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Why That Mystery Mate Can’t Do SEO

Andy Williams

by Andy Williams on 16th July 2012

Mystery-mateThere is a mythical being in the Digital Marketing world. Most of us have encountered him, some may have even heard his voice during a brief one-off phone call but none of us have ever seen or met him.

He sits in the background watching and waiting. Waiting until your client’s SEO campaign is doing well and then he pounces.

We all know there is a chance he is there but you never know for sure until you hear the infamous line: “My mate, who does a bit of SEO said…”

It’s the dreaded “mate”.

He’s the flea in your client’s ear, the guy who once read a blog post from 2003 and now knows everything there is to know about SEO.

The truth is he doesn’t know anything about SEO, I doubt he even knows what SEO is but that doesn’t stop him from being a very dangerous person to you and your client’s campaign.

He will talk to your client with such conviction and authority on the subject that if you were also in the room at the same time you may well yourself believe every word spoken.

As much as we all know that this mystery person doesn’t truly know what they are talking about, this can become an issue if not dealt with.

Now I have nothing against work being questioned or curious clients who simply want to know more so they can understand the work that is being carried out. It’s healthy to question things, it makes you think about what you are doing, the value it brings and whether something has become “old hat”.

But our mystery friend can throw a large number of spanners into the works causing problems that simply aren’t there and it is up to us to be able to enlighten our clients and educate them. There will be times when you feel this is time consuming but this will be essential in making sure you don’t lose a client who shouldn’t even be thinking about leaving in the first place.

So what should you do? Well let’s go through some common scenarios:

Why Aren’t Your SEO Company Going After These Terms?

Your keyword research was thorough, you are targeting terms that the site is now ranking for with sales and conversions up, the client has even commented on how they are now really busy.


Out of nowhere evidence that the “mate” is on the scene starts to appear. You receive an email completely questioning your entire keyword strategy.

It’s usually out of the blue. If anything the client was inviting you to the christening of his first born only last week.

Now I’m not suggesting that your campaign shouldn’t be challenged or questioned but suddenly unrealistic and irrelevant terms are suggested. Terms that simply wouldn’t be beneficial to the campaign at all.

“What has made you want to target this term? It’s not even related to your business”

“Well I was talking to a mate who has done a bit of SEO in the past and he says…”

“I see”.

OK, it’s not really good enough to simply tell your client to ignore his mate and that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Remain professional.

Talk your client through the campaign; remind them again of the steps that were taken for you to have reached your original conclusions. The tools you used. Point him in the direction of the statistics you have been providing them over the last few months. Remind them of where they were before they started working with you. Prove the value of the terms you are working with and that they are now bringing him clients.

Now highlight this against these new terms that have appeared from nowhere and get your client to question what true value they would really bring in.

My Mate Says Your Tactics Are Out Of Date

Really? Well you’re not ranking too badly on the back of them…

The accusation again comes from nowhere and is usually backed up with no evidence.

“Your tactics are out of date”

“Which ones?”

“The ones you are using”

“Can you be more specific?”

“No, it’s just my mate said…”

Ah we got there in the end.

This can be quite a hard one to argue, not because you are using out of date tactics but because this query has come off the back of someone else’s lack of knowledge. By the time your client puts this theory to you they already believe what their mate has told them.

One of the best ways to address this is to ask your client to tell you exactly what tactics you should be using. More often than not your client will have just been told that you are out of date without truly knowing what they are querying. But you can be sure that the fountain of all knowledge friend will have been more than happy to pass on exactly what you should be doing.

So get this information from your client, once you have it you can disprove all that is thrown at you.

At the same time this shouldn’t be a “prove them wrong” exercise, you also have the success of your campaign to date to back up that you know what you are talking about. There is also nothing wrong in reminding your client that you have your finger on the pulse, you go to the conferences, you read the latest blogs.

My Mate Says These Statistics Aren’t Right

“Where are you looking?”

“In Google Analytics”

“And what part isn’t right?”

“Well my mate had a look and he says we didn’t get as many visitors as you claimed”

“Is he looking in the right place?”


The missing answer is always no.

It’s easy for anyone not too familiar with Google Analytics to get lost or find the wrong information. The fact that it’s the mate claiming you are wrong while at the same time tapping away at your clients screen saying “look, they are wrong” really doesn’t help.

As far as your client is concerned you have been proved wrong, you are reporting false statistics, he’s not happy at all. Have you been lying about everything all this time?

Of course you haven’t and so a quick crash course call to the client needs to be had.

Talk them through exactly where you got your statistics, what they mean and why they are right. Go a bit deeper at the same time and point out some nice winners to really help highlight just how well the campaign is doing.

