First Page Rankings Won’t Save a Broken Business

Let me ask you something….

Have you ever had a client where no matter what you did, they were unhappy?

You increased search traffic by 800%.

You took customer enquiries from 20 per month to 500.

You ranked some of their most desirable terms within search.

Yet they’re on the phone bitching and whinging and complaining and making comments like…

  • “Things have been pretty quiet”
  • “Not sure why, but people aren’t booking in or calling back”
  • “These leads are no good, because people aren’t buying”
  • “We’ve only sold one widget this month”

I recently spoke about the importance of tracking and measuring revenue rather than rankings, and whilst this should always be the KPI in terms of campaign performance, sometimes – even when you’re trying to do that – it’s still not enough.

So what’s the problem?

I’ve experienced this a number of times, and in almost every case it’s because –

  • The business is disfunctional
  • A poor, or completely lacking sales process
  • Poor customer service
  • Poor customer retention rates
  • The product, or offer stinks

Now as an SEO it’s easy to shrug your shoulders and say – “not my problem”, but it is, and it will be unless you’re proactive about prequalifying your leads.

Infact I recently heard a great saying – “If you’re providing digital marketing services and you’re just sending the client leads, you’re only doing half the job”

Whilst this could be argued either way, I think there needs to be some accountability in place before the campaign even begins.

An angry SEO consultant and a birthday cake

I want to share a story with you.

This Friday it’s my girlfriends birthday.

In preparation, I had to book a restaurant for dinner, organise a cake, a card and a gift.

I booked the restaurant, found a great card, and purchased a gift.

Only thing left was to organise the cake.

Easy right?

You’d think so, but here’s what happened…

Cake shop A

A good friend made the recommendation to try cake shop A. She said they made wonderful cakes and I would surely find something there that would be suitable. I made the short trip and was pleasantly surprised upon entering the store. The presentation was amazing. They’d obviously spent a significant amount on styling and shopfitting and it was certainly well done. I smiled at the woman behind the counter and made my way to the display cabinet where I could see only 1 cake.

I asked the question….”Do you have any other cakes, or is it just that one?”

This was her reply…

“Just that one. You need to book ahead at least 3 weeks in advance. We pre-make all of our cakes and need more notice. However we do have daily cakes. These are made on the day. You’d need to come in on the day and see what’s available. We can’t guarantee you’ll get a cake, which is why you need to either come in early or order 2-3 weeks in advance.”

She made absolutely no effort at all to ask me any questions –

  • What sort of cake would you like?
  • When do you need it?
  • What price range are you looking at?
  • How many people?


Instead we ended up in this confusing back and forth for 10 minutes to the point where I was almost asking her to sell me a cake.

It was absolutely fucking ridiculous.

In the end I left, thinking “I’m standing here trying to give you my money. Why are you making this so incredibly difficult?”

Just sell me a fucking cake.

I walked out.

Cake shop B

10 minutes later I made my way to another cake store, just up the road.

Cake shop B was more like a traditional bakery, but after waiting a moment, I was promptly served by a friendly girl behind the counter, who immediately started asking the right questions.

“So it’s your girlfriends birthday, that’s great, do you know what sort of cake you’re after? Wonderful, when do you need it? Fantastic, I’ll have the baker show you what it might look like, along with how big it is.”

Fuck, finally, someone that knows what they’re doing!

Not only did she ask the right questions, but she engaged, she listened, accommodated, made recommendations and she helped me.

In just 5 minutes I’d chosen a cake, organised a pickup time, made payment and I was done.


It’s not about the cake

Now you might be wondering, “Why are you telling me this, who gives a shit?”

It matters because if I had both cake shops as clients, then the results would vary significantly, not because of my ability to do my job, but purely because of their inability to do theirs.

This is exactly why you need to ensure you’re engaging with clients that know what they’re doing.

Because if you don’t, you’ll be trying to help someone that can’t fucking sell.

Now, before we get into this, I want to share with you a few interesting observations that I’ve seen and what you need to be aware of.

Some business owners are absolutely clueless

Now, I’ve worked with hundreds of different types of clients across numerous types of industries, and it’s interesting – sometimes I’ll see two different business owners operating in the same space, who are achieving drastically different results.

For example, I might be working with two plumbers at the same time.

One that’s motivated and doing everything right. They’re investing heavily in marketing, they’ve hired staff, they’re focusing on bigger, more profitable jobs, but most importantly of all, they’re being proactive. They’re actually doing something and know their business inside and out. Oh, and of course, they’re tracking and measuring their efforts, so they’re not fucking around with stupid shit that’s not having a positive impact.

These types of clients have their shit together and they’re making good money.

