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5 Types of SEO Clients to Avoid

This is a tough business and it is mentally fatiguing. The last thing any of us need are clients that drive us insane. When I first got into this industry I took on every client, because, well I needed clients. I had a few that caused me so much stress that the money wasn’t worth it. Through the years I have learned what to watch for with new “potential” clients.

Client prospecting

#1 – The Pre-Stalker

The pre-stalker is someone that heard about you in some way and then decided to get in touch with you for services. The pre-stalker calls then immediately emails to tell you that they called. They often will call again, within an hour or two, to tell you that they have called and emailed and you haven’t responded. In extreme cases someone gave them your cell number and they text in addition to the emails and phone calls.

We can see what numbers call in and how many times they call. If they are not a client yet and they are already this demanding you can be sure that they will be even more so once they are a client.


#2 ““ The Client with a Wacky Assistant

I have had two issues with wacky assistants. First issue, they contact us for their client and exhibit pre-stalker behavior or are flat rude and condescending. I don’t do or put up with condescending. If you have an assistant contact you and they treat you wacky from the beginning you can assume that you will have to put up with that behavior for as long as you work with the client (unless the client is known to run through assistants like water).


  • an assistant called us at 4:58 PM. We were not available.
  • The assistant called at 8:02 AM the next morning and we were on phone calls.
  • At 8:03 AM I got an email from her that said, “I have called twice and there will not be a third call. Contact me immediately.” Hmmm, so you gave us essentially 5 minutes during working hours to call back?
  • I emailed and said we wouldn’t be working with them.

Second issue, I have really loved working with some clients, but their assistants made my life hell. If a client can’t get control of their assistant’s behavior it is a business relationship ender for me. If an assistant is rude, condescending and/or trying to make your look bad to their boss all the time it just isn’t worth the time or money. If you have to deal with an assistant on a regular basis and you cringe every time you get an email from them you have to ask yourself, “Is the stress is worth it?”


#3 ““ The Know It All ““ That Really Knows NOTHING!

When you have an initial phone call or meeting with a potential client you can easily detect a “know it all“. The “know it all” knows it all. They will brag about their experience and knowledge on the subject, tell you what they believe you should be doing and will argue with you over every point you have. If a person looks at you skeptical, every time you say something, and says things like, “I will need to look this up to verify it“, while taking notes, you may want to consider walking away.

I am happy when clients want to learn and I don’t even mind them checking up on the facts. It is the way they speak to you that is the clue. Do they listen and seem enlightened or do they argue about everything? You have to be careful with clients like this. The “know it all” is never happy and will never be because they have to know it all and prove they know more than you. You will be exhausted making changes for them and once you make those changes they just make more. They will not listen. It isn’t worth it.


#4 ““ Clients with “Old School” Staff or Clients that are “Old School”

Sometimes clients and/or their staff are very old school with their marketing and they are not ready to jump on the “modern” bandwagon. There are times when you will meet people that are great people and they have read articles about what they should be doing, but they just can’t see past the brochure, press release and the printed monthly newsletter. I am not saying these things are bad, but if they can’t see past them or understand why you are making certain recommendations it may be (is) a red flag.

You may meet a new client and they are ready to jump into the net full-force, but their staff is resistant and creates obstacles for you. It is wise to discuss from the beginning your expectations and what you will need from your new client’s staff to get the job done. You may want to delicately mention that you at times have dealt resistance with staff. I have never had a client be offended by this if I explain it appropriately and in the long run it helps me out when the boss says “just do it” and I don’t have to deal with the drama.


#5 ““ Clients with Strange Expectations and Goals

We turn new clients down when they have expectations or goals that will not benefit them in anyway. Why? Well, I could sit here and take their money each month for a few years. I could work on their weird “goal” that makes no sense, but somewhere down the line they will figure out that their goal was lame and I just took their money and did nothing to benefit them.

You may have some people that want #1 rankings for 12 terms, but they only have $80 a month to spend on SEO and they want documented proof of your work each month. Oh, and what happens if they can’t pay a couple of months? RED FLAGS all over. You have to walk away!

You don’t want to chase people around for money each month, you can’t guarantee rankings and do you want to document how you spent 15-20 minutes a month working for them? The documentation and emails would take up that 20 minutes!

If you talk to someone and their beliefs, expectations and goals are just completely unrealistic, and they do not listen when you explain why, you will never make them happy. You will waste a lot of time trying to appease them, explain things and trying to keep them happy.

