What to Do When Clients Give You The Wrong Keywords

Clients live inside their industry every day and are comfortable with the jargon. They can feel so comfortable with their industry-specific terms, they can assume that everyone must talk that way about their industry.

It is not uncommon for clients to pass along a list of terms that are important to them. Keywords they want to rank well for which could include industry lingo and jargon. It’s good practice to request keywords and keyword ideas from a client, since they are going to know their own industry and product line with more detail.

A client’s keyword list reveals what terms are important to them, and if you use it to help inform your ongoing keyword research you can uncover terms you may not have been able to discover on your own.

This can establish a great communication between the client and agency, and set up long term success with good information sharing.

A client’s challenge is that they can also be very myopic. They live inside their industry every day and are comfortable with the jargon. They can feel so comfortable with their industry-specific terms, they can assume that everyone must talk that way about their industry. It’s the classic example of the saying: can’t see the forest for the trees.

So what happens when a client gives you the wrong keywords? They assume people with even a casual knowledge of their products (or services) must use their terms. And, to compound the issue, what happens when they demand solid rankings for these wrong terms? (Because that’s what the CEO wants, or any other similar reasoning.)

With a potential client, we had that exact scenario. The potential client determined early, without keyword research, that the expectation would be high rankings and campaigns around a set of 7 keywords.

They problem was… they were all wrong.

In their case, they wanted to rank well for HTV, which in their industry is an acronym for “high temperature vulcanizing.” To them, in the rubber industry, this term made perfect sense. It’s the name of a process they excel at and do very well.

The issue is that HTV is also a popular acronym in another industry—heat transfer vinyl.

In fact, the search result for HTV is dominated by vinyl. Not only are Google Ads, but there are videos, a related questions card, and even links to amazon products. As you start to type in HTV in the search bar, auto suggest display other terms that are all related to vinyl transfer. The vinyl industry owns this keyword.

Part of being a good agency partner is your responsibility to not waste your client’s time or money.

So how what now? What are you supposed to do when a client does this?

Solution: Be Reasonable, with Patient Honesty

I follow a fairly set strategy in this situation. And honestly, the first two steps rarely work. The third one always does. I treat the first two as the set up for the third one.

  • Explain how people approach search, sometimes not knowing any industry terms. (Rarely works.)
  • Show data and/or screenshots that reveal why the keyword choices are not correct. (Sometimes works.)
  • The economics. (Always works.)
  • Then, present a solution. (A must.)

I first start off with a quick explanation of consumer behavior. People don’t always know industry terms, or what products are called—they are just trying to solve a problem. Discovering the industry terms might be part of the searchers journey along the way. This is a great primer, even for clients that may understand search, to get them to think about how a consumer is approaching the problem. This is often met with the standard defense: but we know what our customers want.

So I move to step two: I show off data and screenshots. In the case I mentioned above, I showed the search results page to demonstrate how Google is correlating HTV to vinyl. With a small call back to step one, I let them know that a searcher looking for vulcanizing would quickly learn that searching for HTV won’t get them to their solution. So they will alter their search. I then showed off some keyword research on alternate terms that we could make progress with. This sometimes works, but it’s not uncommon to hear in response: but can’t we do it anyway while we are also working on those other terms?

Cash Raining
I’ve never seen a marketing budget like this. Have you?

In response to that, I move to to step three. This one always works. I explained that Google has clearly correlated HTV to vinyl, which means if we try to optimize for it, we are not competing against industry competitors. We are competing against the vinyl industry. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to be able to unseats the high rankings for HVT in any meaningful way. It would take a lot of effort, time, and money. And based on that, the return would likely be small.

In other words, it’s a waste of money. No one wants to go to their boss to explain why there have been no meaningful results after months of agency fees.

Then, I always always always offer a pragmatic solution. An alternate set of terms, based on keyword research, that we can win on. It helps the client feel comfortable, and they have the answers they need when they are in their own internal meetings.

Clients hire you to be the expert. It’s okay, with patient honesty, to act like one. You are as much an advisor and guide as anything else.