Stealing SEO Clients for Fun and Profit

by on May 7, 2012

The Gonzo SEO is proud to present a guest post from Joel Klettke, the coolest keener from Calgary since James Gosling. Joel kicks ass daily for Vovia Online Marketing there in Cow-Town and he can be easily talked into a guest post via twitter @cstechjoel.

We all want to make friends – especially in an industry as small and interconnected as SEO. Nobody wants to be “That Guy” known for outing his competitors or sending competitor’s clients “Did you know you don’t rank for…” e-mails. But while I am madly in love with the SEO community and I’ve made some amazing friends in the industry, business is war; a war I want to win.

That’s why over the past three to four months, I’ve successfully stolen clients from my competitors. After all, are there any better leads out there? They already know and appreciate what SEO can do. They’ve got budgets. They’ve got expectations – and if you watch carefully enough, you can see when those expectations aren’t being met and exploit it.

So this is basically an open letter to my competition. Here’s how you helped me steal your clients, and why I’m going to be able to do it again.

You’re a bad communicator.

You spent an awful lot of time cold calling, but once you landed the client, your interest level dropped off. You wooed them, wined them and dined them – and then you lost touch.

You stopped sending updates. You stopped picking up the phone and asking them how they felt their campaigns were going, what their concerns were and whether or not they were seeing any ROI. Once a month they got your e-mail.. “Attached is your SEO report for June. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask.” – Yeah, real personal.

You left them in the dark.

All I had to do was step in and romance them away from you. A comprehensive, personalized audit combined with a phone call and the next thing you know, your checks are landing in my bank account.

 Your reporting is atrocious.

Word to the wise: Your SEO reports aren’t hard to coax out of your clients. I’ve seen what you’re giving them, and frankly I wasn’t impressed.

For starters, your recommendations were either missing, or incredibly vague. They weren’t actionable. “Develop more content surrounding your targeted keyword phrases”. “Improve your internal linking”. “Have you thought about infographics?” – are you for real? How are they supposed to move on those?

Somewhere along the line you forgot that clients don’t speak your language, don’t know what you know, don’t know why they should care and need to be handheld like 5 year olds.

The next place you screwed up was communicating your value. You sucked at showing them what they were getting for the cash they were paying you. You didn’t use visuals. You didn’t pick out specific and notable wins. Gosh, that’s too bad.

Con Artist SEO

You also chose near-meaningless KPI’s – total overall traffic, time on site, total pages visited.
You never showed your client the money or the wins (conversions? Unbranded traffic? Total number of traffic driving keyword phrases?).

So I showed your client the holes in your work.

You got apathetic.

The problem wasn’t that you weren’t getting results. You were. But then you moved on, patting yourself on the back and writing up the case study.

You got to the “good enough” stage and stopped looking for ways to expand the campaign. Stopped looking for new niches and verticals. Stopped thinking about how you might drive new referral traffic. Stopped thinking about creative ways to increase your reach and conversions.

Newsflash: An SEO campaign is never “done” or “good enough”.  The site didn’t need to tank in the rankings; it just needed to stop capitalizing on the wealth of opportunities you weren’t thorough or caring enough to identify.

Your client cared, though. Especially when I showed them the niches you were invisible in. Rankings and traffic don’t need to drop for you to lose the trust of your clients. They just needed to see the greener pastures. So I put together a presentation outlining where their competition was beating them, and how they could play ball in those areas.

You screwed yourself from the very beginning.

Ah, this one is a favorite. There’s three ways you’ve been handing me clients.

First: You don’t educate your clients. You sell them something they don’t understand. You don’t explain the “Why” behind the “What”. They never understood what you were (or weren’t) doing until someone came along and explained how it all works. Wink wink, nudge nudge. You also didn’t educate them on an ongoing basis. A lot changes in a year.

Second: You failed to manage clients’ expectations. You sold them a cheap “package” and forgot to mention that the moon they felt was on order wasn’t going to arrive. You put their focus on the wrong things: rankings. Total number of links built. And so on, and so on. They thought they bought a #1 ranking. You never told them otherwise.

