Avoiding Problem SEO Clients

As an SEO professional, you are always on the prowl for new business relationships. There are many great people out there to work with. But there are also many “problem clients” who for whatever reason turn out to be more of a hassle than they are worth. These type of clients will disrespect your contract or call you at 3:30 am with random questions about some minute issue. How do you stay away from the bad clients and keep the good guys on the bus?

Here are some tried-and-true rules of thumb to separate the wheat from the chaff (or the curd from the whey or whatever other metaphor de jour you want to use to describe this process):

1. Eyes out for red flags

– Does a new client keep you on the phone for 30 minutes to talk about her dog? Red flag.

– Does the client repeatedly reschedule calls/meetings for arbitrary reasons? Red flag.

– Does the client complain to you at length about a previous writer or partner – and his complaints make absolutely no sense? Super big red flag with sugar on top.

2. Listen to your “spidey sense”

Do you get a strange intuitive sense that something about a business or client is not quite right? 99 out of 100 times, this is but the tip of the iceberg. Don’t waste time hooking a fish that’s going to die once you get it into the aquarium (sorry, again, a pretty weak metaphor there).

3. Incomplete references or credentials? Bad news

Everyone on the Web is in some sense flailing. This medium is so very new, and we all wing it to an extent. That said, sometimes a leap of faith is just jumping off a cliff. Protect yourself. Check references and credentials whenever you engage a new client (or have questions about an existing one!)

4. Get it in writing – and get it clear.

Set clear expectations. Tell the client precisely what you will deliver and when and how you will deliver it. Remember to keep expectations low and then over-deliver too.

5. Baby steps.

Don’t do $5,000 worth of work before getting your first check. It’s okay to spec out on what might ultimately only be a $50 assignment. But before you invest too much time/money/heartache into a project, make sure that the client shows you the money!


  • Interesting post and some good observations here. A lot of this comes from experience and you get a gut feel for new clients, although sometimes it can be too tempting to turn away. If you’re a new business then you have to balance the experience and client list with the potential problems!

  • channel says:

    you so right , i work as web designer and its some great red flags , agree with each one, and for sure like u say Get it in writing – and get it clear.

  • Good tips, as someone just getting going in the freelance game I defenitely try to be aware of the “fatal attraction” clients. Yes we all need new business but not at the cost of headaches and lost time babysitting. I can also tell you that this can be a problem in the corporate world but under different names.

  • T.J. says:

    This is just one of the reasons why I hardly do any SEO for other people anymore, some people just don’t realise that time is money.

    5 or 6 half hour chats throught the week soon mounts up, can break your concentration if they ring at the wrong time and if like me you feel rude cutting them off the 5 or 6 times can soon move up to 7 or 8, then 9 or 10.

    I could just imagine the response if you started clocking the time and then gave them an invoice for it at the end of the week.

    They would probably start slagging you of on forums anout being money grabbing scammers.

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