While your first instinct may be to never turn down a paying client, there are some unrealistic and difficult clients that aren’t worth your time and energy. They’ll challenge you about well-researched strategies and hard numbers, or gauk at your pricing. You’ll spend hours explaining (more like arguing) with them… These difficult clients can be frustrating. Before you write off working with them, educate yourself on the signs of difficult clients to easily identify these types of people. Then, implement our strategies to deal with difficult clients and set you up for success.
Warning Signs of Difficult Clients
We’ve all had clients that are a thorn in our side at nearly every step of the process. Here are potential indicators of difficult clients. How many of these have you encountered?
Unrealistic Timetables & Expectations
Clients that expect quick results are all too common. These clients will demand almost immediate benefits on an unrealistic time table, assuming they’ll see an ROI within weeks of beginning SEO services. At the core, unrealistic clients don’t understand the nature of SEO. Their lack of understanding leads them to hold unrealistic expectations…. They’re too impatient to invest in long-term SEO campaigns that lead to high organic rankings and often question when they’ll see results. Impatience often leads this type of client to choose a discount SEO option that guarantees rankings within weeks. While there’s a chance they’ll see short-term benefits, the Black Hat tactics used to manipulate the rankings will hurt their sites in the long-run.
Protesting Your Prices
Another warning sign are clients that have problems with your pricing because there are, “tons of SEO software options available on ClickBank for $97.” These leads don’t understand that in addition to the SEO software, you need the expertise to understand how to use it. In reality, leads are paying for your years of experience and learned strategies. Clients could also protest your prices because they’ve worked with less-than-professional agencies in the past. While the services might be cheap, they’re not getting the same level of service or long-term results. After all, you get what you pay for…
Not Listening to the Research Data
We’ve all had clients that insist “I know my audience.” They ask for keyword research, then override your findings with their “sense” of what their site should rank for. You give them hard data, but they want to go against your professional opinion. While it may be an uphill battle implementing tactics on their site, provide case studies of other clients who utilized similar tactics and saw big results. Oftentimes, relatable stories are better than hard data and numbers.
Insist on Intrusive Web Design

Some clients will insist on using web design gimmicks that detract from the user experience. They saw a cool feature on a competitor’s site and now they need it too. Or, they just fancy themselves as an amateur web designer and take it overboard. Currently, intrusive web design can negatively impact SEO by increasing page load speed or using interstials. However, it will become a more impactful ranking factor in 2021. It’s important these clients understand how the Page Experience Update will make UX and page experience signal ranking factors. Explaining the increased importance may help you to work with this type of client.

Name Dropping to Seem Educated
If your lead is constantly name-dropping books, blogs, and other SEO-related materials in conversation, chances are they don’t know as much as they lead on. They probably fancy themselves as an ameatur SEO. While leads don’t need to be extremely educated on SEO, puffery can make your job more difficult. Name dropping clients may argue with you about implementing different tactics. They could also have their own conflicting ideas about what will benefit their site. If they don’t have as deep of an understanding as they make it seem, you may also assume they understand a concept when they don’t have a clue. This can lead to unrealistic expectations, impatience, or buyer’s remorse.
Needy or Aggressive
Whether they’re just plain needy, or they take it a step further to be aggressive, no one wants to be constantly bothered. With these clients, you must set professional expectations, while also trying to be understanding. Some clients may be having a bad day, but others will display patterns of aggressive behavior, which must be addressed. If they’re needy or expect all your attention, provide a predetermined amount of time for communicating and questions, but charge for more if they exceed the allotted amount. Set the expectation that you cannot be at their beck and call. If they’re aggressive, consider there may be deeper issues. Some clients get aggressive or hostile when they don’t understand an idea. Be patient with them to explain the benefits and overarching concepts. Others may not want SEO, but executives are pushing it on them. These clients don’t see the value in your services or have been promised the world by past SEOs who didn’t deliver. Show them what you can do! Once you’ve proven it’s not all talk, they’ll be on your side and hopefully more pleasant. If you notice patterns of hostility or aggression, deal with them swiftly. Aggressive clients can add unnecessary stress to you and your staff, as well foster unpleasant work environments. Remember, if it gets extreme enough you can always terminate your work with a client. However, we recommend first trying these strategies to deal with difficult SEO clients…
How to Deal with Difficult SEO Clients:
You can’t completely avoid bad clients. We all have a few clients who grind our gears from time to time. Here are some strategies to help you deal with difficult clients and lessen the chances of unsatisfied customers or buyer’s remorse.
Set Realistic Timeframes & Expectations
“How long does SEO take?” isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. There are many nuances in SEO that affect how quickly clients will see results. In general, organic traffic and rankings take time to build, so it’s important to convey that ROI from SEO can take months or years to fully develop. Don’t be vague. Set expectations that it will be 6-9 months for meaningful results. If you achieve results quicker, you’ve exceeded expectations. By being upfront about expectations you manage impatient clients and set realistic timelines. If you need to justify your timeframes, quickly walk them through how SEO works in 2021. This can help dispel any myths clients hold true.
Stress a Long Term Commitment
SEO results compound over time. The longer you invest and stick with SEO, the more results you will see. By stressing the need for a long term commitment, you set your clients up for success and establish realistic goals. Long-term commitments also ensure you have time for your work to pay off. If clients don’t understand that SEO is long term, they could discontinue services or switch agencies before results are achieved.
PPC v. Organic: Cost & Benefit
If a client is being difficult about prices or timelines, compare the costs and benefits of paid search ads against organic SEO services. While SEO is a large up front investment, it builds long-term, sustainable traffic. Instead of paying out large sums of money for paid search ads, clients can invest upfront, then reap the benefits of organic rankings down the road. Do they expect immediate results? Suggest PPC advertising to supplement their efforts while organic SEO is building. Then, they can reduce the PPC budget as organic rankings grow.
Charge At Least Industry Averages

Most clients understand that you get what you pay for. However, some will want the cheapest possible option, not understanding why different SEOs charge drastically different prices. Many are unaware of White Hat v. Black Hat tactics or the huge risks associated with low-quality SEO. By charging at least the average SEO rate, you can avoid leads that are looking for the cheapest options without considering the consequences. Clients who are willing to consider your prices, at least understand the value your services can bring. Additionally, if a lead is griping about the price or expects it to be lower, there’s a good chance they’ve used discount SEO services in the past. This can create mountains more work for you to repair the penalties from Black Hat SEO. Charging standard industry prices for SEO can help disqualify these leads.

Discuss Previous SEO Upfront
It can be helpful to understand how much leads have invested in SEO, as well as their experiences and understanding. If they had previous services from an SEO using Black Hat tactics, they most likely didn’t see results. This can leave a bad taste in their mouth or create skepticism around the benefits of SEO. Now, you have a chance to better explain SEO services and set proper expectations. We’ve all heard the saying, 20% of clients take up 80% of your time. While it’s best to not sink significant amounts of time into difficult clients, we recommend trying these tactics first. By implementing these ideas, you not only deal with difficult clients, but also educate your entire client base on SEO timelines, expectations, and best practices. This leads to a higher value placed on your services and more return clients!