3 Common Challenges Facing All SEO Managers


Anyone managing an SEO program, either in-house or for a client, knows there are a multitude of challenges. In fact, at SMX East back in October, Mark Munroe gave us this hilarious quote applying Murphy’s Law to SEO:

It’s true! Just when you think everything is perfect and things couldn’t be better, something inevitably changes. Such is the life of an SEO.

Take heart, though. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that, while there will always be challenges, these challenges often aren’t new. They are typically something we’ve experienced before, a variation of something we’ve experienced before, or something a friend or colleague has experienced before.

The knowledge we gain through these experiences makes it much easier to bounce back when Murphy’s Law heads our way.

Below, I’ve outlined three common challenges facing SEO managers and a few solutions on how to deal with them.

1. Mismanaged Expectations

Perhaps one of the most common issues in our industry is the lack of understanding about what SEO is and what type of results businesses should expect when embarking on an SEO program.

Link Building Expectations

Be careful out there!

After all, SEO means a variety of things to a variety of people, and with so many different people out there talking about SEO and offering SEO services, there is no one definition or one right way to do things…which can often lead to mismanaged expectations and unhappy clients. It’s up to us to ensure our clients understand what we’re offering and what to expect.


  • Client A comes on board and they want more organic traffic and more organic leads. Six months into the program, organic leads are up and organic traffic is up, but the client is not happy. Why? Because they thought for their investment, their traffic and leads would be double what they are.
  • Client B is run by a Marketing Manager who knows that an SEO program is an investment that can take time. However, Client B’s CEO thinks SEO means rankings – immediately. After repeatedly Googling a list of keywords and not seeing their site in position #1, the CEO is angry and wants the Marketing Manager to get it fixed.

While these are two very different scenarios, they are also very common. As SEO Managers, we need to make sure we are getting both of these situations straightened out or we risk losing our client.

How Do We Do This? Here Are A Few Tips

  • When creating any SEO program, evaluate any and all past data to determine what type of results are realistic. While we can never give an exact number, setting a goal based on past results can help keep expectations managed. If they don’t have any past results to pull from, use what you have learned from other clients. Look for clients in similar industries with similar traffic patterns and marketing budgets. It’s not apples to apples but it can provide a baseline.
  • Educate at every level. While the marketing manager may be the person you are directly working with, they are likely reporting to someone else. Help them manage up. Provide resources, explanations, hop on calls, etc. Do whatever you have to do to help them be successful and in turn, help you be successful.
  • Report on what’s important to the client. Kerry Dean gave a great presentation on SEO reporting metrics in which he noted that what we report on isn’t always what’s important. I have certainly made the mistake of sending reports to clients only to find out they didn’t understand the data or didn’t care about the data presented. Work with your client to ensure you are reporting on their business goals.

2. Resource Constraints

“We don’t have the resources.”

I’ll pause to let you think about how often you’ve heard that in your lifetime as an SEO. If I had a dollar…


Seriously…this is what I’d have.

An SEO program doesn’t touch just one department. You need the web development team, the content team, the lead gen team, the social media team…you get the picture.

The challenge lies in that not all companies have these teams on staff, the existing staff has full workloads, and budgets do not allow for unlimited work.


  • Client C has an external web development team. The web development team works within a set budget, allotting a certain amount of hours to the client. When technical SEO recommendations are provided, Client C has to determine if/when these will fit in the web development budget. If there isn’t time or budget this month, the SEO recommendations are pushed out 30-60 days.
  • Client D has set some pretty hefty goals for the program and in order to hit those goals, they need to be creating 2-3 pieces of content per week. Half way through the year, two of their writers quit, leaving them short-handed and content creation at a halt.

In each of these cases, resource constraints have the possibility to slow the program and hurt results. As SEO Managers, it’s our job to mitigate damages and help out where we can.

How Do We Do This? Here Are A Few Tips 

  • Understand resource constraints ahead of time. During the discovery phase, we try to find out as much about a potential client’s resources as possible. Who is their web development team? Is it in house? How much access do they have to them? How many writers are there? What is their current capacity? While we can’t avoid scenarios in which resources leave, if we know ahead of time what we’re working with, we can set better expectations (refer back to previous section) and prepare our own strategies better. 
  • Prioritize. When resources are limited, make sure you are prioritizing recommendations. If three different recommendations are provided but the client only has the time/budget for one, help them understand which one they should focus on and why. Obviously the one that’s going to provide the best results. 
  • Know when to step in. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and offer to do some of the things yourself. In the world of consulting, results are what matter and if nothing is done and there are no results to show, you lose the client or your job. What can you take on that will help them, and help you?

3. Unexpected Changes

Expect the unexpected. It’s what we’ve been taught in life and it applies to the workplace as well. Changes that are out of our control will happen. Companies will be bought, employees will leave, budgets will be cut, and there is nothing we can do about it.

expect results

In fact, the timing of this post is impeccable as I just had a client tell me s/he was leaving to take another job. While it’s sad to see someone you enjoy working with leave, in this day and age, it’s happening pretty frequently.

People no longer stay at one position their whole life, and a 2-3 year stay is becoming the norm.

Here Are Some Other Examples:

  • Client E has been working with you for three years and the results have been spectacular. So much so that the client has gained a ton of notoriety and awareness and has been acquired by a Fortune 500 company. The Fortune 500 company will be rolling the client’s site into theirs…which will be managed by the in-house SEO team.
  • Client F has been with you for two years. The program has been run through the Marketing Manager but a new CMO was hired. The CMO has a preferred SEO vendor they’d like to use.

Unfortunately in these scenarios, there may not be a ton you can do to retain the client but there are a few things you can do to ensure the success of your business.

Here Are A Few Tips

  • Help in any way possible. Even if a client is leaving, I offer to help where I can. Referring back to Client E, yes, we are no longer responsible for the site but we do care about the success. We’ll give them a list of URLs and recommended steps for integrating the site without losing too much traffic. Always end on a good note because you never know where your contact might end up.
  • Stay in touch. I am generally sad when my contact leaves the company. Between emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings, you really get to know them and care about them beyond just business. Get their email, connect on LinkedIn, send a card, etc. Aside from the personal aspect of it, having a strong network is important. Plus, they may need an SEO vendor at their next company.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. When a client leaves due to any reason, I take it personally. I think about what I might have done differently or how I could have communicated something better. As noted above, in some cases it really has nothing to do with you. Learn what you can and move on.

Final Thoughts

The life of an SEO is always an adventure, but hopefully, these tips will help guide you when challenges arise.

What are some of the common challenges you’ve faced as an SEO manager?

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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