How to Eliminate the Dreaded SEO Campaign Expectations Gap

When it comes to working with clients – one thing I’ve noticed that always varies – are expectations.

Some clients have realistic expectations – they understand that the process takes time. They understand the work involved. They work with us, not against us. They do whatever they can to help and make the process easier. In simple terms, they take on a long term approach when it comes to their online marketing and SEO strategies – whilst other clients unfortunately expect everything to happen in the first week.

This of course isn’t through any fault of their own (although some clients border on just being plain rude) but for most, they just don’t understand the process, and the amount of work that’s needed in order to make things happen. This is why when I get a new client onboard, or I have a prospect send me an enquiry, I always show them my entire SEO process – which outlines every step of a typical campaign, so they know exactly what work is going to be done.

In this article, I’m going to be looking a bit closer at those processes, and in particular focus on the dreaded “SEO expectations gap”, which can mean the difference between a highly successful campaign, where everything “just works” and a campaign that fails completely – usually ending in the client wanting too much too soon, and the campaign is stopped because results didn’t come quick enough.

Okay, lets have a look firstly, at a typical 12 month SEO campaign, and how it looks over time. To show you this example, I’m going to use the following chart, with each section broken down into numerical stages. See below.

Be mindful that this is just a rough guide, and that every campaign is different.

Typical SEO campaign

Okay, so what does this graphic tell us?

As you can see, I’ve added some numbers here to represent what I think are some key stages in the process. Let’s have a closer look at each one.

  1. As you can see, during the first month, nothing much seems to happen at all. This is pretty normal, however be mindful that I am not speaking on behalf of other agencies. It should be noted here that rankings generally tend to take time. In my experience, the faster you get rankings, the quicker you lose them. The first month is usually always the slowest, and this is where impatient clients blow it because they want to see results too soon.
  2. The next stage of the process is almost always very volatile with quite a lot going on. As you can see in the diagram, during this stage of the process, rankings and the overall performance of the clients website might be bouncing around all over the place – again, this is normal and to be expected.
  3. As you can see during this stage of the campaign, there begins an upward trend, things are definitely starting to head in the right direction – but overall, fluctuations are still present, and a little bit unstable with the chart sort of once again, bouncing around up and down all over the place. This is pretty typical.
  4. Okay, number 4, and by this stage of the campaign, we’re well into it. Infact by 6 to 7 months in, we should really starting to be making some considerable advances. Not only in terms of rankings, but by now, conversions should be killing it, enquiries should be coming in, rankings and traffic should be up, the website should be performing in all areas, and the client should be getting a huge return on investment.
  5. Alright, this is where the campaign is seriously established – almost a year in – and the client is dominating the space of which they operate in. By now, traffic, rankings, conversions, sales, leads, and every other aspect of the website should be well and truly refined and performing at maximum capacity. This is where the client really gets the best returns, and so long as they continue on with the guidance they have received from us – they will continue to do so, well into the future. Even after their campaign finishes.

Now let’s have a look at how some clients might see the same process.

Here’s what a typical campaign might look like to many clients

Again on this graph, as I did on the previous one, I’ve added in some numbers on key stages throughout the campaign. However in this case, these are stages as seen by a lot of clients. Let’s go through them.

  1. The initial stage. Most clients understand that nothing is going to happen straight out of the box, but *something* should be happening. In a lot of cases, (especially for impatient clients) they get twitchy and start sending silly emails and phone calls daily – sometimes numerous times a day asking, “Where are we up to?”, “What’s going on?”. Infact I’ve had clients that do this – even though I’ve explained the process to them, and it’s quite annoying. For clients that do this, I know they’ll never stick around long enough to see numbers 4 and 5 on the previous diagram, which is a real shame.
  2. By the second month things should be moving towards the “definite” on the chart. You’ll notice that there’s no signs of fluctuation either. No dips or flatlines – just a steady upward trend.
  3. After 3 months things should definitely be hauling ass – and if they’re not, many clients are on the blower, calling with comments such as, “What’s going on?”, “How much longer?”, “I’m thinking about cancelling and going somewhere else”, etc etc. Again, you’ll notice that according to the way a lot of clients see it – things should only be moving up, not sideways, or down – EVER.
  4. And finally, the checkered flag. By 4 months or soon afterwards (certainly by 6 months or so) many clients think the race has been won, and because they’re at the top of Google for a handful of terms that the campaign is done, and that they never have to worry about any form of online marketing ever again. They’re going to be first in Google forever. So wrong.

Let’s now overlap the two charts.

The dreaded ‘SEO expectations’ gap

As you can see, there is a huge discrepancy between the two graphs. This is what unfortunately leads to a lot of clients feeling let down, a lot of SEO professionals feeling frustrated, or both.

How can this problem be solved?

The best way to solve the problem is to prevent it from happening, right from the outset.

When working with clients, I provide them with as much information as possible, including a complete overview of our process and what’s involved and typical timelines. Of course, there are no guarantees, but I feel the more information you provide to the client, the better. In simple terms, setting expectation levels early is essential to prevent any issues either during a campaign or afterwards. On the other hand, clients need to understand that any form of online marketing takes time – just as any form of marketing does.

SEO is not instant.

I generally avoid clients that say, “If we don’t see any results after 3 months, then we’ll cancel”. Instead, I’m more than happy to help clients that say, “We’re looking at improving the performance of our website by 30% within 8 months”. That’s not because I want to try and make as much money as possible – it’s simply because I know I will have enough time to be able to actually help them.

You don’t walk into a gym and say, “If I don’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in 3 months, I’m cancelling my membership”. That would be ridiculous.

In summary

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, is that nothing destroys an SEO campaign quicker than the dreaded SEO expectations gap. Be sure to fill it early on.

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