The science of working with an SEO client is producing the measurable results they hired you for. The art is keeping them from sabotaging their own campaign. You can negotiate a pretty long leash for yourself by asking the right questions.
The question every SEO campaign should start with is:
If you were one of your customers, what 2 or 3 keywords would you use to find your service?
What they're really giving you are the keywords they'll be typing in to find themselves after the campaign has started. The client's position for these keywords is almost as important as your entire monthly report.
There are two possible answers the client will provide to this all important question.
- Reasonable keyword scenario: I want to rank for "used boat sales in Kansas City."
- Unreasonable keyword scenario: I want to rank for "used boats." Period. You let them know that's a dumb goal for a boat dealership in Kansas City, but they don't listen.
If you get your client into the top 3 spots for a reasonable keyword, they're yours. Business owners love ranking for keywords that they can picture their customers using. You'll still have to provide good services, but ranking for these keywords pulls you through any rough spots in the campaign.
If the client answers you with an unreasonable keyword, do your best to educate them. Otherwise, move on. Don't waste your time on clients with unrealistic expectations.
Either way, always ask the question, provide good services, and start accumulating lifetime clients.