile plastic surgeon was complaining that he wasn’t getting any surgeries even though his calls and web leads were up. After some digging we discovered that the web leads were often ignored or there was no follow up and then thanks to call recording with the doctor’s call tracking software he discovered that his receptionists were incredibly rude to people calling with inquiries and oftentimes would put them on hold for extended periods the second the call was answered. In the end the problem wasn’t our SEO, it was the practice staff that was making the doctor unsuccessful. Thankfully we had the data to show it and recommended he dig deeper into what happens to the lead AFTER it is initiated.

  2. CrawlWall

    Higher traffic doesn’t fix conversion problems on the customer site as most often it’s the site causing the problem, not the SEO unless you picked up the wrong traffic 😉

    • the koon

      Here”s the thing, when you interview a client, and they have no tracking protocol, or crm, then it’s your job as the seo guy to implement that. On average it takes about 3-6 months to change the “mindset” and culture. Great blog by the way!

  3. ronellsmith


    First thing I read this morning, and I was talking to myself all the way through it: “This is the same BS I encounter on the content side of things.” Then I look for the name of the writer for this post, and it’s you…again. Fine damn job.

    After years of being on the content side of things (e.g., writer, editor, reporter, researcher), I’ve become obsessed with SEO/Inbound, which provides me with a richer, fuller, more accurate picture of the work I provide and it’s impact to clients. Another benefit is it makes it far more difficult for clients to blame me for their lackluster initiative. The data, I’ve learned, can also cover your ass.

    Thanks for a fine piece, Melissa.


  4. Dustin Verburg

    Good article, especially the first section about the blame game. It’s pretty simple, though– if you don’t really know someone and you’re giving them money, you’re more likely to blame them than you are to blame your own people.

    Good advice on tracking social, as well.

    Also I’m stoked that your graphic reminds me of the cover to ‘Hospice’ by The Antlers!

  5. Super Nerd Podcast

    Completely and utterly correct on every point. It’s like you watched over my shoulder and wrote a blog on it….lol. I think this is a universal problem for everyone in internet marketing. I like to show where their website ranked for their keywords when we started and where they are today. It always feels good to show a client that they rank #400+ for a keyword that they know rank on page 1. Good Job Melissa! Glad to see you like Star Wars!

  6. Great post…

    After some years into the field I know very well that measurement is your best friend… especially if sales is the goal and if you are confident of your seo.

    Btw… a side question… do you think the Universal analytics code is not showing the right results?

  7. When we work in the SEO field , we have to develop different strategies for each of our clients because everyone has different preferences. Better to communicate well with your client and satisfy him by telling about your progress and the outcome of your inputs.

  8. When we work in the SEO field , we have to develop different strategies for each of our clients because everyone has different preferences. Better to communicate well with your client and satisfy him by telling about your progress and the outcome of your inputs.