The 3 Reasons an SEO Project Fails and How to Turn It Around

I recently gave a webinar on why SEO projects commonly get derailed and how to get them back on track. I share many of those insights below, and I invite you to watch the on-demand webinar to hear the full discussion.

The relationship between a business and its SEO consultant is a delicate balance of give and take.

In order for an SEO strategy to deliver the best results, the SEO recommendations must be accurate and useful. But then the team responsible for the website must take that guidance and implement those recommendations.

This is a joint effort where the SEO expert solves problems and advises the client/staff, which then learns and implements the advice.

Seems fairly straightforward, but it’s not always so.

You have no doubt experienced this in your business. A project can have great energy at the outset. But as time passes, progress can be delayed, and momentum stalled for a variety of reasons.

Here’s the good news: We’ve observed that the most common roadblocks affecting SEO projects can absolutely be overcome — once you know how to identify and push through them. Many potential failure points can be addressed even before the project starts.

In this article, I’ll explain the three most common issues that threaten an SEO project’s success AND how you can overcome them:

  1. Unrealistic expectations
  2. Time and budget constraints
  3. Lack of SEO knowledge
  4. FAQ: What are the key challenges that often derail SEO projects?

Road closure symbolizes SEO project block.

1. Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic expectations are a huge reason why SEO projects fail. Let’s talk about some false expectations that cause trouble and what to do about them.

Clients Expect SEO To Be “Once and Done”

We know that SEO is never done. But your client, your company, or your boss may not understand that. Even if they realize it’s a long-term effort, they may think that each individual change should be once and done.

In truth, all the things that affect SEO — search engine guidelines and algorithms, competitor websites, searcher behavior, your own website, and even technology — are constantly evolving. So optimization can’t be once and done.

C-Suite Expect Massive Numbers, Yesterday

The executives who control the budgets and implementation resources often expect big numbers followed by steady increases.

For an SEO project to be successful, the client or company needs to understand they may not see big numbers in a month or two because SEO takes time to produce results. But also, growth probably won’t look like doubling the traffic every year for five years.

Team Members Dispute the Value of Individual Changes

Clients often try to slice and dice our SEO recommendations. For example, “Out of this list of 40 tasks, if we only do these five, how much traffic will we get?”

SEO doesn’t work that way. Minor changes add up and have a synergistic effect. It’s usually impossible to separate recommended changes and say what the results will be for doing some versus all of them.

That’s like trying to build a race car and settling for a great engine but no wheels.

For instance, clients often discount the value of editing meta tags — a page-by-page task that can seem time-consuming and trivial. And it is time-consuming, but certainly not trivial.

Those who do see the value usually have seen positive results from optimizing titles and meta descriptions in the past. We have never seen it hurt, and almost always see solid improvement. What is especially helpful is if the implementation team understands how SEO really works at an advanced level.

Results of Unrealistic Expectations

When you have an SEO consultant working with a client, misaligned expectations lead to scope creep and client-satisfaction issues. Disrespect for the SEO team, and sometimes disregard for the client’s desires for extra services, can result.

Some clients — especially those that are already knowledgeable about SEO — may want to retain unyielding control of their SEO project. This is understandable when the company had an SEO team and strategy in place already. Issues arise, however, if that in-house team thinks they are better than they are and the consultant is ignored.

Generally, our favorite consulting scenario involves working closely with the client’s in-house SEO team.

But sometimes conflicting efforts or opinions between the consultant and the client’s SEO team lead to mishaps. A large amount of time may be lost due to drawn-out discussion or inaction. Eventually, the project may see little success. And even worse, with two cooks in the kitchen, sometimes neither can get things done.

At the end of the day, both the SEO and the client/company want results.

The challenge for SEO is to create a list of recommendations that will have the greatest effect while aligning with their client’s or their boss’s expectations.

What roadblock does your SEO project face? Photo by Emran Kassim (CC BY 2.0)

Challenges on the client’s side may be that they have no power over the IT implementation team, or their influence is weak. But once they see and evangelize results within their organization, client teams will be more receptive to future recommendations.

The SEO consultant can sometimes help their client contact make progress within their organization.