Third: You charged too little. Yup, that’s right. In a dash to get the client, you undercharged to land the account instead of charging what was necessary to actually get results. Combine that with the first two and it was a recipe for failure.

So I met with your client and explained how and why we only quote custom solutions. They loved it.

Your work was awful.

Thank you for not staying current. Thank you for not being strategic. Thank you for resorting to the link building fad of the day with no real regard for sustainability. Thank you for not knowing anything about content siloing, 301 redirects or canonical tags– and thank you for being completely oblivious to how the search engines were changing and evolving. Thanks for all those doorway pages and that enormously fat footer too.

All I had to do was wait for the next algorithm update, run a competitive ranking report and pick up the phone.

Don’t let it happen to you!

At the end of the day, I wanted this post to be a cautionary note to the SEO’s that I know and love out there. I want this to make you panic a little bit, pick up the phone and call your client – just to chat. I want it to make you go check the reports you’ve sent out over the past 3 months and see whether or not you’re committing the sins of vagueness, repetition and obscurity.

Because even when you’re on top of the world and your clients are getting killer results, it’s easy for someone else to come along and blow holes in your armor.

Keep communicating. Keep current. Keep innovating. Keep educating.
The minute you stop, you’re vulnerable.

The Best Looking Man In The World

Hey, I just wanna axe your client a few questions....


**Editor’s Note: Joel is a professional at client expropriation from the clutches of under-performing SEO’s. Unless you are prepared to service a client with measurable results, do not try this at home! ~ DR



Don Rhoades May 7, 2012 at 5:19 am

Thank you Joel for writing this. I’d add from experience that aside from losing a client, your reputation can suffer if you repeatedly commit the sins of vagueness, repetition and obscurity. If you’re in an agency situation where you’re unable to dictate the strategy and reporting and have no interface with the clients, LEAVE! This is an indication of account managers keeping clients ignorant to their results until their ranking or traffic tanks, then they throw you under the bus. Either way, this does nothing for the interests of the client, which should be upheld over all other business motives. I’m making appointments to call each of my clients as soon as the day breaks in the North American Atlantic.
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Joel K May 7, 2012 at 7:50 am

Pleasure’s all mine, Don! Thank you for the chance to share!

Speaking frankly, a lack of communication is the biggest chink in the armor Ifor most companies. SEO’s get so busy making money they forget about the people who are paying them in the process. When that happens, it’s prime hunting grounds for those SEO’s who have a knack for education and just a little bit of charisma.
Joel K recently posted..Who Is The Best Looking Man In The World?My Profile

Moosa Hemani May 7, 2012 at 6:43 am

What a Post!

I worked under different banners and work very closely with managers who communicate with the clients and all I learn from there is how not to deal with a client!

If you are charging less due to any reason (I don’t care what the reason is) you have to care and make them feel personal… If you will not tell insight about what you are up to, somebody will come and point out what you are missing.

Too much calling and communicating will irritate the client and at the same time this will eat lot of your time. I believe contacting them 2 to 3 times a month (other than the monthly report) and call them instead of long update emails is a good idea in my opinion!

Jeremy May 7, 2012 at 10:40 am

That’s great strategy to keep client happy all the time.

Sean May 7, 2012 at 1:34 pm

First and foremost I love the title “Stealing SEO Clients for Fun and Profit” the fact that stealing clients can be fun as well as make you money cracks me up :)

I’ll get this out of the way. I don’t particularly give a shit about online fair play or morals. Arguements about outing websites are usually quite dull affairs and I think you have every right to steal business off of companies that aren’t up to scratch (especially if you can provide a better service).

However do you think that an article like this could possible upset the outing brigade? Is stealing business any different to ruining a business by outing their techniques? I know that we both probably agree that it’s the company’s fault if they can’t provide a good service or keep their clients but some people may see it differently.

As per I haven’t got what I wanted across 100% but would like to hear what you think on it.
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Joel K May 7, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Will this article upset some people? Yes. Mainly those people who stink at retaining clients. Business is and always has been business. As I stated in the article, companies who are already paying for SEO are some of the best leads out there, especially when their expectations are not being delivered on.

