Last Updated on 5th January 2024

It is fair to say that some business owners looking to make their digital presence felt have unrealistic ideas about online marketing and SEO in particular.

Although the internet promises huge financial rewards, the reality is that SEO takes time to produce significant results – and not all clients have the patience or the understanding of the challenges.

Furthermore, it can be easy for SEO agencies to get carried away with producing past results which new customers imagine you can reproduce for them almost immediately. But SEO doesn’t work like that, when compared for example, with PPC, which at the switch of a button can begin to generate traffic via paid search.

Results differ from one industry to the next too, so we need to be very careful what we promise customers and manage expectations realistically to avoid fall-outs and negative feedback.

Explain how SEO works

Many customers, especially business owners new to online marketing, need a reality check. Explain to them how SEO works and what online tools are available. Find out about their business and advise them what tools will work best for them and how you will use them to maximise their marketing efforts, produce an evolving strategy and build a plan to iteratively move forward increasingly SEO visibility.

We need to take into account unforeseen setbacks due to algorithmic changes. Any SEO marketing practitioner worth their salt should have the insight to avoid search engine pitfalls, but with Google’s tendency for drastic changes, the future of digital marketing is unpredictable without a crystal ball.  Search engine users information needs are constantly changing, the search habits of increasingly digital-native searchers are changing too as new generations of information seekers begin to use digital channels.


Whilst there are exceptions to this guideline, it can take between six months and one year before online businesses begin to see significant results for their SEO investment. Depending on the quantity of competition, online marketing takes time to bear fruit so make sure new customers understand this from the very beginning.  There will be quick wins in many cases though which can have an almost immediate positive effect (for example, removing a noindex or unblocking robots generally on the home page or other key page of a website will have a drastic impact).  Generally, however, Google’s trust in a site takes time to grow, pieced together over time from the sum of the parts (there is no such thing in Google’s world as ‘Domain Authority’ so it is all about every single URL and how these fit together rather than a ‘domain’ / site as such.

Don’t be afraid to say no

It is not unheard of for a client to ask for a service you don’t offer or for which there is insufficient capacity within the business to undertake.  Sometimes there is simply not a positive chemistry between the team and the potential customer at discovery calls.  It is better to say no to new business at the early stages of the relationship than to underdeliver on results in terms of targets or quality. 

Communication is key

Clients like to know the progress of their projects; are deadlines and targets being met? Email communication and social media updates are a given, but you should also be backing this up with regular business reporting. Monthly (or quarterly) updates should suffice unless the customer requests otherwise.  However, it is unfortunately all too common in digital agencies for staff members to be spending a large proportion of the client’s allocated budget on reporting rather than actioning.  Reporting, whilst important to provide tactical and strategic direction and progress, does not alone ‘move the needle’.  The actions from reporting or strategy are what ‘move the needle’.  To this end, keep reporting streamlined and don’t allow it to become too much of a timesink.  Automate reporting wherever possible using tools like Looker Studio or one of the built in monthly reports within the major SEO tool platforms.  Reports can be customised too, and then largely set and forget.  

In addition to regular reporting and email updates, embrace other ways to keep the communication flowing between you and clients.  Whatsapp, Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, and a whole host of other collaborative tools provide often for the levels of immediacy needed to keep progress and actions moving along.

Traffic does not always mean immediate conversions

Clients will ultimately measure success on the amount of conversions they enjoy. Although this is the ultimate goal, the initial stages of SEO are driving traffic and engaging with customers, and, of course, it all depends on the queries driving traffic to the site too.  Informational queries such as ‘how to x’ might never drive a conversion, but they get your brand in front of a wider audience and help to keep the visitor coming back to you time and time again.  SEO is a great channel for assisted conversions where the initial click from search engines may have been from SEO but several visits down the line the visitor converts on a goal of the website via another channel.  SEO still played its part, but the conversion was not immediate.  Increased organic visibility increases the chances of your brand being seen and ultimately, growth via digital channels.  An increase in traffic may not necessarily mean an immediate increase in conversions.