My name is Julie, and I have a bad client.
OK seriously, HE isn’t a bad client…he just has the misfortune of being bound by some amazing constraints that are coming from all over his company, factors that prevent me from doing, well, my usual SEO tomfoolery. Here’s the list of services that I’m allowed to perform:
1. Meta tag writing. This brings such joy to my life, you simply cannot imagine. I get to flesh out titles, meta keywords, and meta descriptions. I’m living the dream.
2. PPC ads. Small budget, mostly just brand keywords in quotes…see item 1′s “living the dream” which is also applicable here.
3. Witty repartee with client whenever he wants it, usually on IM and Facebook, occasionally on the phone or in person.
Why do I bother? And don’t be sitting there thinking, a la Basil Fawlty, “didn’t know you did…” please. Because working with this client, whom I’ll call Martin (after the two coolest Martins ever, Martin Fry and Martin Amis), I’ve had to let my ego evaporate. I am not at all in control. That’s actually an amazingly freeing sensation in my day to day working life. I’m there for Martin, providing recommendations on everything from how to handle upcoming site redesigns to whether or not a keyword is worth $5 a click, and sometimes he agrees with me, and sometimes he does but his boss doesn’t, but in the end, I am forced to work with what he gives me, with no gifts involved other than my Christmas tower of chocolate and my birthday cookies.
When I’ve discussed this client with other SEOs, some of them have questioned why I took him on and continue to work with him. It’s actually very simple: I learn an amazing amount about how to effectively do my job when I’m forced to rely on very, very simple things. I’m not able to throw a ton of money around and Martin isn’t funding any conference trips to Las Vegas and Seattle. He expects me to know my boundaries, and to keep him informed about anything that could potentially cause his site to fall in the rankings. That’s not really a lot of pressure is it?
Here’s the real point: if you can’t do SEO well enough to let things go and lose your desire to call all the shots, all the time, you must not be as good an SEO as you think you are. There’s a great deal of ego in this field, as you may have witnessed from time to time. Not every “deserving” SEO client will let you dictate his or her directory structure or agree to invest in your link building program, and if you can’t work with that, you should step back and take a look at why it is that you have to have everything your way. Is it ego? Or is it simple inability to perform without someone doing every little thing that you say?
When your main form of optimization is writing good meta tags, you have to be very, very good at writing meta tags. When your client wants to pay you to be there whenever he has questions, and he has some amazingly good SEO questions at some fairly inconvenient times, then you have to stay informed on everything that’s going on in the industry and be ready to provide your recommendations, knowing that they probably won’t be followed, for whatever reason. You have to stop dictating what pages are named, what long-tailed keywords are good for PPC, and a better way to word the main message on the index page. That’s actually not very easy when you’re used to being the golden child of marketing, having clients throwing money at you to do whatever it takes to get them to the top. It’s very humbling, though, and it’s potentially key to not becoming a pompous asshole as fast as you might otherwise.
When you know that your efforts are most likely fruitless, when you realize that you’re going to spend three hours gathering data on pay per click keywords only to have a marketing department decide not to even bother, you really learn patience. It’s kind of a Zen thing actually, just letting go and existing. And let’s not forget that you’re still in service to this client, as you’re still responsible for ensuring that things go as well as possible, with certain parameters in place. That’s actually quite a bit more difficult at times, because nothing’s easy. However, if you get too comfortable with being the one making the rules, you don’t quite learn how to follow them and let someone else lead. Most good leaders are also seriously good followers, if I may throw in a very trite turn of phrase. Try it, if you can find a Martin, only think of him as a challenging client, not a bad one. You may be quite surprised at how it changes your entire mindset for the better