18 Dec 2008

Chatting About the Secret Fear of SEOs

Rhea and I had a bit of a Girl’s Night last night. We went to dinner and chatted about our lives€¦which really means we talked a lot about work and clients and everything we have planned at We Build Pages. (I know; we’re exciting people. Shut up.) And when she was drunk off Diet Coke, she let me in on a little secret:  Rhea gets scared sometimes.

Rhea the Perfectionist is sometimes afraid of doing her job too well. Afraid of making our reports so comprehensive that a client has everything they could ever want and may be encouraged to take that information and go it alone.  Despite that, she knows that she’ll never give anything less than 120 percent (Rhea likes to work 14 hour days€¦) to her clients, in both information and raw energy.  She knows that when you’re a starving client, there’s no such thing as too much data. You can’t have too many tools in your arsenal to improve your site. And she works her butt off to give them that.

As much as we kick and tease one another sometimes, even I recognize that Rhea is a superhero.  Truthfully, there are a lot of superheroes here in Troy. I think it may be a requirement to becoming a ninja or something.

During my time in SEO, I’ve worked with two of the greatest Internet marketing companies on the planet: Bruce Clay, Inc. and We Build Pages.  Both of these companies pride themselves in education. Bruce Clay, Inc. makes each of their clients attend training, even if they don’t want to. At We Build Pages, we educate in different ways — through consulting, through reports, through our methodologies, and through our daily interaction with clients. Both companies give their clients every ounce of information they have so that the client benefits.

But apparently it’s not like that everywhere.

I’ve heard war stories about companies who withhold information or lock clients out of their own accounts. They’re afraid you’ll take your account away so they don’t tell you what they’re doing or what keywords you’re going after. They don’t give you the login to your Webmaster Tools account and they don’t go into too much detail in their reports or during calls. They’ll do the work and they’ll give it about 85 percent-90 percent, but you’re not getting anything outside of that. It’s like the supervisor who’s secretly jealous of the new intern.  They’ll teach you€¦they just won’t teach you enough to take away their own value. They want you to be dependent on them for survival.

As an SEO company, how do you combat that?

First, I think you get yourself a prescription to deal with all those unhealthy control issues you’ve got going on.   After that, I think you put those fears out of your mind and focus on being a ninja superhero.

As ninja superheroes, we fight for our clients. We do our best to keep them ahead of the curve and out of trouble, and we give them all the information they need to become superheroes themselves.  We want them to know what we’re doing. We think they have to know if we’re going to be able to work together and ensure everyone’s on the same page. Maybe my view is skewed and I’m just spoiled thanks to my previous employers, but I can’t imagine doing SEO any other way.  I can’t swallow the idea that we need to be less in order to hold on to clients.  If you’re trapping your clients into staying with you, you must not be a very good SEO.  You must not have all that much to offer them.

I’m curious to hear how other SEOs deal with this fear, though. And whether or not clients of SEOs feel someone’s holding something back somewhere.  Thoughts?

[If you need help being a superhero, this has always worked for me.]


  1. David Wallace December 19, 2008 at 9:06 AM

    I’ve always experienced that the more detailed you are with clients in reporting, revealing what methodologies/strategies you utilize and even educating them, the more they value your services.

    It is when you try to conceal what you are doing that they then begin to wonder if you are doing anything at all.

  2. Lisa Barone December 19, 2008 at 10:13 AM

    i totally agree with you, David, which is why it’s so weird to hear the other line of thought — that you should hold on to your secrets or be replaced by someone’s inhouse SEO.

  3. Mike | PlanetChiro December 19, 2008 at 2:51 PM

    I say be open. As someone who has experienced much of the “go it alone” stuff I can say that you miss out on the added talents an expert hired team (especially someone like Rhea) brings. In my experience it’s more profitable for the client long term if they leave the details to the experts and themselves focus on what core service they provide.

  4. Joe Hall December 21, 2008 at 1:00 PM

    I can definitely understand this fear. And, I think it is heightened when you have a smaller base of clients. I know that I have been tempted to hold back some of my data in the past because I didn’t want to loose a client. Honestly, I kind of resent the notion that those that with hold data aren’t good SEOs. Many SEOs that are one-man-bands will do anything to desperately hold onto a client, because they have no other choice.

    **This doesn’t automatically mean that they are dishonest or not giving 120%**

    It just means that they have to make hard decisions about how to keep what might be their own means of revenue flowing, otherwise all of their clients suffer when they can’t afford to stay in business. Its easier for larger firms to stay transparent because they usually have brand recognition have built up capital reserves to go with out clients for awhile.

  5. Darren Slatten December 21, 2008 at 4:44 PM

    I withhold information from clients all the time, but not because I’m afraid of making myself obsolete. I withhold information because I bill them by the hour, and in order to deliver the highest return on a client’s investment (in my services), I prioritize DOING over TEACHING HOW TO DO.

    When it really comes down to it, my clients are going to determine the value of my services based on the actual work I performed–they usually seem to forget about the Q&A emails that took up several hours of my time (and their money).

  6. Joe Hall December 21, 2008 at 4:59 PM

    That’s a good point Darren, do you think prioritizing information helps the client digest things in the long run? When I worked solely in IT, I found that was the case.

  7. Daria Goetsch December 22, 2008 at 11:10 AM

    We work with small businesses. I think education for the client is a key factor in their marketing success. It is important for the client to have as much information as possible in every step of the marketing process. For small businesses having access to their analytics helps them know what is going on with their website. You may indeed provide the client so much information they are able to function on their own. Hopefully your consultation and expertise is what the client will see as long term value in the marketing relationship.

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