Are your Clients Setting Mouse Traps for Themselves?

"Mousetrap 3" image courtesy of Hisks at

Sometimes I'll be talking to or emailing a client who's asked for my input.  I'll let them know what I think based on my industry experience... and they'll tell me I'm wrong.

This makes the tiny little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I may try one more time to carefully and respectfully explain what I'm telling them is in their best interest - but after that, if they're still insistent, they're right.

Why do I care?

I always feel that it's my responsibility to help my clients get the most out of my services; before I even accept the work, we'll have a little consultation and come to an agreement about what needs to be done.  If they're looking for SEO web content, for example, I'll let them know what it'll take to make it effective - and when we've agreed, I'll make them sign a contract. 

Then, and only then, will I get started (it's a little different with a few of my long-standing clients with whom I've established a good working relationship).  I'll do everything we've agreed upon.

Here's a prime example of a client setting mouse traps for himself.

I had a client who didn't know a thing about SEO - he told me that right off the bat.  I explained the fundamental principles to him in about a minute, did the research and gave him a quote.  I told him that based on what he'd told me, he'd need x, x and x for keywords, and he'd need Y% density. 

He agreed.

I sent him some of the most awesome web content that will never see the light of day.  Why?  Because he said the awesome web content wasn't using enough keywords.  I said, "Well, we agreed that you'd have x, x and x for keywords and they'd be at Y% density."

He said, "Well, I want you to use zzz, zz-zzzz, and 'Microsoft help desk' for keywords in addition to those, and I want them at 6% density."

The problem wasn't that he wanted different keywords at a higher density.  He was setting a mouse trap for his own business because:
  • his site targeted people who didn't know anything about the inner workings of his business, and they would never in a million years search for those keywords
  • he wanted to grab traffic from people searching for the real-for-real Microsoft Help Desk
  • he wanted too many keywords on each page
I told him that, based on my SEO knowledge, those things wouldn't work.  He asked why, and I explained:
  • people outside the industry won't look for those terms
  • trying to grab Microsoft's traffic wouldn't work (and it was a fairly dumb idea because you pretty much can't anyway) because people who are searching for the Microsoft Help Desk really want to find it - they don't want to find his site which doesn't have anything to do with what they're looking for
  • when you use too many different keywords on a page, it affects readability and your ability to create the density the client wants
He seemed to understand, but told me to rewrite anyway.

I tried to warn him, and that's the extent of it.  It was incredibly frustrating, and I gave him what I thought was a big pile of crap in the end.

Turns out he didn't like that, either - can you guess what he wanted?
  • more irrelevant keywords
  • an even higher density
I finally told him - after he requested more keywords and a higher density one more time (9 keywords per page at 10% density - are you serious?) that I couldn't be associated with his project any more because he'd changed the scope of the project (one time is sometimes forgivable) and at the rate he was paying me (a flat fee, not hourly) I would end up making less than minimum wage.  I dumped him.

What can you do in this situation?
  • Explain to the client that what s/he is trying to do may hurt their Internet presence.
  • Reevaluate the situation - are you overlooking something important because you're too close to the project?
  • Consider whether it's best to cut your losses and move on or suck it up; some people will never be happy.
  • If you do write it anyway, do not include the mouse trap in your portfolio - you don't want other clients seeing that mess and being unimpressed.
Have you found yourself in a similar situation?  How did you handle it?

© Angie Papple Johnston, 2010; if you are reading this anywhere but on or without my name as author, it's stolen.