Example: A national auto service chain we consulted for had a site speed issue, but their IT department didn’t think it was a priority. It’s lack of cooperation was hindering the project. We finally included their IT team in a conference call, where we demonstrated how much faster competitor sites were compared to their own. Soon after, our speed recommendations were implemented, and that project roadblock was cleared.

Solutions for Unrealistic Expectations

First, make SEO a company-wide topic and priority. This will probably require training staff to understand both what SEO is and why it’s important. When more people in your organization buy into the goals of SEO, they’ll help make it work.

Second, track progress as a KPI. To help make SEO a priority for the website team, implementing an SEO change should be considered a KPI.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid misaligned expectations is to speak candidly about each party’s role in and ideas for the SEO project. Do this upfront, followed by often. Keep the focus on the KPIs for the project.

When working with an SEO consultant, clients should be sure to communicate their major pain points and goals. And they should celebrate wins.

Meanwhile, consulting firms need to create strategies that address these pain points. Remember, an SEO consultant becomes an important part of the client’s digital marketing team.

Taking unilateral action can alienate you. Instead, create a close relationship between yourself and the rest of the team, so that you are working together to achieve the business’s goals.

At the end of the day, both the SEO consultant and the client want results. Share on X

2. Time and Budget Constraints

Clients want the biggest bang for their buck. As such, they often don’t want to spend their staff resources to follow recommendations that appear minor or insignificant. Makes sense to me — to focus on what drives the most traffic first.

Providing recommendations to a client with time constraints is difficult because, as with the budget barrier, everything must be justified in terms of the resources they are spending on the task.

Similarly, no one likes spending money on what they believe is useless. And let’s face it, any project that takes months to see substantial results requires a leap of faith. You just must be a believer that SEO will eventually pay off.

A microscopic focus on the ROI of every individual recommended task, however, can disrupt an SEO project. By scrutinizing the cost and return on investment of each individual task that the consultant recommends, some business clients miss the big picture.

SEO often requires that many tasks reach completion for the needle to move, and often an individual task is little more than a piece in the puzzle.

For example, budget-wary business owners might incorrectly believe that:

  • Rewording main navigation links, editing meta tags, and other detail tasks are too time-consuming and unnecessary for SEO strategy.
  • Their content is fine as is, which is really very seldom the case.
  • Their main problem is not having enough backlinks to their site.

Since SEO success or failure results from a combination of efforts over time, it can be complicated to quantify (although some have tried to measure KPIs for SEO).

SEO often requires that many tasks reach completion for the needle to move. Share on X

While SEO consultants understand SEO as a long-term game, client teams may not. They’re often more concerned with their monthly investment and how that translates to immediate results.

Solutions for Time Constraints

Sometimes the IT or web team pushes back on recommendations instead of prioritizing them. Here are practical ways to overcome objections based on time constraints:

  • Web team should assign a priority level and commit to implementing each change. The IT department needs to understand the importance of making a change. For example, you could explain that “if we don’t make this change, our competition will keep taking 30% of our website traffic.”
  • Marketing needs to create “bug reports” rather than “enhancement requests.” When you frame an SEO change as fixing something that’s broken, it tends to move up the priority scale for IT and management.
  • Validate implementations. Effort needs to go into making sure that what marketing requested gets implemented correctly.

Clients can request conversations, instructions, and deliverables that show how SEO proves its value in terms of time commitment.

On the SEO consulting side, make sure you’ve communicated that SEO takes time — five months or maybe much longer, so patience is required.

Also, keep in mind that all changes work together, like codependency. You cannot calculate expected results for just one change.

Here are a few ways to justify value:

  • Make the recommendation and its explanation thorough. This gives a sense of confidence to the client that the work follows the best SEO practices.
  • Perhaps propose a proof-of-concept test that will prove the recommendations are valid.
  • Reference Google, Bing or other expert resources that support your recommendations.
  • Have confidence in what you say and the client will, too.
  • Provide training to show your expertise and teach a proven methodology.
The best way to avoid unrealistic SEO expectations is to speak candidly about each party’s role and ideas. Do this up front, followed by often. Share on X

Solutions for Budget Constraints

sheep blocking road
Look ahead — don’t let your SEO project be blocked. Photo by B4bees (CC BY 2.0)

Budget-conscious clients almost always want recommendations to be justified in terms of ROI. But remember, SEO is about bringing traffic, which is upstream from actual revenue or leads. Data analytics aren’t yet able to completely track customer journeys across the wide range of digital marketing touch points available.

