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

In a live webinar last week, I talked about why SEO projects commonly get derailed and how to get them back on track. Here I’ll share many of those insights, and I invite you to watch the recording here.

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

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 double 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 not possible 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 time consuming it is, 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

Where 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 the 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 up front, followed by often. Keep 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. Click To Tweet

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 — 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. Click To Tweet

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, instruction 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 a 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. Click To Tweet

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. Click To Tweet


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.

Click below to watch my webinar.
Bruce Clay webinar on 3 Reasons an SEO Project Fails.

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 and other social networks from Bruce's author page.
Comments (9)
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9 Replies to “The 3 Reasons an SEO Project Fails and How to Turn It Around”


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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