One more strange expectation is hand-holding. Sometimes people just want you to hold their hand and explain it all to them. They want you to step-by-step walk them through everything and explain every aspect of what you do! They will not stop with the questions and they will suck you dry. RUN!


What to Remember With Every Client

Determine what you want to make an hour”¦let’s say $100 to make it simple. If someone is paying you $500 a month they get 5 hours of your time. How much time will you put into their SEO? Their reports? Monitoring the web? Do you want to spend any additional 4-5 hours each month answering 20 emails and 15 phone calls because the client needs hand holding, argues every point, has unrealistic expectations or is so old school you have to explain everything over and over? NO!

You need to choose which clients you want to work with and you need to choose carefully! You need to set boundaries, you need to reduce stress and you need to get paid for your time.



  1. Ken Jansen February 28, 2011

    Great article, funny, realistic and practical. My favorite blend. Found you from a post on twitter via @theGypsy

  2. Scott Clark February 28, 2011

    What I have experienced is a bait-and-switch client. That is, you do the proposal, vetting and first meeting with someone they have on staff who gets it, and then get handed off to someone who thinks you are also supposed to be their printer repairman. The executive who hired you never pops in again until your contract is near renewal, and then they ask for results. You can at least tell them the printer works.

  3. Simon Maddocks February 28, 2011

    After years of working for an agency your article brought back a few fond memories, although it was tears at the time.

    Great stuff.

  4. Mindy Koch March 1, 2011

    Really great stuff. The snotty assistant sure didn’t do her boss any favors!

    l think I am running into too many #5 clients who want more than SEO. They seem to want/need an entire marketing plan for the price of 2 hours of SEO a month.

    What I need to do is to put your LAST paragraph on a sticky note on my computer. That is the key. How much am I REALLY making an hour from all the little extra hand-holding I do.

  5. Jun Baranggan March 1, 2011

    Good stuff here Melissa. I always get the #1 and #5. Whew! I got a #5 a couple of weeks ago actually.

  6. Melissa March 3, 2011

    Thanks Ken!

    Scott, I agree…those need to be avoided!

    Thanks Simon.

    LOL, thanks Mindy…laughing

    Jun, I feel your pain 🙂

  7. alanbleiweiss March 4, 2011

    #4 is worst of all when it’s a marketing company. OMG You have a marketing company, you go after enterprise clients, and you can’t see the value in a well designed site that has a cohesive Internet marketing solution in place?

    #5 – We only want to be found in Google for our brand name – we don’t care about other words.

    And another for #5 – business owners who want to compete nationally or internationally for top shelf phrases right away – with a 5 page site that’s filled with Flash and images.

    My stock reply (not said out loud except afterward when I’m ranting on Twitter) “got a spare pencil? my eyes need gouging…”

  8. Nate Schubert March 4, 2011

    Thanks, you pretty much described, in some fashion or form, every client I’ve ever had. Guess I’m still at that stage of the game. !

  9. Charles March 5, 2011

    Great advice and valuable lessons. You definitely need to fire customers will be overly demanding and take up too much of your time since this will take away resources from great clients who deserve your best work.

  10. michael March 7, 2011

    You mean there are other types of clients?

  11. David Blizzard March 8, 2011

    I used to waste hours beating on all 5 types, beating on them like an old lump of clay. Too proud to admit I could not win I would keep pounding and pounding… the clay never took shape and the hours were wasted pounding clay rather than doing my job. Eventually I stopped pounding clay.

  12. Real SEOpro April 6, 2011

    Thank you for a spot-on article. I’m starting to take on new clients (finally) and I am glad to know that there is a precedent of these types of people to stay far away from, and I certainly will. There’s no substitute for good SEO, it’s hard to find and we do it well, so those clients will simply have to lose out.

  13. iDCx May 27, 2011

    lolzz… some good points to be had there… agreed on the work out your hourly rate and stick to it…

    I once had a client – the know it all type – who stated quite boldly on the initial phone call – “my site begins with an A – why aren’t i top of Google?”

    made me giggle

    after working for a few different SEO companies, a good pal of mine once said – dont optimise your SEO site for SEO searches like”seo company” or what ever – these are the wrong type of clients… recently i worked for an seo company who build their business from 3rd place on seo company – he got banned to page 3 and the business fell on its arse – not to mention the clients were all low end one man bands who rang constantly to try and make staff work their campaign – the guy had some 70 clients, but other agencies ive worked at – 2 of their clients would have made more than teh retainers for his 70…

    so yea – rant… over… thanks for the read! SEO would be a great business if we didnt have to deal with clients.


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