7 Abusive Client Behaviors and How to Deal with Them


While the vast majority of clients and bosses you’ll deal with are upstanding people, you will inevitably meet certain individuals who could only be described as special.

But special as they are, these people tend to behave in rather predictable patterns. After years in the SEO business, we’ve noticed that abusive client behaviors tend to fall into just a few general categories.

Here, we’ll briefly describe what these behaviors are and what you can do to deal with them. If you’ve been working in SEO for a couple of years, chances are you may find some of the modus operandi below all too familiar.

1) Paying By The Hour

While hourly rates are fair for a lot of positions, these do not apply to SEOs and other professionals whose performance should be measured by output.

In the first place, websites need time to benefit from any SEO activity. It can take months before search engine algorithms boost a site based on the changes that you performed.

Secondly, some clients use hourly wage structures as a basis for abusing your relationship. For instance, if you’re a bit slow, you may be accused of overcharging. If you do things too fast, they may use that as an excuse to belittle your work or make you do more stuff above and beyond what you agreed on.

To avoid these issues, give your clients a time frame. Give a specific start date and end date and make sure to have this in writing. Doing these will help give you some leverage should they try to abuse your professional relationship,

2) Asking You To Do Non-SEO Tasks

Coming off the previous item, this usually happens if you’re paid by the hour. Completing your tasks early will usually mean that you will be rewarded with more work.

What’s worse is that a lot of clients will try to make you do things that are not at all related to SEO.

It’s not unheard of for clients and bosses to pressure SEO professionals to be virtual assistants, do customer support calls, redo their entire website, create graphic designs, and many other things that are totally outside of their area of expertise.

First off, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if a client asks you to do these things. It’s only a bad thing if you do them for free.

To avoid being put in this situation, it’s important to define your role and expected output beforehand. Make sure it’s spelled out in the contract or, at the very least, written on an email thread that you could reference should they try any funny business. Anything above and beyond should always be a separate engagement that requires a separate paycheck.

3) Demanding Guaranteed Results

This behavior is partly the fault of over-exuberant SEOs who want to snag contracts at any cost. In practical terms, however, SEO professionals can’t guarantee results for much the same reasons doctors or lawyers cannot do the same.

Outside of some very specific scenarios, there are just too many things that are out of your control. For instance, while you can guarantee that you can perform the current best practices for boosting your client’s chosen keywords, you cannot control how their competitors will respond or how soon Google’s algorithms kick in.

Granted, there are some limited scenarios where you can guarantee improvements in rankings, particularly for uncontested keywords. However, it’s all but impossible to guarantee traffic and conversions.

To prevent disappointment and hard feelings, make sure to be upfront about what you could and couldn’t control. Do not agree to any contract that forces you to guarantee service levels that are impossible to achieve.

4) Being Cheap While Promising More Business

While this is not a problem specific to Filipino business owners, you will find that a fair number of them will try to negotiate low rates, promising you exposure or referrals in return.

The problem does not end with you getting a small paycheck. You probably do not want the additional referrals and work these clients will send your way, either.

Chances are, they will have told their contacts that you’re an easily-bamboozled rube who’s willing to work for cheap. As a result, you’ll eventually find yourself wasting your time on low-value contracts, potentially ruining your reputation in the SEO industry without much to show for it.

Don’t let your clients bully you into giving them a discount you can’t afford. Let go of them if you have to. Knowing your worth and sticking to your target profit margin will be key to snagging better clients in the long term.

5) Long Meetings at Odd Hours

Meetings are crucial for close communication. That said, there is no reason for meetings on specific SEO matters to last much longer than 15 minutes, let alone an hour.

While it’s fine to have one long initial meeting, subsequent updates shouldn’t take too long as they will impact your ability to serve other clients. Additionally, you shouldn’t let clients contact you for an unscheduled meeting unless there is a specific and urgent reason.

Thankfully, this is a fairly simple problem to sort out. At the outset of your engagement, you could ask your client if they have a preferred regular meeting time for regular updates. When you do have scheduled meetings, always have an itemized agenda ready and set a reasonable amount of time for each item.

You could also bow out of unnecessary meetings by respectfully telling your client that you have to take care of another obligation. Make sure to ask them if they want to reschedule or discuss the same points in your next regular meeting.

6) Not Paying on Time

Unfortunately, there are quite a few businesses in the Philippines that have developed a reputation for not paying their people on time.

While this is sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control, it’s also quite often because they simply do not respect or value the people working for them. In either case, not being paid on time is a major flag.

Because the decision to pay is ultimately up to your client, there is no way to guarantee that you’ll always be paid promptly. Thankfully, there are certain things you can do to mitigate this problem.

Having multiple sources of income (i.e., other clients) is the most important thing. This provides you some leverage, allowing you to immediately stop working on the non-paying client’s site.

The next most important thing is to require some kind of down payment before you start work. This will effectively limit your losses should the client fall behind on their payments.

Additionally, you should also set a buffer period after the due date to allow the client time to process the payment through their system. This is especially important for larger businesses with separate finance and marketing departments. A buffer period will also allow you some time to plan and compensate for unexpected losses due to nonpayment.

To further incentivize prompt payment, make sure that you have work stoppage conditions set in the contract. This will give you an above-board reason to cut your losses should the client fail to pay on time. To further incentivize them, you can consider adding a fine or interest for each day they fail to pay past the due date.

Lastly, make sure to include work stoppage conditions in the contract. Run these points by the client and the point-of-contact before the engagement so that they understand the consequences of non-payment.

7) Verbal Abuse

As we said in the beginning, most clients and bosses are good people. A few raised voices, comments, and lapses of judgment may not necessarily reflect their true character and values.

That said, there are few compelling reasons to stick with a client who clearly does not respect you, your profession, or your colleagues.

While there may be some reasons to continue working with these individuals, it’s probably best to move on. At the very least, you should renegotiate your next contract so that the aggravation is worth it.

Final Thoughts

Whatever happens, try not to return these unprofessional behaviors in kind. Always take the higher ground and make sure that anyone who might be watching sees that you’re doing the right thing.

So long as you remain respectful, professional, and assertive, your career in SEO will survive and outlast even the most unprincipled clients.

Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.