Having worked with companies both large and small for almost a decade now, I have learned that there are fundamental principles that both parties must follow if they are going to have a successful SEO relationship. And that is what SEO truly is – a relationship or better yet, a partnership between the two parties.

Like any partnership, there are do’s and don’ts that each party must practice if the relationship is to be a success. While not a complete list, I have put together ten important things to practice in order to have a successful SEO relationship.

1. Select a Suitable Partner

While advice is often given on how to select an SEO firm, equally important is advice for the SEO to select a client to work with. Those wishing to hire an SEO firm should do their due diligence and select a firm that is qualified, can work within their industry, and is one whom they feel comfortable with.

But often overlooked is the scrutiny that an SEO firm can place on their client selection process. More often than not, established SEOs are turning away projects for one reason or another. Client’s budget is too small, their expectations are too high, their site is new and/or of little quality, they require the SEO firm to respond to a traditional RFP, or they may already have other clients in that industry.

My company automatically excludes sites dealing with pornography, gambling, (most) affiliate sites and even online pharmacies but we have also turned down real estate agents, mortgage brokers, gift sites and the like not only because the market may already saturated but also due to the fact that the potential client in no way has the budget or resources to compete with those who already dominate. In reality, we want to work with sites in which we have confidence that there will be success. That does not always rely of sheer talent of the SEO but what the client has to bring to the table as well.

2. Clearly Define the Terms and Expectations

Once the two parties decide to do business with another, terms and expectations must be defined. What will the SEO actually do – on page optimization, site improvement, content creation, link building, linkbait development, social media optimization, other? Will the client pay all at once, in stages or will a performance based option be offered? Will ongoing campaign maintenance be provided and at what cost? Aside from budget, ho will be the responsible party to ensure the SEO strategy is actually implemented?

Additionally the clients expectations or goals should be defined. What are they looking to accomplish as a result of the SEO work? Top rankings for specific keywords and/or phrases, increased brand awareness, increased traffic, attracting subscribers, increased conversions or all of the above.

SEO is not just about rankings. It never has been. While the main goal is to increase search visibility in the organic (natural) search results, there is much more to it because ultimately, clients want to grow their businesses as a result of their investment.

3. Lay a Firm Foundation (Keyword Research)

Thinking with me for a moment about physical structures such as buildings or even the home you live in. Would you not agree that the foundation is as important as the building itself?

Take your house for example. We have all heard horror stories about foundations that crack or even sink because the ground wasn’t properly prepared. As a result, the house that sits on top of the foundation sinks as well. The structure atop the foundation may be of the highest craftsmanship using the best materials available but because the foundation is faulty, the building on top will not stand the test of time.

SEO campaigns are very similar. Without a solid foundation, they will not bring forth the fruit that is being sought – highly targeted traffic that converts.

And what is the foundation of an SEO campaign? Keyword research! It is not only important to select keywords and phrase that people are actually searching for, but keywords that will fulfill the ultimate goals of those marketing the web site.

This requires good keyword data that tools such as Keyword Discovery can provide as well as a lot of common sense. In some cases it may even be beneficial to test keyword strategy with PPC (pay per click) before laying the foundation of an SEO campaign. PPC can allow one to see what works and what does not in a relatively short period of time.

4. Document SEO Strategy in Writing

It is important to document everything in writing, both the initial strategy as well as anything ongoing. Not only is the SEO providing the client a written blueprint of the strategy that is being developed for their site, it can become useful in scenarios when ‘stuff happens.’ “What kind of stuff can can happen”, you ask? Oh, things like design tweaks, re-writing content, shopping cart/database applications upgrades, site redesigns, etc. Unfortunately many times these things take place without the SEO’s prior knowledge.

Having a documented SEO strategy creates a reference point should it need to be re-implemented at some point in time. In the same way a geographical map will help us get back on course when we are lost, having a documented SEO strategy allows it to be re-implemented when it suddenly disappears or is altered for one reason or another.

5. Decide Who Will Implement the SEO Strategy

Will the client allow the SEO to actually ‘touch’ the web site or not? Most often the answer is no, especially with the larger companies. In most cases it is easier for the SEO firm to have access to make changes to the site due to the fact that it is often easier to do the work yourself than to follow up to make sure someone else did.

Exceptions to this include changes that have to actually be done by a programmer such as with a large database or shopping cart application. The bottom line is to make sure somebody does it.

If the client will implement changes, it is typically not an issue in the beginning. This is especially true if they are paying some type of set-up costs. However, getting modifications approved and implemented on a ongoing can be problematic. Both parties really need to come to the conclusion that SEO is an ongoing strategy that requires a continuous effort by both parties.

6. Keep a Record of All Correspondence

Make sure you keep a record of all correspondence. This is one of the reasons why I hate phones and love email. With email, everything is documented, that is if you archive all email correspondence. Not only do we keep a folder for each client that contains original contracts, contact info, FTP info, payment details and the like, we archive every email that is of importance. If they are of the type that likes to communicate via telephone, we keep a log of what was discussed. This is all done so it can be referenced if needed.

In any relationship there are bound to be indifferences which many times can be the result of misunderstandings. He said, she said and the like. That is where records can come in handy. I don’t know how many times archived emails or records have helped me remind a client of something they agreed to or even help me remember something I had forgotten. As much as it is within your power, record and document everything.

7. Measure Progress (or Lack Thereof)

In the old days, static ranking reports may have been sufficient for measuring the success of an SEO campaign. With today’s analytics programs, there is so much more potential to really get a feel as to whether an SEO campaign is meeting a client’s goals or not. Top positions are nice but what is those particular top spots are not converting well or even worse, not bringing any traffic whatsoever?

A good web analytics programs such as ClickTracks will go far beyond the static ranking reports of old and understand the behavior of the traffic that is arriving at the site. This knowledge will help both parties adjust their strategy to make best use of search visibility as well as best serve traffic that arrives to the site.

8. SEOs – Act Upon Statistical Data

Providing reports and statistical data on how a campaign is running is great but one must also take actions in response to how the campaign is actually performing.

For example, a client may be ranking very well for a set of keywords but if your analytics program shows you that those keywords are not converting well, it may be time to change keyword strategy. In another scenario you may find that people are leaving just before they complete a transaction such as in an e-commerce environment. This should lead to a discovery as to why this is occurring.

These and multiple other issues could arise. It is up to the SEO to work together with the client to ensure the campaign is performing at its peak and fulfilling all the goals the client is seeking.

9. Clients – Act Upon SEO’s Strategy

This becomes an issue more often than I would like. The SEO develops strategic strategy designed to help improve the campaign but the client does not respond or act upon the advice. This can include modifications to the web site, suggestions to start a link building campaign or any number of things that either need the client’s approval of their assistance.

When the client delays in responding to the whatever the SEO is trying to accomplish, it can stop the progress of the campaign dead in its tracks. Later on the client gets upset because goals aren’t being reached but all the while it is their fault because they have not cooperated with the SEO to ensure strategy is actually being acted upon or implemented.

10. Have a Mutual Respect For One Another

For any relationship to be successful, both parties must share a mutual respect for one another. What does this entail? For the SEO it can mean not sharing details of the client’s campaign publicly unless you get their permission, not taking on their competitors as clients, and being readily available to them when they wish to contact you.

For the client it can include treating the SEO more like a partner as opposed to just another vendor, respecting their time knowing that they have other clients besides yourself, and making sure they are paid on time.


There you have it, not a complete list but some of the more important ones I have experienced in my ten years of doing this stuff.

David Wallace

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses.

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