15 Smart Things Most SEOs Never Do

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I’ve seen SEOs do all kinds of dumb things for clients.  Far less often do I see them follow some wise practices that can help them get better results, and with less heartache.

My suggestions also can help you if you are your own SEO person.

This may have a slight bent toward local search (as you might expect of me), but it’s equally applicable to national / organic efforts.

Before you start

1. Send questionnaires. You need the facts, and you need them early.  Preferably before any money changes hands.  I rarely even get on the phone with a potential client until he/she has filled out my basic questionnaire.  You want to be confident that you can help.  If the client’s too lazy to do this step then you’ve got a problem.  It’s an important hurdle to clear.  I also like to send a link-opportunities questionnaire, usually a bit later.

2. Tell the client up-front what he or she MUST do. Maybe it’s fact-checking any content you write, or it’s approving any link opportunities you want to go after, or it’s devoting 30 minutes a week to answering any questions you might have.

3. Give potential clients every opportunity to lose interest. First there’s my questionnaire.  Then I send a quick opinion on their situation, what areas need the most work, how tough I think it will be, and on what I’d charge.  Then I ask whether they’re interested enough to want a proposal.  Then if they like what’s in the proposal we’ll schedule a call to go over details.    Then I’ll tell them there are some step they’ll need to help with (see point #2), and that it takes a while to see results.  If they’re still with me by this point, I know they’re committed and not deadbeats.

Early on in the project

4. Add the client to your project-management tool. I assume your elves are on it.  But the client should be privy to what’s going on.  May make both your lives easier, and it should cut down on email.  (For the record, I use Asana, but I also like Teamwork.)

5. Read the damn site. Especially the “About” page.  Important questions will come up, and you’ll probably get a link idea or ten.

6. Read the client’s reviews and mine the reviews. This is usually more applicable to local SEO, but ecommerce and other national and international types of businesses also have their own review sites.  In either case, it’s crucial to understanding what types of people become customers (happy or unhappy), what specific problems brought them to your client, why they picked your client, and how your client can do better.

7. Watch the client’s videos. Same principles as in #5-6.

8. Show clients your internal resources. It’s probably a bunch of ugly spreadsheets: site audit, link-outreach status, content ideas, maybe citations, etc.  This gives clients a sense of how much work goes into your work.

What if they’re the “Just Do It” [swoosh] types – and not too interested in details?  Well, it’s especially smart to do in those cases.  The hands-off types only care that work is being done, and that’s what you’re demonstrating.

In the thick of things

9. Revamp or add to existing content. Rather than start on new material.  It’s what I like to call “content CPR.”

10. Work with a copywriter. Getting people to take the next step – whatever that step is – is good for SEO in all kinds of indirect ways.  It’s also a shame to lose visitors when you’ve worked like a dog to get them.  Consider someone like Joel Klettke.

11. Provide suggestions that aren’t just all about rankings. Like on conversion-rate optimization.  I’m channeling my inner Rand here.  But I’m also telling you the best way to get more work from clients you already like.  If possible, your non-SEO suggestions should come as a free and pleasant surprise.  Clients will often hire you for a bigger project, with a more-exciting scope.  You’ll be the consigliere, not a one-hit wonder.

12. Fire a client. Be classy about it, and leave the door open a crack if possible.  But you need to think of your ability to do great work for other clients, and to have something resembling a life.

13. Show what’s in your head whenever possible. Be clear about why you suggest what you suggest.  (Why don’t you suggest using microsites?  Why do you suggest using a certain type of Schema.org markup?)  Also be clear about what you don’t know.  If you don’t have hard evidence (which we SEOs often don’t have) that something works or doesn’t work, can you explain what your educated guess or hunch is based on?

14. Pay for a 2nd opinion. Posting on forums and Google+ communities and on my blog posts and on others’ blog posts is fine.  It has its place in the world.  (And I like when people leave insightful comments or questions on my posts.)  But knowledgeable people keep an eye on the clock and can’t help everyone.

Also, the “community” of longtime and serious SEOs – especially of local SEOs – is smaller than you might think.  People run usually across each other more than once.  Don’t be a schnorrer.

15. Take a less-is-more approach. Don’t try to blog, and create videos, and research link opportunities, and do outreach, and get into pay-per-click, and put Schema.org markup everywhere, and create local citations, and build city pages, and dabble in AMP, and offer foot massages and exfoliating mud packs every single month.  Some months you should focus on crushing 1-2 tasks, and block everything else out.

What are some other practices you think SEOs never or rarely do (that they should)?

Do you already do any of those 15 points?

Leave a comment!


  1. Phil, hi. Long time not talked. I’m curious. To clarify, does the option #14 refer to “hiring” another consultant to have his take on a challenge you are dealing with? Thanks.

    • Hey Adrien. Yes, in general what I meant by #14 was to get the opinion of a specialist.

      • Or you could create a mastermind of 2-4 other people in your field and each week one of you get to take the lead and ask for advice/talk about what you’re doing and get feedback from people who are invested in you, like you’ll be for them.

  2. Nice list, Phil! I just found your site tonight from a coworker’s recommendation. It started with the 89-point checklist but I’ve gone through several posts now as I feel you have some smart and insightful thoughts.

    The point of vetting a potential client beforehand with thorough tasks like your questionnaire is a great one. We’ve definitely had our share of dropouts or waffley (totally a word) people who never end up committing despite our several attempts to help. How do you think such an extensive questionnaire affects your acquisition costs and retention rates? How does it channel your time management by pre-screening potential clients in this way?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hey Jason,

      The questionnaire is indispensable. Most leads and clients appreciate that I want facts before any money changes hands, so they’re glad to do it. Anyone not willing to take the 15 minutes is just wasting my time, and is not someone I’d want as a client.

      My only regret is not using a questionnaire for the first year or two, and then not having a really good one for even longer.

  3. Love the Harlon Ellison clip and visuals! Brilliant list and great advice. Thank you!

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