At the same time, the other plumber is on the phone fucking whinging about everything.

  • “We need to be first page, otherwise this business will fail”
  • “How much longer is it going to take?”
  • “It’s just me in the business, I don’t have time to answer emails”
  • “I’m driving around all over the place to do small shitty $30 jobs and no one wants to pay me”
  • “If this SEO stuff doesn’t work I’ll lose everything”

These are the dimwits that are just sitting on their asses waiting for customers to come to them. They’re not doing anything – except whinge and complain.

Again, you can be doing the world’s greatest SEO, but if the business owner is a knob, it’s not going to making any difference.

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Clients that don’t have sales processes

This one touches on poor close rates.

When you’re dealing with a client and you’re sending them a shitload of leads, and they’re wasting them. So they might come to you and say, “We’re currently getting 20 leads a month, within 12 months, we want to be getting at least 250 leads a month.”

So you work your face off and get to that figure, and you’re on an end of month strategy call and you’re having a discussion with a client and you’re saying, “Okay great, the numbers look great this month, Bob. We’ve acquired 250 leads this month” and they’ll say, “Yeah, but we only got 10 jobs out of all that.”

Then something’s fucking broken, and its broken big time.

I’ve been in this position before. There’s one business in particular that comes to mind. I was pushing shitloads of leads at this site. They started at 20 a month, and I got it to over 400 within 18 months, and I yet I get the business owner on the other end of the phone during an end of month strategy call, saying, “Ah yeah, John, that all sounds great, but we’re only closing about 10% of the leads that come through.”

What the fuck is going on?

Its obvious something is screwed somewhere. In this case, I managed to solve the problem by implementing call tracking (somewhat against the will of the business owner, but I had to – I needed to know WTF was going on). Anyway, the problem became obvious almost immediately. SEO wasn’t the problem. The business wasn’t the problem. It was the girl answering the phone on the front desk.

She wasn’t closing calls.

The close rates were awful – 10% simply because she didn’t want to be there.

You need to be mindful of that. As an SEO professional, if you’re pushing a shitload of leads at a client and they’ve got poor close rates, then that’s a huge issue that lies with the business owner, not you.

Clients with shit customer retention rates

The other one is poor retention rates, and this is one that comes up every now and then with businesses that are constantly losing customers. They’re starting every single day trying to find new customers, and this is usually due to poor customer support or a lack of nurturing.

There’s one client I had that comes to mind here where he had a retention rate of 10%. He’d get 100 customers and 90 of them would just bail. But what made it worse was that he didn’t seem to care. You can’t help people that aren’t following up with customers and asking why.

“Hey, why aren’t you coming back? What’s the problem?”

Again, it’s hard to demonstrate a positive return on investment when you’re sitting in on an end of month strategy call with a client, when they’ve got really shitty retention rates, and they’re too fucking lazy to pick up the phone and ask people what the problem is, or follow-up with some sort of feedback, or at the very least gather some feedback so that they can figure out what’s broken in their business and fix it.

Clients that are just winging everything

This one touches on clients that don’t have processes in place.

I’ve had so many of these its not even funny.

They’ll make comments like –

  • “Yeah we’ve got those account details here somewhere?”
  • “We have no idea what the average value of a customer is?”
  • “Shit sorry John, all that information is on my phone and I dropped it in the toilet”
  • “Yeah no idea John, I just wing it”
  • “I keep that on a spreadsheet, on a USB stick that’s in my wifes car”

Again, you can’t save everyone and if the business is broken, it doesn’t matter how well you rank them in Google, how many leads you get them, or how many people land on their website, if the business is broken at the other end, then there’s nothing you can do about that.

Again, that’s a problem that lies with the business owner.

The business sucks

Here’s another one…

The business just isn’t viable.

I’ve spoken with business owners who have invested years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars into a business that’s making about $1,600 a month. It’s fucking ridiculous. Again, it’s the business owner and the fact that the business just isn’t viable. You can’t be under the pump, sitting up ’til 2:00 in the morning, stressed as, because you’re trying to fix a business that stands absolutely no chance of success at all.

I’ve found clients with businesses like this are the ones that offer stupid incentives around performance based SEO.

“John, it’s going to be awesome, partner up with me and I’ll give you a percentage of nothing”

No thanks.

Lack of innovation

This is an interesting point, ’cause I’ve worked with businesses where they’re doing really well one minute, and the next the whole business fucking goes quiet. It’s simply because there’s a new trend or there’s a change in technology, or people are no longer using their product or service because there’s something new in the market that’s replaced it.

I can only imagine how many marketers were having their asses kicked when Blockbuster was slowly going down the toilet.