SEOs can help clients to feel more comfortable by presenting a clear, concise project plan. The consultant should be able to explain the value of each step of the SEO strategy — even when the costs and results cannot be precisely tied together.

3. Lack of SEO Knowledge

Bruce Clay delivering SEO training
Bruce Clay delivers SEO training.

Most clients don’t understand the art and science of SEO — after all, it’s not their only job.

They know they have a problem with their website and want more online visibility. And they’ve hired an expert to fix these problems.

However, a client should never feel “in the dark” about what the consultant is doing on their behalf.

The expert consultant should be willing and able to explain complicated topics in an easy-to-understand manner. You, as a client, should be comfortable that you can ask questions and receive clear answers that increase your knowledge of SEO. The consultant should be able to cite credible sources like Google and Bing to give more weight to their recommendations. And if the SEO consultant refrains from using unfamiliar industry jargon to explain processes, even better!

Lack of SEO knowledge can often be at the core of other common roadblocks, such as the time and budget constraints I talked about earlier.

Solutions for Lack of SEO Training

First, clients should make sure to find a consultant who is able to provide the kind of Q&A described above. Clients should also become familiar with at least the basics of search engine optimization. This will help them ask the right questions, see the value of the recommendations — and help prevent the SEO project from failing.

For our own SEO consulting clients, we provide formal SEO training. Each new client gets to take the Bruce Clay SEO Training course at the start of their project. We’ve found that providing training is one of the best and fastest ways to get a client up to speed on how SEO works and why we recommend the things we do.

The search industry is so volatile that I believe SEO professionals need training to be ongoing. This is why we created, a place where SEOs can access 15+ hours of up-to-date training online plus a full interactive membership platform. (Learn more about

A client should never feel 'in the dark' about what the SEO consultant is doing on their behalf. Share on X


Both the client and the SEO consultant want the project to succeed. So it’s in everyone’s best interests to work as a team and see results.

Unfortunately, unrealistic expectations, time and budget constraints, and lack of SEO knowledge may slow the project’s forward movement. An experienced consultant can often identify the roadblock and steer the project back on course.

Example: One of our clients, a beauty-products retail site, came to us with a small budget. We took them on as a client because we saw opportunity for them to expand their market. However, right away we had a scope-creep issue. They had big plans, moved fast, and wanted us to be involved in every move they made. For about two months, our analysts were working double what the contract paid for. In month three, we nailed down a project plan for the next 90 days that included goals and deliverables. Regularly we show the client this rolling 90-day plan so they know what to expect. Now, if they throw in a new request, we ask what part of next month’s project plan they’d like us to table to make room.

If your SEO project seems to have stalled, you may be experiencing one of the roadblocks I’ve outlined. Whether you represent the consulting service, the client or the in-house SEO, I hope these observations will help you to turn things around.

If you’re ready to find an SEO consultant who understands the challenges and is committed to your project’s success, then contact us to request a quote.

You can watch the on-demand webinar here: The 3 Reasons an SEO Project Fails (and How to Turn It Around)

FAQ: What are the key challenges that often derail SEO projects?

Embarking on an SEO project can be both exciting and daunting. However, despite careful planning and diligent efforts, these projects often encounter roadblocks that threaten their success. Understanding and addressing these key challenges is essential for achieving optimal results.

Unrealistic expectations pose a significant hurdle in the realm of SEO projects. Clients may anticipate immediate, transformative results, underestimating the time it takes for SEO efforts to yield measurable outcomes. To mitigate this challenge, communication is paramount. Establishing clear, realistic expectations from the outset helps align stakeholders and fosters a shared understanding of the project’s timeline and potential outcomes.