Frankly I don’t care how upset my competition gets. That’s what makes this fun – the prospect of earning a new client by being better than your competition.
Joel K recently posted..Who Is The Best Looking Man In The World?My Profile

Josh May 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm

LOL okay, I have to admit when I first read the title on twitter I was like “really?” then I clicked through (bravo sir) and saw Don’s site pop up and I was relieved a bit, then I read it. Great article Joel, really. It’s one thing to get a client, it’s another to keep them and keep them happy. If anyone has trouble keeping clients they need to read this and ask themselves if they’ve done one of these on this list.
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Joel K May 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Thanks Josh! You said it – “Keep them happy”. The problem is that too many young start ups and businesses invest too much time in the acquisition phrase and not enough time in the “uh oh can we actually deliver and satisfy the client” phase.
Joel K recently posted..Who Is The Best Looking Man In The World?My Profile

Bill Sebald May 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm

This is a great post.

I get calls a lot from companies that experienced this: “You spent an awful lot of time cold calling, but once you landed the client, your interest level dropped off. You wooed them, wined them and dined them – and then you lost touch.”

This is a big issue with consultants and small boutique firms. Sometimes I have to spend time building that trust back, not just for our relationship, but the SEO industry altogether.
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Joel K May 7, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Thank you Bill, always flattered to see someone of your brass reading the things I put out there (like the anti hero post!). And that’s a very interesting point, “for the industry altogether”. I can say the same thing; with a lot of these clients we have to work quite hard to prove that SEO can still be a legitimate marketing tactic and that it’s NOT all smoke and mirrors.

Anthony D. Nelson May 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Great post Joel. After reading the title, I expected the post to be a bit more devious than it was. Instead, you simply wrote about helping companies leave their crappy SEO firm for a better one. When it comes to things like SEO tools, we all receive the sales pitches from a ton of different companies. It should be no different with Clients. Put your best service and offer out there, and let the customer decide who they want to work with.

I wouldn’t knowingly poach or pitch a client that works with someone I know, but if they are working with an anonymous company selling them a package of directory submissions, I’d consider myself doing the entire industry a favor by showing them there are better companies out there.
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Jason Nelson May 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Good post. Joe Hall had a recent post about the importance of listening, which is also key.
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Valeri May 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Hey Joel Klettke,

Thanks for the read. I want to personally thank you for alarming the community that was increasingly feeling safe with their work and their client tale. You mentioned real issues that currect SEO specialists sometimes avoid: genuine interest in their work. I believe that if you are really providing a better service than your competitors then there is no better deed you can do. Goodluck to you Joel.

My personal favorite:
They weren’t actionable. “Develop more content surrounding your targeted keyword phrases”. “Improve your internal linking”. “Have you thought about infographics?”

Alex Adekola May 8, 2012 at 7:00 am

Great post. Reminds me of the scene in Scarface when Tony looks at his security cameras and says…”We’re gettin lazy….were not hungry anymore” Stay hungry and eat your competitions lunch.

Mat Slair May 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I think you summed it up pretty well, I have had few freelancers working for me I have never been greatly satisfied with them, but I am sure if I had asked them the “Why” behind the “What”, things would have been much different!

Loved this post, it really opened my eyes!
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Darren May 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm

awesome post joel
So many good points. I see second -rate seo reports all the time.
I was about to give up and go back to my own excel spreadsheets when i found the company i’m using now. So far the rankranger reports i’m getting kick ass.

Spook SEO November 24, 2013 at 11:12 am

This post is really interesting. I think the term should not be “stealing” because in marketing, your competitor’s weaknesses are great opportunities. It’s their problem if they didn’t take care of their clients. Marketing is war and those who are weak will surely be defeated
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Mike Baf March 28, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Excellent post. The SEO world is growing or rather has been growing considerably over the years, recent figures puts the market value at around $11 billion if I’m not mistaken. So it’s rarely big, despite still being a niche. That’s amazing, as it means people can make a large amount of money working in this industry and still be relatively unknown to the masses.
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