Common client conflicts when building links (and how to deal with them)

If a client relationship turns sour, it isn’t always the client’s fault.

We all love to laugh at Clients from Hell and read posts like Stop Buying Snake Oil. But more often than not we as the vendor have to take most of the responsibility, not because “the customer is always right” (they’re not by the way) but because often relationships break down due to false promises and mis-communication.

Client education has been an integral part of our strategy from day 1. We strive to be as transparent, honest and as upfront as we can be. This might have cost us a client or two but I’d rather we never had their money than to go into a relationship already back-peddling to figure out how we’re going to do A,B,C and D for £X. It’s just not how we roll.

I’ll be the first to admit we’re not perfect, I find it hard to believe that any business has a 100% satisfied customer base because shit does happen but I’d like to think we are hitting close to 98% of our clients being satisfied.

We aren’t big on client education just because we believe it will “make the world a better place“…yes, we’re an ethical company but we do it because it means at least 1 less person a month will believe all link builders belong in hell. We also do it because we have standards to uphold, I have a team to keep happy and it means less hassle for us down the line. Our own success and the success of our clients is inextricably linked, the same can be said for “happiness”, because an unhappy client means more work for me and my team and undoubtedly leads to frustration and dampened spirits.

Firstly though, repeat after me…

A client with seemingly difficult questions or impossible goals isn’t necessarily a write off, sometimes they just need a bit of education.

Here are some of the common client conflicts we encounter (and how we set about dealing with them):

Conflict #1 – The Cost

I know for a fact that we aren’t the cheapest link building company out there but we aren’t the most expensive either. I will say though that on a weekly basis we get emails from people telling us we are expensive (Interestingly we get clients tell us we don’t charge enough too!).

People saying we are “expensive” is annoying but if people were saying we were “overpriced” that’s when I would start to worry.

The cost conflict is something we deal with quite a bit as an industry because people instinctively compare our link building services to article submissions packages and the like where they get greater volume for less money.

Here are some of the ways we diffuse the situation and help the client to better understand the costs involved with link building:

  • You can’t compare on price alone – quality needs to be a consideration. How sustainable or defensible is that directory submissions package you just bought?
  • Think about the damage of cheap links – most cheap links could be harming your business now or at some point in the future. SENuke links are pretty difficult to remove you know!
  • Think about the cost of removing those cheap links – any client that has gone through the expense and hassle of link un-building will appreciate this
  • Even if it’s not “paid links” you’re building, you still need budget – good content costs money, good people can’t pay their bills with karma alone.
  • Sustainability of that price – new entrants arrive in the market every week but can they sustain those rock bottom prices you think you are locking in for life.
  • Competitors are investing – markets don’t stand still. If you don’t have the budget sometimes it just isn’t worth investing a penny. When I tell you “It won’t touch the sides”, I’m trying to be honest. That’s not to say smaller budgets can’t beat big budgets (they most certainly can) but we’ve all experienced the client with no money to play with but all the expectations in the world (see conflict #5).

I don’t like to hard-sell, but I’ve no problem standing up for our service and the practice of building good links.

Conflict #2 – Time

A common conflict we encounter is that “without education” clients expect links within a matter of a few days. Whilst we make progress from the moment we start your order, live links will take time to come together. Most clients are hooked on the monthly-link-reporting crack.

The game has changed, and I can tell you that some agencies are still struggling to acclimatise to the shift as they have a roster of clients expecting X number of links every month on the dot without fail. They’re hurting.

To a certain extent, this used to be achievable. If you had the manpower you could write and submit to as many article directories as you wanted. Even with the same manpower and a highly-structured process, you can’t control the editorial calendar of a 3rd party blog.

It isn’t as clean cut as before, sometimes there’s a need to accept that a link is “in progress”.

  • We try our hardest to be realistic about time frames in advance, sometimes we mess up but we strive to keep clients updated to dissipate any feelings of frustration.
  • We talk a great deal about process to help our clients understand what goes on behind the scenes – most say “Wow! That sounds like a lot of work.” and are much more understanding about timing.
  • We encourage clients to request samples from another vendor that is promising faster turnaround times, then we compare with what we deliver. Not in a holier than thou way of course, just an frank and open discussion.

Conflict #3 – Approval

“We need to approve everything” is a phrase that strikes fear into even the most intrepid link builder. Not because we have stuff to hide but because working from experience we know that link building probably isn’t your day-to-day priority (which is why you hired us) and so sits somewhere down the lower half of your to-do list…checking that post I sent across or approving those 100 domains we want to outreach to probably isn’t going to get done fast.

Understandably in some businesses, approval is vital. They have legal departments, shareholders and regulatory bodies ready to dish out fines.

However in most situations, if the trust is there and the process is in place, there’s no need to burden both parties with approving everything. Here are some of the ways we deal with this conflict:

  • Brand guidelines – a robust set of brand guidelines can often help to allay any client concerns about mis-representing the brand or presenting their business in an “off-brand” way.
  • Quality agreements – put in place mutually agreed minimum expectations to help reduce the client’s concern that you are off to build 10,000 footer links with their money.
  • Special instructions – we always ask our clients to be hyper-specific if they require something in their guest blogging or need to avoid a certain niche for example. It’s no use blaming the SEO if you didn’t tell them first, but then equally it’s not fair to blame the client if you didn’t ask!
  • Initial batch check – suggest that they manually approve the first batch of work (and continue to spot check if necessary) so that they can build up trust in the integrity and quality of your output.
  • Have a workflow – if you absolutely have to get everything approved then 100% have a workflow – and if its a large project make sure you’ve got something more robust than just emailing each other.

Conflict #4 – Miscellaneous overbearing requirements

  • We want links only from blogs on the topic of “Whirlpool baths in the San Francisco area” – Um, I think your blog is the only one
  • You can’t mention us in the article – sorry, but you stil want a link?
  • It needs to be a PR9 or above because “I’ve heard these are the best kind!”

Many of these conflicts simply come down to misconceptions about link building as a practice or misunderstanding the way that you operate and your processes.

Don’t berate, educate. (Sorry for that!)

Relevance for example is a fairly loose concept since in essence it relies on what a person might find useful and natural. If you sell Whirlpool baths in the San Francisco area then getting links from websites that are of exactly the same topic as you are likely to be your competitors (how likely are they to link to you).

It isn’t just the small business owner though, many people involved in the industry who should really know better often start discussions with their link building agency insisting on impractical requirements for their campaign. I suspect many do so for fear of seeming “easy going” with their requirements, we often seek out common ground and lay out reasons why A isn’t a good idea or B just isn’t achievable rather than putting up a wall.

How to deal with this type of conflict? Open communication.

Conflict #5 – Unrealistic expectations

This conflict will often span all of the others. Unrealistic expectations are likely to be your biggest area of concern going into a client relationship. A lack of transparency and a campaign without without clear, realistic expectations, is a ticking time bomb.

Manage your client’s expectations rather than dismiss them though. Provide reasoned arguments rather than belittling their perspective.

  • Don’t set yourself up for a fall, be realistic about budgets, timeframes and results
  • If you don’t have a definitive answer then say so and explain why you think what you think e.g. “How long is this going to take to generate ranking movements?

What do you come up against when working on client link building campaigns and how do you deal with it?