Time and budget constraints are perennial challenges that demand delicate handling. Clients seeking swift results may feel compelled to cut corners or rush implementations. However, quality SEO requires a well-thought-out strategy and patience. As an expert, I recommend prioritizing tasks based on their impact and creating a comprehensive project plan. Demonstrating the correlation between investment and results can guide clients toward informed decisions that set the project on a path to success.

Lack of SEO knowledge within client teams can impede progress and breed misunderstandings. Educating clients about SEO fundamentals empowers them to contribute to the project’s success actively. Offering accessible training sessions and sharing credible industry resources can bridge knowledge gaps and cultivate a collaborative environment where informed decisions are made.

In my years of experience, I’ve found that a successful SEO project requires a harmonious partnership between consultants and clients. Effective communication, transparency, and a shared commitment to the project’s goals are essential to overcoming challenges. By fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding, we can address roadblocks head-on and confidently navigate the complexities of SEO projects.

Step-by-Step Procedure: Navigating SEO Project Challenges

  1. Initiate a comprehensive project kickoff meeting to establish clear expectations and project goals.
  2. Collaboratively create a detailed project plan that outlines tasks, priorities, and anticipated timelines.
  3. Educate clients on the realistic timeline and potential outcomes of SEO efforts.
  4. Provide training sessions to enhance clients’ understanding of SEO principles and best practices.
  5. Prioritize tasks based on their potential impact and align with clients on resource allocation.
  6. Develop a communication protocol that ensures regular updates and progress reports.
  7. Showcase the correlation between investment and results to guide clients in informed decision-making.
  8. Present case studies and success stories that illustrate the benefits of patient, quality-driven SEO strategies.
  9. Emphasize the synergy of SEO efforts, highlighting that individual changes collectively contribute to success.
  10. Foster open dialogue between consultants and clients to address concerns and adapt strategies as needed.
  11. Implement proof-of-concept tests to showcase the validity of SEO recommendations.
  12. Share credible industry resources like Google and Bing guidelines to support recommendations.
  13. Incorporate data analytics to showcase the impact of SEO efforts on website traffic and visibility.
  14. Regularly review and adjust the project plan based on performance insights and changing priorities.
  15. Encourage a culture of continuous learning and adaptation to evolving search engine algorithms.
  16. Leverage the expertise of in-house SEO teams to enhance collaboration and problem-solving.
  17. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) aligning with the project’s goals.
  18. Monitor progress against KPIs and provide actionable insights for ongoing improvement.
  19. Engage in transparent communication to manage client expectations and address challenges promptly.
  20. Celebrate successes and milestones achieved throughout the project, reinforcing a sense of achievement and motivation.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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44 Replies to “The 3 Reasons an SEO Project Fails and How to Turn It Around”

Thank you so much, you shared such good knowledge.

I highly appreciate your insights. i start to create backlinks and i thought in this way patiency is the key of success.

I can agree with the comments in which is pointed out that content in King and there is no SEO without content but it is also appliable to backlinks, on-page and other forms of SEO.
In order for an SEO campaign to be succesfill it need to covers all of the aspects, it is just unrealistc to this only with content you can make it

I appreciate your advice. It is true that clients have unreasonably high expectations, which causes SEO efforts to either fail or produce abysmal outcomes. Choose the top digital marketing consultancy services if you want to avoid running into problems with your SEO agency. They are experts with years of expertise who design a marketing plan for your company with your best interests in mind.

Thanks for your insights. It is true that clients set unrealistic expectations which leads to abysmal results or failure of SEO projects. To ensure that you don’t hit a roadblock with your SEO agency, you must go for the best digital marketing consultancy services. They are professionals with years of experience who create marketing strategy for your business with the best interest at heart.

Very informative. But nowadays there are so many AI tools available in the market which will allow anyone to see the issues and fix them accordingly.

As long as my personal thoughts about SEO, Optimizing websites, landing pages, and content will give you the best results.

Mostly I think people are relied on automation or their SEO, which doesn’t affect a lot in SERP rankings, a manual step by step SEO activity is what is in need these days. I like your write-ups.

This is a very useful blog! I’ve been looking for SEO strategies and techniques like this for a while.

With the usage of AI tools, the developers can detect the customers’ behavior about a particular website.

