As an SEO agency, you’re going to thrive on client retention. The cost of acquiring a new client is far more than simply retaining one who’s already under contract with you, not to mention it’s logistically simpler to keep your current client base on board than it is to try and adapt to a new company on a regular basis.
The threat of a client leaving is ever-present, regardless of how good your products or services are. Sometimes, it will stem from a slow decline, and sometimes, it will come from out of the blue. Either way, it can range from annoying to devastating, and it will take your agency considerable time and effort to fully recover.
If you want to prevent this scenario, or mitigate it as much as possible, you have to understand why clients might leave you in the first place, and work proactively to prevent those motivations from ever fully forming.
The first step is to realize that, even though some clients may be difficult to work with or naturally predisposed to leave, the vast majority of client departures are preventable. Even tough, unpredictable situations, such as new ownership taking over your client’s company, can at least be mitigated if you know how to address their potential concerns.
This consideration is all about accountability. You, and by extension your team, need to take it upon yourselves to do whatever it takes to keep your clients on board or else take responsibility when they leave.
With that accountability in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most significant reasons clients leave SEO agencies—and what you can do to prevent those departures.
The first, and oftentimes the biggest motivation for leaving is some kind of unmet promise or expectation in your service. On a large scale, such as not being able to deliver the results of a year-long campaign you were promising the whole time, this could fracture your partnership in one incident. However, in most cases, it takes repeated incidents before it escalates to a breaking point. For example, you may not deliver a content draft on time, then fail to meet reporting expectations, etc., until the client starts to doubt you.
Unmet promises and expectations are destructive for three reasons:
This is all about perspective; if you set better expectations, you’re going to have happier clients.
(Image Source: Psychology Today)
There are two approaches to keep in mind here, and both of them have to do with communication. The first addresses unmet expectations; oftentimes your client will form an expectation of how a campaign will go, or of what you’re able to accomplish, without any real grounding in fact. This is unfortunate, but entirely preventable. You have to go the extra mile to make sure your client is informed, completely, up front if you want their expectations to be reasonable. Assume they have unrealistic expectations, and work to correct them back to reality by leaving no detail unexplored.
The second approach has more to do with the unmet promises side of things. The solution here is very simple, and can be explained with a common piece of advice, to “under-promise and over-deliver.” The concept is simple; always promise less than you think you’ll be able to achieve, either with a more flexible deadline, a weaker product, or a smaller quantity, then execute more than you said you would. It gives you more wiggle room in case things go wrong, and make you seem like a superstar if things go right.
Partnerships are tricky things, in the business world as they are in personal relationships. You have two different entities, with different worldviews, expectations, and approaches, trying to work together for a common cause. Your agency has a certain way of doing things, a certain idea of what your client’s business is, and a certain strategy for execution—all this may be relatively accurate, and a solid plan of attack to achieve your baseline goals, but do all these factors align with your client’s ideals, or the vision in their head?
If you seriously depart from the image your client has of themselves, and of their vision of how things will play out, they won’t want to work with you. They may feel like you aren’t listening to them, or that you don’t really “know” them, or even worse, that you’re misrepresenting their brand. Brand consistency is everything, and is why the most popular brands in the world have achieved the position they have:
(Image Source: North Star Marketing)
If there’s a serious discrepancy between you and your client in terms of goals, vision, or even basic understanding of their products and services, there may not be a chance for recovery.
Some of these problems are easy to prevent, but others are more complex. Let’s take them one at a time:
If you can work around these three main facets—brand identity, goals, and strategy—and find yourself in alignment with your client, you should be able to avoid this potential departure point.
The first two departure points I covered were more on the emotional and relationship side of things; this one is more of a logical dispute. As an SEO and/or content marketing agency, you’re going to live or die by your results. Clients are paying you as an investment, expecting to see some measurable and positive return on investment. If they end up paying you more money than they’re making back, you can’t blame them for wanting to leave.