My Mate Says We Should Have a Better PageRank

Anyone who knows me will know how much I hate the Google Toolbar PageRank and the trouble it can cause.

“My mate says the link building you are carrying out isn’t working as the PageRank isn’t 7”

“My mate says we will never outrank anyone unless we get a better PageRank”

And on it goes.

OK, I have written more than enough rants on the Google Toolbar PageRank in the past for me not to go over it again today. It’s a false score and it means nothing. No it really doesn’t.

Of course this won’t wash as an explanation to your client, especially since his mate has thrown so much doubt on the entire campaign with one swift comment.

Explain that it is a miscalculated score that isn’t accurate; sure it’s a good indication that links are being found and hold some weight, but to base your campaign on this score is a waste of time.

Point your client to their actual campaign, if they are receiving referring traffic from the links you have built, highlight this and their value. How are they ranking? Review these rankings, find that site they rank above that has a stronger PageRank, expose the myth and move on.

We Have A “Like” On Our Facebook Page  – My Mate Says We Don’t Need Anymore

Also see in this category: “My mate bookmarked my site the other week, so he doesn’t know why we need any more”.

At least with these types of comments you really know you are up against someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. It’s a nice comforter at the very least but it doesn’t remove the question from the client’s mind.

Go back to them from an entirely social point of view.

Ask them if they think one person liking their profile is a good indication that a lot of people are talking about their brand and engaging with them when compared to a competitor who has hundreds liking them.

Social is all about engagement. It’s as simple as that and if the mate feels that receiving that one “like” is job done then they are way out of their depth.

My Mate Says We Don’t Have Any Broken Links

For some reason this is usually the area that has a little aggression attached to it.

Usually because the mate is also his web developer so this is usually a defensive reaction. The mate will swear blind there are no broken links: “I should know I built the site”. As a result this will lead to frustration from the client as you continue to report over 2,000 issues.

A couple of phone calls to the mate later and you discover that he doesn’t even know what a broken link is let alone a 301.

The trouble is he has kicked up such a storm that the client isn’t sure who to believe anymore.

In this situation you really need to walk the client through these broken links. Get them to click on some examples so they can see firsthand where it leads. Show them the report in Google Webmaster Tools, send them the crawler report you have and provide them with the solution.

My Mate Has Managed To Get Us to Rank 1st for “custom made widgets deals online white in all sizes UK and abroad”

Really? Eh great?

“So how come he managed it and you didn’t”

It’s time to go back to your keyword research again.

It’s also worth pointing out that the mate may well be undoing work you have carried out in his pursuit for the most pointless ranking known to man. Politely ask that he stops before he puts the whole campaign at risk.

Ask Your Clients To Think Carefully About This…

Nothing saddens me more than when a client with a successful campaign leaves on the back of whispers from the troublesome mate.

There are times when budget simply dictates this move and the promise of SEO work for a far smaller fee simply can’t be ignored.

But there is nothing more frustrating than having put in so much work on a campaign, achieving some really good rankings and results and then handing over to someone who’s first move will be to create a Meta Keyword tag and cram it full of 100 keyterms because “it’s good for SEO”.

So make sure it doesn’t happen.

The mate isn’t going to go away, he may go quiet for a while but he will be back.

You are the professional, so make sure you remain so. Address your client’s concerns and present them with the facts and the truth.

The reality is that the mate can’t do SEO but then we already knew that. It’s just making sure you are professional in the way you deal with the situation.

Remember this is a mate, they no doubt have more access to your client’s time than you do, they can pour doubt on your work all day long. So you do have to be careful in how you address the questions suddenly thrown at you.

Yet in all the times he has raised his head – I’m yet to see a situation where the mate has been right.

Image Source

Businessman standing and gesturing with a cardboard box on his head with question mark via BigStock

Andy Williams

Andy Williams

Andy Williams, our DADI award winning Digital Marketing Manager will be giving you useful insights into local search and the overall SEO landscape. Andy has over 9 years experience in the SEO industry including 2 years as the in-house SEO consultant with a leading Web Design company.


  • Jim Seward 16th July 2012

    Hi Andy

    Great post, it doesn’t just happen to agencies, it happens in-house as well, usually by someone trying to deflect blame as to why they’ve not reached their sales targets and it is very very infuriating.

