How to Deal With Difficult Clients Using Split Testing

Sometimes you can be in the process of trying to tell a client that their idea simply won’t work. Be it a flimsey campaign idea of extra design element that you know through experience will not work and produce the desired KPIs for a client project. You can even show the client links, articles and examples of why their idea will fail to deliver results. However, if this is potential or existing client they are likely to go elsewhere, to a company willing to follow their every word without consideration – I have come across web companies who will do this.

Recently an existing client came to me asking why his site isn’t showing up when people search for a particular long tail search term. Now, his existing site used a pretty awful content management system that didn’t even allow him to set his own pages titles or meta descriptions. Furthermore, he was lacking inbound links, which people ranked above him did have. This all sounds simple and straightforward but even after I had explained (in quite clear and non technical langauge may I add) the merits of good SEO and one page content the client simply wouldn’t accept this as a solution. He had his own short term and less costly solutions – basically revolving around the the idea me resubmitting his sitemap page to all the major search engines each day. I’m not debating that submitting a sitemap isn’t a good idea, because it is. However, the client’s main KPI for this project was increased site enquiries.

After much discussing this we had both come to a bit of an awkward silence – not a good thing if you’ve ever experinced this in client meetings. For some reason I remebered back to my unoversity days where I had read something about split testing (or A/B testing) – where you can turn a negative situation into a positive one.This is quite a delicate situation to be in as it can damage your client relationship quite quickly.

The idea was to use the client’s idea for a period of time and my idea for a period of time. At the start of this I would install Google Analytics (I was tempted to use Google’s website optimizer, but decided against it) and let the statisitics do the talking – as a no one can argue with statistics.

This method has been very useful previously when demonstrating the merits of creating a dedicated landing page for Google Adword campaigns, but can be used anywhere if you’re willing to a little bit extra.

This method is beneficial for the following reasons:

  • The client’s idea are being dismissed as wrong (however right you think you are)
  • You are showing the client that you care enough to demonstrate your ideas
  • Occassionaly the client will back down as soon as you explain your plan of attack
  • It prevents those awful awkward silences
  • You have a real world example to use in your other client meetings
  • You are speaking the clients language in that you are demonstrating how your actions lead to increased conversions
  • You are being direct, which I personally think is alwasy a good thing – as such statistics are often a huge eye opener for clients
  • If and when the client comes to the same conslusion as you, they won’t blame you

There is always the arguement that the client is the client and that it’s all business at the end of the day. However, I personally pride myself on doing things properly. Others will say just get on with, do what the client wants and forget about it – you can only offer your opinion. This is a good point but can still damage your client relationships when they return later on and you need to charge them again. It all depends if you require long or short term client relationships – as they are definately an investment.

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Rob Allport

Web Developer based in Stoke-on-Trent Staffordshire Google+ - Twitter

9 thoughts on “How to Deal With Difficult Clients Using Split Testing”

  1. Hi Rob!

    From the last bullet point, are we to assume that this split test showed that you were right? It doesn’t seem to be mentioned elsewhere.

    As you imply, this strikes me as a very risky undertaking unless you’re 100% confident that you’ll get a result in favour of your side of the argument.

    Get it wrong, and not only do you have to acquiesce to the client’s immediate wishes, but also you’ll be sowing the seeds of doubt in the mind of the client when it comes to working with you in the future.

    Not that I’m suggesting immediate capitulation to avoid this risk, you understand. Perhaps go about it in a less transparent ‘my idea versus your idea’ way. Or prep your client so that they understand that there are no guarantees when it comes to the web, and that some mistakes are inevitable on the path to greater success.

  2. Hi,

    thanks for comment.

    This is quite risky, granted and I probably wouldn’t use it on a brand new client or in an area where I was sure the a method would benefit the client. It perfectly possible that I could do some split testing on a brand new unestablished client who goes elsewhere – thus leaving me greatly out of pocket. As you noticed, I probably didn’t stress this enough in the post. Saying that, you could be from a huge web agency and be able to take a minor hit on these things.

    The client in question brings in a fair amount of work too, which shouldn’t be ignored in my opinion.

    As we were dealing with long tail terms here and some basic seo my plan was to show the results via Google Analytics.

    I have agreed to present some results to the client ihn the new year. However, he has already mentioned that last week he had 12 site enquiries, more than he got in the previous month – so at least he can see some positive effect.

  3. John (Organic SEO India) :
    I like this article. Very well written. However, not everyone can afford to turn work away or even take the time to do such testing to show ideas. This isn’t possible every time.

    Yes agreed. As said above, choosing exactly what client to use for split testing is key here. Depends totally on the the client.

    BTW: as it’s nearly christmas I let your blatent SEO link go 😉

  4. Great post, clients can be a nightmare, *thinks of the client vs designer youtube video* You just have to meet in the middle, even if it’s not where you want to be, unless you get in a position where you can be picky with work, although in this economic climate it’s very unlikely.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I also sometimes think clients appreciate you taking the time to demonsrate what your talking about.

      Very nice site you have there too.

    1. All depends of what type of clients you’re dealing with. If it was a long term client who provides regular work I’d definately be willing to do some a/b testing for them. All depends on what type of relationship you’re looking to build with a client in my opinion.

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