There are two big potential problems here. The first is that you haven’t produced any meaningful results, and is a sign that something is wrong with your approach as an agency. This is rare, as most agencies that don’t know what they’re doing end up collapsing before they get too far into the process.
What’s more common is that agencies don’t know how to report their performance in a way that’s meaningful to their clients, and that proves, somewhat objectively, that they’re getting a return on their investment. This is a shame, because we have access to hundreds of tools, many of them free, that give us all the data we need to make our case:
I’ve written an extensive post on this subject, covering the 11 most important metrics for agencies to report, so I won’t get too into the details here. But I do want to cover some important principles in metric reporting that you’ll need to keep in mind:
With these fundamentals, and of course, with your reporting the right metrics in the first place, you should have no trouble proving your value objectively.
Though some of the earlier motivations do have elements of communication breakdown, a general “lack” of communication can also be destructive in your client relationships. Everything else could be going well—you might be seeing great results, be perfectly aligned in terms of goals and visions, but if you aren’t communicating frequently or effectively enough, your client isn’t going to remain satisfied.
There are a handful of potential communication problems, all of which are damaging:
Unfortunately, there’s no single solution for this. You just have to become a better communicator.
There are a handful of strategies you can use to make this easier on you, inspired by the root problems I mentioned above:
(Image Source: My Site Auditor)
There are a few types of financial strain, and none of them are good for your business relationship.
First, your client may be struggling to maintain sufficient revenue, regardless of how well your marketing strategy is working—sometimes, industries go through slow periods. Whatever the case, the company is facing budget cuts across the board, and unfortunately, marketing and advertising expenditures are usually the first to go. Your client will tell you they can no longer afford your services, at least as a temporary measure, and there isn’t much you can say in response; this isn’t debatable, and you have no control over your client’s revenue beyond your current efforts.
Second, your client may feel pressure to reallocate their budget to different strategies; for example, they may decide to pull money away from SEO and content marketing and put it into a more traditional form of advertising like billboards.
Again, it’s hard to argue with financial concerns. Budget constraints are very real, and unless you can come up with the money for them to spend on you, you’ll be hard-pressed to convince them to continue.
There are two paths you can take here, however, especially if your client is merely considering allocation, or isn’t in any dire straits. The first is to convince them of the power of marketing as an investment tool, rather than an expenditure. It’s an important distinction you’ll need to illustrate if you want your client to continue working with you. An expenditure is a mere cost—an item to include on your outgoing cost sheet—but an investment is a tangible, semi-permanent asset that will return value to you over time. Every dollar they spend with you should earn them more than a dollar in return; this is why so many big businesses invest so much in their marketing and advertising campaigns. It’s because they know its tremendous potential return.
(Image Source: VTL Design)
Just keep in mind this strategy only works if you’re consistently proving your value.
The second option is to work out some kind of compromise. For example, you may be willing to lower the cost of your services as a special accommodation if your client has been around for a long time and you’re looking to repay their loyalty. You may also cut away certain services, offering a smaller package until they can figure out what to do next.
Your client doesn’t want to work with just any marketing agency; they want to work with a thought leader in the industry, who has a reasonable level of expertise in this niche. If you come across as unknowledgeable, or if you aren’t consistently working to make your client’s campaign better, your client may lose interest and seek a competitor who can offer those things.
There are a few fundamental areas where this can apply:
There are a handful of strategies to help you overcome these obstacles:
These “main” reasons aren’t the only ones that can affect a client’s potential departure—they’re just some of the most common and preventable. Consider also these peripheral reasons:
You may find other strange or rare motivations for departure as well, but these are some of the most common reasons aside from the pillars I outlined in the main section.
If a client has signed up for your services, it’s clear they already trust you on some level and see enough value in your offers to go through with the deal. With that established, the only things that can damage your relationship are missteps, which are almost entirely preventable. This isn’t to say that you should have a 100 percent client retention rate—I don’t think anyone does—but with the right acknowledgements and strategies in place, you can maximize your client retention and satisfaction, and keep your company operating profitably for the foreseeable future.