Yes, it is import to know that Search Engine Optimization takes lot of time to reach top and staff must be trained about SEO thoroughly and team work is also must to get success in SEO. Thanks for the post.

Yes, it is import to know that Search Engine Optimization takes lot of time to reach top and staff must be trained about SEO thoroughly and team work is also must to get success in SEO

Very true! SEO is definitely not a set and forget arrangement and should be viewed as an ongoing investment alongside other digital marketing like social and PPC.

Very true, theres no way SEO is a set and forget arrangement in majority of cases its an ongoing investment in your digital marketing toolbox.

I am a digital marketing executive, I can understand your article very well and it is very helpful for everyone in this field.

Having an in-depth understanding of how search engine optimization (SEO) works is extremely beneficial.

Thanks for the informative and helpful post, obviously in your blog everything is good.

Thank you for this informative blog commenting blog with complete guide , I love reading your blog Bruce Sir

Providing a course in order to get clients up to speed on SEO practices is a remarkable idea. This allows them to understand the context of changes being made and reduces pushback.

Yes, often clients don’t understand that SEO takes dedication and patience, and then expect results within the space of a week.
Educating the client is often very important.

This is beneficial for SEOs that is reliable.

This has been the most helpful SEO article I’ve found in quite some time. Thank you so much!

SEO requires dedication and hustle. Results don’t come overnight


My rule of thumb is build a site for a user, not a spider.
Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.

This is an excellent article! It was a pleasure to read this article. Thank you for making this information available to us. It’s been an incredible year! Thank you for making our lives a little easier. Beaver Architect.

Thanks for the informative and helpful post, obviously in your blog everything is good.

Wonderful article! We will be linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the good writing

Nice blog and information about SEO.

Great Post. Really Good Post explain about what are the reason for SEO Projects fails.

Doing SEO in every variation is not an easy job and this is the reason it is so highly paid, but nevertheless all 3 point have correct. Clients have unrealistic expectations and in most of the cases they either lack finances or just try to do the short cut. This is never a good idea.

In our opinion, lack of SEO knowledge is a basic problem for many SEO practitioners. Too passionate about doing SEO but there are many things they miss about SEO

Thanks for this sum up. I appreciate your effort in writing this blog.

I think the unrealistic expectation is one of the main reason to fail.

Lack of Google technical skills can also be a cause.

You should us the best practice SEO for any business.

It’s very important to analyze everything before getting started. From cost to competition to the ROI. If we keep track of all these things, success is not far in SEO.

In my 5 years of experience, I handled so many clients. And most SEO clients don’t know what is they need for their business. I think this is the main reason for failing an SEO project. Becouse a successful SEO projects needs time. But most clients don’t understand this. And they keep pushing us.


You made some decent points here.

Discover an office that holds indistinguishable qualities from you do. Pick a neighborhood SEO advanced office that is happy to attempt new things and give your image a brought together core interest.


This really answered my problem, thank you!

It’s a fact: SEO projects fail. But the reasons why are surprising, and it’s not because of what you think. If your current campaign is struggling or failing, here are the 3 most common problems that cause SEO projects to the crate, and how to avoid them before they torpedo your campaign.

Absolutely right, Because I saw many companies failed to satisfy his client, the reason is that. thanks for sharing.

Mostly I think people are relied on automation or their SEO, which doesn’t affect a lot in SERP rankings, a manual step by step SEO activity is what is in need these days. I like your write-ups.

Yes all the issues that are discussed above is totally right. As a Digital marketing person i can assure that SEO is time consuming process and it takes time but the end result is very much satisfied.

Content is the master of SEO strategies. There is no SEO without content. The most common and major mistake you would be doing is posting quality content in less quantity or poor-quality content in high quantity. Content quality and quantity go in parallel. You can find websites that post quite a lot of posts per day, but the quality of their blogs is very poor & useless. The only solution to this problem is to improve the quality of the present content of your website & make sure that you publish quality content regularly to keep your users engaged. Make sure that your internal linking is proper and the landing page is working.

I am totally unable to get Google to see my back links. For the the last 30 days I have left 30 new back links daily. I see only 4.


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