When you start working with a business owner that hasn’t taken the time to grow and evolve and be proactive in their industry, and they’re on the decline, then that can be incredibly frustrating. Again, regardless of what you do, if the market has changed, and the business hasn’t changed with it – then you’re not going to be able to save that person at all.

Clients that are useless at book keeping

Here’s another key point. They have no idea of their numbers.

I’ve worked with so many business owners where their bookkeeping is a fucking mess.

  • “Shit sorry John, I misplaced that invoice, could you resend it?”
  • “I think we sold $23,000 worth of stock, but it could be more, I don’t know”
  • “John, our book keeper does all this stuff, but shes away on maternity leave at the moment”

They’ve got no idea, and truly don’t even understand their own business. But in addition to that, they’ve got their wife doing their bookwork, or their brother-in-law handling inventory and shits all over the place.

There’s nothing more frustrating than getting on a call with a client and trying to get to the bottom of how well the business is performing based upon your efforts with SEO, and you can’t do that, because they’re not fucking taking notes or keeping spreadsheets, or recording data or anything at their end. It’s really hard to demonstrate a positive return on investment when you’ve got someone at the other end, saying, “Oh sorry John. I wrote those numbers down on a napkin but my dog ate it.”

How to avoid working with broken businesses

So what’s the solution?

How can we avoid all of these problems and ensure we’re working with clients that are running healthy businesses?

Let’s have a look.

Prequalify your leads

The most important one of all is to make sure you prequalify the client. I can’t stress this enough. As I mentioned above, sometimes it can be hard to know there’s a problem until it’s too late, but in most cases you can usually tell. I go into great detail about how you can qualify your leads by asking them a series of questions before you agree to work with them.

9 times out of 10, just doing this alone will solve most of your problems.

Track and measure absolutely everything

You can usually identify internal problems within a business pretty quickly, so long as you have intelligent tracking in place.

In my experience, clients that run broken businesses are good at guessing, blaming others and shrugging their shoulders when the numbers don’t add up.

The best thing you can do here is have solid data.

I’ll say that again – the best thing you can do here is have solid data.


Because the data never lies.

It’s not going to be his fault, or her fault, or because of a Google update or anything.

If you’ve sent the client 600 calls and they’ve closed 5 of them, then there’s an internal problem.

You can only put forth those arguments if you have the backing of solid data.

Care more

There’s an interesting trend in the SEO industry amongst quite a few SEO consultants who just don’t give a shit what happens at the clients end when it comes to leads and making sales.

I’ve seen arguments within forums and Facebook groups with comments like –

  • “Who gives a shit”
  • “I’m not being paid to care”
  • “What they do at their end is their problem”
  • “It’s not my problem if they can’t sell”

By no means am I telling other SEO’s how to operate, but I think this is an area that needs to change.

Because each and every day I pick up the phone and speak with yet another business owner who’s upset because they feel as though they’ve been burnt.

Assess internal processes and systems before the campaign begins

I had an interesting discussion with Zaf Hyder recently (one of the members inside Bring the SEO) and he mentioned something during a Youtube Q&A that caught my attention. He said something along the lines of …”Before implementing any type of marketing, lets break down what the client is doing without any marketing”. You can listen in here, to how he explains it.

This is an interesting approach because it allows you identify issues or weaknesses within the business, before you begin, so you know where to focus your attention.

Instead of just being “another SEO guy” that blasts links and shit content at a site, you’re going much deeper, and looking at internal operations.

Of course, providing a service like this would most likely allow you to charge a much higher rate, but could also introduce more, complicated processes and systems.

It’s certainly an interesting thought though.

Don’t work with scattered clients

Clients that don’t know what they’re doing are the worst. Their business is broken, their product or service sucks, they’re just jumping from one customer to the next, they don’t have good retention rates, their numbers are all over the place, and they’re just trying to wing it.

The last thing you want to do is get sucked into a giant black hole, because let me tell you, it can be incredibly stressful when you’re on a call with a business owner and they’re saying, “Listen John, if you don’t save me, then my wife’s threatening to leave, and I’m going to lose access to my kids, and I’ll have to remortgage my home and sell my car. I’m really fucking stressed John, so I need your help and I need you to guarantee me that you’re going to be able to do that.”

The last thing you want to do is get involved with anyone that’s in this position, because it’s just going to be too stressful.

Over to you

Always do your best to help people, but know when to cut it. Its unfortunate, but there are many business owners around who are utterly clueless, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up being their punching bag. Always prequalify and be smart about what you say yes to.

Of course, if you have a comment, share it below.

Let me know what you think. Have you experienced these issues before? How have you dealt with it? What would you have done differently?

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