    That said, I’ve been on both sides of the argument and been the “mate” who’s concerned one of his friends is being ripped off by an ineffectual SEO company (who’s usually just the web designers charging for it and doing nothing)

    Reply to this comment

    • Andy Williams

      Andy Williams 16th July 2012

      Hi Jim,

      I think it is safe to say you wouldn’t fall into the category of “that mate”, I think you know more than the famous mystery friend :0)

      Reply to this comment

  • Gerry White 16th July 2012

    The “Mate” can often be exchanged with “web designer” or “IT guy” or worst still “IT Director / Head of IT”

    Reply to this comment

    • Andy Williams

      Andy Williams 16th July 2012

      Hi Gerry,

      It has to be said, there is something about people in IT who have never optimised anything in their life still claiming they “know a bit about SEO” too :0)

      Reply to this comment

  • Adam Kelly 16th July 2012

    The most charming “mate” experience I’ve had was when the client turned in to “the mate” himself.

    While showing him the progress on the design for a website he left to go to the bathroom. Upon his return he shouted “I’ve just had a great idea while I was on the bog!”

    He told me about his notion, which involved the words; fluorescent, bling, funky, simple, sophisticated, classy, urban to name a few.

    I questioned the idea and got a reply about drawing a fox to sell chicken (or maybe it was selling chickens to foxes) while he was on work experience in school, netting him a box of colouring pencils.

    This ended with a big nod and an incredibly smug look. He’s a good client for trade and to some extent we’re friendly enough after a couple of years of work, however when your designer is getting loud and abusive during a meeting, it must be bad.

    Reply to this comment

    • Andy Williams

      Andy Williams 17th July 2012

      Hi Adam,


      That is another scenario, the client turning into the “mate.

      I hope you banned all bathroom breaks from there on in to tame further ideas…

      Reply to this comment

  • Bob Brown 16th July 2012

    Hi Andy (and LTNS) …

    Funny you should post this just now – I’ve just got off the phone with a client who has said EXACTLY THAT … “I was talking to my mate and …”

    I wonder if you set me up? :-)

    Hope all is well in Andyland.


    Reply to this comment

  • Jasjotbains 17th July 2012

    Its often funny why people cant own up to mistakes committed by themselves and rather deflect it to “their mate”. This usually is/might be a case of self-created imaginary friends, and I would hate to be on the receiving end of someone who handles my business and blames “his mate” for not doing his job properly or trying to act like a king while having no kingdom or followers!!

    Reply to this comment

  • Dr Justin Beiber-Dre 17th July 2012

    My mate is a retired lounge singer / flyby-night “so called” SEO expert named Andy. He didn’t like my idea about randomly inserting the word “Bieber” into my website at a 20% keyword density. I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about.

    Reply to this comment

  • Ed 18th July 2012

    I had this last year & lost a client. I spoke to the mystery mate: his SEO knowledge included gems like page rank is a site-wide metric, building lots of profile links to the site & then building several profile links to each those profiles is a solid link building tactic and that old chestnut: you need to spin/rewrite every page on the site several times a year to keep your content “fresh”.

    The telephone conversation rambled for a bit as I tried to probe his history and it ended with him telling me that, due to his experience as a product designer, he could categorically state that the twin towers were brought down by controlled demolition.

    I still have access to their analytics: organic, non-brand visits are down about 15% compared to last year, when they were up over 50% compared to the year before that, which is when I started working on the site :)

    Reply to this comment

  • Doug Roberts 19th July 2012

    This isn’t a new phenomena. Back in the 90′s everyone in the IT department where I worked dreaded Monday mornings when various members of “the management” would pop in to share their insight gleaned from various broadsheet weekend IT supplements.

    Best approach is to look at it as an opportunity to talk to your client, educate and explain/remind them of the benefits their getting from your work.

    Back this up with evidence (rather than opinion) and you never know, you might walk away with more credibility.

    Doesn’t stop the sinking feeling when you get the questions though…

    Oh, and just make sure that when they say “my mate thinks..” they’re not really saying “I think…”

    Reply to this comment

    • Andy Williams

      Andy Williams 19th July 2012

      Spot on Doug,

      It is certainly the best way to approach this type of situation. The second you go down the route of “your mate doesn’t know anything” the mate has kind of won. Like you say, educate over argue.

      We all have more than enough data and experience to be able to address the query over getting into an argument over who is right and wrong.

      Reply to this comment

  • Michele 19th July 2012

    “Oh, so you are on this SEO wagon too…my cousin (at least not a mate, this time) told me it’s easy, you just have spam some blog comments and hide keywords in your pages writing them in bold with huge fonts…nah, I think I don’t want you to do it, he just costs me one or two pints at the pub…”
    True story.

    Reply to this comment

  • Gerry White 19th July 2012

    I think we have all been the mate in the pub too … when your mate is listening to some sales guy they met at a conference, who if you speak to for more than a minute or two is just a sales guy…

    Reply to this comment

  • Jennifer 12th September 2012

    Love it!

    Reply to this comment

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