We hit a big penguin-shaped dilemma over the summer and I’m sure we weren’t alone. There’s always been a tricky trade-off in SEO between short term results and long term security but the Penguin update took this challenge and inflated it to quite hideous proportions.
Penguin was real for us and hit hard in both directions; some of our sites saw huge boosts while others suffered. Out of the ashes emerged two big decisions. The first was that any site that had been hit would receive a free service until it had fully recovered. The second was that the days of pushing keywords were over. Never again would we risk upsetting this vengeful bird or any of its future offspring.
And for a while this seemed fine. Lesson learnt. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, etc, etc. Only it was nonsense, because within a couple of months we’d ran into a new, equally terrifying problem – with all the emphasis on brand, suddenly the big keyword rankings were beginning to stagnate, even slump, and it wasn’t going unnoticed by our clients!
The ultimate rock and hard place. You’re damned if you do and humped to death by an angry ice bird if you don’t. So what was the answer?
Actually, it turned out to be really simple. We did something that we should have been doing all along; we involved the client. After all, we pride ourselves on transparency and certainly had nothing to hide, so we simply explained the dilemma and asked the question – how aggressive did they want to be?
Two really positive steps forward have come out of this. The first is that it addressed the issue of different clients working to different time frames. Some were looking long term and quite happy with a slow but sustainable brand strategy. For others, however, there wouldn’t be a long term strategy without short term results, so the risk of not being aggressive actually outweighed the risk of another penguin update.
The second benefit was to our sanity. Blocking the client out means you can be judged only by the result rather than the process, even when the process is fantastic and the result partly out of your control. By making them part of the process they begin to appreciate the complexities and uncertainties involved in post-penguin SEO, and more appreciative of the lengths we go to overcome them.
And the results? Predictably most wanted us to err on the side of caution. In fact one of our savvier clients requested that we go completely cold turkey on all keyword link building until after the next penguin update. But they weren’t all this cautious. One particularly cavalier client insisted that for his business model it was best to throw caution to the wind and, in his words, “make hay while the sun shines”. Not a strategy I’m at all comfortable with but I can understand the logic knowing a little about his business, and it is his business.
One really interesting case resulted in the client reaching the conclusion that with such uncertainty in the SEO market, the best option was to invest his budget into PPC for a few months. And you know what, I agreed. For his business in his circumstances, it was probably the right thing to do.
So that’s my advice. Obvious really. If you were running any other form of marketing you wouldn’t make huge decisions without first consulting the client, so why do we treat SEO differently? We treat it differently because deep down we’re still reluctant to show our hand. We’re used to the smoke and mirrors that traditionally surrounded the industry and the prospect of stepping out into the open for the world to pass judgement is terrifying, even when it would instantly result in more intelligent strategies and happier clients.
SEO has changed forever and our communication with clients needs to change with it.
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